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Industry Talk Series Highlights: International Co-production: Creativity, Finance, and Audience

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Pabelle Manikan and Wena Sanchez are both alumni of Docs By The Sea. They are a director-producer duo, most recently produced Dreaming in the Red Light (2019), a story about women sex workers in the Philippines. They are joined by their French co-producer Philippe Djivas. 

This session was moderated by Frédéric Violeau of Docmonde.

How did you meet?

Philippe and Wena met in 2015 at a workshop in Bophana Center Cambodia, then started a collaboration for All Grown Up. Wena and Pabelle met in 2016 through a film community in the Philippines, and they started working together for both their projects. In 2018, Pabelle and Wena started collaborating with Philippe in Dreaming in the Red Light. Philippe owns a production company (Dynamo Production) based in Lyon, France. For Pabelle and Wena, Philippe really knows how they want to tell the story and they like his insight.

Why did you want to co-produce?

Because we have no grants here in the Philippines, and we really need more funding to finish the film. Also, we wanted more feedback and other perspectives because we have been working on it for three years, and we were very close to the story. We finished the film in 2019 and premiered at DMZ Doc. But, we weren’t very happy with the cut because everything was rushed as we were tied by contract. Then we met Philippe and he said we might be able to apply for CNC (National Center for Cinema in France) fund, so we asked Philippe to get onboard with us. We worked with CNC and Lyon Capitale TV.

Philippe: I saw the project has a real narrative and storytelling. The world the character is living in is so courageous, and the director and creative producer of this film are also very courageous in making this film.

How did the grant from CNC help you?

It really helped us creatively. However, it took a long time because we had to present a good dossier, we had to have a TV local partner, we had to send the file to the partner and get through a selective commission. When they said yes, we went back to CNC. It took us months. But, it really gave us the money to make a good film faster. We had the consultants and editing room for free, as well as more time to finish the film. However, sometimes discussing with TV/broadcast channels means some adjustments for the film, such as blurry shots taken out, duration cut, all for better viewing experience. Other than that, we have our freedom.

How do you deal with a situation when the relationship in the co-production is complicated?

It’s important to communicate everything that we need or feel. With a co-production, I think it's good if you can just discuss it honestly, without being so polite, so you can focus on the creative output. I think it’s about finding the right and like-minded people to work with. Also we have option contracts. So, it’s good to start to formalize a lot of things to make things clear.

How can a relatively unknown filmmaker find a co-producer?

Write a good dossier because it's your ticket to get a producer. Submit your film to a lot of pitching events because it won’t just give you possible funding or support, but it also helps you form your story.

What did you learn from this co-production experience that you would do differently?

After the film is finished, we really need to work more on the marketing and distribution of the film. I think we should have thought about this much earlier, even before we had co-production. We were so focused on finishing the film that we didn’t realize that we needed to start looking for sales agents, and a great strategy for festivals. We talked to some sales agents, they said they were interested, but it’s too late for them to get onboard.

As a co-producer, how do you get compensation? How do you earn money with your film?

When we get some funds, we will include our salary in that fund, and if possible a part for the production company too. I made 4-5 films by year, and with this number you can manage between the films. If one film has less funds, you manage with the other one to balance the finance of the company. But, of course the most important is to finance people, the authors. So, it's about financing the movie through different movies, financing the company, profits will come later if the film is successful, if you sell the film to TV channels, and etc.

With the grant from CNC, did you have to spend it in France?

To qualify and get French money from the National Film Center, you have to meet 14 points: chief editor 1 point, DOP 1 point, etc. There are 14 points, and you need to have at least nine points. Otherwise,  you cannot get French support from the National Film center. So, the French producer has to find a balance. That's why he has to spend money for color grading, mixing in France to qualify as a French or European movie. Different funds have different obligations because some countries might have some treaties with the National Film Center, but some don’t. While for producers, they would share the ownership of the film according to the money they can raise from their own country.  In my case, I would have 22%, 30%, or 40% depending on what I bring into the co-production. That’s why you have to find the right partner because you will be talking about money.

In Docmonde, we recommend that if there are two producers, they will try to make 50-50 to share the ownership. Also in certain countries, most of the time the money is coming from Europe. At least they would share the rights of the film 50-50, so that in case of income they would share it equally. It means that the producer who raised less money can also get some income and be able to invest in new projects. If there are three producers, we would recommend to make it ⅓ for each. But again, this is a recommendation and it’s all about negotiation.