Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
To an outsider, it might seem a disappointment that three Lakeland filmmakers must go elsewhere to make their first full-length movie. Anyone inside the movie business, though, would understand why the three are thrilled at the prospect of actually making their movie, no matter the location.
"We're excited about it," Rob Tritton of NFocus said of the deal. "The Tennessee part of it is just one of those things you accept to make the project better. We would have loved to shoot it in our back yard, but that will be our next film."
The newly signed deal requires NFocus to contribute $750,000 of the planned $3.1 million budget. As of Tuesday, Tritton, the company's financial chief, said NFocus remained $80,000 short of its total, having secured $670,000 from local investors.
The Ledger has been following the "Endure" project with occasional updates on the filmmakers' progress, a Weblog from the filmmakers and online video reports. Previous stories focused on the creation of the story and the quest for financial backing.
"Endure," written by Joe O'Brien, was originally scheduled for shooting next month in Polk County with a budget of $1.2 million. But as the deadline neared and NFocus, the company headed by O'Brien and fellow producers Tritton and Jim Carleton, remained well short of its financing goal, and the trio sent out feelers to possible production partners.
Tritton said Hi-Def expressed interest, and representatives from the two companies began talking by phone. After about three months of negotiations, they met in Lakeland earlier this month and exchanged contracts by mail last week. Phillip Glasser, CEO of Hi-Def, was out of the country and could not be reached this week but had earlier confirmed the two companies were close to reaching a deal.
Hi-Def's production credits include "Kickin' It Old Skool," a comedy starring Jamie Kennedy released in 2007. Tritton said Hi-Def is aligned with a major Hollywood distribution company, relieving the filmmakers of the burden of finding a distributor once the movie is finished. Neither NFocus nor Hi-Def wished to reveal the name of the distributor.
"A mutual friend told me the other day, he said for a company's first film we are fitting in with maybe 1 percentile of how it would go," Tritton said. "On your first film, you just usually don't have it that nice."
The deal means NFocus will no longer have complete creative control over "Endure." But Tritton said Hi-Def agreed to keep O'Brien on board as director - a point NFocus considered non-negotiable, though O'Brien's only previous credit is as co-director of the award-winning short film "Blackwater Elegy."
O'Brien's screenplay involves a small-town detective's frantic search for a young woman who has been kidnapped and tied to a tree somewhere in a desolate forest - originally Central Florida's Green Swamp. The nearly tripled budget increases the likelihood of landing a name actor for the lead role. Tritton said a casting director is shopping the script around to actors.
Tritton said Hi-Def executives have assured O'Brien that they don't foresee making any substantial changes to his script.
"Of the umpteen scripts they see and read each week, one of the things they liked about Joe's script is it's ready to shoot - Joe wrote it from a director's perspective," Tritton said. "The other thing they said they really liked about it is all three acts are very balanced, and that's another credit to Joe."
The NFocus team said it set four parameters for any join venture: protecting investors, maintaining their integrity, making a great film and making a profit. Members said the deal with Hi-Def satisfies all those concerns.
The NFocus team had planned to shoot this summer to be eligible for a rebate of production costs from the state of Florida. But Tritton said Tennessee will reimburse the producers for 32 percent of qualified costs, compared with 20 percent in Florida.
"This deal beats out the other," Tritton added. "It's strictly a good business decision to shoot in Tennessee."
Tritton said NFocus tentatively plans to visit Tennessee in June for "soft pre-production work," including some location scouting. He said if all goes smoothly the 21- to 25-day shoot will take place in September.
Tritton said the increased budget will allow as many as six roles to be cast with Hollywood actors, as opposed to one or two on the original budget. He said the financial infusion will also yield a deeper lineup of professionals among the technical crew.
While some investors might be disappointed they won't be able to drive to local shooting locations, the NFocus team said in the long run it's better to make a movie in Tennessee than fall short of making a movie in Polk County.