Developing International Stories without Development Money
I shot my first feature film An Insignificant Harvey in April 2009, and although I had planned to shoot my second a year later, it has indeed taken me several years to get to the point where it now looks likely I will shoot The Bequest in September 2013. This has been a brutal reality to me, and yet one that in studying other filmmakers careers, is by no means unusual. In part because I have wanted to productively fill this time and also to avoid it ever happening to the same extent again, I have developed a five film slate. This is my career map for the next 6-8 years (I hope six, but I’m attempting realism), it is extremely specific, thought-out, and has an elaborate set of timelines within it. All of the films are Canadian, but several are also international co-productions, this is on purpose, but it has also made developing these stories a bit more tricky. What I hope will be my third feature, The Patron is a sexual thriller which tells the story of an 18-year-old female cellist, from Toronto, who is offered patronage by an eccentric Venetian composer to attend his conservatory in Venice Italy. When I began to develop this story two years ago, I had not been to Venice before, and found it extremely difficult to write. I also was not fortunate enough to get development money like I had hoped. A skill I perfected in my twenties was travelling cheaply and for extended periods, and this has proven time well spent, as I now embark on developing an intricate slate on my own dime, at least for now.
Although, when I became a full-time filmmaker years ago, I started to make some money as a commercial director, for me it has been corporate video work that has always paid my bills. These jobs may not be as creatively fulfilling, but they can pay extremely well, and allow you time to work on your feature projects. I have been lucky to get a couple of large corporations who I have received enough work from the last few years to allow me a comfortable life, more importantly they have allowed me the time I needed. There are a couple things I have learned that I think will be of value to others when it comes to this strategy, and so I thought I would share:
1) Whenever I travel, I rent out my apartment. I use to use craigslist.com but now rely exclusively on www.airbnb.com - This lets me make between 100-150 a night (my place is nice and located right downtown in Toronto, but small at 700 square feet). This money pays for an apartment wherever I travel and often leaves money left over. With an apartment you can cook your own meals, co-habitate with others, all of which saves you enormous money and allows you to live in a place much longer then you would otherwise.
2) I make sure I plan my trips strategically. So, if I know I have a corporate job I have been booked for, and that I will make decent money on, I plan a trip away.
3) Network before you get there. In Europe www.asmallworld.com is awesome for this. On my first six-week trip to Venice, I knew literally no one, and I spoke no Italian. When I left I had a cocktail party for 35 people at my apartment (that I had rented through airbnb.com).
4) Maintain the relationships. I have used the same strategy above to spend large chunks of time each year in Los Angeles, without a work visa, as such this time has really been focused on networking. I work hard to maintain these relationships.
I am now back in Venice for the week (it is Carnivale and my story takes place during Carnivale). Because, I stayed in touch and made actual friendships that I maintained, I have been able to hit the ground running. My place in Toronto is rented and the place I rented in Venice is a bit cheaper. It has been a really cool experience thus far, and I have no doubt the quality of my script will reflect this.
Certainly, moving forward I am hopeful my slate will get proper development budgets (for full dis-clusre The Bequest did receive development through the Canadian National Screen Institute, but this ended two years ago). For now, this strategy seems to be working.
Hope this is helpful to others.