What follows is a cautionary tale of our experience in the film business. It's not the first, and it most certainly won't be the last. It all began when myself and fellow actor Doraly Rosa were asked by a writer-director partnership to develop and workshop an idea they had for a contemporary Jewish love story set in London. After weeks of work, the duo went away to pen a feature script based on the work we had done. With huge excitement Doraly and I waited to see the fruits of our labour. Having been asked to watch countless gritty and intense French New Wave movies - from A Bout De Souffle, to La Maman Et La Putain - we were expecting something pretty heavy and deep. What arrived can only be described as an Ealing comedy caper movie; 'Get Moshe!' no less. Not so much Goddard, as God awful.
The director then decided to p**s off to LA to make movies - 'idiot'. Doraly and I were left wondering what do. We decided to write about what interested us, and the people around us, and so embarked on a script about infidelity, dissatisfaction and people who feel trapped in their lives...Everyone essentially.
We spent the next eighteen months sitting on Doraly's living room floor organising a carpet of index cards with each scene of the film written on each one. Finally, writing between jobs, and too many evenings typing away until the early hours. We had the script. We went round to a friend's house who owned a printer, and watched as our 135-page baby lay in the paper tray. Job done we thought. Lets get this made...
Oh the naivety! We were put in touch with a producing partnership (for the purposes of this story) Bert & Ernie. For £1 they optioned the rights to the film for three months - this should have been the first whiff of trouble, as it's nigh on impossible to raise sufficient finance for a cup of tea, let alone a movie in that time within the film industry. Innocent as abattoir-bound lambs, we celebrated 'the deal' with a bottle at Century Club (this turned out to be the largest investment Bert & Ernie were ever to muster).
Unaware that we had managed to hook up with the only two people in Soho less experienced than ourselves, we went for the first of many meetings at their plush Soho production office. We pinched ourselves as we were 'buzzed in' by the receptionist and sent up to the boardroom. With its lavish pot plants, vast Italian minimalist table, mineral water and walls decked with the film posters of the company's previous cinematic triumphs. However, as time passed, we noticed the office, like the seasons, subtly change.
Our first visit had the sumptuous office bathed in august sunlight. The next visit, some of the furniture seemed to have disappeared. Then we arrived to find the posters missing on the bare walls. We became aware of the evenings drawing in during a meeting in which there appeared to be no progress made with financing, and similarly no electricity to light the room. It's hard to convey the atmosphere of a production meeting in which you can only vaguely make out the producers.
The penny finally dropped when we arrived one day to be greeted by the receptionist whose main task appeared to be directing removals men. She instructed us that Bert & Ernie were now in the attic room on the fifth floor. We trekked up the stairs to find the pair squeezed between two old filing cabinets, and greeting us with "isn't it all marvellous" smiles. It really wasn't. It turned out they had been 'borrowing' the premises. So we made a plan.
Doraly had a friend of a friend, who suggested a young up-and-coming producer based in a big commercial studio complex (again for the purposes of this story - Madge). She liked the script, and although it wasn't a genre piece, and was penned by two first time writers, found herself eager to take it on. Pointing out that there was only a week left until Bert & Ernie's option ran out, we simply had to wait before Madge paid us another £1 and optioned the script for six months.
By now Doraly and I had secured private investment funding that was conditional on being match funded - Madge's task - or so we thought. As time went by we realised the main advantage Madge seemed to have over Bert & Ernie was that as she was based at a big studio, there were always complimentary snacks and hot drinks available down in the main foyer. It soon became clear that Madge had a rather annoying flaw in her producing capabilities...She was neither able to attract match funding or close a deal. More importantly, when Doraly and I, in our capacity as exec producers tried to ask about the leads she was following for funding, she always brushed us off with some 'legalese'.
In particular Madge was chasing up an exciting possible co-producer that Doraly and I had managed to attract - in the form of a large and well respected Canadian producer. As days became weeks, and still no progress with the Canadian, Doraly and I tried desperately to speak with the Canadian's 'foot soldier' on the ground over in London. However, Madge's M O became clear. The only way she was able to make herself indispensible was to keep everyone separate. She tried every which way to prevent us contacting potential investors, even though we were exec producers, and appeared to be the only ones out there chasing leads.
Doraly and I then came up with plan No2. In order to keep the project from dying of inertia. Cannes film festival was fast approaching. We decided to get our literary agent to track down the Canadian's 'foot soldier' (Douglas - finally a genuine name!) at the festival, and inform him of our existence. We were desperate to have direct contact with someone who could actually make the film happen. It's hard to convey the level of paranoia and mistrust between people in the film industry. It's a business that combines a strange amalgam of art and commerce - not the healthiest mix at the best of times. At least when you go to a car showroom, or John Lewis, you know you're being sold a product fair and square. That's their business. But with film you're adding the ingredient of people's dreams and their aspiration to 'create art'. Not always a comfy ride.
So with our burgeoning sense of mistrust and paranoia, our agent managed to seek out Douglas and tell him that the two actor/writer/exec producers on the film he and his company were potentially investing in wanted to meet him on his return to London.
We arranged a meeting back in London without Madge knowing. It was one of those jaw dropping moments. Douglas sat telling Doraly and I just what stories Madge had spun about us, and we did likewise with Douglas. We had to take our hats off to Madge - she took divide and rule to a whole new level. By the end of the meeting, the three of us realised there was a way through this quagmire. Yes. Of course. Madge only held a six month option on our film, which with all the time wasting of the previous weeks - you guessed it - had nearly expired. Yet again we found ourselves skipping to another producer. On one hand it all seemed depressingly familiar, but on the other, it was a possible lifeline. You realise that in this industry tenacity is one commodity no one can have enough of. The ability to stay positive in the face of all the facts, to a degree that borders on the insane is a positive virtue.
As things turned out, the meeting with Douglas was the turning point. He was able to raise finance and close deals. Within a few months all was in place to begin the actual making of a movie. Which is a whole other story...
Broken Lines is released at the Empire Leicester Sq From Friday 30th Sept