"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Friday, January 28, 2005

This is one of those times when the whole blogging thing gets complicated. There's stuff happening that I probably would be way better off not placing in the public domain, even in this fairly obscure way. Nothing dramatic or soap-operatic - just a couple of delays and knock-backs that could potentially derail us if we allow them to... which, it goes without saying, we won't. But our National Broadcaster is proving uncooperative, and that was not really what I expected (though my vastly more experienced Co-Producer warned me about this....) and our Finance Guy is snarled up with end of tax year stuff and won't be able to take things further with his investors for a week at least.

A week is a hell of a long time given that the big Ardent show, the one featuring pretty much everybody who's in ICFM, is on in very slightly over two months. So we have begun to go back to basics and figure out how to do this as cheaply as possible, maybe with deferrals, anything so as not to miss this opportunity.

It's a slightly terrifying feeling, but a good one in a way as now at least we're not depending on external support so much - we know we can do this, ourselves, and have it in the can, and get our movie made no matter what. It's going to be tough, but it's going to happen.

A small good thing: today I took delivery of an advance copy of the ICFM - Barbican CD. I'm listening to Carla Thomas sing 'B-A-B-Y' right now. It's a great collection - 'Cadillac Man' by the Jesters, been looking for that for years... a Mud Boy track I've never heard... and a thing called 'Rock and Roll Sermon' by Elder Beck, a hellfire sermon about the evils of that devil's music, all soundtracked by some of the most snake-hipped music you've ever heard. All thriller, no filler, like the man says.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Oh yeah, nearly forgot. Robert Gordon has a very fine piece on Jerry Lee Lewis in the current issue of Playboy. I know because I went into Borders and read it there. With a copy of Sight and Sound covering the front cover in case anyone saw me. I tell you this as an illustration of the old adage, 'You can lead a horse to water but an Irishman cannot openly peruse porn in public, never in a month of Sundays'.
A week till I go to Rotterdam to present myself as a producer at the Cinemart there. I went in my previous incarnation as a director several years ago - hell, it may in fact have been close to a decade ago - with a very original horror movie script that I was trying to get made. It was so original that it disappeared completely, in fact, and never got anywhere near production... but we had some very entertaining meetings, including one with Peter Aalbeck Jensen (von Trier's producer) who announced cheerfully that he was moving into horror and porn. If he ever did, they failed to notify me. Anyway, it's a very friendly and easygoing fest, full of interesting producers and distributors. I'm on the lookout for a sales agent or distributor that will love the Memphis project enough to come on board and also commit to production funding... So, armed only with a stack of business cards that don't have my name on (I'm already practicing saying 'I've run out of my cards, here's my partners and I'll write my PERSONAL email address on the back so you can get me directly'), a pile of copies of the ICFM DVD, and a huge pile of treatments outlining the project in a breathlessly hyperbolic manner, I should at least manage to look the part of a young man on the way to the top of the heap. Sammy Glick with an Irish accent. Somebody who it would be very useful to have a piece of. In short, I will be lying like a big bearskin rug. I mean, that's what producers do, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I've been staying superstitiously clear of blogging about this, but I have to acknowledge it somehow - so here goes. After about six months of trying, my Co-Producer got in to meet with the responsible person in the National Broadcaster. I didn't attend the meeting as she knows the guy of old and we thought it might simplify things. Anyhow, this guy loves Robert's book, loves the music and is very keen on our ideas. Of course, then he says they are short of slots and their budgets are largely committed (grit teeth, resist temptation to say "They wouldn't have been committed six months ago when you first said you'd give us a meeting you -" ...see, this is why I didn't go). But they're very interested in coming on board and should be able to give us an answer by the end of this week.

I'm trying very hard to avoid thinking about it too much. Luckily my other project, the TV drama series, has a bit going on this week (the launch of the book on which it's based). That might just distract me. Also lots of work to do preparing presentations to these investor types. Not exactly rock and roll but hell, it keeps me off the streets.

There's a benefit for RL Burnside happening in Memphis, and I'm thinking maybe we could do something here too. It pains me to think of all the posthumous tributes these guys get, and how little is done while they're still with us, with hospital bills and all that unsexy shit to deal with...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Yesterday was an important day in the ICFM story. My co-producer and I had another meeting with our finance guru to discuss business plans and the like. The guru, who – did I mention this before? – is a former professional bass player and worships Booker T and the MGs, was very positive and very psyched. He instructed us on the necessaries that will help to convince his investors that our ‘product’ is sound; firstly, a business plan showing a range of possible returns, high, medium and low, over a one-to-five year time period, in all the various territories that are available. Thankfully, my co-producer volunteers for this role.
Secondly, we need a completely rewritten treatment, emphasising the longevity of this material (easy enough; as these guys have never really been ‘in style’, they’re not going to go ‘out’), and – a tricky one, this – encompassing the ‘morgue factor’. Indelicately put, this is about communicating to the investors in a subtle way that the musicians we’re filming are not in the first flush of youth, and many will inevitably shuffle off at some point in the next decade. Every time one of them does so, the value of our material increases.
Now, none of this stuff means anything to me personally, as the co-director and one of the artistic driving forces behind the film. But as for getting the damn thing made, it’s hugely important, and as a producer I am learning a hell of a lot.
We have a deadline of the end of next week to get this together. Our finance guru moves pretty fast, which is going to be crucial, because it turns out that a lynchpin of our whole plan, the Jim Dickinson gig at the Barbican, will be taking place in the first week in April.
The latest, unconfirmed as yet, plan is to do an Ardent night featuring Jim, the remaining members of Mud Boy, the North Mississippi Allstars, Primal Scream in a guest role, and probably Tav Falco accompanied by Jason Pierce. I stress that this is all TBC, but Jim’s presence is looking more and more likely, and he’s the one who ties the whole night together.
Ticket sales for the Muscle Shoals, Hi and Stax nights are good, and that’s without ANY advertising. Ths Sun night is looking more problematic; the names mentioned above are available, but don’t in themselves constitute a full-on Sun evening. A living legend has been approached but isn’t entirely dependable – if he doesn’t make it, the mooted options were to combine the Sun evening with something else, an American night (Bobby Womack et al) or a blues line-up. Neither sounds right.
So, when out of the blue I say, “Well, the Cramps recorded at Sun”, the Barbican guy’s eyes light up, he writes it down and I think – fuckin’ hell! The Cramps, on stage with Billy Lee and Sonny, at the fuckin’ Barbican! What monster is this that I have created? But what a night it would be...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Post-Christmas catch-up time. Lots of stuff has been going on, and nothing at all at the same time. I left for Ireland on Christmas Eve, flew out at a stupidly early time – I arrived at Heathrow at five AM, before the check-in desks were even open – straight from a party where I’d met some old acquaintances (the last time I saw them was at their wedding, nearly a year ago) and sat down to talk. Turns out their current project is a West End musical on the life of Otis Redding! So of course there was plenty for us to talk about. I hope to talk to them about it again soon, and maybe help put them in touch with some people who could be of assistance. So much stuff relating to Memphis is going on at the moment, it’s bizarre.

Just before Christmas I met with this very interesting financial geezer, a former professional musician who now specialises in putting investors together with interesting media projects. The next step was to introduce him to my co-producer, a woman of massive experience and legendary repuation, and see how we can go about making this work. The only trouble was, I managed to misremember my travel plans, and booked the meeting for the fifth thinking I was returning on the third... when, of course, it transpired that at lunchtime on the fifth, when I shoulda been sitting in Soho House tucking into some lunch, I’d be in mid-air over Heathrow Airport. No panic – I merely asked Co-producer if she’d mind going ahead without me, and that was all fine.

So, touchdown happens and I turn my phone on to find messages from Co-producer saying, “No sign of (finance guy) – please call me” and “Please call me ASAP”. Mild panic sets in. I disembark and try to call her, no reply. I’m standing at the baggage carousel, calling her, calling Finance Guy, no reply from either. Then I realise that I’m the only one standing here and all the bags are off the plane, and mine hasn’t appeared. Fuck it. I go and report it missing and start to practically run to the Heathrow Express, and remembering that my house keys are in the lost bag. Just as I’m about to board, really getting worried now (did I mention that the plane was also late?) I get a call from Co-producer saying that she and Finance Guy have met and all’s fine. Great. I sit in a little puddle of cold sweat all the way into central London.

Anyway, the upshot of that meeting is that we have to have more meetings, draw up a business plan to show investors, and work our arses off – and still it’s going to be tough, especially if we want to shoot in April, which we certainly do. He’s massively enthusiastic, though, which really helps, and he has access to some real money, which is a prerequisite.

Then off to meeting no. 2 which is also running ridiculously late. This is a meet with what in theatrical circles is referred to as an ‘angel’, I believe – someone who wants to invest their own money. Our angel is a longtime Memphis music fanatic and isn’t doing it for glory or reward, but because he wants to see the film get made. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, as his (relatively small) investment will allow us to pay for a proper business plan, and pay for travel to a couple of crucial meetings – some, possibly, in New York. For the time being, I’m going to limit my travel plans to the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Cinemart – I’ve been before, it’s an amazingly useful way to meet the kinds of people we need to meet, full of distributors, producers and film funders of various kinds. I’ve got another project I want to pitch there anyway, a slate of four low-budget horror movies, and it makes sense to go there with a range of stuff. It’s going to be a bit intimidating, as I’ve never gone to something like this solo – as a director, I’ve always had a producer to take up the slack, talk the money talk while I do the art, but if I’m going to be a producer I better start acting like one.

Enough boring biz talk. More confirmed names for the Barbican: Billy Lee (‘Flying Saucers Rock’n’Roll’!) Riley! Sonny Burgess! And the amazing Cowboy Jack Clement, who is the subject of Robert Gordon’s most recent film, one I’m dying to see, premiering at the Nashville Film Festival if any of y’all are in the area. That should be a night....
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