Film Connection mentor Wayne Thompson on the Business of Making Films
Toronto-based Film Connection mentor Wayne Thompson (Ving Rhames, Steven Seagal) is a film and television producer with dozens of credits to his name, two Gemini Awards, and two Director’s Guild of Canada Awards including Best Picture. An ally for artists and investors, he’s a consummate filmmaking professional who helps serious students find their way in the industry. We recently caught up with Wayne to learn more about one recent student’s success and to discuss the business side of making films.
Have some recent projects you’d like to tell us about?
“I just got back from Washington. I was up in Anacortes, and I was filming killer whales in their natural habitat. I went up toward Canada… It was like 68 degrees and clear in August and the water was calm and it was just gorgeous. We got to learn a lot about the orcas and the community of people that basically live with these magnificent creatures. I mean literally, there are hundreds and hundreds of people on a daily basis that are in boats or walking along the shore, and giant killer whales, maybe 6 or 8 of them will just swim by, you know? And it’s just part of their everyday life. I’m going to be sending a proposal to National Geographic, who’s very, very interested in these types of subject matters. It’s very much their focus. There’s a big story to be told about the Wildlife and people in those regions”
As a Film Connection mentor, you’ve helped a number of our students find their way and discover what they really want to do in the industry, including recent graduate Josh Eastman:
“Most students want…to be the producer, they want to be the director. They might even want to star in their own film. And yet they don’t know about the importance of being an editor or a UPM…And through them working in the field, they understand that either they have abilities in an area or not…
Now, Josh Eastman had made a few small films with very, very little money, and he had shot the film, wrote the film, edited the film, done everything. And from that, he got a few other very small jobs, like very small paying, but like any filmmaker, you want to just work. A, you want cash, but B, you want to develop your craft…
So when Josh came to me he was convinced that he was going to be a writer or a director…Well, I worked with Josh and mentored Josh for probably the belter part of a year, and he did a myriad of jobs with me and worked with me on a variety of programs, and no matter what, he had this incredible talent for editing, video editing…He had a great eye…You put him in front of an edit screen and he would create magic…
Through his own initiative he started editing a few test cases, and he did a pilot for Honda, which was very successful, and now he’s the senior editor at Honda for North America… now he’s stepped out in the world, he’s traveled, because with Honda he’s been around the world with them now and he’s shot a commercial just recently… He was not the DP, but he was there when it was being done so he could compile the dailies and all that. And he’s just a wonderful young man who really found his niche and is doing a superb job.”
There seem to be many different kinds of film producers, from the person who secures funding to line producers and UPMs who sometimes get producer credit.
“I’m really more of an executive producer…I’m always involved in raising the money. I’ve been successful at doing it and I’ve got good relationships from my past. So, executive producers are normally involved in the raising of the money and the securing of the funds. A producer to me, whether or not it’s a line producer who gets a producer title because they’re so pivotal to the creation of the movie, the producer works with me. I won’t say under me, but certainly I consider us to be equals. We both have an opinion, and it’s my investors’ money, so therefore I’m very concerned about being on time and on budget. I think that’s where a lot of producers make a mistake in not being on time and not being on budget.
So I think that the producers are often the ones that have actually worked with me to make the movie. Then, of course, distributors come in today, they want a producer title. Sometimes the investor wants a producer title instead of an executive producer title, especially on smaller films.”
When it comes to raising money for a film, how do you approach that and where do you go?
“When you’re producing a film, like an independent film, you have to analyze who is your market. So first of all who are you going to sell the movie to, but who also might put up some funding for it or where can you get some support…
I reside in Canada. We have a tremendous tax credit system here. So I can get approximately 30%, I’ll just use that as a general number, of the overall budget back in tax credits. So that gives me 100% of the budget is already guaranteed back 30% of the budget.
Then with a Canadian distribution sale, some foreign interest, because I don’t believe in presales, and of course the U.S. being your major market, I just started by putting together a pro forma that showed these people that I felt that they could make their money back. And I’ve been very fortunate that…11 of the 13 [projects] I produced between film and television have made money, and I think that’s an enviable track record.”
Should someone who’s a writer/director who wants to get a movie made consider the marketplace before they write a screenplay
“In my opinion, yes they should… Because if you can’t sell your movie, you’re not doing yourself a service as well as a writer or a director, because you’ve got this piece of art that you’ve created that no one will see. [But] if you start to build a reputation of making profitable movies as a writer, as a director, as a producer, as a DP, an editor, whatever you are, then that builds your resume, I think, in a far more logical manner, because it is a business. Yes, it’s creative and the crux of it is that creative juice, and it all comes back to the written word–the script is paramount…
You could go to AFM every November and figure out what’s hot, so that then you just put together a production deal, and you do whatever genre is needed by the distributors. ”
Let’s say someone just knows they want to produce films. What’s your advice to them? Where should they start?
“I think that they should learn about the business of film. What I mean by that is that you make a film for X dollars and you need to get that money back. However, whether it’s in tax credits, presales, sales, however it is, but you have an obligation to get that money back to the investor, hopefully with a return, but if not, you at least have to get that back. So inexperienced producers, it has nothing to do with age, I’m talking about in terms of experience. They just want to make their movie. They don’t think it through as to the ramification of what if no one sees this movie or what if the investor loses money. So I would say to a young producer that they should learn the business of the movie business.”
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