MMP 2016 event

Visiting co-production markets

Mannheim Meeting Place visits Cyprus: a talk given during the Cyprus Film Days by MMP Coordinator Julek Kedzierski and guest producer Christine Haupt on some aspects of attending international co-production markets – from both start-up and experienced producer standpoints. Nicosia, 19th April 2016. (transcript with edit, expanded).

JK: Potential start-up co-producers can be forgiven if they do not quite understand that international co-production is not just about “Gimmee money, Gimmee money”. The giving has to go in both directions.

In Mannheim, in parallel with the IFF Mannheim Heidelberg’s over 60 years of devotion to start-up directors, we have set up a small event called Mannheim Meeting Place. MMP specializes in helping start-up producers on their first or second feature project to develop constructive dialogue with more experienced international (minority) co-production partners, with the aims of matching and production. (By a quirk of statistics for 2015 we boast a 75% production green-light rate for MMP market projects).

MMP is considered necessary because what one will usually hear when these two sectors (start-up and experienced co-producers) come together is the sound of running feet heading for the hills – experienced co-producers will not normally want to deal with the trials and tribulations of inexperienced partners. That is too often too much trouble on top of enough trouble that can come from co-producing.

 (MMP differs to other markets insofar we spend 85% of effort on preparation before the physical MMP takes place during the IFF Mannheim Heidelberg.)

So if you (the Cyprus audience) are going to produce yourselves, as many of you are forced to, your first questions (apart from “do you really have to?”) are what you can do to minimize the pain for the others, and to make life easier all round in international co-production. 

In Mannheim we have developed a method that does seem to make linking such partners a little easier and includes sowing small seeds of trust into the process, as well as increasing start-up co-producer self-confidence. Because over the possibly four years or more that it might take to put an international co-production together, if you can’t get to like someone you are working with, then at least you could trust them. And hope that works.

We do sometimes see situations which give an impression that a (more experienced) co-producer is trying to exploit a relationship to their own advantage – one example would be someone suddenly structuring their local grant allocation to fit in post audio work on a second project. (In that case we managed to act constructively.)

We have seen sudden eruptions of activity a day before a local funding submission is due that then double the allocation for editing. In that case the less experienced lead producer stuck to her/his guns – she/he would have lost her majority in the project if she/he had agreed.

So developing a basis for trust does help while one is gaining experience, and is also part of the “giving”. If you don’t prepare well, and you get “screwed” it is probably totally your own fault. And that’s not a question of ethics, it’s also wasted time, which always comes back to the quality of your preparation.

Showing preparedness, as a start-up producer, will gain you some respect at least from potential partners, if not a basis for some trust as well.

Christine Haupt is an example of a modern German minority producer, who has been lucky and talented enough to be involved in 2 national Oscar selections: one was “Fair Play”, the Czech selection for the Academy Awards in 2014, and “The Judgment” for Bulgaria in 2015.

Such items in a CV are of course the quickest and a safer way to illustrate where someone is at. And if you haven’t had the chance to build a CV, then you should start doing so within your abilities and means – a basic way to impress foreign funders.

As for the co-production process, it is difficult to start but then gets easier with time as you build up a network with whom you can and want to work again. 

“Networking” is an essential part of every co-production market. Different markets have different formats – some build up their event around public presentation of a project (which, on the larger scale, is not always easy for everyone) while others concentrate more on written presentations (which can logically also serve as a sound basis for a spoken version). Both are necessary and both do their work well. But one should never underestimate the fact that people are reacting not purely to your project but to your presentation of your project – these can be two different things.

Such a presentation to a co-production market will normally include (but not only) some production data, a tag line, a log-line, a synopsis of up to perhaps two pages, a director statement and/or a director vision, a list of available documents as attachments. Some events will ask you for a budget outline, a financial plan, a project history, a list of co-production elements that basically always shows a reader which parts of the project are to be kept at home. Then the producer and director profiles and contact and company data. 

Some co-production markets will also expect you to show a marketing plan, and cross and new media planning for the project.

In Mannheim we concentrate on a written presentation aimed specifically at international co-producers, to provide the informations most valid to them.

Christine Haupt: and it is most important that before producers go to a co-production market they study up on what specific countries can give to the project. If the event is more country-specific (like Cottbus or Utrecht) such preparation is relatively easy.

JK: Thus such production data will include: all suggested relevant language titles ( a local co-producer will know if the title has been recently used or not),
proposed film length
planned shooting locations
planned distribution of shooting days (days and dates)
proposed pre-production schedule (months and dates)
proposed production schedule (days and dates)
proposed post-production schedule (months and dates)
the production company involved and their location,
the script source (literary or original)
shooting language
language of finished film
the script draft number and available translations if relevant
name of director.

 Question from the audience: How long should such a presentation be in total?

JK: well at Mannheim at present we use a model which is about 8 pages long, in a single document, depending on the project – the basic specifics for that we are illustrating today but they can also be seen at the Producer Guidelines

Though there are another two stages we work on in more detail before we consider a project presentation viable. 

With such project Outlines, also never forget that you are also making a push into foreign cultures. For example the South Korean presentations we receive by email are nearly always at least 3-400 MB long and purely pictorial – to Europeans they all look remarkably similar and are just that – first presentations that contain no information to hook a co-producer – that is supposed to come later.

An Oscar winning European producer I know says he always looks through his emails for project proposals with his breakfast – because “you never know” – so please ask yourselves – would he be happier with a professionally developed ca. 8 page presentation aimed at a co-producer, or 60 pages in several fairly unmethodical parts?

 Many producers at markets also have an approach to best collect most things so as not to miss anything afterwards – even if you then send your script at their request and never hear from them again. (Much the same happens with sales-agents).

 We should also emphasise the need for a mature script draft: if you are going into co-production too early then you get the wrong processes pointing out the right thing – that you’re not ready yet. And this ultimately wastes everybody’s time.

From the Audience: What about name actors?

Christine Haupt: if you have a name with a signed letter of intent, then of course present it. And please don’t forget the planned length of the film. If someone proposes to send me a script and when I get it it is way too long, then I could have known that straight away beforehand. Because plainly you start from normal feature length. A three hour film has normally no chance in German cinema. Further I want to know what genre to expect. Horror? Comedy? Drama? Action?

JK: Tag Lines:

The best MMP tagline we have had in 7 years was “2 girls go on holiday, one sells the other”. That’s something you can tell a Hollywood producer in the lift with a strong chance of generating interest. And you need a tag line – you need it for your co-producers, you need it for financiers, for your markets, for distributors, for TV, for theatrical posters, for sales agents - and it doesn’t need to be the same one in every case.

You shouldn’t be afraid of asking even your mother-in-law for a tag line for your project – not everyone has a talent in this direction, but the need is very much there. And it isn’t a pop-cornland request – bury your pride and find that person in your environment who has that special something in putting total ideas across in 8 to 10 words.

Christine Haupt: Exactly. And another thing that is often got wrong: there is a tendency to state things with a question mark at the end. That gives the impression that you don’t know what to tell. If you want to present something or sell something why should you show that you seem uncertain?

JK: A bit like quoting other films to describe your own project – I always connect that automatically to poor intellectual capacity, at first. As I think I have been told Claire Denis (?) once pointed out, the interlocutor might detest the quoted film or director.

We continue with Log lines: a log line will “log” in short form the action in a project from hopefully beginning to end, the physical parameters, and emotional hook. I would say it is 3 to 4 times longer than a tag line, and may be used immediately after it.

Christine Haupt: (For the co-producer) it should say more about where you are heading and perhaps also suggest specifics of the film.

JK: Synopsis:

(At MMP 2015) Marios Piperides spent some time over two weeks to come up with a satisfactory explanation of the North-South problem in Cyprus to start the synopsis of his project. Several negative reactions from foreign reading producers showed how difficult it is sometimes to present things that might be very easy to demonstrate in a script, for example.

A synopsis should be just that – background explanation should be kept to a relevant size, and, as was said, not raise unnecessary question-marks. And it should contain the complete film story-line – not a piece of literature that does not, as seems so popular among script mentors, “reveal” the ending. That is more an invitation for the reading co-producer to stop than to push on and take the project seriously. At the same time, we are not talking “just” story-line here either.

Christine Haupt: And again, don’t make a synopsis 3 pages long, or longer. Concentrate on the main facts, on the story, for most co-production markets 1 page is enough.

JK: At Mannheim we suggest in our format that a synopsis is around 1.5 pages long, (without double-spacing.) Never forgetting the ancient wisdom that there is nothing in the world you cannot explain in the right three sentences, as well.

 And now we come to the question of language. Roughly, Cyprus comes in the sphere of Greek for regional co-production with Greece, English-language use in co-production with Europe, then the other world language regions are Spanish and French, with some German for Austria/Switzerland.

 So your English should really be English and not a Cyprus English which creates unnecessary noise that distracts the reader. If in doubt, always get your English reviewed by a proper source. And do not depend on automatic spelling correction – the results can be horribly distracting.

 Christine Haupt: For international co-production purposes in Germany the language is usually English, but for domestic funding you need the application in German.

JK: And we stress that a synopsis for co-production should be just that – written for reading co-producers with their priorities: the work they can envisage that might await them and how they could best fit into the action. In the “best” case that would be shooting, unless you are aiming strictly at post.

Christine Haupt: but that could also mean that you as lead producer try to put something in another country just to get the money, and that very often won’t work – it ends up artificial and you feel something is not organic. That’s when I can stop wanting to read the script. And there are more and more scripts being sent the better known you are, so if a script stops being convincing the reading also stops.

JK: At that point you have to be able to afford a reader. And that doesn’t always fit. Many theatrical distributors in Germany have professional readers – “dramaturgically versed persons” who work according to need. So should many producers.

To sum up: at Mannheim we prefer synopses which tell the reading co-producer what exactly happens in the film. But some people come back and say “Oh this is just a story-line” - so it must also retain the flavour of the project.

Christine Haupt: But I really want to be able to read to the end. But I also want to know that the genre is correct. If it’s a comedy I want to have a smile put on my face. And it should be the dominant quality – I am not usually a fan of genre mixtures. Of course it can be a road movie and a comedy, but true (and good) cross-genres are few and far between. So a presentation should concentrate on a lead genre, and further explanations can come in the follow-up phase. You should be convinced of your ending – so avoid open-end.

From the Audience: what happens when a project really changes its ending during production?

Christine Haupt: of course you should immediately inform your co-producer(s), and not wait until the rough cut is made. The co-producers have their own set of (domestic) responsibilities regarding the project, and also they simply have the right to know, and not just to get mad at the end. And sometimes such unknown changes might work against the film’s market chances in the co-producer’s country.

After all this is about being partners – with a partner who goes out and finds money for you and the project. A partner you need, also for the distribution (in a country like Germany, for example), and for every step you do. An open discussion is best – so is trust.

JK: Now we come to the Director’s Vision (some laughter from the audience).

In Mannheim there is a distinction made between the Director’s Vision and a Director’s statement – the latter being more for Sunday morning TV show interviews (i.a. promotion) and the former an attempt at a professional explanation of the director’s input into a production.

However it is not always possible to change a vision into compelling writing. We ask that such informations be not more than ½ or two-thirds of a page each. When it obviously needs to be more we refer the reader to the attachments section.

Christine Haupt: well in my experience the French tend towards about 8 pages, but I (and Germans in general) personally prefer 1 page.

JK: It will depend on each project whether a Vision or a Statement or both are necessary. It can be different for different co-production markets. But it ultimately depends how and how much you need to transmit such informations into foreign cultures. Some co-production markets request a producer’s standpoint as well.

Christine Haupt: You need to inform yourself beforehand and prepare. Personally I like both: Statement and Vision.

JK: but always watch that the language used is easy to understand. Sometimes there is no other way than the director and producer visiting co-production markets they can visit in tandem.

Christine Haupt: They actually should in my opinion.

JK: Well in Mannheim we favour the start up-producer. They should know exactly what they are going for before introducing the director into the mix. Too often coming together has become more of a growth experience thing between producer and director than advancing a project with a co-producer. Next at Mannheim we have our Attachments List: documents that belong to the project that are too long for the Outline. Such as the Treatment, the Budget, the Script, Moodboards and photo material , Full Director Vision, CV’s etc., as well as any links directly concerned with the project, and underlying proofs such a LoI’s, LoC’s, literary options, other details, etc..

Someone interested to learn more about the project can call up any or all of such attachments.

We move to the Budget Outline. For many, there is a difference to be emphasised between a Budget Outline, which is a Proposal, and a Budget Top Sheet which is an extract from a Final Budget. For such purposes as contingency, application for certain loans, Eurimages etc understanding the difference is crucial.

 From the Audience: a fixed budget when you go to co-production markets is not always the case.

JK: that’s why MMP uses Budget Outlines and not Budget Topsheets. Basically we want to show proof that a producer is ready to be interested in understanding what the partners are doing.

Christine Haupt: at most co-production markets I don’t need a Budget Outline. What is more important for me is the Financial Plan, usually the Budget is not existing yet - there is just a script. So how can you have a Budget?

JK: At Mannheim we prefer projects that are already, or are on the way to being domestically funded. First have your domestic (script, budget, funding) in firm grasp, then reach out. Often domestic funding is based on a total budget proposal. Then, due to our dealing with start-ups we want to have a certain amount of guarantee in place for the potential (normally experienced) minority co-producers. Or they complain to us their time is being wasted. 

Also, when you have a Budget Outline similar to an Eurimages model, there is a proposal for co-producers and co-production elements separated out between potential co-producers. We insist on this at Mannheim. Often it helps the lead start-up producers more than the reading producers.

A Budget Outline for potential co-producers also shows us at what level model calculations are being suggested – whether regionally typical prices for say Nordic area, or Balkan. Midnight prices for sound mix on the Champs Elysées can be acceptable when suitably explained, (as can some local “Cyprus prices”).

Finally, whether the Budget Outline is proposed beforehand or afterwards, any proposed co-producer budget still needs to be checked by the lead producer. They would be foolish not to.

A start-up producer who won’t do their homework can be led by the nose.

A start-up producer who suggests silly prices for the co-producer to “take care of” – (we very often get proposals for music composition, performance and recording at 5,000 euros without good cause) needs to get his/her ideas about international co-production straightened somewhat.

In some cases minority producers’ local funds can tie grants for certain sectors (e.g. post) to a percentage of total budget – changing the total budget amount afterwards can create difficulties for them.

Further, having experienced persons travelling half the world on tax payer money (in one case twice) to co-production markets with a half-page “treatment” in their pocket and nothing else, anyone not willing to make a Budget Outline proposal will not be taken seriously by Mannheim. We check their original full budget for irregularities as part of the Mannheim process anyway, but only after a Budget Outline has been submitted and dealt with.

Christine Haupt: at other co-production markets it is usually too early to have a budget proposal , and usually you don’t yet know the co-production elements in mind. It is more a part of a communication process, so you develop the budget together, so why should you do it in the beginning when you don’t know your partner and what they can provide.

JK: in the case of working with start-up producers we want to take some of the risk away – for both sides. And of course you might well start all over again – just its easier and quicker then. With start-up producers we need to protect our investment. We also have a two month lead-in period of work on the presentation, that includes questions of proposed budget. Potential minority producers send in a lot of feedback during that time, so the work in our case does a lot of the communicating for the project.

Christine Haupt: I want to know what budget a lead producer is aiming for and how much they need from the co-producer(s) and what elements it is possible to provide.

JK: A start-up producer needs to work out which co-production market is best for them. Just getting introduced to people doesn’t mean they want to work with you. But once, after a time of hard work and proven reliability, you’ll have your network in place and can start international co-production work on a “phone call” basis.

Christine Haupt: As a minority producer, I’m not going so often to international co-production markets any more. Because I know many producers from different countries, and when they can’t they will probably know someone who can. 

JK: Let’s move on to the Financial Plan:

It should be a table in chronological order please. To show what has been granted, what is due when, and when certain applications can be made once certain levels of income have been achieved (e.g. Eurimages).

Domestic should be clearly separated from foreign. And planned non-territorial income (again, such as Eurimages) should be spread out among the partners according to each part.

If the different forms of income need to be emphasised (e.g. for an African lead producer it will be relevant where he/she applies directly for non-aligned funding or through a local agent, or when a source of revenue comes through a true co-producer connected to local spend) then the table should reflect that.

In any case we think the principles of an individual financial plan need to be grasped (if not necessarily understood in detail) within a time-frame of 6-8 seconds. If it’s longer than 10 there is possibly something “wrong”, at least in the way the information is being transmitted.

Project History: it is usually best to be honest about what has happened with a project since it started. If you have been refused by five or six markets you should actually list them. But if someone finds out you are untruthful they might not hurry as much to help you change your approach – since obviously that is what you need to do.

Christine Haupt: and they will find out. All the producers in Europe are finally connected somehow…

JK: finally it’s your own responsibility. We as a market don’t want to be in a position where ground is being covered twice due to non-disclosure. It is a waste of time. 

Christine Haupt: and if you are having refusal after refusal from markets maybe you should call them and find out why. And every market has a different profile – maybe you can make a conclusion from that.

I want to meet the creative team, not only the producer, so there is that advantage to markets that invite the producer and director – such as Sarajevo, Cottbus, Berlin, Utrecht or Rotterdam Cinemart.

JK: At MMP we then go on to a list of proposed co-production elements. What is the lead producer proposing the co-producers actually do for the money they are supposed to get? 

Now in some countries you will be allowed to spend a certain percentage of money obtained by the minority producer abroad, and not only in the direct region. An example of this is Christine Haupt’s “Fair Play” - she was able to spend some of the Czech Lead producer’s local financing abroad in Germany.

Christine Haupt: There is the new tax incentive plan in Czech Republic that means this is getting less easy to do nowadays.

JK: But mostly in Europe we are looking at fund money being granted for regional spend – there where taxes are being paid (whether crew or actors it stays the same).

So the needed co-production elements should be put together in such a way that fits the spend. The list then corresponds to the co-producer column(s) of the Budget Outline mentioned earlier. 

Christine Haupt: Yes, every country has their own rules. In Germany it used to be different but now the main emphasis seems to be on shooting. The more you can spend, the more money you can get, and content should be more authentic – not just made up to get the money. Shooting, creative elements such as heads of department, then post production (because we really have good facilities) and equipment hire… but not singly – “just” post is not getting to be enough any more.

 With heads of department the international exchange is also there. And joining the elements logically is good: if there is post it makes sense to have the sound guy from Germany as well.

JK: If you are interested enough to read the three recent case study events on the Mannheim FF website, they include examples of what is meant by international shooting - one where scenes on the ground floor of a house were shot in one country and the first floor in another – BUT it has to be pointed out that these were people who had the experience to know exactly what they were doing ( Rudi Teichmann & Co – the film in question, “Two Lives”, was also a German Oscar candidate selection)

MMP 2015 Event URSUS Case Study

MMP 2015 Event Christine Haupt and

MMP 2014 Co-Production Content Event

In contrast we can think of a fairly recent European co-production (with a very big casting) where the exteriors were shot in one country and the interiors in another – despite the professionalism of the actors the whole interior section was simply claustrophobic and very artificial, in my opinion ruining the film.

The Producer and Director Profiles in the Mannheim Outline are preferably kept up to two thirds of a page each, with working links to seminal and recent works on both sides. Those who want to wax longer are welcome to add attachments in the Attachments section.

The contact data included should always contain full registration data of the company responsible for the project. (BVI based companies don’t always make it in public funding).

Christine Haupt: once you get to a coproduction market, think of the advantage that quick visual presentation of your project can bring, or storyboards – things that help your potential partner grasp and start to believe in your ideas. Especially if your festival CV is not that hot…

One other element that seems to be missing here is a separate Timeline – that helps me to orient myself to the current status of the project, when are you aiming to shoot, when will the production finish, and which distribution paths you want to follow… because if you have two or three partners it needs at least 6 months or more to get financing in place for other countries, and in Germany that might well be longer. 

JK: Since Christine is here, it would be useful to run through what can normally await a German co-producer intent on involving themselves in an international minority co-production:

Christine Haupt: A German translation of the script. 

A deal memo (or at least an LoC) with a theatrical distributor. For one form of funding, (dfff) only distributors who are on an approved list and who can show three releases a year can be acceptable) 

Regional Spend –usually at least 50% of the sum applied for, (this with an increasing tendency as time passes)…. this can be financed also e.g. from Eurimages, possible TV money, theatrical advance (if available), private investment, services investment, etc.

then there is the Eigenanteil (own investment) – 5% of the received funds. There is some discussion that it doesn’t conform with EU law, but for the moment (April 2016) it is still there.

Of the final German money on the table, for a smaller film at least 20% of the total has to be non-public fund money.

Then the money you are getting from a Fund is often a soft loan, and for e.g. a period of ten years afterwards you need to chase your co-producers to make up the needed annual revenue reports – that chasing can take some months out of a co-producer’s life…

Then the producer fees are not so high….

So you really have to think when you want to get involved in international co-production.