From The Mouth Of A Local Film Expert
Few Trinbagonian filmmakers can boast of any kind of international success like G. Anthony Joseph, the man behind Men of Gray, Men of Gray 2- Flight of The Ibis and Contract Killers, the latter of which was done in collaboration with local executive producer Mr Dave Cabral of Galt Alliance Films. Like other advocates for a local film industry G. can see the finish line; a viable multi-million dollar profitable industry that employs hundreds of thousands of locals year-round and attracts cultural tourism.
Despite being grossly underfunded by the Government and severely underestimated by the private sector, the local film industry has contributed over $32 million to the economy to-date. Thanks to the efforts of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, UWI Film Programme, volunteers and private sponsors, the film sector has also generated employment for 2,233 persons, 318 crews and trained 483 people this last decade. Our films have debuted not only at our very own Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival but also the Athens International Video and Film Festival, Reel World Film Festival in Canada, Festival FEMI in Guadeloupe, Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, GRULAC Film Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa and Kerala International Film Festival in India among others.
We have the talent but we lack film industry intellect, something G. Anthony learned by bravely entering the Hollywood machine. He recommends that aspiring filmmakers also bravely dive in, similar to one of the greatest directors of all time, as he reveals,
“Steven Spielberg (a story we hear many times in LA) used to sneak onto the set of the studios. It was said he once stated, that he should have been paying the studios for the knowledge he attained in those days. The quest for knowledge is an absolute must in any business especially the film business which is why it surprises me when I come onto the island to make movies, I always think to myself, besides Dave Cabral & Richard Chin Fatt and one other local director/producer I know, it seems no one really cares to ask questions or maybe they have too much pride to ask, or they just don't want to waste their time organizing forums etc. to get the best out of my knowledge.”
Indeed, it is a loss because G. Anthony is not only approachable but generous with his knowledge about the distribution and financing process that takes a movie from script to blockbuster premiere.
“I am an open book with no other agendas in mind but to make movies and share what I know, “ he reveals. What G. knows and lives, is the first, cardinal rule of film making,
“It’s called Show Business. Sadly, a lot of filmmakers I meet never hear the second word ‘Business. Unless you have a rich uncle, aunt, best friend, grandmother, father etc. who will just write you a check for millions of dollars, you have to treat this as any other business. No one wants to lose hard earned money ’” he advises.
Recognizing and accepting this rule will help many producers give off an air of confidence and security which in turn will attract investors and distributors to their film with much less fuss, rather than the producer constantly chasing down everyone for money. The law of attraction does have meaning. To get started, G. recommends you do your homework,
“Research distributors who are distributing and selling the type of film you want to do. (DO NOT try to find a distributor after you have produced your film. It’s the financial kiss of death most of the time.) Upon finding such a distributor, you approach them with a concept or script you are thinking about producing and getting funding for. The distributor will then say this concept or script is worth producing for them to sell or they will pass, at which point you go to your next distributor option, but only after you figure out why the first distributor passed on your concept,”
Here is where many filmmakers find their first hurdle and G. recommends a dose of objectivity and perseverance.
“Maybe the script or idea just sucked and you don't want to admit that to yourself (something we producers need to know how to admit to ourselves sometimes) or maybe it just was not the distributor’s kind of film,” he shares. Whatever happens here, do not give up.”
Even the lucky few who get a, “Yes” early from a distributor, cannot relax just yet. They are going to be put through another process that requires more objectivity and an active mind. As G. reveals,
“The distributor’s agreement is going to come with conditions such as: changes in the script or concept to satisfy his buyers’ needs, stipulations on which actors’ are worth the film’s budget, financial & creative restrictions and a long list of film deliverables in order for the film to pass quality control. Amazing how many filmmakers have no clue what deliverables mean! Even if you raise money for a film, it can turn into garbage as so many films do if you are not aware of what makes a film feel like a movie; how it should look, feel, sound and taste is of utmost importance. With out this knowledge, you have no idea what kind of team to hire to make sure you get the quality deliverables you need, in order to deliver a film to the distributor that will pass quality control. ”
“Sometimes the whole process can become a catch 22. For instance, the investor or distributor may want to see the stars attached first before he / she commits and stars want to see the money & distribution in place first before they commit their names to the project. This takes a little coordinating and an “active” mind that can work 24 hours a day to coordinate everyone on the same page,” G. shares, adding in good-natured jest,
“And a carpet that can take your pacing!”
Unfortunately, many local filmmakers cannot handle this process and tend to become very close minded and then they attempt to run out and produce what they want anyway ignoring the rules. G. calls this the “Trini Know It All” attitude. If a filmmaker cannot successfully run the distributor gauntlet, there is no way they can make it to the financing stage because as G. explains, financiers are a hard nut to crack and expect even more, especially if you have not built a solid reputation in the biz.
Like a mother who survived not one but two successful labours, he can afford to laugh about the pain now after the production of 6 feature films under his belt. Still, G. genuinely believes that if he could do it, others can too. He goes on to explain the financing process,
“The financier needs to know that you are doing all in your power to protect his money. They want to see you have knowledge of film marketing, spreadsheets, bond companies, actors; how pre sales and tax rebates work and something that’s of utmost importance to me...honesty and integrity.”
If ever temptation arises to fudge the facts or embellish the truth, even a little bit to curry favour with investors or anyone else for that matter, G. has this stern warning,
“Just don't do it! Once you start down that road and an investor finds out, there is no way they can trust you from that point on. My motto has always been, ‘If I catch part of my producing team lying under the disguise of protecting our interest, how do I know when that person is not lying to me?’".
It is ethics like this that has earned G. Anthony Joseph enough clout in the industry to get the ear of distributors and investors. He also attributes his success to his openness to the entire process instead of railing against it like many idealistic local filmmakers. He says,
“Even at the level I am right now, I still listen to those who are ahead of me in the game and I am genuine in my care for investors and what distributors need. Until you are prepared to put up your own money and go make your film yourself, once you are asking other folks for money, you better know that you don't know it all, because if you did, you would find a way to fund your own films rather than risking others people’s money.”
G. is also willing to put his own money on the line and financiers are impressed by filmmakers who believe in their work enough to do so.
“How dare we come off asking other people to believe in our projects and put money into it, and get angry or upset when the investors ask, ‘Well what are you risking in the project?’ And then the investors get silly answers like ‘Well we put 10 years of blood and tears writing the script’. Please!!!!! Trinbagonians grow up in a society that seems to be all about hand outs. We need to break this foolish, dependent way of thinking. When I produced Men of Gray, my wife and I saved our own money, sold what we needed to sell to raise more money. Horace James, my dearest friend and TTT were of great assistance and we never had to beg or grovel. So, what if you only have a hundred dollars? Then go make a hundred dollar film. Do something! Get some friends together, get a camera, get a script, get some lights, borrow a car and go make a darn movie!”
G. is living proof that his advice is sound and that the vision is attainable. So far his latest film Contract Killers has won a total of 4 awards out of 6 nominations, including Best Breakout Female Star & Best Action Sequence at the 2008 Action on Film Festival in Los Angeles, Best Feature Film at the BBFF Philadelphia Film Festival & Best Feature Film at the Orlando Film Festival beating out the Tom Hanks produced picture “The Great Buck Howard” . “Contract Killers” also contributed over TT$700,000 dollars to the local economy, had a limited theatrical release in the US and Caribbean and was released on DVD by USA media powerhouse First Look Studios in Jan 2009.
G. Anthony, as of this writing, is now producing two feature films back to back and in development on 4 more. His latest project in the US is entitled “Overkill” to be shot in New Mexico and Indonesia and he has once again teamed up with local Executive Producer Mr. Dave Cabral of Galt Alliance Films to produce the highly anticipated, “Men of Gray 3 – The Midnight Robber”.
To persons aspiring to get into this business, G. advises, “The biggest challenge film makers’ face in getting their films funded is themselves. Remember you are the sum parts of what you do not what you ask for!”