MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Last One Out Turns Off the Lights

The traditional glib article about the American Film Market will talk about the parade of Troma characters parading in front of the Loew’s Santa Monica Hotel. Or, it will highlight the weird exploitation titles being sold (I Ate His Liver with Fava Beans) or the busty women handing out pamphlets and trade papers.

Regardless, there’s an underlying sense that the writers are above this campy fray. For the uninformed it remains a curiosity of scant significance that ought to pack up its bags and steal quietly into the night.

There’s no denying that an element of the audacious is a long-standing component of the AFM. But in the hotel suites, behind closed doors, independent companies from around the world are closing deals on movies that will generate several billion dollars in revenues in any given year. It’s not chump change and the product on offer is apt to include movies that win both the most prestigious as well as infamous recognition during the current calendar.

The latest incarnation of this film market says a lot about the state of the industry globally. Times are tough. The worldwide financial downturn can be seen in the diminished number of participants. Some have bypassed the event; others are present but with fewer representatives to do the work. The old expression about being able to shoot off a cannon without hitting a soul can be visually confirmed.

Buyers will tell you that aren’t as many “A” titles available but that goes without saying. There are something like 200 international sales companies with suites this year but – not to be too biblical – it’s tough to put together 10 that could possibly have a mainstream hit in their inventory. Juno, Rambo, The Kite Runner and P.S. I Love You were films sold by AFM companies. During the third quarter of 2008 roughly $200 million in theatrical revenues were generated by American independents outside of North America.

The situation is radically different for the majority of sales outfits whose stock in trade is low budget comedies or action films. Putting aside the fact that people aren’t buying or won’t put up the type of advances that were common last year or the year before, the grim fact is that unless you’re one of the six American majors, it’s difficult to get a wide release in any major international venue. Russia remains a notable exception but the door’s virtually closed in France, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Australia or Korea.

If you happen to have a low overhead, there’s the possibility that sales to satellite broadcasters and DVD companies can cover costs. But even those areas have in the best scenario plateaued and in some instances begun to erode.

The picture darkens further for vendors of non-English language films. Aside from Sony Classics, only two studio specialty divisions released foreign-language films this year and that includes Picturehouse which no longer exists. For the moment there appears to be some traction for international productions via cable TV outlets but it’s not huge and there’s little evidence it’s a growing concern.

Still, America remains the largest market for films that speak in tongues other than English and a U.S. sale has historically been the trigger for acquisition in other parts of the globe. The absence with rare exception of Asian, South American, Spanish and Italian movies domestically in the past couple of years has had an impact on the visa stamps of films from those areas of the world as well as those from France and Germany.

It’s a time of contraction and that’s fact not debate. Slates will be cut back because the financing simply isn’t as readily available and no one wants the ignominious fate of Capitol Films that saw a handful of high profile projects shut down during production in the past year. Less will have to go further and one suspects that the next major market in Cannes will reflect a growing attrition of buyers and sellers.

The film industry has long resembled the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest. Some companies and individuals have been amazingly adaptable over the decades. However, the recent additions to the cinematic Endangered Species Watch are rather jaw dropping and it’s anyone’s guess what their disappearance will mean to an already precarious balance of nature.

November 9, 2008
– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon