How did we choose our first four projects?
I was asked this question in the forum on Saturday. A movie business is only as good as the movies it chooses to make. This was my reply, republished as a blog post, with a few tweaks.
When I met Cassian last year (he was over to see Mudbound premiere at the BFI Film Festival in London) and we talked about this idea of launching a movie business and getting it started by the crowd on Crowdcube, Cassian suggested the project Utopia Road as it was "ready to go" - in his words - with a great cast involved.
It's low budget (by Hollywood standards) and I was fascinated at the idea of launching a new talent into the movie world - as this would be the debut feature of acclaimed LA artist Rosson Crow.
It has become increasingly harder for new talent to emerge and one of the reasons we are here is because I believe the crowd are in a better position to take risks on projects like this and are therefore in a better place to make a greater return.
Cassian and Susan Carter Hall (one of the producers of the film and an artist in her own right) had come across Rosson at the Sundance Film Festival previously - where Rosson had a short film playing.
This was an exciting idea because of the connection to Sundance and her background as an artist. Sundance loves to support its emerging talent (e.g look at Damien Chazelle's short film which ended up becoming the hit Whiplash).
So it resonated with me immediately as a good "First Project" on the slate (budget size feels right, cast is fabulous, shooting in Louisiana with great tax incentives) and also because Rosson has such a distinctive visual style.
In emails with Rosson over the past few months we talked about Wes Anderson and I mentioned whether she had come across the photographer Gregory Crewdson - as Crewdson has been such an influence on the style of Wes Anderson in his film making. I said that there seemed to be a stylistic fit between what Rosson does in her short and the style of Wes Anderson as influenced by Crewdson. I'd heard Anderson and Crewdson talk together at a Q&A in London about 10 years ago and I was utterly fascinated by the connection between them as artists.
When Rosson replied to me in an email to say Gregory Crewdson had been a tutor at her college, I knew then, this was meant to be. It has to be. It feels right. We have to launch Rosson. You, me and everyone who invests will be doing so. A female voice. A distinctive artist with a unique view of the world.
And of course, when you have the talents of Anjelica Huston, Rebecca Hall and Garret Hedlund agreeing to be in this (subject to the caveats of the film business) I do get very excited about what we are doing here.
And in Cassian we have an industry heavyweight who will work extremely hard to get the right deals for us all.
The next project on the slate is Crazy Blue. It's a project that I have been working on for a couple of years. It's a story about a former boy band member who went solo in the 90s, failed and has ended up a recluse in his mansion house. A forgotten star, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.
The story starts on the night of his intended suicide, which is disturbed by three teenagers looking to steal his possessions. One of them accidentally saves his life and it's a story of how our forgotten boyband member learns to become a father. They are each others worst nightmare and only hope. Along the way he falls for the teenager's foster mum. It's about a family that comes together and its about the healing power of music. It's a feelgood family comedy drama in the vein of About The Boy that has the potential to reach a huge audience. The story was inspired by my own work with teenagers as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme - and the many great friendships I made with the kids.
The story has gone through so many rewrites and redrafts and along the way, at one point, I managed to get the screenplay to Edward Norton, who has agreed to be an Exec Producer on the project, if we feel it would help us. That's a crazy story in itself but Edward kindly agreed to read my screenplay if I helped him raise money for a charity. This was after I reached out to him via social media. Click here to learn all about this crazy Edward Norton story.
The ethnicity of the lead character changed from white British to African American and it works brilliantly because you have white teenagers teaching a black American about London Grime. So we are now putting the feelers out on cast. We have the screenplay being read currently by some wonderful actors. Let's see. It's low budget and it has the power to pack an emotive punch and the potential to break out.
I want to add that if we are successful in the fundraising, then all investors an any level (even those who are are dipping their toes in at £10) are welcome to come to a read through of Crazy Blue in London this Autumn. I think it will be a fabulous opportunity to get us all in the same room together. And we will co-ordinate this with the Cassian Elwes talk and any actor, writer, director, crew member in the business is invited (regardless of the amount they invest).
Cohen and Cohan is our third project on the slate. Last year, my colleague and I at Double M Films - which is a small production company I set up to produce my feature film Papadopoulos & Sons and a short film last year called Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times (which is currently approaching 40 film festival acceptances - and winning many awards) were looking for new projects. We probably went through 50 screenplays in that year. We found a couple of great projects but we were not able to agree anything.
At the same time, I was also doing a playwriting course with the legendary John Burgess. John had set up the literary department at the National Theatre Studio and had helped introduce theatre audiences to some incredible work. This is the John Burgess course here. It is brilliant.
For that course, which was weekly for a year, we had to read or see a play before class, discuss it and bring our homework in from the previous week, as well as our projects of writing a short play, radio play and stage play. It was intense. I saw and read 100s of plays. We probably discussed 1000s. And one of the plays we read was called Waves Breaking on a Shore by Neil Brand and Michael Eaton. The play had been produced as a two part radio play for BBC Radio 4 in 2010.
It is brilliant. Funny, musical and timely. It seems to talk so much about our world today - the rise in right wing politics and how technology is changing our world, even though this is set at the turn of the Century.
Neil Brand and Michael Eaton are two of our great British talents in the business. They are no spring chickens but we call them "the boys". I met with them after I came across the radio play and we commissioned them to turn this into a feature film. So that has all been paid for and the option and ownership of this project is now in Movie Collective (PS - this is the same for all the projects). We have 18 months left on the option and with the option to renew.
During the development process we recognised there is enough material here for a TV series. So we have renamed it "Cohen and Cohan" after the two music hall performers (Jewish Cohen with an "e" and Irish Cohan with an "a"). The first episode has been written and we have an outline for another 5 parts. However, the discussion now is whether we have to create an outline for more episodes. Netflix, for example, may prefer 10 episodes. This is an ongoing discussion.
The final project on the slate is in what I call the "soup stage" of development. We are still working on a first draft but it is a lovely story of two men who are forced to come together during a business deal that goes wrong in Bucharest. It's based on a true story that happened to my father. It is being written by Abraham Papacosta and we were meeting regularly (until I decided to crowdfund a new movie studio). Once we are successful or not, we will go back to our weekly meetings. And there is a whole process I could divulge about how that creative process works. But this is something I am good at as I worked with an Impro Theatre company called Fluxx for many years - which was led by the late great Chris Johnston. His last book, published just after his death, is fantastic.
So this is how we found our fab four projects. We have an amazing story of a British family rescuing a dog in Greece which I am starting to work on. I will co-write this with a brilliant young writer. The cost? £5k for a first draft - which will go to the writer. So for just £5k, we will be adding a very commercial piece to our slate.
My colleague Muireann and I are also developing a bible and episode outline for a TV series called "Househusbands" which we see as the natural successor to a show in the 90s called "Cold Feet" (which so many of us loved). The cost? Nothing. This is what Muireann and I will do full time for our investors.
We get sent screenplays every week. If we like them, we will meet with the writer and have a talk. But currently, we only have enough room for these projects. However, we are looking for more female led stories by women writers - so if that anyone out there, please contact us.
I am proud of my ability to wear an entrepreneur's hat and a artist's hat. You won't find many studio execs doing a playwriting course in their 40s. Three years ago I did an intense Meisner course with Meisner teaching guru Gary Condes. This is what gives me an edge as a film maker and it gives me an edge in this startup. If the studio exec isn't doing these things, in a movie business you are investing in, you have to ask why not?
I believe our ability at Movie Collective to develop and grow exciting creative projects will be our greatest asset. As I have said before, in 5 to 10 years time, Movie Collective should be making between 5 and 10 movies and a TV series every year. That is what I want to shoot for and I am delighted that so many people are signing up to the vision. But first things first and the first movie on our slate is Rosson's Utopia Road. And this is truly exciting.