INTERVIEW: Separation Anxiety? Not For Ex-Good Machiners At "This is that"
by Matthew Ross/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE: 09.24.02) -- The lighted sign above the 4th floor icon in the elevator of 417 Canal Street still reads Good Machine, but that company no longer exists. Still, the new tenant, a film production outfit known as This is that (or, more affectionately, "Tit"), isn't exactly new to the building. Indeed, every current member of This is that was once a part of the Good Machine staff, including Good Machine co-founder and co-president Ted Hope and longtime Good Machine producers Anthony Bregman and Anne Carey.
In one sweeping round of activity last July, the balance of power in the specialty film world was instantly realigned when Vivendi Universal purchased Good Machine and melded it with USA Films and Universal Focus to form Focus Features. Out was USA Films chairman Scott Greenstein, and in came Good Machine's James Schamus and David Linde to run the show. But Hope, who had run Good Machine with Schamus since its formation in 1991, did not jump on board. Rather, he, Bregman and Carey partnered up and signed a first look deal with Focus, which would provide financing for the company that would eventually become known as This is that.
So far, This is that has already signed on to produce "21 Grams," the first English language film from "Amores Perros" director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu. indieWIRE senior editor Matthew Ross sat down with Hope, Bregman, and Carey at the This is that office, where the partners discussed the company's business model and their plans for the future.
indieWIRE: I'd like to start by talking about the reasons surrounding Universal's purchase of Good Machine and your subsequent creation of This is that.
Ted Hope: We were looking for autonomy. We liked what we were doing and we didn't want anyone to tell us otherwise. What became clear to all of us was that the way we work was based on passion, and passion was what we wanted to get behind. We didn't want to make any decisions solely based on a marketplace dictate. So we had discussions about how that would actually work in this world, where the appetite for truly specialized and innovative films seems to be shrinking by buyers and distributors.
We were looking for a new overhead deal. The deal with Miramax had expired, we thought that they would renew at a new premium, but they weren't interested or as excited as we were. Through the course of this process, buying Good Machine was proposed. That's when the idea of starting a completely new company was brought up, and it was really exciting. That was the beginning of This is that. Anthony, Anne, and I liked the idea of never having to report to anybody but ourselves. Universal said they were interested in buying the company. At Good Machine, the question was, "How do we do it in a way that it will give us all what we want? How do we keep our autonomy?" After the course of five weeks of negotiations, we worked out the terms.
iW: When you said we were looking for autonomy, do you mean all of Good Machine or just you, Anthony, and Anne?
Hope: All of us!
iW: What's the advantage of being on your own?
Hope: What we found during the growth of Good Machine was that we wanted to dictate the choices, to a degree of what our projects were. We never abandoned a project we cared about. No matter how long it took, or what the odds were, we would get a film made. But it did feel like we had to take on a wider set of criteria other than just our passions. That's how we prefer to operate. The purchase of Good Machine and the creation of This is that has allowed us to move back into that pure mindset of "This is us, this is creative, this is the filmmaker, this is what we want to do. This is our object of love."
Anne Carey: Well, we're not a distribution or sales company. We're not three executives jamming a project through the system. We are a fairly realistic group and we find projects that we like, and we work on them together.
iW: How exactly would you describe the relationship between Focus and This is that?
Hope: It's a very straightforward, first-look, non-exclusive deal. It helps tremendously that we are good friends.
Anthony Bregman: Plus, we've inherited a bunch of the films that were at Good Machine. At Good Machine, they were films that we three were all involved with together.
Hope: So we have a lot of confidence that projects that are currently at This is that and are in stages of development will eventually become Focus films. Still, we are not exclusive to them nor are they exclusive to us.
iW: How do you see This is that in relation to other New York companies?
Hope: What's great about being in New York is that there are a slew of different producers who have great taste and a similar ethic. Then it comes down to the way people choose to work. For us, filmmakers are both writers and directors, whether they are a writer/director or singularly a writer or director. What we are looking to do ideally is to embark on a relationship with them, and when we work with them, try to figure out a long-term process of what the relationship is between us and them. Our main agenda is to know what is the right film for this filmmaker, and how can that prepare us for what might be their next project.
Bregman: With This is that, we're looking people who are professionally and personally satisfying to work with. We want to build relationships with people that we can work with again, and build a community. That is what is satisfying to us in the end. This is easier to do as a small company because we have a smaller bottom line to satisfy.
Carey: We meet new people and bring new people in, but we like the idea of knowing who our community is.
iW: There are so many people associated with Good Machine in a very specific way, and now the creative force that existed at Good Machine has effectively been split up into two separate companies. Are the films that This is that will make going to make to be different from the films Good Machine made?
Hope: We don't have to do something just because we can do it or because we need revenue. For us, in handling our projects, we look at a film and ask, "Is this something that is going to get us as excited six years from now, when we're still working on it, as it is today when we first encounter it?" There is a period of time for the movie to be financed, a period of time to produce and do post and line up the distribution.
I think when you start working with a filmmaker, it's not about trust as much as it's about how to get the movie made. It's really heartening when filmmakers are comfortable with how long development takes. It's often that you have to be thinking and rethinking your script, for a long period of time before it's ready to show to the marketplace. We don't have enough time in our lives, in the world, to make tons of good movies. We really have to try now to really make creative films, to raise the bar and to make them even better. Our people are willing to engage in that discussion.
iW: So in many ways you are going on the potential of that film or the script, not on the state of it when it comes in. How do you make that decision? Is it a group decision always, between the 3 of you?
Hope: The script is not even a blueprint for the movie you're going to make, but the script has to inspire in you the hope and the faith. I think we all worked so closely together for so long. Anne and I have worked together for 17 years. Anthony and I have worked together for 10 years. I think when someone gets passionate about it one or two of us are going to get on board. It doesn't have to be all three of us. The question is just, "Do we really care about this?"
iW: You have the flexibility to make decisions that are not as financially dependent upon a project's commercial prospects as the decisions a sales company might make. Given that, you still need to take into account the film scene and whether a project is commercially viable. How would you characterize the independent film scene and the marketplace scene right now? In turn, how does This is that react to that?
Bregman: We should all be making movies about weddings!!
Hope: It shows you how movies have really corrupted us, whether it's a movie about romance, marriage, or chocolate. Chocolate never tastes as good as it looks on screen. I think there are always a series of trends. It's always the thing that people say there is no longer a market for which is what's going to go ahead and push through.
Bregman: Besides, trends are shorter than the filmmaking process. If a trend is a really long trend, then it changes within a year, but most of these trends will change every couple of months. To make a movie takes 2-5 years.
Carey: We have to be passionate about something, regardless of what the trend is at the moment.
Hope: I think all of us here have a taste for ambition, for people who are striving for that territory of breaking new ground. The films we want are the films that show that people really want something that is different than the menu that is being served on a regular basis from the studios.
iW: You mentioned earlier that you really want to nurture the careers of the filmmakers that you work with. When we see This is that getting involved with a specific project or specific filmmaker, should we assume that you have already committed to continuing a relationship with those people?
Hope: We believe that future work should come out of the experience that people have together. We never have contracted anybody for more than a single film. The decision to work together on another project has to be mutual. They may hate the experience they have with us and may never come to us with another movie. Still, I think you can only improve as you work film after film after film with someone. The next films that you hear about us getting involved with will be (projects from) people we were involved with before.
iW: It seems that you plan on being extremely hands-on in the development process.
Bregman: We are committed to being on our toes and being involved in a way that will determine how it plays, who goes to see it, and how it's received. That is something we have always done.
iW: So it must be extremely important to you to find filmmakers that are very open to collaboration.
Hope: Yeah, we want to work with people that we want to spend a lot of time with, because that's what we end up doing. We basically are getting married to that person for two years...at least.
iW: Is there a slate in terms of a number of films per year either production or development. Do you have specific goals you want to hit, once you're up and running?
Hope: We don't really have a pipeline that needs to get filled in that way, so it would be preferable for us to just do the project, to do as many projects as we can capably handle, and work on them.
iW: Would you ever consider expanding the company?
Carey: That's not something we're willing to embrace at this point.
Hope: We definitely relish the idea of a small intimate company where everybody in the company is intricately involved in all the productions in an artistic way.
Carey: One of the things that scares me is getting more projects than we can take care of. I think the worst kind of business we can do is to stop treating the projects well, and have people get disgruntled. Our idea is that they would come back, and feel that they are part of a community and stay faithful to the projects that we have brought on board.
Hope: The idea of keeping the company small completely conforms to that, to the extent that we don't have a big organization to pay, to keep the company running as small as possible.
iW: You're working in the same offices as the former Good Machine. That must be kind of strange. Are you going to stay here?
iW: How would you distinguish the three roles that you have at the company? Any titles?
All: No titles.
Carey: We take each other's advice; it's very collaborative in that way. It's not competitive. I think it helps us understand what our strengths and weaknesses are.
Hope: There is also a real joy in being able to walk in here and talk about something that's on your mind, to get the full benefit of our different minds. Again, the smaller the company is, the more you are able to do that.