Translating the deals into a movie

Anne Thompson has a very informative artlicle in this month's Filmmaker Magazine about the hustle to get Lost in Translation made.

Sofia Coppola's first finished draft of her script--the one they used to raise money--was only 70 pages long, which freaked a lot of funders out. Still, such a short script (1 page = 1 minute is the filmmaking-as-usual rule of thumb) suited Coppola's (and Bill Murray's) improvisational, intuitive shooting approach. [For a writer-director, the link between script and location--and editing--almost inevitably breaks with convention. I find that I overwrite, pare down while shooting, and then hack away while editing, all in order to end up with something close to the feel of my original concept. -g]

"Once Coppola finished her script, she and her ICM agent, Bart Walker, decided to seek financing for the film 'Jim Jarmuschń style.' In this model, the filmmaker licenses distribution rights in various overseas territories individually, cobbling together enough foreign presales to make the film without the controlling influence of a single territory or U.S. domestic distributor," Thompson writes. [It's worth noting that Walker is also Jarmusch's agent, so he knows from hustling for independent film money. -g]

They pre-sold Japan (where The Virgin Suicides was a hit, and where Coppola's own brand is pretty strong because of her fashion line, Milk Fed), France, and Italy, then got the rest of the budget (which Thompson puts at $4mm, but I've also heard $3mm) from Focus International. Then, they backed into the US distribution deal with Focus Features.

Another interesting aspect, one that stands a director's (and producer's) hair on end: Even after Bill Murray agreed to do the film, the production didn't get a signed contract with him. Wes Anderson told Sofia and Ross Katz not to worry (and obviously, Bill showed up and rocked, just as planned), but it's pretty amazing that they got a completion bond--much less all the dough--without having their lead signed.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: September 26, 2003.

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