Eighteen months ago I was ready to give up. Somehow my newly formed production company had managed to outbid two major studios for the film rights to an international bestseller. I had a cracking script developed, a Hollywood legend set to direct, and an Olivier Award winning actor signed up to play my lead.
But it clearly wasn't enough. Financiers just weren't biting. Close ones were rallying. They could see the year and a bit of putting together these elements of the adaptation were taking their toll. I was going for a lot of walks, searching out new fortitude on the streets.
Then I got a phone call. A respected financier loved the script. Genuinely loved the script and the talent I was putting with it. They loved it so much, they invited me to Cannes to discuss a deal.
Obviously I was excited. Relieved. A little sceptical. Could I let myself actually believe this was happening?
It was my first Cannes and unusual, as I know now, in its focus. I had one meeting scheduled. I did try and get others but was largely ignored. I walked the beach front strip a lot, waiting, appreciating a change of scenery.
My meeting with the financier went well, but for them to fully commit, they needed me to approach some very specific partners, including a top tier sales agent and an experienced executive producer. Full disclosure: my one previous movie was a crowd sourced, self-penned/directed/produced romance, that cost all of £25k. The budget we were discussing here was $8m. I'll admit, it was a slight step up, and the incline was not going unnoticed.
So I approached the sales agent. They loved the script. They came on board. Tick.
I approached the experienced executive producer. He liked the script and saw its potential. More importantly, I think he liked me and saw my potential. Something I'm very grateful for at a time when the stakes felt so high. Tick.
I went back to the financiers. They did some due diligence, confirmed my new partners, and then told me they were going to bankroll production based on pre-sales.
I had landed what I thought was my white whale. I was wrong. It was basically like moving from a Black Jack table to the roulette wheel. There were a few more white whales to snag before the cameras started to roll.
Pre-sales are a film being sold on its potential. Countries, or territories as they are known, decide if the creative 'package' is going to sell in their cinemas. This is what the top tier sales agent was brought in to do. Sell the movie, using the book numbers for leverage.
One of the reasons I had bid for the title was because the book numbers were so good. Astonishing, in fact, in the U.K and Germany.
For pre-sales, the announcement of a film is massive. Announce that a film is being made at the right time, and it generates that thing of things - buzz. Announce a film at the wrong time, and it generates that opposite thing of things - nothing.
The team was now debating whether to announce the film at the Toronto Film Festival, which was only a few weeks away. I was quietly confident but couldn't afford to be restrained. Vastly experienced voices were urging caution. Toronto was too soon. We should wait and get more of our ducks in a row. Make sure we get it right.
I consulted the streets once more. They told me what I already knew - I was done waiting. For me, it was now or never. We had enough ducks in a straight enough line, and I made the decision to go all in. We announced...
The response was overwhelmingly positive. Germany, where the book was hugely popular, immediately bid and all but green lit production. I had to quickly come to terms with the fact that this film I had been wrestling with for nigh on two years was going to be made.
Since then, the shoot, the marketing, the release have spun and spiralled beyond what I thought possible. To help illustrate, I am attending the royal premiere this week, and saw a poster for the film go by on a London bus outside my apartment this morning.
I think to kick off a lessons learned discussion, there's the obvious don't give up and trust your instincts. But more than that, I plan to preach the educational benefits of biting off more than you can chew. Sink or swim, these situations push you. I discovered limits that within a week, were in my wheelhouse as skills. It wasn't always pretty, but for those grinding moments, the streets were there to be walked. I'm hoping this blog lets me share some of the wisdom they imparted.Suggest a correction