So, you wanna make a movie...

The pitch: a family film. The catch: it's about vampires. The mission: to find a backer. The cast: an inflatable cow. And Daniel Musgrave, film producer. Action!
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The Independent Culture

"The script is cute, but family entertainment equals vampires does not compute. How could we possibly market such a concept?" Deciding which movies are made in Hollywood is a tried and tested formula: if it worked before, do it again. Try persuading studio executives that many big hits are the result of breaking the mould and you'll find yourself in the position I've been in for the last five years trying to get The Little Vampire from page to screen. And what a strange journey it has been...

"The script is cute, but family entertainment equals vampires does not compute. How could we possibly market such a concept?" Deciding which movies are made in Hollywood is a tried and tested formula: if it worked before, do it again. Try persuading studio executives that many big hits are the result of breaking the mould and you'll find yourself in the position I've been in for the last five years trying to get The Little Vampire from page to screen. And what a strange journey it has been...

You meet a friend who says he has exciting news - he's risked everything to buy a movie script based on a series of German children's books. You are assured the film is as good as financed. He has a wonderful script and the novels, by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, have sold millions worldwide. I'm in. How could it go wrong?

Here's how. The sales company pulled out. No sales company, no money. No money, no film. No film, no star. No star, no money. It's the classic vicious circle of indie film production. So we retreated from the stadium of big studio deals, and sought refuge at the American Film Market.

This is an annual feeding frenzy where buyers of distribution rights feed on bullshit and potential. As a seller, our mission was to pre-sell distribution rights to international distributors, who would then present the bank with an IOU, due on delivery of the film. This is a common method of financing film production. And one of the least fruitful. If you draw a blank in the US, as we did, there is little time to recover before the same faces gather in Cannes for the market sideshow to the glitz and glamour of the film festival. There was glitz, there was glamour. There was no deal.

So we dismantled the script. We moved the action from New England to Scotland and reduced the ages of the protagonists. Months passed. Then, finally, a break. Audiences were captivated by the the six-year-old boy in Jerry Maguire. He'd be eight by the time we shot, we thought, let's look him up. A deal was struck with Jonathan Lipnicki. We had a "star".

Then things started happening: Uli Edel, director of such symbols of family entertainment as Last Exit to Brooklyn and Christiane F proclaimed that he wanted to make an edgy film for his kids. Suddenly, German distributors poured in with offers, but we held out for a pure distribution deal with a Hollywood studio which could net us more of the box office takings.

Encouraged by the Germans, the French came knocking. But the Americans continued to snub us. We returned to Cannes where we had huge offers from Germans and less-than-huge ones from Spaniards. Most of the money was banked to meet the $23m film budget and there was a crew at the ready in Scotland, but still no green-light distribution deal.

We checked into the last-chance hotel at Cannes needing a miracle. It came in the shape of an 18ft helium-filled flying vampire cow. Pathetic, really, but its impact once we floated it above our terrace in Cannes was immediate. The Hollywood Reporter published a picture on its front cover. The caption credited the wrong film and the wrong company, but soon meeting after meeting was held in its bovine shade. We sold Spain, but it was not enough. We needed a hero to ride to our rescue.

We got Mel Gibson. On the last day, Nick Hill, head of the London-based distribution division of Gibson's company Icon, walked in. He wanted our film. We persuaded the bank to cover the rest, started shooting and, at last, The Little Vampire had teeth.

But we still needed more distributors to "close the gap" and eliminate the risk the bank was taking. The US remained elusive. Studio execs said the film was cute, but that they had no idea how to market it. It all sounded very familiar. We needed more than the cow, more even than Mel Gibson. We needed a US distributor.

Finally, New Line Cinema, a division of Time Warner, provided us with a happy ending. Which is why you can watch The Little Vampire today. Sometimes, it's like that in the movies... but not often.

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