Reviews

AT THEATERS NEAR YOU: IFC Productions' Slate

John Sayles’ Men with Guns

IFC’s credit:
"A presentation of the Independent Film Channel and the Anarchists Convention."

Prior relationship:

"We’d shown a lot of John’s movies over time," says Sehring. "And I love to tell the story that I first spotted my wife when I was in conversation with John 15 years ago at the Cannes film festival, when he was there with Brother from Another Planet. It was only fitting that John’s was the first film we were financing."

Stage at which IFC entered the picture:
"[Producer] Maggie [Renzi] and John were at Cannes with Lone Star," Sehring recalls. "They also had a script for Men with Guns. We had talked to Sayles’ attorney, John Sloss, and told him we wanted to be in this business. The first thing he mentioned was Kevin Smith and Chasing Amy, but he said Harvey [Weinstein] has an option on it. This next one was Men with Guns," Sayles’ parable about a Latin American doctor’s journey into the jungle and political awareness.

Why this film?
Renzi had been unsuccessfully chasing financing all over the globe, thwarted by the fact that Men with Guns was going to be in Spanish with no U.S. stars. But from IFC’s perspective, it was the perfect project with which to launch IFC Productions, and clearly laid out the division’s blueprint: "Working with established filmmakers who want to do personal projects they’ve had difficulty finding funding for, or may not have the creative control that they liked," says Sehring.

"It was a home run," says Kaplan of their first project. "There was no better person to launch an independent film financing company with than John Sayles." Sehring adds, "One of the reasons for getting into this business was to build a long-term asset for our parent company in the film library. And that’s why we were investing in established directors initially. The feeling was, 15 years down the road, a John Sayles film will still be of value."

Amount invested by IFC:

IFC’s $500,000 was the first money in. "The picture’s budget grew," says Sehring. "Originally we were told they could do it for a million, and we put up half the money. The million eventually got closer to 2.5 million." Ultimately, two other financiers came aboard: Jody Patton’s Clear Sky Productions and Lou Gonda, a wealthy businessman who leases planes to the airline companies. Says Sehring, "What was nice is, [Sayles and Renzi] stuck with us when they had other billionaires who said, ‘We’re going to fund the whole thing.’ Maggie came back and said, ‘You guys were here with us before anybody else expressed interest.’ And they fought to keep us in the film."

Current status of film:

Sony Picture Classics picked up the rights, and Men with Guns played in festivals and theatrically in 1997-98. SPC is currently finalizing a pay TV sale; IFC/Bravo will subsequently air the film.

Errol Morris’ Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

IFC’s credit:
"A presentation of the Independent Film Channel" and executive producer credits for Sehring and Kaplan.

Prior relationship:
"There was no prior relationship with Errol," says Sehring. "We’ve been long-time fans and have shown all of his early pictures; Bravo was the first television network to show Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida."

Stage at which IFC entered the picture:
"Mr. Death dates back to the footage for Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control," recalls publicist Reed Rosevelt. "The first interview on [Errol’s] Interotron was with Fred Leuchter," an execution specialist who, after examining the concentration camps, testified that the Holocaust never happened. "But Errol decided that putting Fred in with the other three guys would really not work and set the footage aside. Later, he put together some of that footage, showed it to people, and started thinking about what shape a feature about Fred might take."

"Which is when we saw it," Kaplan continues, "before he went to Auschwitz, before he did the additional interviews with the other characters, and before subsequent interviews with Fred."

Why this film?
"We spent this really amazing day with Errol and looked at some of the initial Fred footage–and were totally in love with Errol and the film, with what this film could be," says Kaplan. "Of all his films, this is really an unbelievable achievement. Not just emotionally and spiritually and cinematically; it’s mind-blowing. I don’t think we thought ‘documentary;’ I think we thought ‘Errol’ and ‘vision.’ "

Notes Sehring, "In terms of investing in documentaries for theatrical release, there are very few people for whom we would actually make that leap. But Errol is in a class by himself."

Amount invested by IFC:
"I’d say we were 90 percent of the funding and 100 percent of the support," says Sehring. The UK’s Channel Four kicked in the remainder of the cash.

Experience working with IFC:
"It’s been great and I really hope we stick to our idea of a long-term relationship, because they’re definitely about developing a more family environment," says Mr. Death coproducer David Collins. "It’s business, but it’s business with a heart. They’re not pulling your chain."

The deal, Collins explains, "was based on an investment in Errol. There’s obviously some sort of recoopment of negative costs, and then a split that’s very fair and collaborative among the financing entity and the production entity."

Working with Kaplan and Sehring as executive editors, Collins says he and the coproducers were expected to "call them, keep them abreast of where we were, how things were going, if we anticipated if there was going to be an overage, or need some additional time, because Errol’s films obviously don’t just use a script where you hire some actors and just do it. It’s a lot of phone calls, research, getting people to feel comfortable enough to come into his world. So that aspect of IFC was extremely supportive to us. Especially when he did hit some time delays, they weren’t breathing down our necks, saying, ‘Just get it in here!’ It was more about, ‘Hey, alright, what can we do, how can we help you out?’ "

"During postproduction," Collins continues, "they were very integral. Errol is very collaborative during the editorial process, once he has all his pieces together. So we had these rough-cut sessions where we’d look and then just discuss for hours on end–where we were going with it, what needed to happen, or was told or not told. So they were very pivotal in doing that with us. The feedback was excellent. They were looking at broad marketability of the project as much as we were."

Current status of film:
North American rights were acquired by Lions Gate Films Releasing. The film will debut theatrically in October, after playing the fall festival circuit.

Tom Gilroy’s Spring Forward

IFC’s credit:

"A presentation of the Independent Film Channel" and executive producer credits for Sehring and Kaplan.

Prior relationship:
None. Tom Gilroy is an actor and had previously directed one short (Touch Base, with Lilly Taylor). Kaplan says she initially saw Gilroy’s script for Spring Forward through a mutual friend. "He kept going on about Tom this, Tom that, and he sent me the script. It turned out that we also got a call from Good Machine at that time." Good Machine was then trying to develop the project with a slightly higher budget than the final figure (approximately $2.5 million, according to Entertainment Weekly).

Stage at which IFC entered the picture:
During production. Spring Forward is about an odd-duck friendship between a retiring Recreational Parks worker and a new recruit. It is structured in four parts, filmed sequentially over four seasons. Spring had been shot and Gilroy was in the middle of summer–and running out of money–when the deal became official. As Sehring recalls, they wrote check before the final contract was signed. "We have a lot of faith in the people we’re working with, on every front."

Why this film?
Sehring says: "They showed us the spring section. We loved it and just said, ‘Fine, we’ll do it.’ " Kaplan adds, "This is an example of a script that we really, really loved. When we heard [the project] was back on track, we met with Tom. He had put together a team including Jim McKay, Gill Holland, and Paul Mezy]. We felt that was a really terrific team, and he had a wonderful cast, including Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber. We believed in the vision of the film. The idea was, Tom’s such a talent that it would be nice to get in with him now, while we can.

Amount invested by IFC:
"Around 65 percent."

Experience working with Bravo:
"They were totally hands off," says coproducer Gill Holland. "They script was done, so there were no script comments to be made. We showed them the film really close to picture lock, and they made some suggestions. It was so friendly."

Prior to IFC’s entry, Spring Forward was having trouble finding acceptable financing. "Nobody would bond us, because it’s shot over 12 months," Holland recalls. "For an institutional investor, that was a huge financial risk. The other people we were talking to were private investors who were asking for more outlandish things," like final cut or acting as sales rep without prior experience.

What’s more, IFC brought out their checkbook more than once. "We ended up having to shoot in Buffalo, because we had to have snow. We said, ‘This is our window for our talent, and it’s going to cost about $23,000 more.’ And there was no problem," says Holland. "But it’s not just the money; it really was the intangibles. We love Jonathan and Caroline, totally trust them, and feel supported by them. And for crew morale, it was great that there was this guy doing a whole documentary, and everybody got interviewed. So it was fun."

Status of film:
Spring Forward was scheduled to be in its final state by the beginning of July and be ready for the fall festival circuit. At the time of this interview, no distributor was attached.

Kimbery Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry

IFC’s credit:
"A presentation of the Independent Film Channel" and executive producer credits for Sehring and Kaplan.

Prior relationship:
"We know Christine [Vachon, the co-executive producer]," says Kaplan, "and had talked about a couple of projects with her."

Stage at which IFC entered the picture:
After some initial shooting. "We thought the concept for this film was so unbelievably compelling," says Kaplan of this dramatic rendering of Teena Brandon’s life, the Nebraska woman who passed as a man and was murdered in a hate crime when her secret was discovered. "We had gotten together with Christine, Eva [Kolodner of Killer Films], and Kim Peirce, had several conversations, and were very interested. Kim was then still writing and rewriting and rewriting. We were waiting. Then in the meantime, they found another avenue to finance their movie. But it didn’t quite happen. And then it turned out they wanted to step up production, and we again were in a position where we got to see some stuff and finally read the final draft of the script, and it was really superb."

Why this film?
"They showed us footage," Sehring says, and Kaplan continues, "We almost passed out." Sehring: "They wanted to show us a half an hour, and after, like, two minutes we’re saying, ‘Okay, we’ll write the check.’ And they’re like, ‘No, watch everything.’ I said, ‘We’ll watch everything.’ Then, when we were done, I said, ‘Cut a check for, like, a million dollars.’ We didn’t have a contract. But they needed the money right away."

Amount invested by IFC:
"60 to 65 percent," or a little over $1 million.

Experience working with IFC:
"The great thing about working with them," says Kolodner, "is they are terrifically supportive, but don’t expect to be so directly involved that you feel like the film has a heavy weight around its neck." Kolodner says they sat in on a few–but not all–of the work-in-progress screenings. "They’d prepare some notes after each screening, and we’ve enjoyed having their input, but they haven’t been overbearing about it at all. So often there’s a cacophony of voices from people who want to have input. As much as their comments have been very helpful, they haven’t been aggressive about pressing them on us. It’s a pretty good set up."

Status of film:
After showing a 20-minute trailer during Sundance, worldwide rights were sold to Fox Searchlight for $5 million. According to Killer Films, they’re aiming to complete the film in time for the fall festivals.

Share this Article:
Print this pageEmail this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Reddit