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netribution > features > interview with nic mason > page two
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You sound hesitant?
Well I don't want the emphasis to move away from the filmmaker and I see a lot of festivals where it's all about what stars turn up. By that point we were getting 500 entries and only taking 14 which is a wonderful achievement in itself but I would never let out the judges beforehand because if you need the judges to write about this festival then don't bother writing about it. I mean shit, we get 14 filmmakers from around the world and we put them up at the Gershwin Hotel where the Warhol factory used to be. They get there and don't know what each other's films are going to be like (laughs) its fantastic to watch the stand off and then see them bond, great friends are made out of it.

It does sound like an Olympiad.
Fu** yeah, but when they leave as a winner and the first words they see on a press release is something like, 'this famous person judged the competition,' well fu** you! The emphasis has got to stay with the filmmaker.

How is the company made up?
I have a lot of part timers that come in and do it for love, there's a nucleus of three or four and I have an attorney without which I wouldn't be here. He's a very strong attorney and a good friend, he loves it, he's been there since day one and he helps out as much as he can. I have a few actresses from New York who will come in and answer those questions, I have two German designers who come in from Berlin and who design all the artwork but they are getting good work from that now. No one is getting paid and at this stage when the festival is on the 23rd of September, we still have to find another $30,000 to stage it.

In this strange economic climate in the States, the first thing they cut back on are the luxuries, the advertising. No one gets paid at the moment and how we do it? God knows.

Have you thought about production?
I'm moving into production and I've set up a company called Union Square Productions - I suppose I might get a little bit of flak about that - it's the company set up to find that filmmaker and to bring them in to produce that feature film. Instead of them getting screwed over by agents or they just fu** up after winning the festival, it's about bringing in a handful of New York companies to make sure the script hits the right hands and that the feature film gets made. The whole idea was for the filmmaker to win the festival and to make a feature and that is yet to happen, that worries me and that's wrong. I've seen how they've fu**ed up and this system is to make sure they understand that they probably won't get that name actor because they're schedule won't allow it.

London would be great, you must have such an undiscovered pool of talent here and New York's the same, you can find talent that will just give their soul for a piece of work, but the first step is the script. For that we are setting something up called The Manhattan Lab, it'll be at the Gershwin hotel in January where we'll bring in screenwriters to teach six filmmakers with their feature scripts. I wanted to get the winner into the Sundance lab and I thought they should have got involved but there was, deservedly so, some ego problems. I thought, 'fu** it, let's start our own.'

Tell me about the tour and the link up.
Well we are going to link the Gershwin Hotel to Hollywood live. So many digital projectors are being sold, and at such a rate - 19 in the US now, by September the 23rd there'll be 63 and within a year and a half there's 500. The next places to link are Dublin and London. Sorry, we have one film showing on four screens in Union Square and now it'll go to Hollywood. It's not a question of how many people can see it, it's that we’ve done it. Now we want to take a part of Union Square to London and Dublin and vice versa, we want people to go to that cinema for an event, that's exciting.

I'd like a situation where 10 short films are screened at an outdoor event and the public are asked to decide which goes to the Manhattan short film festival. I'll want to do the same in Ireland, France and possibly Italy but we are coming up on the deadline now so we've pretty much decided to do it next year. I want those countries choosing their filmmaker.

Tell me about the Manhattan Screenings.
It's something we started at the Gershwin hotel but you've got to understand the mentality of the hotel to understand where the screenings came from. You really get the feel of the factory, it's an art hotel in New York owned by one person not a conglomerate, he's called Ernst Jacob. He's the godfather to any young entrepreneur or artist that he feels are going somewhere. I was homeless but he just let me live there, and I kept on wondering why? He just wanted me to find a safe place to create and get grounded from and for some reason he saw something he believed in.

The place has got signed cans of soup everywhere, Lou Reed's always around and Billy Name is the resident photographer. We had some beatnik poet in the gallery last time I was there, we were just sitting around listening to poetry with the bongos and I look to my right to see Debbie Harry patting a dog on her lap. It's my home and I love it.

On the open-air rooftop we can fit around 70 people but in the square mile around this hotel there are 22 distribution companies. So what we are trying to do is raise a buzz about festival films that haven't been picked up - we'd be ecstatic if one got sold and that's the peak of our mountain.

It begs the question, what are you gaining from this?
We can do it, it's not even a business but it's fun and it's just saying fu** you. (laughs) There's something about watching a film on a midtown roof in New York City. The bar was always open and people would mill around there to talk while the films were going on but if the film has been to festivals then we can't get the right people there. We can't attract the people who can say, 'we want to buy this.'

We do need the faith in the director, which we'd have and in the producer, which we'd have but somehow sales companies fu** up! Last year we had three films, one from a British sales company that we wanted to get to the roof and they stalled and stalled saying, 'we haven't heard about you, we want to hold back, ' this and that. The film's sitting on the fu**ing shelf and it's going to be sitting on the fu**ing shelf in 2020! Sales agents over here are fu**ed up, they ask us what is in it for us and we tell them that it's just for fun. They ask, 'what percent do you want?' I say 'However you take it? Whatever you fu**ing want!' We'll have very salubrious magazines up there creating a buzz so, somehow, pull your fu**ing head out of your fu**ing arse and somehow stop playing so safe (laughter) because it ain't fu**ing happening!! (much laughter) You know, I'm quite serious, it's just not fu**ing working!! (hysterics)

I just can't get over the fact that three films got picked up at Sundance but nothing for over half a million! The good scripts are bought by the studios and they don't want you in their fu**ing cinemas, if they do want you there then they're gonna screw you so find another way out, otherwise get the fu** out of the business! (more laughter) Do you know what I'm saying? You understand!?

I'm not saying it's right, I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it's worth a shot in the right direction. These people that sign with sales agents better know what they are fu**ing doing because I've found them to be an utter….they hold back. You are going to find this with actors too; agents are going to go down the fu**ing toilet, managers are becoming more important and I know a great story about this actress. She didn't have an agent but auditioned for a part on this film, great director but he only had about a million to spend, anyway he wanted her for the part. She went away and got an agent within the day, (laughs) the director told me that he was sitting down casting the other parts when this fu**ing agent rings him up. He starts going on about costume, hair cuts and the budget starts rising from a million to two million so the director says, 'Wait a minute, who the fu** are you? She didn't have an agent when I cast her yesterday!' 'Well she does now,' so the director says, 'well now she doesn't have a fu**ing part so get out of here.' The next day the girl rang up four times because the agent dropped her and he just knows, 'tell her I'm busy, I don't want to talk to her.' She ends up coming back to see him in tears and he just said, 'I told you not to get an agent.'

There are a lot of companies in New York that are only dealing with managers now, for people who are kicking out digital films and Super 16 films and these managers are finding new ways to distribute them.

Can I ask when this first got up your nose?
Oh I hate the system and I hate being dictated to, I hated school. I hate the fat bloke with an attitude sitting there telling us what to do because he works for this company or that or because the corporate dollar says so. I want to break it, it gets up my nose enormously and it angers me because talent doesn't necessarily shine through.

You are starting to sound militant?
(laughs) No, I don't!

You do though, isn't this the same 80/20 thing that people have tried to break before?
(pause)….I didn't actually set out to try and break anything. The Manhattan film festival is working, the person who won it last year is shooting a $25m feature film on his third year, he has a career. It's doing fine, in three years it now has a pretty solids platform and there is nothing that I have to push too hard.

What's in it for us? I don't think we've even asked ourselves that, I don't think we really care and the Manhattan screenings is a part of the Gershwin empire. The venue is right and Union Square is the right place for the festival because it's a nerve centre.

You've a lot to be thankful for.
Well, I write to them every day - to him, his wife and his child and they've made me feel very safe and it's comforting to think that such people still exist in this world.

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