The Triumphant Return of Good Machine

Yes, it is true.  Good Machine is back.  But in a new and improved form.  Perhaps we should have done a press release, but I thought I should do it here instead.  Press releases are so yesterday.

If you went to Sundance, perhaps you noticed the secret stealth return of our so-called 90's powerhouse.  Or if you were at the Golden Globes, it must have caught your eye.  Hell, even if you just watched the Golden Globes.  If you missed all that, certainly by perusing the Oscar noms, something should have caused a bit of stir.  I've been waiting for some sharp newshound to break with the story, but nope.  So here's the real buzz...

The Good Machinists seem to have now taken over indie film.  The only difference between back then and now is that like any good thing, Good Machine the company achieved its own obsolescence.  The Good Machinists each have their own shop.  Call it, the decentralized approach. But look at what Good Machine achieved just this month.

My former assistant and partner, former head of production, Anthony Bregman, nabbed the biggest sale (I think) at Sundance for his production MY IDIOT BROTHER.  I haven't checked, but also think he's giving Mr. Rudin chase for the title of Most Prolific Producer (when I asked Ant his secret, he replied "Have four children, and you don't have a choice: you have to produce!").  His credit list also includes recent collaborations with many former Good Machine directors, including Nicole Holofcener and Bob Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Good Machine's 2nd initial hire, and the first employee to enter the producer ranks, Mary Jane Skalski, had one of the best received films of the Sundance fest in her 3rd collaboration with Tom McCarthy, WIN WIN.  But why stop there?  She was also in the elite club of Sundance twofers, with the fest opener and competition stand out PARIAH, which Mary Jane Executive Produced -- and Focus just announced that they picked up.  No rest for the weary, eh?

The whole time Anthony was a partner at This is that, and even some of the time he was at Good Machine, he had one assistant, and a remarkable one at that.  With Bregman's new company, Likely Story, Stefanie Azpiazu has taken on Executive Producer duties (what are those exactly, btw?).  She holds that credit on Jesse Peretz's MY IDIOT BROTHER, as well as several others, including last year's Sundance opener, PLEASE GIVE (and this year's WGA nominee).

Another former assistant of mine, now the head of hottest international sales company in the entire universe (aka FilmNation), Glen Basner, recently decided to expand his company's portfolio into the specialized arena.  Awhile back he told me he had found something that should spark.  But I think 12 Oscar nominations for THE KING'S SPEECH is an outright bonfire.

Of course, my fellow Good Machine founder, the legendary erudite Mr. James Schamus, is always expected to do well, and last year -- back before Sundance returned as a sales market -- , he picked up a nice little title in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, and now has four Oscar noms for his label.

The founder of Good Machine International, David Linde, could well have decided to take some time off after running a studio, but as long as there's great movies to make, I don't think David will be taking a break.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may be the most gifted filmmaker out there, but his films are challenges, thankfully.  But that means they will never be easy to get made, but luckily he has a Lava Bear on his side.  David EP'd this year's entry to my top ten list, BIUTIFUL and yes, as a result has some more Oscar noms to his credit.

Anne Carey, my partner at This is that, did not go to Sundance this year.  But that did not stop The Hollywood Reporter from naming her on their Indie Hit List the hottest producer there:

THE PRODUCER

Then: Lawrence Bender
On team Tarantino since Reservoir Dogs, he has also handled Oscar-winning pics like Good Will Hunting and An Inconvenient Truth.

Now: Anne Carey
The former WMA agent toiled at Good Machine before partnering with Ted Hope on pics including Adventureland and The American.

And why not, her tenacity and genius, did yield the "coolest" film of the year in THE AMERICAN, which happened to enjoy the distinction of being the only This is that production to grace the top of the box office charts.  (PS.  Hey Anne: that wiki needs some updating!  And: Hey HRptr: she wasn't an agent, she just worked there!)

Unfortunately, Good Machine can't take credit for WINTER'S BONE, but that won't stop me from trying.  After all, Ang Lee's fantastic RIDE WITH THE DEVIL might have been Good Machine's biggest financial flop (despite being a great movie), but it was the first film to be adapted by WINTER BONE's novelist Daniel Woddrell.  Okay, it's a stretch but certainly it speaks a tad of our mutual fine taste for the man's prose and stories (even if Ms. Granik has turned down our efforts to work with her!).

Okay, so this does leaves some Good Machinists still unaccounted for, but after winning some Globes last year, Ross Katz is entitled to some time off.   Interestingly enough, Ross should take the reigns on a film Bregman is producing and Basner is arranging the financing on; the film, by title only is a mash up of several of our former projects, THE AMATEUR AMERICAN.  One of Mr. Schamus' former assistants, Jawal Nga, has been active on the producing front, with last year's Sundance hit HOWL and prior Grand Jury Winner FORTY SHADES OF BLUE to his credit.  And of course there's a squad of GMers doing great things behind the scenes too, some that will no doubt start some bonfires of benevolence in short order.

Me?  Well I already told you how I spent my Sundance non-vaction a few days ago (I've put a few updates into it if you want to check back) and how inspiring it was for me this year.

All in all, though, I must admit it is pretty swell to see the trees those seeds have sprouted.

The Good Machine No-Budget Commandments

Back in the day, before I had This is that, I had a production company called Good Machine. James Schamus and I founded it together, and we later partnered with David Linde. Mary Jane Skalski and Anthony Bregman were also partners, and we had the good fortune to work with a host of other talents including my later partners Anne Carey and Diana Victor, and Ross Katz, Glen Basner, Heta Paarte, Lamia Guelatti, Melinka Thompson-Gody, Jean Castelli, Kelly Miller, Dan Beers, Eric Papa, Jawal Nga, and many other later-legends to be. As good as the films we made, as great as the individuals we got to collaborate with, we also had a genuine fondness for memos and how-to's. If you come to my office these days, it looks like a FEMA site; we are going paperless, and I am sorting through the files, finding many choice nuggets. My madeleines.

One day, way back when, I went into to speak to a NYU grad class and I felt I would feel more substantive if I had something to hand out (btw I believe The Savages director, Tamara Jenkins was in that class). That was the start of the Good Machine No-Budget Commandments. James and I revised them here and there, and I am pretty sure, that Mary Jane and Anthony tossed more than a suggestion or two.

My surprise in reading them today is that no where do they say "The budget is the aesthetic."  That had seemed like the mantra at times.  We get pretty close with #4, but not as dogmatic.

They hold up today. I still subscribe to the full set of notions.  Here they are, for your critique and comment, in their dusty glory.

1. Write to direct. A screenplay, especially a no-budget screenplay is a very loose blueprint for a film – ultimately every choice you make will compromise something else.

2. Write for what you know and for what you can obtain. This goes for actors, locations, animals, and major propping or set dressing. If your friend owns something, anything, write it into the film.

3. Remain flexible. Recognize the essential element in a scene and allow it to take place in a variety of locations or circumstances.

4. Choose an aesthetic that will capitalize on the lack of money (i.e. period anachronisms, monochromatic color schemes, etc.). Invest meaning in everyday commonplace things – make an orange a totemic object John Ford would be proud of.

5. Don’t over strive. Don’t try to show how much production value you have (you don’t have it, so you’ll either fail or unbalance your film). A film that people say is “well produced” usually means that the story didn’t have much going for it. Keep the story aligned with the budget.

6. Don’t limit yourself to too few locations – it’s a dead give away of lack of dollars. I like the number eight.

7. Use everything more than once. You’ve already paid for it, so use it, use it, use it.

8. Write for a very limited audience – your closest friends. Do not try to please anyone – crowd pleasing costs.

9. Write to cut it back later. You can trim to subtlety.

10. Contradict the above commandment and only write what you know you absolutely must shoot.

11. Keep it simple. You can learn how to do the impossible on your next film. No dogs. No babies. “Business” is expensive. Keep it controllable.

12. Keep it intimate. Dialogue and close ups are cheap.

13. Make the most of a day’s work. It’s easier to get a commitment for one day than it is for a week. Exploit people’s willingness to give a day.

14. Ignore everything listed above if it doesn’t further the story.

The Rise No-Budget NYC. Good Machine '97

I don't even know what this was for, This was for something on WNYC called "Egg" produced by Jeff Folmsbee.  but I do know that my friend Dan McGuire was also heavily involved in the shooting and editing of it.

I co-founded Good Machine back in 1990. We made a lot of good films and had some good times too. Iget a big kick out of seeing glimpses of folks from so long ago: Mary Jane Skalski, Heta Paarte, Glen Basner, and James Schamus and Ang Lee.  Nothing like seeing those gigantic computers and roladexes too. Too think we could make a film without an iPhone...

It also feels so fresh to me.  The same drive and ideas that made Good Machine a good idea back then, holds true to this day.  Everything is new again. We founded that company on the idea of a no-budget film fund (okay micro-budget in today's vernacular) could make money and build a better mousetrap in the process. That, and the fact that I had a good long list of directors who needed some help. Both those things still hold true.

Although I must admit I no longer have a Che poster behind my desk, although the Obama "Hope" won works as the same sort of litmus test.

Determining Foreign Sales Fees

The question came up over one of last weeks posts, why foreign buyers base license fees on budget percentages.  I have accepted this for so long, I had stopped questioning it -- but it is one of those things worth questioning, so I am glad it was raised.  Thanks.

It made me feel we should have an ongoing "ASK THE EXPERTS" section over here at Truly Free.  For this one I went to the legend of Glen Basner, a graduate of the Good Machine School of Everything, and the man behind the founding of the new sales powerhouse FILM NATION.  The Baz explains:
There are many factors in determining what a territorial license fee should be – a percentage of the budget is only one. These are standard amounts that are “typical” for an individual territory based on what distributors have paid historically (Yes, the world has changed quite a bit recently!). I don’t believe that they apply in singular fashion unless you are contemplating some form of output deal. 
On a single picture license, a distributor will want to know what the budget level is so that: a) they understand what the production value will be; and b) they can feel comfortable that they are not paying an excessive amount in relation to the cost of the film. These are valid points but what people forget is that ultimately the budget of the film does not necessarily have a correlation with its success at the box office (Blair Witch etc). 
Our approach is to think like a distributor and run estimates – both revenue and expense – for a film in all media to determine a low, base and high value a film is likely to have in any given territory. With these estimates we can back into a license fee figure that would allow for a distributor to make money should the film turn out well. The budget comes into play if the sum total of our international estimates do not raise enough money to finance a film.
Curiously enough, the WSJ has chimed in today on the issue of value of foreign licenses, albeit the lack thereof.  Check it out here.