Archive for February, 2009


I’ve been down in the fair city of Dunedin for most of the week, where among other things I was doing some filming for a doco I’m making. Our venerable director (of Moon) meanwhile has been shovelling snow in the Outer Hebrides, and hopefully also reading the latest draft of the script.

The gestation period of a feature is so long that there are these inevitable ingressions of other matters, some of them necessary to the putting of bread on the table. The danger is that in a year of production, they accumulate to the stage where there’s insufficient time to get all the necessary tasks completed.
My own concentration is complicated by the fact that I’m in the midst of moving into a new edit studio/office, so I find my attention wandering. But given that it’s March in a couple of days, which gives us around 7 months until preproduction begins in earnest, I need to regain focus very quickly.
But this is not just filmmaking – it’s the retention of dreams amidst all the sidebars and distractions of life which silently erode them. And a certain stubbornness in the face of inevitable obstacles.

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The story of Arthur, hero of The Insatiable Moon, is based on a real character I knew in Ponsonby. He was a wonderful guy, who would come and have conversations with me regularly. We had a kind of revolving loan, whereby I’d lend him some money, and he’d eventually pay me back and immediately ask for another loan.

When he died (of renal failure caused by medication) he still owed me $20. Arthur was a larger than life character, a fluent Maori speaker who believed he had a special mission in life. He always wanted me to tell everyone about him. After he died, I decided to do just that, and wrote the novel which is a fictional impression of his world.
Now that we’re under way to make the movie, I guess his story will in some way go out to touch the world, just as he would have wanted. Seems fitting really.

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Director Gillies Mackinnon and I have been having a bit of banter. He’s in the process of reading the latest (and hopefully final) draft of the script. We’ve been re-establishing the writer – director relationship which is crucial to the task of making a good film.

As part of the correspondence Gillies said “The key to this is that everyone is making the same film – and this is not always true. When not, misery can descend like buckets of shite. But when we’re all in the same army, it can be a strange kind of stressful bliss.
The dream of what the movie can be – the vision of the story – that’s the key to a happy team and a film that has some substance. Too late to think about that when the cameras start rolling. We need to be “pressing on” (to use a Dylan phrase) toward the same end.
The reason I’ve been so keen on having Gillies involved in the project is that I think he and I have the same vision of what this is all about.
My production company is named ‘Holy Bucket Productions’ – hopefully not a bucket of shite…

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Last week I drove up to Auckland to have a coffee with Rawiri Paratene, who will play the lead role of Arthur. Rawiri is one of those rare people in the industry – a respected actor who is universally loved. It says a lot about who he is and how he acts (in life as well as on screen).

The first time I met him (2003) he was in the midst of huge critical acclaim for Whale Rider. He gave me two days of his time. On the first day, he welcomed me into his home and we ate scones and drank tea on the back verandah. I was all set to begin talking script issues, but Ra had different ideas. He took me for a drive out to the beach, and there we spent hours walking around the coast, telling each other our life stories. We talked it all through, until we felt that we knew a little of how each of us had got to be the people we were. At the end of it all, Ra pronounced us ready to begin work.
It was a superb lesson for me in what is really important in life. And I was more convinced than ever that Rawiri was the man to play Arthur.
Last Tuesday we were finally talking about the mechanics of getting the film made – shooting days, locations etc. True to form, he was generous in offering whatever contacts might be helpful for the process. Next month he’s off to London where he will be performing at the Globe through to about September, so we needed to get a few things sorted before he goes.
Funnily enough, he now has an office in Ponsonby, where the film will be shot. Call it research…

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A New Role

As part of the new deal, I’ve taken up the position of NZ producer of the film, through my production company Holy Bucket Productions. It’s unusual to have a writer as producer, though I have a little previous experience as producer of the play Jerusalem, Jerusalem which toured internationally, and also the short film Cake Tin which picked up an award at a Hollywood festival.

But being co-producer on a feature is a different ball game. Fortunately David Ball in Wales is doing the budgeting and scheduling, drawing on decades of experience. Tim Sanders, who has taken on production of a TV series which will demand his time for the next little while, has taken the role of Executive Producer and will help to keep me on the straight and narrow.
One of the major tasks I have is to raise NZ$500,000 for the film through equity investment. Not much if you say it quickly. But this is not the most opportune time in the world economy to be raising finance. I’m confident I’ll get there. This is a substantial project, with good people and good prospects.
Currently I’m drawing up documents for potential investors, and planning an investor’s meeting sometime in the next couple of months. We’ve retained Mr Film Legals, Matt Emery, to sort out the nuts and bolts for us.
The November shoot date certainly focuses the mind…

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Give Us A Green

The year (2008) trundled on. In May it had seemed that we were closing. Now we were marooned for lack of a distribution deal, and the market growing more miserly by the month. In December the UK producers wrote to me to ask how I’d feel about going the low budget route in order to get the film made.

The concept was to fix a November 2009 date for first day of Principal Photography and shoot digital with who and what we had available. It was to be a commitment to the integrity of the story, and damn the torpedoes. I considered the prospects and agreed.
Next step was the conversation with Rawiri Paratene. Would he stay involved in the project on this basis? He agreed without hesitation; an indication of the sort of guy he is.
We assumed that Gillies wouldn’t want to continue with us on this basis – but we assumed wrong! At a meeting with our UK producers, Pip and Rob, he agreed to stay in and was once again excited about the project. Especially when I gave my commitment to wind back the script drafts and remove most of the changes which he’d found so difficult.
The budget was now down from NZ$9m to a minimalist NZ$2m, meaning we would need to call in favours from all over the place. But the film was finally going to be made. 2009 would be the year!
And that, dear reader, brings you roughly up to date with the backstory of The Insatiable Moon. From here on in I’ll be describing the blow by blow details as we march toward November of this year.

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A Not Quite Done Deal

In order to access NZ Film Commission funding, we needed one small piece of the jigsaw to be in place – a UK distribution deal. This is in order to assure the Commish of the commercial viability of the film – fair enough.

We had come back from Cannes with several live possibilities. One of the most promising was Film Four, and we felt that Moon would be a good fit with them. They had a good look through our material in the ensuing weeks. Finally they came back saying “we found the script to be a very uplifting and uncynical read, and think that you’ve crafted a script that really does sell the idea at its heart and create a world where such things could be and are possible which we thought was a real achievement”. Unfortunately, they passed on it.
Icon said “I thought it was a charming read – strong concept with some very universal themes,” but passed also. Transmission said: “We really like this script, a great piece of writing with a lot of heart and brilliant characterisations,” and passed.
Another live possibility was Metrodome. They came back to us very early after Cannes, with interest in providing a P&A deal for distribution. Their head of acquisitions read the script and had this to say: “I read the script over the weekend and I found it incredibly poignant and life affirming. It’s a beautiful story.” They wanted to discuss details of a potential deal.
Unfortunately the UK summer intervened, and everyone went on holiday. By the time they came back, Metrodome’s head of acquisitions had been promoted out of her position, and as is the practice in the film industry, the new guy didn’t want to inherit any of his predecessor’s projects (any kudos would go to the previous person). So they passed, though wanted to be kept informed.
By this stage things were beginning to tighten up in movieland. Everyone was reporting difficulties in getting presales, with some companies beginning to go to the wall. That small piece of the jigsaw was looking increasingly impossible.

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