“I thought it was going to be a documentary, but it was great!”
(Cannes Film Festival audience member after screening of Seduced and Abandoned)
Seduced and Abandoned is a documentary by writer/director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin that explores the world of film financing; the film also doubles, in the words of Baldwin, as an “homage to the Cannes Film Festival” itself.
Shot during the 2012 festival, the film follows Toback and Baldwin around a series of alternately amusing and dispiriting meetings with sales agents, producers and mega-rich philanthropists as they pitch their idea of a movie starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell. Set for no apparent reason in Iraq, the plot is vague but the duo pitch it as a “political-romantic adventure” vaguely inspired by Last Tango in Paris.
They are looking for $15-20 million in funding, but the duo gradually learn that:
Toback decides that it would be sensible to work out how much money they can raise and then devise a film to match the budget. To this end they decide not to shoot in the Middle East, but to confine the shoot to a single domestic location, and adapt the (as yet non-existent script) to start with the two protagonists having returned from the conflict zone.
Despite his original promise to Campbell that she is the only actress that he will accept in the part, conversations with finance executives soon have him demoting her to a bit part (“maybe she gets killed”), and meeting other actresses such as Jessica Chastain, who might be able to persuade the money men to part with $20 million.
Interwoven into this funding caper (during which the pair even consider theft), are interviews with directors such as Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese and Bernado Bertolucci who look back on their careers, and discuss how the industry has changed over the past five decades.
With the help of old red carpet photos and film archive ‘flashbacks’, the movie builds into a history of cinema, as filtered through the lens of Cannes Film Festival. Split screens juxtapose glitzy images of Cannes of yesteryear with Toback and Baldwin cruising around town in a world much more commercial and not a little less glamorous (particularly in the torrential rain of recent festivals). Peppered throughout are quotes from famous people on the subject of money, but we kept being brought back to the observation that making movies is “95% raising money, 5% making movies”.
In the pre-screening introduction, Toback noted that “the essential ingredient in all film production is money, no-one will take a risk without a script, and without a script you are carrying an albatross”; this revelation will come as no surprise to documentary filmmakers who often work without a script on films that only really start to coalesce in the edit. Nor is it likely that documentary filmmakers struggling to raise a $100,000 budget for a feature film will have much sympathy for a director complaining about a $5 million budget. However, it’s clear from the film that there are many similarities between feature film and documentary funding.
Movies are traditionally funded from a patchwork of sources: financiers, international distributors, sales agents and rich individuals, a model that is becoming ever more common in the documentary world too. One famous director observed that the industry’s aim had always been to make “the movie that makes us rich so we can make our little art house movies”, a sentiment shared by many indie doc filmmakers (and no doubt musicians, authors and other artists too). In today’s risk averse climate there is still financing available for big name commercial films and for low budget genre fare (this is true of feature films, documentaries or TV shows), but there are few opportunities in the mid-budget range where most filmmakers might be happy to earn a steady living and avoid the current feast or famine model of financing.
As a side bar, it’s worth noting that Toback refuses to call his film a documentary, even though a creative documentary is undoubtedly what it is, preferring instead to use the term ‘hybrid’, which speaks volumes about the movie industry’s attitude to documentary (indeed, there has only been a dedicated Doc Corner at Cannes since 2012).
In the end, Seduced and Abandoned offers a tantalizing and illuminating glimpse behind the scenes of Cannes Film Festival, but also reveals that the business end of making movies is just a frustrating whether you are a big name auteur or an indie documentary director: the hardest part is always raising the money.
Read about another documentary that followed the trials and tribulations of a director trying to raise money to make a film – Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: