Friday 24 November 2017

How do you make a movie?

At one stage or another, many people will have dreamed of creating a film - but how do you actually go about financing, organising and making one? We talked to some of Ireland's best producers to find out

Redmond Morris at the Oscars for The Reader
Redmond Morris at the Oscars for The Reader
Ed Guiney

What do you do when you are making a risque film about a transgender prostitute which has just seen $3m of its $15m budget fall through at the last second? You go and find another $ the same week. Such was the case for Alan Moloney, one of the producers of the Cillian Murphy-led Breakfast on Pluto, who had to go out and secure a massive chunk of the film's budget within a matter of days after one of their backers got cold feet.

"The financing company reduced their investment to reduce their exposure at the very last minute," he says. "We took the North American territory and sold it separately to Sony, it all happened in a matter of days.

"It was a relatively high-risk strategy - but it paid off. It's happened to me God knows how many times since," he said. "Pluto was tough, they're all tough. You're always 15pc-20pc short of what your target budget is, it's a nightmare. Even ones that appear to be a slam dunk - they're not."

The process is a familiar one for those in the business of film production. Producers are responsible for making sure that a film is produced on time and within budget, while production companies are often responsible for finding material for a movie, securing financing for the film, getting a cast and crew together and creating a budget.

The producer or production company is often the glue that holds a film's production together - and Moloney, who has run the Irish production company Parallel Films for more than 20 years, is often the person on hand to make sure that a movie succeeds in making it to the big screen.

As well as working on several larger productions such as Breakfast on Pluto and the Colin Farrell-led 2009 drama Triage, Moloney has also produced many notable independent Irish films, such as the 2009 crime thriller Perrier's Bounty and the highly-rated, darkly comic Intermission. He says that the production process, for independent films at least, usually follows a similar routine.

"The basic premise is not really that complicated. A script and its attached elements, the director, actors and so on, comprise a perceived value. In order to validate a perceived value we pre-sell the film to distributors in a few territories," he explains.

This then allows the producers to attach a set value to the film based on what they think it is worth and on how many territories it has been sold in and for how much.

"On the basis of that we secure the balance of the financing mostly through a combination of borrowing and equity," he says. Funding is usually secured through a patchwork of different sources, varying from banks to venture capitalists to the Irish Film Board.

According to Alan, the film board is crucial. "For an Irish movie, the Irish Film Board is essential - because without it, it begs the question of why wouldn't your home State fund and support you? And if they're not supporting you, why would anyone else?" he said.

Once the finance for a film and a budget are in place it's time for production to begin. This is where producers such as Redmond Morris shine. The Galway native has been in the film business for more than 25 years, working on some of Ireland's biggest movies, including The Wind That Shakes The Barley and Michael Collins as well as Hollywood blockbuster Interview with the Vampire.

Redmond's forte is budgeting a film and working on set to make sure that the production sticks to the budget. "I am the hands-on person on set, I try to keep a finger in every pie," he says.

The ultimate responsibility for the budget lies with him, and it is his job to make sure that the film does not unnecessarily spend cash. One of the examples he cites is that, while shooting Michael Collins, it was easier to just build an alternative set for much of Dublin city centre and the GPO rather than film it on location.

"We looked at every cobbled street in the city with a designer and it was eventually decided that it was just easer to build a set, one was able to build a facade of the Mansion House at the back of Grangegorman - and then it wasn't hard to add the pillars of the post office onto that," he says.

Shooting on a set also gave the production more freedom when the time came to shoot major battle scenes, such as those shot in the GPO to depict the 1916 Rising. "It worked fantastically as a location. It was a fairly ruinous building as well, so it didn't matter if we blew it up," he says.

Although he estimates that the set cost upwards of a million dollars of the overall $25m budget, it helped to cut costs in the long run. "We did shoot on a lot of locations around the city, such as Dublin Castle and Dame Street but we could use the set again and again. Daytime shots, night time, whatever. We even put tram tracks down on it and put a tram on it for some shots," he says.

Redmond also learned first hand how unpredictable production can be when working on the 2008 Oscar-winning Holocaust drama The Reader, which also landed him a shared Oscar nomination for Best Picture. While Kate Winslet eventually scooped the Best Actress gong for her performance, Nicole Kidman had originally been lined up to play the lead role of Hanna Schmitz before pulling out after she became pregnant. Although Winslet was quickly drafted into the film, Redmond says that the change meant the producers had to adapt.

"I greatly enjoyed The Reader in retrospect - but it was tough with losing an actor," he says.

"Kidman was set to be on set in November but when she didn't arrive we didn't start again until February," he explains. "What one does is mitigate costs any way you can - you lay off mostly everyone besides a skeleton crew and then you re-engage them," he said. He says the cost would have been a "relatively substantial amount", but adds that "it's more a logistics thing than anything else".

"Simple things like catering, when production is down catering stops, those kinds of simple things help to mitigate costs," he says.

Ed Guiney on the other hand tends to have a more similar role to Alan Moloney, as he jointly runs one of Ireland's most successful production companies, Element Pictures, which has produced major Irish films such as The Guard, Garage and Adam & Paul. He says that there tends to be a very high attrition rate for films. "Some productions you do the budget and you see that the sums are wrong, or the director might pull out," he explains. "I would say that for every six films that we look to develop, one gets finished".

Guiney says that the company sources productions from a mixture of established relationships and blooding new talent.

"If Lenny Abrahamson - director of Adam & Paul and Garage - comes to me with an idea I'll be there to do it, because I value his opinion so much," he said. We are also always interested in finding people who have something different to say. We don't want to be making forgettable movies that don't register in any way beyond financially."

While this approach has paid off, Guiney admits you can also end up getting too close to a project. "You do get very attached to films and sometimes you don't make the right calls. You can even finish them even if it isn't the sensible thing to do from a financial point of view," he says.

Despite that, Guiney says that one of the biggest difficulties faced on a daily basis is financing. "It is very difficult when you are trying to get a film financed and are already filming but financing hasn't come together. You have to try and find solutions then and keep going. Once you've started shooting you can't stop, you're in too deep and have spent too much money," he laments. This is a sentiment echoed by Moloney, and one that he identifies as being, for the most part, the major flaw in the film-making process.

"One of the flaws in the way that financing of films has evolved is that because it's driven by insurance companies and banks, who don't by definition have any real understanding of the film production process, and accordingly, things tend not to close until at the very best the first day of shooting," he says.

"By the time you get to the first day of shooting, you've actually incurred 25pc of the practical cost of making the film, which is generally in the millions. More often than not, the producer is the one trying to carry all of that."

He adds that the most important thing for a movie to work is for a producer to make sure that the balance between creativity and finance is right.

"When the director wants to achieve his vision, it's my role as a producer to support that -and balance it with whatever the market reality is, there's a balance in that.

"Film is the perfect alignment of art meeting commerce," he muses. "The interesting thing is that everyone - the director, the producer, the financier - everyone thinks it's their film. But it's our film, and it's all about getting the balance right."

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