TIFF ’20: Bekerman and Mortensen on Falling, pitching and the ‘language’ of coproduction

Falling movie Screen Shot 2020-09-18 at 6.52.34 AM
The Canadian producer and actor-turned-director discuss the genesis of the Canada/U.K. drama, and how the copro model remains a critical tool for creator-driven storytelling.

While Canada and the U.K. share an official language, putting together a coproduction between the two countries requires a certain level of bilingualism, according to Dan Bekerman.

“There’s two different, for lack of a better word, bureaucratic languages spoken by each country,” the Scythia Films principal told a TIFF panel on the making of Falling, a Canada/U.K. coproduction directed and written by Viggo Mortensen. “There’s a points system on the Canadian side and a filmmaker-contribution metric on the U.K. side, so you have to find a way to make those two things understand each other,” he noted of the project, which screened as part of TIFF 2020 after making its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year.

Bekerman boarded the project two years ago, after Lars Knudsen (a former producing partner of Bekerman’s on 2015′s The Witch) had recommended the Scythia principal to Mortensen. The pair met for the first time at TIFF 2018, when Green Book, which starred the Danish-American actor opposite Mahershala Ali, premiered.

Mortensen had been trying to get Falling going since 2016, initially setting up the project as a Canada/France coproduction, only for that to fall apart when the financing didn’t come together.

But while the Canada/France copro structure wasn’t meant to be, Mortensen had already laid a lot of the groundwork. Namely, forging connections with Ontario talent such as production designer Carol Spier, location scouting and completing some filming across Ontario.

Using that rough footage as a foundation, Mortensen had taken the project to the American Film Market (AFM). It was a first for Mortensen, who wasn’t used to being the one doing the pitching. Throughout numerous meetings, he felt like he might be crashing and burning.

“I’m talking to all the [distributors], explaining our plans, how I plan to shoot it, what my approach was going to be, and… why it would be worth their time, energy and money to invest in. And nothing. No reaction,” recalled Mortensen.

After one meeting, he turned to a rep from sales agent HanWay Films and said “it seems like it’s going really badly.” But the rep told him that this is simply part of the buyer-seller game of cat and mouse – things were actually going really well. “I said, ‘really?’”

Soon there were pre-sale offers on the table and shortly thereafter the full production team was in place, with Bekerman’s Scythia producing alongside U.K.-based Zephyr Films and Mortensen’s shingle Perceval Pictures in a Canada/U.K. copro structure.

As with most coproductions, Falling was a vastly intricate balancing act, with the Canadian spend versus the U.K. spend needing to adhere to a pinpoint ratio. “I can tell you with a lot of precision that the [financing split] is 50.49% on the Canadian side,” said Bekerman, with the remaining 49.51% falling on the U.K. side.

When asked how the coproduction framework can be improved, Bekerman said that simplifying the process would yield better movies.

“At some point you want to be producing a movie and not [producing] a coproduction,” he said, acknowledging that he’d stolen the quote from a producer friend. “I’d be bleary-eyed at 1 a.m. balancing the spend-finance point split, and that’s important, but we don’t only want to be doing that when we’re making a movie. There’s a million other important considerations we’ve got to be able to focus on. Simplicity is ultimately a good thing: we’ll make better movies that will bring revenue back into the system, and help create a more healthy space to make genuine, heartfelt movies.”

Some of those roadblocks are starting to be removed, he added, and treaty coproduction remains a viable option for projects that leave a “lot of agency” with the filmmakers and creators to support artist-driven storytelling, especially in a time when the “options for independent filmmaking are getting narrower and narrower.”

“There are new treaties being negotiated, with Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark and others. There’s a little bit more flexibility, a little more user-friendliness, in terms of the points system. They’re headed in the right direction.”