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Producers I Have Known – Brad Gilbert

September 4th, 2012 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

Another producer I once worked with is Brad Gilbert. Brad never hesitated to tell you that he was the son of Ron Gilbert, who (among other accomplishments) was one of the producers of the 1970 movie “Diary of a Mad Housewife”, starring Carrie Snodgress. I ran into Brad when I was President of Gold Circle Films. He had some kind of rights to a property based on the murder of Laurence Austin at the silent movie theater on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. I revised the script and worked the budget from $6 million down to around $4 million, and had pulled together a tentative cast, but the sales estimates wouldn’t support the package, so I abandoned it.

A couple of years later I was working at RAND, and who should turn up but Brad. “I want to form a new company called Autonomy Pictures,” he told me, “and you and I are going to be 50/50 partners.” “Great!” I said. A week or so later, he comes back and says, “I’ve thought it over some more, and I think it would be more fair if I had 75% and you had 25%.” I love these types of negotiations, because they’re so stupid. As Billy Preston sang, “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’”, and there’s no point in getting worked up about participations in or shares of profits that never will materialize. “I’ve got an even better idea,” I said. “How about you get 100%, and I get nothing?” Brad didn’t understand the irony to this, and said “…er, sure!” I knew that I would end up making at least as much, if not more, from setting up financing. [For clarification, Brad’s Autonomy Pictures was a different company than the current Autonomy Pictures, which seems to have started up around 2010. Brad’s company was in the early 2000s.]

Brad ‘s favorite movie was “Lost in Translation”, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, and directed by Sofia Coppolla. Personally, I didn’t see that much in it, but Brad had a far more refined sense of aesthetics than I did. I watched it again recently to see if I had missed something, and it still played like the same boring old movie.

Once Autonomy was up and running, Brad started hustling that weird combination of screenplay + attachments that = a producible project in independent film land. I watched his progress with some consternation, as he was leaving a trail of broken commitments all across town, and once you start doing that excessively, then influential persons will think up excuses not to deal with you.

The way the process “ordinarily” works is through mutual deception. Potential buyers of media rights to the film won’t transact with you, unless you have enough stars of sufficient stature attached to the project, to drive consumer demand. The producer in turn depends on those commitments in order to secure funding to make the movie, typically by pledging them as collateral for a standby letter of credit or loan facility. The budget for the movie is a direct reflection of presale interest, which in turn is a direct reflection of the cast.

But in order to get stars attached to the movie, the producer must be able to articulate to the star’s agent a persuasive scenario under which the movie gets made (and the star gets paid, and the agent earns a commission). The reason why being that the star doesn’t want to get shopped around and used to prop up the budget for a movie that probably won’t get made, because there are insufficient buyer commitments.

Stars (and their agents) know exactly where they stand in this hierarchy–how much they’re worth to the budget of the movie. The budget escalates up or down to support this perceived number. Like many markets, though, it is inefficient. Stars that are priced over their presale value may look tempting, but the market won’t justify the budget. If the producer makes the movie notwithstanding, it will lose money. The ideal situation for the producer is stars that are underpriced, but who then (mysteriously) acquire momentum, so are perceived as having greater market value. Then, the movie will take in more than it cost to make. Between these two polarities there is a lot of entropy in the system.

The screenplay is modestly important in this equation, but the stars are the main driver. While it might seem counterintuitive, there even is a sense in which the content of screenplay doesn’t matter. If a star likes the screenplay and is willing to be attached to the project, then it’s self-validating, simply because of that fact. It’s much harder to start with a screenplay, then attach stars and a director to it. Probably the worst thing to do is to start with a screenplay, then attach a director to it. Because this just adds another degree of freedom. The star (or the star’s agent) might not like the director, or perhaps they even want to bring in their own director. In the former case, the movie won’t get made. In the latter case, it will get made, but mainly because of the star’s power, not the director’s. There are of course exceptions to this principle, the main one being directors who also wrote the screenplay, or those who are bona fide auteurs.

But I would say it is the dynamic in most cases. The way that most producers handle it is to lie. They lie to the star that the financing is in place. Then they lie to the financing that the stars are in place. Then they hope everything falls into place serendipitously, before each party finds out about the other. This is so commonplace that I doubt any party is genuinely deceived about the other’s intentions, even though they have to pretend they are.

Given this, the question is–which producer is going to shop my name around respectfully, and which one has the best track record of monetizing my name’s commercial value? Many people think that the job of the agent is to procure engagements for the star. This, however, is incorrect. The job of the agent is to reject projects for the star and to prevent the movie from getting made, not facilitate it. This particularly is true for movie, which the star feels “passionately” about. The reason why being that the agent wants to preserve the star’s market value and make sure it doesn’t get diluted by a bunch of no-consequence indie movies. The major exception to this principle is if the star needs rehabilitation following a disastrous mainstream movie, and the agent determines that a quick round-trip ticket to indieville is in order, to reestablish credibility. Adjectives such as “edgy” typically are used to describe the type of script that usually is called for in these instances.

Back to Brad, he simply was making too many offers to too many people, and the agent community got wise to it pretty quickly. Flitting about town, scattering commitments as he went. I was starting to get telephone calls from pissed-off agents, wondering what was going on. I reported this to Brad. “Tell them I’ve got the money. My girlfriend’s father is going to back the company. I’ve got the money, just tell that to them and get them to go ahead.” “Sure,” I thought to myself, “the old ‘girlfriend’s father’ story again.” That’s got about as much credibility as an ice cube on the equator. It didn’t sound at al promising. Regardless of source of funds, I was reluctant to make such a representation, since I had no evidence this had occurred, or was going to occur at any point in the near future. I also had my own indie film reputation to protect, and I wasn’t about to go out on a limb unless funds actually were on hand to support pay-or-play offers.

I’ve always been reasonably knowledgeable about copyright issues, and one day Brad asked me a question about the status of international rights for “Diary of a Mad Housewife.” Inquiries such as these are extremely complex due to different copyright protection periods in different territories, the impact of reversions, etc. etc. No way could I undertake the project. So I referred him to my friend Russ Frackman, who quoted him $25,000 for research and an opinion. Brad thought this would be an outrageous waste of money. “Frackman’s one of the best,” I told him. “But all I want for him to do is look up the dates in each country!” “Exactly,” I replied, “but then you also want for him to give you a legal opinion as to the status of rights. Surely you’d agree with me that he’s got to do enough research in order to protect himself.” Brad harrumphed off, muttering something about how lawyers are a rip-off. I wonder why it is that so many people are reluctant to pay for legal advice when they have no qualms paying for other forms of personal services, all the way from medical doctors to accountants to manicurists, masseuses and prostitutes. Then Brad sicced his father on me. The last thing I wanted to do was to talk to some disembalmed, old-Hollywood relic, such as Brad’s dad. Somehow he got through my defensive telephone cordon, to me at least he may not have been in the finest of mental health.

Then there was the episode of the cease and desist letter. Lionsgate Films announced it was going to produce a movie called “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” Brad + dad were incensed at this development, because they viewed any movie with the words “diary,” “mad” and some cognate of “woman” in it, as their exclusive property. “Make them stop!” Brad told me. I spent a few minutes on line and came up with something like 50 other uses of “Diary of a Mad …” I sent this to Brad. “You can’t complain about Lionsgate using the name when you’ve let it slide by in all of these other instances,” I told him. “It’s too diluted.” Brad didn’t get it. “But we still own the name,” he said. “Quite right,” I replied. “And they’re not trying to use your name, or your film, or anything based upon or derived from it. In fact, their use of something that sounds vaguely like the name of your film actually might enhance its economic prospects, because it will bring it back to the consumer’s mind.” I don’t think Brad understood a word of this; in fairness, maybe he just was acting as a messenger for dad.

There came a time when I set up a meeting with a colleague, Alan Bursteen, head of New City Releasing. We arrived at Bursteen’s office in Woodland Hills with time to spare. We were escorted to the lobby, offered refreshments, and asked to be seated. Five minutes later, Brad starts getting antsy. “This is disrespectful,” he said. “I’m an important person and have the right to be seen on time.” Five minutes later, he’s up and ready to leave. “Calm down,” I said. “He’s an important person, too. He probably just got stuck on the phone.” Sure enough, a few minutes later, in walks Bursteen. “Sorry I got stuck on the phone, guys”, he said. “But I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” The meeting went great. When we got back to the car, Brad was effusive. “I really killed it during that meeting, didn’t I? I’m sure glad I insisted we stick around for it.” But nothing ever happened. I got him a bunch of other meetings around town, with people Bill Leshack at First Look Media, Joe Drake at Senator International, Arnon Milchan, HanWay Films, Bob Yari, Carole Curb, etc. Nothing happened with these, either.

In the case of one picture–“The Lost”–Brad actually went to Breakdown Services to start shopping for supporting cast. You never, ever do this unless you are in the throes of pre-production, with money in hand. I guess he put my name down somewhere, because all of a sudden I was inundated with even more telephone calls.

One day Brad just disappeared. Vanished into thin air without a trace. Never heard from him again. I was completely mystified. I started getting more frantic calls. For example, Brad thought he had Ray Liotta lined up to play the role of “Jimmy” in a film called “The Night Job.” Ray’s agent started calling me up on a daily basis to find out where things were at. “Where’s Gilbert?” he inquired. “I don’t know,” I said, truthfully. “How can he leave us in the lurch like this?” “I don’t know,” I said.

According to IMDb, Gilbert has produced two films since I knew him: “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” and “After.Life”. “Teardrop Diamond” cost $6.5 million to make versus a domestic theatrical box office gross of $119,382. “After.Life”’s budget was $4.5 million versus a domestic theatrical box office gross of $108,229. “Domestic theatrical box office gross” does not include domestic video distribution, television broadcast or sales outside of North America. Typically, theatrical exhibitors split their revenue equally with the domestic distributor of the movie. The distributor then is entitled to recoup its P&A (“prints and advertising”) costs, any costs to finish the movie, the amount of any advance for rights, and a variety of other costs, before the production sees anything. I think it safe to say that both “Teardrop Diamond” and “After.Life” were not successful movies.

Here’s what Brad tried to pull together. There are a lot of different reasons why movies don’t get made, especially in independent film land. Still, it’s disheartening that Brad was unable to put together a single one of the projects he worked so hard on.

    “B.T.K.”

Writer: Michael Feifer
Director: Michael Feifer
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: t/b/d
Status: Was made in 2008 by North American Entertainment, starring Kane Hodder, Amy Lyndon and Odessa Rae.

    “Captive Heart” a/k/a “Capture”

Writer: Brad Wiss (?)
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: Heather Graham
Status: Unknown

    “Delirious”

Writer: Tom DeCillo
Director: Tom DeCillo
Producer: Robert Salerno, Brad Gilbert
Starring: Scarlett Johanssen, Steve Buscemi, Anne Heche, Michael Pitt
Status: Was made in 2006 by Peace Arch Entertainment Group, Thema Production and Artina Films, starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Alison Lohman. Budget: approximately $5 million. Domestic theatrical box office gross estimated at $85,976.

    “Detour”

Writer: Tobe Hooper
Director: t/b/d
Producer: t/b/d
Starring: t/b/d
Status: Unknown

    “Diary of a Mad Housewife” (remake)

Writer: Tammy Englert
Director: Jay Russell or Jeremy Workman
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker
Status: Unknown

    “Higher”

Writer: Karl Gajdusek
Director: t/b/d
Producers: Brad Gilbert and Faye Schwab
Starring: t/b/d
Status: Unknown.

    “Livin’ History”

Writer: Graham Gordy
Director: Frank Pugliese
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: t/b/d
Status: Unknown

    “Man in a Box”

Writer: Evan Wiener
Director: Brad Gilbert
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: John Turturro or Harvey Keitel
Status: Unknown

    “Psychotica”

Writer: Phil Beauman
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: t/b/d
Status: Unknown

    “Seraphim Falls”

Writer: David von Ancken
Director: David von Ancken
Producer: Brad Gilbert
Starring: Richard Gere
Status: Was made in 2006 by Icon Entertainment International, starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. Budget estimated at $18 million, domestic theatrical box office gross estimated at $413,877.

    “The Lost”

Writer: Tom Maduell
Director: Brad Gilbert
Producer: t/b/d
Starring: t/b/d
Status: Unknown

    “The Night Job”

Writer: James O’Hanlon
Director: John McNaughton
Producers: Michael Mailer and Brad Gilbert
Starring: Ray Liotta; Marisa Tomei; and, in the role of “Boots,” either: Matthew McConaughey, Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Nick Nolte, Robert Downey, Jr., Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, or Christopher Walken (all were offered the role).
Status: Unknown

    “Widow’s Walk”

Writers: Will Conroy, Laura King
Director: Brad Anderson
Producer: Michael Mailer, Brad Gilbert, Tom Maduell
Starring: Wynona Ryder or Kate Beckinsale
Status: Unknown

    “University”

Writer: Graham Gordy
Director: Brad Gilbert
Producer: Michael Mailer
Starring: Thomas Hayden Church
Status: Unknown