International Success, Leaving the Dam & Slaying Demons
15th April – 11th September 2004
Words cannot adequately express how happy we all were that THE GOOD COP was completed on time for the planned Danish release on 15/04/2004, despite all the problems paying for post-production when the Sale & Leaseback deal fell through.
However, having discussed the matter at great length before we set off for Denmark, EM and I decided to hire a car and drive, rather than fl,y from Amsterdam to Copenhagen because of my previous flight to that part of the world, before which I was falsely arrested.
The first six hours of the journey from the Dam were very relaxed, as we eagerly anticipated the premiere of the very first Unspeakably Wicked Picture.
But by the time we were approaching the Danish border it was almost 1.30 am, we were absolutely knackered and we hadn’t seen any other sign of life for about thirty miles.
The Danish Machine-Gunners
Suddenly, four powerful search lights beamed through the windscreen and I slammed on the brakes, skidding to an abrupt halt. At which point EM screamed:
“Oh my God! It’s the fucking police Michael! They’re pointing machine guns right at us! What are we gonna do? They’re gonna kill us!”
“Don’t worry…” I said, as calm as Bolam Lake. “I’ll sort it.”
I then slowly got out of the car and saw six armed cops aiming machine guns at my head, one of whom shouted:
“Halt! Put your arms in the air now!”
After putting my hands above my head, I made my move to resolve what I knew to be another case of mistaken identity.
“Listen, I know what’s happened here. Somebody’s obviously given you false information about me being an international cocaine smuggler. So let’s look in the boot of our hire care and you’ll see that I’m a filmmaker, not a coke smuggler.”
Tentatively, with six guns still aimed at my head, I led the senior cop to the boot of the car, where I opened my briefcase.
Which just happened to contain a brochure for THE GOOD COP and NEFARIOUS, complete with a summary of the cocaine baron who Christopher Walken is set to play in the latter, alongside Kim Bodnia..
“Kim Bodnia? You work with Kim Bodnia…” he asked, dropping the barrel of the gun.
“Yes…” I replied, as I saw his face redden with embarrassment in the glare of the searchlights.
“It’s okay boys, there’s been a mistake. He is working with Kim Bodnia!” The rest of the cops dropped their guns and start mumbling to each other in Danish. The senior cop then said:
“I’m so sorry but we were tipped off by the Dutch police that there was a serious coke smuggler crossing the border tonight. Now it seems so stupid because I know you are just making a film about one. Please don’t say anything to Kim Bodnia.”
A #1 Hit Danish Action Comedy
With that, we made our way across the border and pulled into the first hotel we found – a five star, two hundred euro a night, spa hotel, which only had three hundred and fifty euro suites available.
So we banged it on our new Dutch gold card and slept like babies for the next eight hours, in a suite which was largely made of oak, with top of the range Bang and Oluffsen flat screen TV, DVD and Blu-ray player, a quadraphonic CD player and a Bosch mini-bar, stocked with miniatures of Absolute Vodka, local spring water and the largest Toblerone I have ever seen.
The fifty quid Scandinavian breakfast banquet was almost worth the cost of our stay on its own the next morning and the expensive Italian espresso was one of the best coffees I have ever tasted.
Three and a half hours later, we arrived at Kim’s parents’ house, where we would be staying the night of the premiere, which we attended that evening, along with around six hundred Danes dressed in dinner suits and cocktail dresses. Brad and his fiance were also there, on an occasion which everybody seemed to enjoy.
For the entire duration of our time in Copenhagen, every bus we saw had a poster for THE GOOD COP on it and the same was true in every major Danish city because the film’s distributor had already spent £120,000 on the domestic release of the film.
By the time we arrived in Cannes for the international launch, the film had been #1 at the Danish box office since its release, having recouped its entire £900,000 budget and the distributor’s marketing spend during the first two weeks.
In other words, we rode into Cannes on the crest of a wave of the domestic success of a number one hit film, so the stage was perfectly set for the film’s international bow.
The Cannes Trip To Rule Them All
During the week preceding our sixteen day trip to the Cote D’Azur in May 2004, we had a web banner linked to the film’s trailer running every couple of hours on Screendaily.com, which all of the buyers visited every day. So the interest was already building before we arrived.
However, when the buyers showed up on the first morning of the market, what they saw as they entered the main doors was the biggest poster on the Riviera for our million pound Danish-UK action comedy, starring one of the most bankable European actors of his generation, which virtually nobody in the English language market had even heard of at the time.
Hence, it wasn’t long before my unusual and vast knowledge of Kim’s previous films, the directors he made them with, the distributors who bought them and how much they made at the box office in each territory, preceded me in every meeting we attended at the market.
That morning, our first ad for the film was also published in the daily market edition of Screen International, so we easily managed to convince buyers we’d never met that the title must be a hot property, otherwise we wouldn’t be running such an aggressive marketing campaign.
Within three hours of opening for business on the UWP yacht in the marina, which we shared with two other companies, we had already held meetings with several buyers from major US distributors, each of whom sought us out to congratulate us on the strength of TGC’s marketing campaign and to express their intentions to see the film.
However, that afternoon we were due to hold the first of two market screenings just after the cinema was seized by a band of young anarchists, in protest at the commercialization of the Cannes Film Festival.
Needless to say, we had no choice but to cancel the international premiere and quickly revert to Plan B, albeit with a wry smile at the irony of the most anarchic company on the Riviera having a screening shut down by anarchists.
Since the second and final screening was not due to take place until the second week of the market, we placed additional full and half page ads for THE GOOD COP and UWP in Variety and Screen International over the course of the interim period, so that we didn’t lose the firm interests from distributors we had already generated.
We also held constant meetings with producers, financiers and distributors, on the spacious and comfortable yacht we moored within two minutes walk of the Palais du Festival. This was also a great venue to hold drinks parties, which we did every night [and sometimes during the day].
As a result, by the first weekend of the market, we had already created a tangible buzz about THE GOOD COP and that was before we’d even screened it.
Seemingly overnight, we had also established UWP as one of the hottest independent outfits in Europe and literally everybody wanted to talk to us, or have a few drinks on the yacht, just chilling out and talking about the best films being shopped around.
Turning Buyers Away At The Door
When THE GOOD COP finally screened the following Monday, it was the busiest screening of the second week of the market. We were literally turning buyers away at the door for the first twenty minutes of the film.
As EM and I waited outside the screening room to gage the reactions of the buyers as they left, it quickly became obvious that they were all very positive, especially about Kim’s effortlessly charismatic performance.
Somewhat inevitably, following a meeting with a vastly experienced [and seriously impressed] LA-based producer over an expensive lunch, we were offered producer roles on a Goldie Hawn project and invited to gatecrash an exclusive A list party at the extortionately expensive Hotel Du Cap, a few miles down the coast from Cannes.
By this point, we had been joined by our friends, Spek and his wife Monika, who flew in from Canada, so they accompanied Olivier, Martyn, Kim, EM and I to gatecrash the event by invitation.
Introduction To The A List
While Olivier, Martyn, Kim and I hadn’t bothered to change from the casual clothes we put on that morning, EM was wearing a stunning green dress which fitted her perfectly, whilst Spek and Monika made similarly aesthetically pleasing choices with their attire.
As we walked into the lobby, we were met by the concierge, who mistakenly thought we were booking in as guests.
Once we told him we were there for the party, he smiled politely and led us into an empty lounge, where we ordered drinks at 25 euros a shot. But the distributor of THE GOOD COP was paying, so we didn’t hold back.
Within two hours, we were all stonkingly merry and waxing lyrical about the truly memorable Cannes we were having, so we hardly noticed that the room had filled with about two hundred people, including several A list ‘celebrities’.
However, it soon became clear that we were a major talking point in the room, given that none of them had a clue who we were or why we were there. Especially when EM was drawing the attention of the most beautiful women in the room, as well as most of the men.
Inevitably, everybody was asking who the guy with that girl in the green dress was. They soon found out I was one of the producers who had taken the market by storm, with a film which had been #1 at the Danish box office for weeks.
The star of which was sitting right next to me, dressed in track suit bottoms and an old, faded T shirt, like he really didn’t give a fuck.
Soon enough, Olivier told me that he’d had several conversations with US producers, lawyers and bankers, all of whom have been told that UWP has brought a major European star to the attention of the English-speaking film and TV industry, with the best marketing campaign for a Danish film that anybody can remember.
Uma Thruman Stares Me Out
Just then, I noticed that Uma Thurman, dressed in a somber black dress, was staring directly at me from across the room, without blinking, as if in a close-up on screen.
Had I not been on my way to the toilets, I would have gone over and offered her a role in one of our films.
However, by the time I returned she had already been whisked away by Quentin Tarantino but not before giving EM the evil eye because she was getting more attention than her and that was almost unheard of, such is her famous porcelain-like beauty.
Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake & Jack Black
While EM was in the ladies, Cameron Diaz was sitting between two wash basins talking to a friend, when she needed to wash her hands.
Without a second thought, like a typical Geordie lass, EM patted Cameron on the arse, gesturing for her to move it away from the sink, which she did with a grin.
Meanwhile, Spek’s wife, Monika, was swooning because Justin Timberlake [her teenage idol] said hello to her after her husband dutifully asked him to, just before I bumped into Jack Black on my way to the bar.
We ended up having a conversation about the copy of the screenplay for NEFARIOUS being sent to him via his agent a couple of years ago, which he didn’t receive because his agent just threw it in the bin.
Jack was pissed off to say the least when I told him I was offering him the role of a lovable North London dope dealer, who dreams of moving to Amsterdam and opening their own coffeeshop – the role Dougie Henshall has since agreed to play.
We then both lamented the fact that the hotel didn’t approve of smoking weed in the garden and bid each other a fond farewell.
Harvey Weinstein Approaches
As I returned to my seat, I noticed that Harvey Weinstein was sitting at the table next to ours, where a high class whore was touting for business.
When she whispered something in his ear he rose to his feet in a temper and stormed off.
An hour or so later, we were all cooling off in the garden when EM noticed that Harvey was thirty feet away and he kept looking over.
“Harvey keeps looking at you, Michael. He’s going to come over…” she insisted.
Just as predicted, Harvey walked over to us and shook me by the hand, as if he knew exactly who I was.
“Remember not to stay up too late guys. It’s going to be another busy day in the market tomorrow.”
With that, he left the hotel, jumped into a limo on his own and headed back to his hotel for an early night, without so much as leering once at EM, after almost everybody else had done so emphatically.
Triumphant & Weighty Return
When we returned to Cannes around 1 am, we stopped off at the UWP yacht to have a few more drinks with critically-acclaimed writer-director, Mark Hanlon, with whom we are producing MISSING LIMB [a hard-hitting psychological thriller in which Kim is also set to star] and a Canadian producer based in the Dam called Jeremy.
After a picture of us was taken by a passing Danish tabloid photographer, it was published in Denmark’s version of the Sun the following morning, with a short piece about Kim enjoying himself with his friends and colleagues in Cannes.
Kim roared with laughter when he saw it. Just as he did when I told him the tale of the Danish machine gunners at the border.
I, on the other hand, was horrified at how much extra poundage I piled on during the intense working period, which admittedly produced our greatest success to date but at the expense of me going to the gym five times a week and generally looking after my health.
It wouldn’t have been as bad if the photo hadn’t been published in the Danish tabloids but that’s what you get for wining and dining in some of the best restaurants in the world for two years and getting shitfaced every night.
Nevertheless, the next morning on the UWP yacht, as I was telling the tale of the night before to a throng of half a dozen producers, the phone rang just after I told them the part of about Weinstein approaching us in the garden at the Hotel Du Cap.
As if I’d arranged the whole thing, I took the call and it was a buyer at his company Miramax on the end of the line, who wanted to know if we could meet them later that morning.
When I disengaged the phone, the young producers cheered and applauded like I’d scored the winning goal at Wembley in the FA Cup Final, such was the extraordinary nature of Weinstein ordering his London office to arrange a meeting with an unknown Geordie film producer.
However, something in my gut was telling me that there is more to Weinstein’s approach than meets the eye. So when we met with the Miramax buyer who contacted us, I asked him outright what it was like working with Harvey, to which he replied:
“Lots of people believe the stories about him being some kind of monster but everybody I know who has worked with him thinks he’s a teddy bear.”
We then arranged a London screening of TGC for the end of the month and returned to the UWP yacht for a succession of meetings with distributors, each of whom wanted to talk about acquiring the rights to all of the films on our slate.
German Deal Closes & Doors Open
Before we headed back to Holland, offers of $10,000 came in for Russia and the former Yugoslavian territories, neither of which closed. But we were supremely confident that one of fifteen German buyers who attended the screening would make us a six figure offer..
Sure enough, within a fortnight of our return to the Dam, I accepted an offer of $100,000 from Kinowelt for the German-speaking territories – the second largest minimum guarantee from a German distributor for a Danish film.
This fantastic news meant that within a few short weeks we would be able to pay off the bridging loan UWP had to take out to pay the costs of the international launch, which was reported by all the trade press and the interest in TGC continued to grow.
During the same intense period Olivier and I were offered financing Executive Producer roles on three major independent US titles, after we were introduced to an LA-based producer called Joey De Pinto, by a lawyer Olivier met at the AFM called Marty Barab.
An Offer We Couldn’t Refuse
Joey was cast by Scorcese as one of the leads in ‘Raging Bull’ with De Niro and Pesci but the director was forced by the financing studio to cut Joey’s role from the film because the running time was close to four and a half hours at the rough-cut stage.
However, Joey was much loved by his fellow actors and had particularly close relationships with De Niro and [later] Sean Penn, with whom he has worked on several movies, which naturally led to producing roles for Joey.
When he heard from Marty that UWP had made its mark in Cannes with a low-budget Danish action comedy, starring one of the most exciting European actors of his generation, he sent us three scripts for projects with A list talent already attached.
Taylor Made, Pioneer Town & Bobby
The first was ‘Taylor Made’, a fashion industry comedy set to star Ben Stiller; the second was a zany screwball comedy starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman called ‘Pioneer Town’; and the third was Emilio Estevez’s ‘Bobby’, a powerful drama about the Bobby Kennedy assassination.
Provided we manage to secure the production finance required, Olivier and I will be paid $100,000 a piece for each project, with 10% of the net profits going to UWP.
After I read the screenplay for ‘Bobby’, I called Joey and told him it was one of the best scripts I have ever read and I predicted that it would gross at least $120 M at the box office, as well as get nominated for best screenplay, best director and best film at the Oscars.
In just a few days, Olivier and I managed to secure in principle £125 M worth of production finance from a London investment consortium, for the purposes of producing the aforementioned movies; along with NEFARIOUS, MISSING LIMB and THE WORLD’S MAYOR [all starring Kim] and a low budget British drama about illegal dog-fighting called LEASH, set to star Rhys Ifans.
Emilio Estevez Calling
Such was Joey’s excitement at hearing the news, he called Emilio to tell him BOBBY was moving forward and the writer-director insisted on calling me on his mobile from the set of ‘CSI Miami’.
He was calling to personally thank me for ending three years of development hell, with my sheer passion and enthusiasm for the script, after everybody he knows in the industry stopped returning his calls.
I then told him that the film would win the three Oscars I predicted it will get nominated for if he shaves twenty to twenty five minutes off the running time.
That was the first and last time we talked.
Green-Light Red-Light For Nefarious
Marty Barab then introduced us to an Austrian investor called Horst, who was married to a 70’s soft porn star called Sybil Danning, who starred in ‘Canned Heat’.
On the condition that I find a small role for her to play in NEFARIOUS, her husband offered to invest $9.5 M in the film. Needless to say, I found such a role and we cemented the deal in writing.
We then penciled-in a November shoot once again but this time with the confidence that we had already raised the production finance, so all we needed was a bank to cash-flow that investment.
I’ve learned throughout the course of my life that a kick in the bollocks all too often occurs when you think nothing can possibly go wrong.
The only thing that could possibly go wrong now was the banks refusing to cash-flow the $9.5 M irrevocable Letter of Credit from a AA Swiss bank, which we already had in our possession.
Nevertheless, from September 2004 to September 2005 was just as tumultuous a period as August 2003 to August 2004 but for completely antithetical reasons.
Between those two Augusts, UWP became the hottest independent production and sales company in Europe, after taking the Cannes Market by storm from a standing start and securing the rights to produce eight films, four of which have A list talent attached.
However, by autumn 2004, despite our roaring successes the previous May, EM and I were already living hand to mouth off our seemingly limitless Gold Card.
So we both became constantly stressed about how we were going to keep paying our rent, let alone how we could keep flying to London every week for meetings that couldn’t proceed without us.
The Pulling of the Plug
Back To September 11 2004
As described way back in chapter one, when Allied Irish Bank, on the instructions of the Dutch Bilberberger who made me an offer I wasn’t supposed to refuse a few weeks previously, refused to accept deposit of our irrevocable $9.5 M Letter of Credit from a Swiss bank, everything else we had all worked so hard to establish turned to dust in an instant because I was suddenly persona non grate in every film and television finance plan.
Then it dawned on me – when the Dutch Bilderberger told me that somebody whose judgment he trusts predicted that I was capable of Tarantino level status, just a few weeks after the Cannes Market, he was talking about Harvey Weinstein, whose company launched Tarantino’s career in the early nineties and has released every one of his commercially and critically successful films.
In other words, it is now abundantly clear that, had I sold my soul for the guarantee of unbridled success, AIB would now be cashflowing our $9.5 M Letter of Credit, the NEFARIOUS shoot would be starting in less than six weeks and we’d have a lucrative offer for the worldwide rights from Miramax on the table.
However, right on cue, the £125 M worth of production finance Olivier and I had raised with an investment consortium fell through, without explanation, which quickly led to the termination of each of our contracts on all our films, save for NEFARIOUS and THE GOOD COP.
Since every famous actor attached except Kim dropped out when the money did and because we had no hope of raising any type of substantial production budget, I felt I had no choice but to make the film the hard way, just like Dov Simens taught me.
Kim Bodnia, Real People & Dutch Casting
Despite not having any cash to sink into a micro-budget production, EM and I began looking for a Dutch casting director and it wasn’t long before we engaged the services of Ineke and Fillippe, who did a great job setting up meetings with Dutch stars Tygo Gernandt, Alwein Tulner and Antonie Kamerling.
We also engaged the services of experienced actors Johnny Melville, Willy van der Griendt, Sharon Percy and up and coming Kenan Raven, each of whom accepted the roles we offered them, as well as the deferred fees.
This obviously also applied to Kim Bodnia, who accepted a deferred fee to play the role of ‘Elkiar’, after Christopher Walken dropped out.
Whilst I had already primed several of my friends, most notably my best mates, Guy, Bart, Gra, Peter, Wils and Dave, to play various supporting roles, we were still drawing a blank every time we tried to recast ‘Lez’ and ‘Billy’ – the two lovable London dope dealers.
The re-casting of those two characters, who were going to be played by Dougie Henshall and Rufus Sewell when we thought we had production money, was always going to determine how much people love the film, so we have to get it right.
Chance Encounter In A Dam Coffeeshop
Needing a break from our home office, EM and I headed off on our bikes for a ride around the canals and we ended up seeking refreshment at one of our favourite bar-coffeeshops in Leidseplein, where we bumped into Conor Woodman, one of our friends from Stroud Green, who was visiting the city with his best mate.
Since we are mutual friends with Dave, who will play a DJ called ‘The Lord of Stroud Green’ in the film, Conor knew that we were planning to make the film on whatever cash or credit we could scrape together. But we could tell there was something he was burning to say.
When we found out he’d read the script, my instinct screamed that he is perfect to play ‘Lez’, which is exactly what he was desperate to tell me.
“Oh mate, listen man…if you let me play this part, I promise that nobody could do it better…” Conor stated plainly, with the supreme confidence of the character I have written.
He then accepted the role of ‘Lez’, so we drank a few beers and smoked a few bifters to celebrate.
Lez & Billy Cast
It then occurred to us all that our mutual friend, Spek, who already gets on great with Conor, would be perfect for the last remaining lead, ‘Billy’.
Upon our return home that evening, I called Spek at his home near Toronto and asked him if he was interested. A few days later, he flew over from Canada to rehearse playing the role with me.
With almost all the cast in place by December 2004, our attention then turned to putting together a tight crew of no more than a dozen, on a 17 day shoot that was to take place in Amsterdam, London and the North East of England, during the coldest days and nights of the late winter months and early spring of 2005.
During our two week stay with our families in Morpeth that Christmas, we arranged a meeting with a Newcastle-based independent producer, who was also a skilled DOP with access to decent camera equipment, who already had an experienced crew in place, having worked together on his own feature film , ‘No Place’.
Steve O’Brien and I immediately hit it off and we agreed that he would act as co-producer and DOP, which naturally meant that he would engage every crew member we needed throughout the shoot.
The only problem was that he insisted I was going to have to find the money to pay them all £500 up front.
So Olivier fronted the money and we moved into pre-production proper, with my mentor in chief, Paul Tivers, acting as supervising producer.
Wheel of Fortune Spins
As I penciled-in the first day of the shoot for the last weekend in February 2005, despite having penciled-in so many cancelled shooting dates over the previous five years, I instinctively knew two things.
Firstly, that I was finally going to make NEFARIOUS, with a cast and crew who were all passionately committed to the project, despite not having a penny in the bank to make it all happen.
Secondly, I couldn’t stop thinking about how long I have been feeling like I’m all but surrounded by the demons my Indian friend warned me were haunting me, back in 2000.
Moreover, I could also sense that the Wheel of Fortune is spinning out of control and my gut doesn’t like the paradoxical cards I have been dealt from what appears to be a rigged deck, in a game I never agreed to play..