I just read an article in a parenting magazine (that's all they had at my dermatologist's office....I go in to get Botox and I leave feeling guilty for being both childless AND vain) about the dearth of original, sweet spirited family films. I now want to tear my hair out.
While authors of articles like that one declare that "the Hollywood studio system has abandoned us" or "why aren't they making story driven movies like they used to?" or "all the family films are animated" or "where's the heart?" I want to shout from the mountaintop:
"I produced one, but you didn't see it!"
If you've ever tried to produce an independent film, I think you'll relate to my story...
A couple of years ago I auditioned for one of the leads in a film called A Plumm Summer. It was a beautiful script written by Nicholl Fellowship award winner, T.J. Lynch and it especially appealed to me because after 13 years as a sports reporter I wanted to get back to my acting roots with a role that was different from my glam t.v. reporter image. The character of Roxy was perfect. She was a complex, sweet, troubled 1960's housewife married to a heavy drinker and trying to hold her family together.
I was overjoyed to learn that I got the role but was crushed weeks later after finding out that the original investors had pulled out (a foreign finance company) and that the film could not be made.
I talked to my husband- we had long discussed starting our own production company together- and we decided to jump in and finance it ourselves. Suddenly we were Executive Producers on location in Montana dealing with hundreds of cast, crew and extras not to mention unions, kraft services, the weather, child actor's parents (!), various and sundry animals, hotels, managers, agents and oh yeah, I still had to focus on playing Roxy.
Luckily, we had great producing partners in Frank Antonelli and Caroline Zelder, who directed A Plumm Summer. Together the four of us did everything right, at least on paper:
*We cast a talented and recognizable group of actors who all worked on this low budget film because they believed in the script...Henry Winkler, William Baldwin, Brenda Strong, Cliff Howard and Jeff Daniels.
*We "discovered" 3 amazing child actors who stole the film...Morgan Flynn, Owen Pearce and Chris Massoglia who went on to star in The Vampire's Assistant this fall.
*We had an experienced, professional union crew.
*We shot on location in Montana where the original story actually took place in 1968.
*We kept the budget under 5 million dollars.
After we completed A Plumm Summer we submitted it to the best family film festivals all over the world and won award after award, finally leading to a rave review in Daily Variety and seals of approval from the Dove Foundation, Heartland Films and the Parents Television Council.
However, we still couldn't find studio distribution. The executives we talked to said the films families want to see are animated, CGI and special effects driven or are anchored by A-list stars..."But we love your film!" The beginning of the recession last year also made studios nervous to release independent films- some of their own movies starring these same A-listers are still on the shelves.
So last summer we decided to self distribute in 10 markets across the country. Our efforts for a small theatrical release paid off. We were discovered by several studios that wanted to release our DVD including Paramount Pictures who aggressively pursued us. A Plumm Summer is now available everywhere on DVD (Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc.) and is airing exclusively on Showtime beginning this Sunday at 1:35p.m. and 8p.m.
We don't know if we'll ever make our money back on A Plumm Summer but we believe in this movie and the idea of putting quality films out there in the universe. I've never been so proud of something in my life.
I hope that the folks who (rightly) bemoan the lack of independent filmmaking are taking time to support film festivals and are seeking out those projects in theaters and in the home video market, especially this holiday season.
Producers like us would love to continue to make non-studio films, but we need an audience to support the effort...
Are you out there?