EDITOR’S NOTE: The following speech was given by Craig Emanuel – a film distribution specialist from Los Angeles law firm Loeb & Loeb – prior to the opening night panel discussion at the Sundance Creative Producing Summit held in Sundance, Utah over this past weekend. The topic for the panel was ‘State of the Union – a moderated discussion covering the relevant trends in packaging, financing, distribution and marketing.’ Other members of the panel included, Liesl Copland (WME), Micah Green (CAA), Winnie Lau (Fortissimo), Tia Lessin (Documentary Director/producer), Mark Jane Skalski (Producer) and Jonathan Sehring (IFC Entertainment). Emanuel noted that the speech below was “intended to be a somewhat humorous and tongue in cheek overview of the industry which also was, in part, a parody of the superb ‘State of the Union’ address given by President Obama earlier this year and of the Inauguration Speech given by President John F Kennedy. All of the above should be taken into consideration in reading the speech below which when given, was designed to create a mood of optimism for the 40-plus producers who had flown in for a weekend of discussions about the film industry.”
State of the Union Address by Craig Emanuel
John Cooper, representatives from Sundance, fellow speakers and panelists, distinguished guests and wannabe producers:
I have come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great theatre, but to speak frankly and directly to you all and to share with you the benefit of years of experience from the wonderful people who appear on the podium with me this evening.
I know that for the many producers in the audience right now, the state of the economy and the film industry is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this downturn, you probably know someone who has–a friend, a neighbor, a member of your family, a writer, a director, an actor or even a fellow producer. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that the film industry is in crisis because you live it every day. It is the worry you wake up to and the source of sleepless nights. It is the job you thought you would retire from but have now lost the business you built your dreams upon that is now hanging by a mere thread. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while the film industry may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every producer to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the film industry will emerge stronger than ever. The answers to our problems do not lie beyond our reach they exist in the creative minds of the people here and those you work with; in the imagination of writers and directors and the pride of the hardest-working industry on earth. Those qualities that have made this industry the great force it is we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for the industry to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face and take responsibility for our future once more.
Now if we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that for too long, we have not always met our responsibilities as agents, producers, distributors and, financiers and yes, even as lawyers. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.
For too long, agents have demanded too much money for their clients; financiers have charged egregious interest rates on loans; distributors have charged ridiculous distribution fees and not committed enough money to print and advertising costs; lawyers have bogged down the negotiation process; directors have forgotten when to say “Cut!”; actors have failed to memorize their lines; and yes, even you, the producers, have continually tried to get made unproduceable “dribble” that has no commercial value whatsoever yet you continue to ask “Why will no one finance my picture?”
The fact is our industry did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin with the collapse of the video and DVD market. We have known for decades that our survival depends on supporting and nurturing great new writers as well as finding high net worth individuals and countries around the world who think that being involved in the film industry is both fun and financially rewarding. Yet despite this we produce more films than ever before. The cost of production continues to grow yet we keep living in denial and refusing to make changes to address what is clearly laid out in front of us. And though all these challenges went unmet, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt and produce more unreleaseable films than ever before.
People produced films they knew would never be sold and all the while critical reform and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day. Well that day of reckoning has arrived and the time to take charge of our future is here.
Now is the time to act boldly and wisely–to not only revive this industry but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to look at realistic fees for actors, writers and directors. Now is the time to consider distribution in a format other than “big screen”. Now is the time to embrace the digital age; the use of the Internet and other creative means of getting an audience to see our films.
Now is the time to take advantage of tax subsidies that not only exist in countries around the world but right here at home in our own backyard (well, perhaps not yet in the great state of California .).
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Let this not be the winter of our discontent but be a time of “Transformers”. Let us overcome the “Rocky” road. Let’s avoid the ongoing “Crash”. Let us take advantage of our “Beautiful Minds”. We don’t need to sink like “Titanic”. Let’s look for new “Aviators”. We are all “Ordinary People”. Some of us will travel “From Here To Eternity” to make their first film to “witness” that a new “Star Is Born”. Financing may come from a “French Connection” or “Out Of Africa” or from a stranger in “The Heat Of The Night” or from a “Lost Weekend”. As a young producer, don’t feel the need to do this journey alone but seek the help of a friend, a colleague, even a “Godfather”. Don’t forget to get a great composer as people love “The Sound Of Music”. Remember that a good film is “The Greatest Show On Earth”. But if not produced properly, your financing can be “Gone With The Wind”. If you are realistic in your expectations, “It Can Happen One Night”.
Let producers and financiers explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.
Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the financing of pictures and for the first time, reasonable compensation and backend for producers.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of the industry instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, find new distribution models, take advantage of creative tax subsidies, tap the creative resources of writers and directors and encourage new forms of art and commerce. All of this will not be finished in the next one hundred days nor will it be finished in the next one thousand days but let us begin.
In the words of the great president John F. Kennedy from his inaugural address:
“So let us begin anew -remembering that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
In your hands, my fellow producers and filmmakers, rests the final success or failure of our course. Can we forge against those evil agents who make it so difficult for us to close deals with actors? Can we procure financing from around the world in a global alliance, north and south, east and west, that can assure a more fruitful industry for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the spirit of working together with agents and financiers, my fellow producers and filmmakers: Ask not what your financier and agent can do for you–ask what you can do for your financier and agent.
In the words of the great actor Peter Sellers in the role of Chauncey Gardner from the film “Being There”, “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden.”
My fellow producers, filmmakers, distinguished guests, we have the backbone and “roots” for a great industry. Let us go out and water that garden, nurture the roots and bring forth great flowers and trees.