Development Money For Talent

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Are we done? Not by a long shot. What about the possibility of having to pay talent for a letter of commitment, so that you can use their name recognition in your Memorandum as a selling point? Back in the eighties, I worked for a year as creative director of a Dutch development company based in America, called R A Entertainment. We were well funded, and our purpose was to develop two screenplays for preproduction. The two we chose for development were The Substitute, which I wrote, and The Johnson-Blues, which Rocco wrote. Then we prepared Memorandums, budgets, et cetera. For The Johnson-Blues, a perverse black comedy-thriller about a single mother and her daughter fending off an attack on their brownstone in Lower Manhattan by inbred Ramapo Mountain hillbillies, we felt a "name" in the Memorandum might help to overcome the weirdness of the plot. Of our development budget, ten thousand dollars was allotted to secure such a commitment. I approached Glenda Jackson, with whom I'd worked once before, on Burt's Bikers, and out of sheer luck, she was at a point in her career where a change of pace seemed strategic. Also, it didn't hurt that her sixteen-year-old son, after reading the screenplay, urged her to get involved in our high-class horror flick. She agreed to give us a letter of commitment, and didn't ask for money. We had snagged the participation of a great actress who needed us as much as we needed her. Moreover, she suggested her friend Oliver Reed as the head of the mutated mountain clan, a brutish actor with whom she'd done battle previously in Women in Love. A great idea. One casting coup had led to another. We never had to use our development allotment, but we might have had to.

(R A Entertainment was dissolved after one year, and as part of my settlement, I was given full rights to The Substitute, while the company took The Johnson-Blues back to Holland with them. I informed Glenda that I was no longer involved with the project, and she laughingly replied that she'd be willing to jump over a few canals. Eventually it was produced as The Johnsons by Dutch filmmaker Rudolf van den Berg, and though they would have benefited from having the participation of a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Actress—since they were hoping for a crossover film, one with international cache—they ended up not using her. The Johnsons was the number-one film in Holland when it debuted, doing better box office than The Prince of Tides. It has achieved a noncommercial but highly visible cult status in the States. And where did Glenda end up? As a member of the British Parliament.)

Now if, after all this, you've accepted the fact that money must be spent before you can raise money for the film—and, in addition to what I've mentioned, there are also the little matters of copyright protection and WGA (Writers Guild of America) registration for the screenplay, title protection with the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America) if you feel so inclined (which I don't, as a rule), and myriad other mini-expenses a diligent producer will attend to—if you've accepted the fact of development as a reality in your film's life, how then does one go about raising these funds?

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Film Making

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