Is Werk Werk Works, the bold indie film company founded by producer Christine Walker and benefactor Elizabeth Redleaf in 2008, on the rocks? Responsible for five films to date, including Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime,” Rob Epstein and Jeff Friedman’s “Howl,” Bela Tarr’s “The Turin Horse,” and most recently, Lawrence Kasdan’s “Darling Companion,” the company appears to be at a “crossroads,” according to a major story in the Minneapolis StarTribune.
Local critic and journalist Colin Covert reports, charting Readleaf’s history, rising from the ranks of a kitchen slave in a Paris restaurant to one of the midwest’s most important patrons of the arts, as well as the many battles she has fought with the independent filmmakers she’s funded.
Redleaf and Jill Sprecher, neither of whom would speak to me on the record when I originally broke a similar story for Indiewire, give on the record quotes for the first time. There’s some damning commentary (some of it I’ve included below), as well as some evidence that the company may be in limbo.
“Redleaf’s company appears to be at a crossroads, with no new films in the pipeline,” writes Covert. “Walker left her post to pursue personal projects this past spring. Chief marketing officer Geoff Sass and producer Ken Bailey have departed. None of the three was willing to be interviewed on the record. And Redleaf’s standing among independent filmmakers is badly tarnished.”
Some quotes from the story:
Redleaf “didn’t seem willing to take a deep breath and say, ‘I’m really interested in learning here,'” said “Howl” producer Jawal Nga. In his eyes, she was “a heady cocktail of hubris and money. I don’t know if I ever heard anything substantial or constructive come out of her mouth.” What he did observe was “vindictiveness … lack of humility and the kowtowing of people around her to whatever whim she came up with.”
Told of Nga’s comments, Redleaf said, “We’ve only met a few times. On those occasions we exchanged niceties and had light dinner conversation.”
“I am stunned,” said Jill Sprecher, the director of “The Convincer,” which was renamed and reedited without her input. “The fact that my name must remain on the finished work, due to the contract I signed, is only a part of the reason. I was ultimately never able to hear the distributor’s notes, and thus could not address them.” Sprecher was so far out of the loop that she learned her film’s new title on the Internet.
My original Indiewire article generated some attention, though not as much as I had intended. Many commenters suggested that I was being oversensitive, and that Redleaf’s behavior was standard for a producer and financier. As someone posted, “I understand the Sprecher frustration, but making movies is a business. If WWW couldn’t sell the Sprecher cut and they can sell their new cut, isn’t that their right as an investment entity?”
But a number of comments that followed show less sympathy for Redleaf’s position. It’s a tricky situation, for sure, and as I’ve argued before, just seems to indicate that relationships between funders and filmmakers can be fragile, and both parties should have a mutual respect and understanding to be constructive.