Indie filmmakers need them; people with money like the arts. But that doesn't always mean the two parties get along.
I've been hearing things about Werc Werk Works--the Minneapolis-based financier and producer--for a couple of years now, and with their latest bad brush with indie filmmakers--Jill and Karen Sprecher--some evidence is finally coming out about their contentious relationship with some of their directors. To be fair, I need to emphasize the "some," as I heard only good things from producers on the company's most recent production "Darling Companion," but man, the shady maneuvering that's surrounding WWW's handling of Sprecher's "The Convincer" is pretty outrageous.
The Sprechers aren't the only ones who've had negative experiences with WWW, as I recount in this indieWIRE article, and the company's pattern of ill behavior suggests to me a pervasive, possibly dysfunctional lack of communication between the financiers and their filmmakers.
While some auteurs can't help be seduced by the prospects of a fully funded film, there's a lot of ego and politicking that filmmakers need to be aware of when it comes to equity. And if the parties don't seem eye to eye, the whole enterprise can explode.
As one crew person that worked on a Werc Werk Works film, who spoke anonymously for fear of being sued, told me, "I don't think it's uncommon for inexperienced investors to get destructive when they realize that no one is actually interested in their creative opinion. They feel disrespected and ignored, so they start wielding their power of 'approval' over tiny, crazy things they couldn't possibly have the expertise to understand." The results, added the insider, is that "the filmmakers circle the wagons around the decision-making process to protect their ideas. Then things just escalate until it's a full-scale war."
In Filmmaker Magazine's Winter 2011 issue, I wrote a large feature story about the psychology of investors and their needs (it's not on the web). And everyone agreed that financiers and producers all need to be on the same page and do the due diligence to make sure neither ends up getting screwed.
For example, Michael Benaroya, the 29-year-old son of Larry Benaroya, a Seattle real estate tycoon, told me, it's important for the interests of both parties to be "aligned," he said.
Michael Bassick, a former investment banker, agreed. He feels it all comes down to "transparency and communication, which needs to be improved upon. A lot of times, everyone's in touch when you're courting and trying to get the deal done, and then suddenly, people disappear when you write the check. At the end of the day, that's what you want: more involvement, at least, from an information-sharing perspective."
Money-people and artists need to make sure they understand each others' expectations, and who they are getting in business with. Or bad things can happen.