The nightmare of financing and insurance when taking on a giant
BY: DEVIN SMITH, Producer
“We will never start another project until we have all the financing in place!”
Those were the famous words of Robert Greenwald spoken after finishing OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH’S WAR ON JOURNALISM in the summer of 2004. Interestingly enough, those were the very same words Robert spoke to us eight months earlier after finishing UNCOVERED: THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT THE IRAQ WAR, in the fall of 2003. Two projects that started without being fully funded and two adamant declarations of not starting another project until we were fully funded. So, what happens in the winter of 2004 when we decide Wal-Mart will be the subject of our next project? WE START THE DAMN PROJECT WITH NO MONEY! And that’s really when the fun began!
“Build it and they (the financiers) will come” was our philosophy on OUTFOXED and UNCOVERED, and to some extent it was a very accurate and valid philosophy. We began those films and funders found us. The same has not been the case for Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. A more accurate truism or philosophy may be:
“Attempt to expose one of the world’s richest companies and watch your potential financiers turn tail and run.”
Financing the film became a nightmare. Financiers inside the film industry, who sometimes sell their films to Wal-Mart, were intimidated by possible retaliation and refused to entertain our requests. Financiers outside of the film industry, who expressed interest in allying with our future projects, quickly changed their tune when they learned our next documentary concerned the retailing giant.
Well, never ones to run from our responsibility to take on giants, we pushed forward and continued to work and produce the documentary even as our long list of potential funders began to shrink to a small handful. We continued our work with the belief that we would pull together the necessary funds to cover the budget – a budget that continued to increase because of one other major cost directly related to the Wal-Mart intimidation factor – the cost of insurance for the film.
Typically, insurance is a fairly straightforward “purchase” for a film. Applications are completed and submitted to three or four different insurance companies and you sit back and wait on companies to quote you a policy. Finally, from the quotes you receive, you choose one company’s policy.
If only it had been that simple with Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Little did anyone on our team know, when we began the project, that so much of our time would be spent on the acquisition of insurance. All but one of the insurance companies we approached (and we approached them all!) rejected our request for a quote. Upon receiving our initial application and learning that the project involved Wal-Mart, a few companies actually declined to even review the application.
Even with these potential setbacks, we pushed forward. We did not give up until we had the insurance in place and then we all breathed a collective sigh of relief for about 5 seconds and then we were back to focusing on finishing the film and getting it out into the world.
As the film is released, I imagine Robert will once again proclaim his famous phrase, "We're not going to start another project until it’s fully funded." He may even throw in (for good measure), “We will never ever attempt to produce another film that is such a challenge to get insured.” But, I know Robert, and so, I understand that as soon as he gets that glint in his eye, and as soon as we have decided upon our next project, we will go full steam ahead – regardless of setbacks or pitfalls – until the project is completed. Neither he, nor we, would have it any other way.