Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, won Best Premiere at the 2012 Seattle True Independent Film Festival, and was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.
If you’re a screenwriter at any level, you know how difficult it is to break into the American film and television market. But if you look at the content landscape lately, you’ll notice a particularly international flavor. That’s not by accident – countries big and small have partnered with each other to create content you can watch just about anywhere. With an entrepreneurial mindset and a little research, you can find opportunities to bring your work to life as an international co-production.
Simply put, an international co-production is one where two or more different production companies are working together, for example in a film production. In the case of an international co-production, production companies from different countries (typically two to three) are working together. And there are many benefits to working in that way. Unlike the United States, many foreign countries offer financial incentives to attract production, and partnering with one of them could unlock money to help budget your script. (Many U.S. states offer incentives as well, but there are no federal incentives.) Working with a foreign country could also unlock additional distribution opportunities for your projects.
You might say this is thinking more like a producer, and that’s definitely true. But being strategic about the scripts you create can increase their chances of being produced. Take the example of MORRIS FROM AMERICA, a Sundance Film Festival premiere that eventually sold to A24 last year. The story is about a 13-year-old African-American living in Germany with his father, a soccer coach, and his coming of age in a foreign culture. The American production company Beachside Films partnered with German production companies Flare Film, INDI Film GmbH and Sudwestrundfunk. Since they were filming in Germany, partnering with those companies opened up opportunities for those companies to provide financing, and also qualified them for German rebates of up to 20% of their budget. And Beachside was able to bring American film actor Craig Robinson (HOT TUB TIME MACHINE), to play the father, which helped the film with distribution. In this case, everyone got a benefit from this.
Europe is a particularly eager market for international co-productions. A South by Southwest panel on USA/Europe opportunities explained that film commissions in Europe can be big helps in a filmmaker finding money. Where a U.S.-based film commission might be used primarily to help find shooting locations, a European film commission exists to actually help you find a European co-producer – for free!
The biggest item you’ll need to get the process started is a European element in your script, or an element specific to the country you’re approaching. It could be locations filmed there (like MORRIS FROM AMERICA), a commitment from an actor popular in that country, or a post-production element attached, like an editor based in that country, or post production company that has agreed to work on the film.
This can work in both films and television. Ever seen the Netflix animated series F IS FOR FAMILY? That’s an international co-production between American animation company Big Jump Productions and the French company Gaumont International Television. The writing staff of the show is based in Los Angeles, and the completed show is available via Netflix in over 150 countries. This makes sense because by partnering with a company that streams worldwide, Gaumont wouldn’t need to sell the rights to the show country by country. And the show is a family comedy, which is relevant in many countries. As they say, comedy travels.
International co-production deals can create successful shows outside of Europe as well. If you look at Hulu, you’ll find a high number of Korean drama and comedy shows, like BOYS BEFORE FLOWERS and MOONLIGHT DRAWN BY CLOUDS. One big reason for the production of these shows is because of a $1 billion cultural fund in South Korea, helping to finance media content that promotes South Korea or that features Korean characters. If you can develop an idea that incorporates those elements, there’s money available to help you get it made.
And there are emerging markets writers can become a part of, if they’re savvy. Take India for example. The Netflix series BROWN NATION debuted in November, focusing on a married Indian couple (not Indian-American), living in Queens, NY. Director Abi Varghese explained the streaming world offered a chance for his show to connect with its audience.
“We shot late 2014, and we were really pitching it out to Indian TV and lot of networks,” Varghese explained to Mashable. “But we were stuck somewhere because we didn’t know where the audience was. It was too American for the Indian audience and vice versa. It’s only when Netflix approached us that we were really like ‘Man, this is the platform where it’ll get to the right audience.’”
Even if you’re interested in writing a micro-budget film, the help you can get from an international co-production can be immense. I was the associate producer of OUT OF MY HAND, which was made by American company TELEVISION Pictures partnering with the Liberian Movie Union. While shooting in Liberia, the LMU provided location assistance, and set up auditions for actors. This led to the casting of Joshua Blahyi, better known as General Butt Naked, a former commander of forces under warlord Roosevelt Johnson. Production took place in Liberia and New York City, and even though the film had a budget far under $1 million, the film had some big success. It world premiered at Berlin before winning Best Film at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, being distributed on Netflix, and being nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Two thirds of the movie was filmed in Liberia, so partnering with the LMU was a vital piece of the puzzle of making it in the first place.
Though it takes thinking a little differently, the world of international co-productions offer some real opportunities for writers to find resources to get their projects made, and new audiences to expose to your work. If you broaden your focus and look to other countries, you might find the key to getting your script produced.
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