Friday, June 23, 2006

Become a movie producer - for $1

Duncan Campbell
Friday 23 June, 2006
Read the real article here.

Here's the pitch: a Bay Area motel room at night. A young couple, Tao and Bella. A phone call. An urgent message. They have to get to Los Angeles to get Tao's little brother, Leo, out of custody and into a drug rehab unit before 8 o'clock the next evening - or Leo gets sent to prison for two years. It's a quest. It's an odyssey through the streets and hidden worlds of Los Angeles. It's about brothers, drugs and love. It's called The Fix.

The film-makers are also on a bit of quest. They start shooting in January and they need $250,000 to finance the film. So the director, Tao Ruspoli, has hit upon what he believes is a unique approach to film finance and is using the internet to make it a reality: invest as little as $1 and you will not only become a credited associate producer but also have a vote to decide the next film the company makes.

Tao Ruspoli - born in Thailand, brought up in Rome and LA, educated at Berkeley - is the director behind this idea. He believes it could be copied by others who want to make low-budget independent films. I first met him a few years ago in Venice, California, where the spectacularly painted bus of the Los Angeles Filmmakers' Cooperative (LAFCO), which he had founded, was parked. Then he was travelling in the bus, making documentaries - Just Say Know (about his family's drug habits), Flamenco (about a Gypsy Spanish dancer ) - and showing other people how to make them. His credo was contained in the words of Jean Cocteau painted on the side of the bus: "Film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper."

Fix will be Ruspoli's first feature narrative. He and his wife, the actor Olivia Wilde, (of Orange County fame, and most recently in Nick Cassavetes's Alpha Dog, John Stockwell's Turistas and the new television series, The Black Donnellys) will play the parts of the couple. LA will also be a main character.

Ruspoli is using the internet to ask people to invest whatever they want, which gets them an associate producer's credit. If the film makes any profits they will be ploughed back into a fund to make another one. And who chooses the next film?

Once again the internet comes into play. Anyone around the world can submit a pitch or a script. LAFCO will then choose what they reckon to be the best 10 pitches and post them on the web. Everyone who invested will get to vote, with more weight being given to the votes of those who invested more.

"We would like to keep it going far into the future," says Ruspoli. "So far the smallest donation has been $1 and we had $25 from someone in Paris." It is a slowish process, however, and Ruspoli has no objection to larger, more conventional forms of investment because filming is going ahead, come what may.

So what does the industry think of such a scheme? Colin Vaines, executive vice-president of the Weinstein Company and former editor of Screen International, says similar schemes of asking people to chip in small sums have long been used to finance films (the 1997 Scottish film The Bruce, for example, offered investors the chance to appear as extras). "What's different now is the internet, which makes it much easier to reach people, and digital filming, which makes filming much cheaper," says Vaines. "And the sidebar event is publicity - the fact that people write stories about it - like you are now."

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