I was chatting to a producer the other day who’s trying to navigate one of my scripts through the murky backwaters of the UK, low-budget, indie scene towards the fabled shores of production. He’s a relatively inexperienced (although shrewd, relentless and talented) guy who knows I’ve done a lot of work on various low-budget productions with a wide cross-section of companies and wanted to pick my brains about various offers and proposals he’d had for this script.
Everyone says they like it. Everyone wants to be involved. No one has offered any money.
This is kind of normal.
Most scripts are shit. Especially at the low-budget end of the industry, because genuinely good scripts tend to get snapped up by the bigger companies. A script with even an ember of not-shitness glowing in its centre tends to stand out and attract attention. Even if these people don’t like the script, they recognise it’s slightly better than the tidal of wave of shit they’re swimming in and therefore might be worth being involved with … but probably not paying for.
So they never say they’re not interested. They enthuse about it … because enthusiasm is free and, hey, you never know … blowing on that ember might produce a roaring blaze of mediocrity.
So this producer is saying “These people are offering this” or “Those people really like it and think this might be the way forward” and he wants to know if that sounds like a good deal?
And my answer is … be careful.
Really. Be very careful what you agree to. Even in passing.
You may or may not know this (you probably do, because you’re wonderful) but a large percentage of actors, producers, financiers and … fuck it, almost everyone working in the micro-to-low budget end of the UK film industry is, was or thinks they are a gangster.
A large percentage.
Larger than that.
Not all of them, mind. Not by a long shot. Or probably a short shot; but a lot of them.
I don’t know what the fuck goes wrong in a gangster’s head*; but at some point in their lives they wake up in the morning and decide they want to be in films. Usually acting, sometimes in some producer capacity occasionally as a director. Frequently all three.
So they buy themselves a career.
Or at least the ones who are or were gangsters do. The ones who think they’re gangsters tell you they’ve got the money … but turn out not to. Usually, you discover this mid-way through the shoot. Which is always handy.
So when someone offers you money to make a film, there’s a good chance they want to play the lead … but will only tell you when you’ve already spent some of the money. If they tell you they can get you a certain actor – they probably can, but he might arrive with a black eye. Gagged and bound in a sack.
If they’re just a production company, there’s a good chance their modest percentage will increase dramatically throughout. Even if they don’t take a larger financial cut, the thing with gangsters is … well, they don’t always take very well to collaboration. You might find they start hiring their friends or expecting things to be done in a particular way … and they’re frequently hard to dissuade.
This isn’t everyone, don’t get me wrong. Some of them have given up hitting people and are lovely. Some of them are genuinely good actors. Some of them know the film industry inside out and their expertise is invaluable.
But it’s kind of hard to tell who’s who at the beginning of the process. So … proceed with caution.
Luckily, as the writer, you don’t really get involved in all the rubber hose and ribcage shenanigans. Unless you’re selling them your spec … which I wouldn’t necessarily advise for or against.
Producers and directors … you’re the front line, be careful.
* I have a theory about this, but since it’s based largely on having watched Goodfellas once it probably doesn’t hold a lot of water. I think people become gangsters because they have an inferiority complex. They want people to love them (or at least like them) and think getting ‘respect’ is the way to do it.
So they wander around beating people up and stealing things. If you beat enough people up, the rest of the local population tend to be nice to you. If you steal enough things, you have lots of money and people are always nice to people with money. You can’t buy friends, but you can rent them.
So they go through life feeling respected … until it slowly dawns on them no one actually likes them. It’s all fear and avarice. Fear will one day turn to hate and the people they beat up might gang together and fight back. Avaricious people are only nice as long as you’ve got the money to pay for it.
But if hitting people doesn’t get you love, then what will? What about being famous? Everyone loves actors, if I’m an actor then everyone will love me! Let’s face it, acting’s just lying and hitting people while things blow up behind you, right? I can do that!
So they become actors.
Either that or they do it because they think they’ll be able to fuck loads of actresses.
One or the other.