The Story of the Saga of The Ballad of Maddog Quinn, part two

The Ballad of Maddog QuinnPhoto: Tammy Williams

The Ballad of Maddog Quinn
Photo: Tammy Williams

(Part one of this article is here.)

Not long after the April 2014 shoot for Matt Inns’ The Ballad of Maddog Quinn, things began to unravel. In June 2014, people who hadn’t yet been paid began to complain to people other than the person to whom they’d been submitting invoices, producer Melissa Dodds.

Matt Inns got a call from a friend who’d been part of the crew. The friend hadn’t been paid, despite chasing up Dodds several times. Inns contacted Dodds directly, and was told the matter would be sorted immediately.

It wasn’t.

Inns called others, and found out they too were waiting on payment. Not convinced by Dodds’ assurances there were no problems, he advised the EPs of the situation. EPs Daniel Story and Steve Barr said they’d received reports from Dodds ahead of the shoot, and since, to indicate the production was on budget.

Barr had gone down to Tekapo during the shoot and was again given assurances that the production was on track financially. Associate producer on Maddog Quinn Brett Mills said it wasn’t always obvious if a shoot was on budget, especially on productions where people were working at reduced or zero rates. He did note that there were some unusual things happening, such as the caterer providing dinner when crew were being offered a full per diem rate.

Once Inns contacted Blue Harvest, the EPs discussed their concerns immediately with Dodds. They didn’t get clear statement of the situation, and weren’t satisfied with what they did get. The wheels were starting to come off.

Story and Barr say they had no reason to doubt Dodds before that point. The NZFC also weren’t aware of any red flags raised about her abilities prior to that point, and she was also producing another of the Prermiere Shorts funded in the same round as Maddog Quinn, Lousie Leitch’s Dancers via Robin Scholes’ pod.

On 17 June 2014 the NZFC was advised of a potential problem. The NZFC and EPs agreed that they needed direct access to the production company’s financial records, and should contract a person independent of the production to date to establish the current financial position and viability of the project going forward.

To quote a recent release, Shit just got real.

The Ballad of Maddog QuinnPhoto: Tammy Williams

The Ballad of Maddog Quinn
Photo: Tammy Williams

Three days later, NZFC CEO Dave Gibson met with Dodds and the EPs. Accounts of the meeting vary a bit, but not on the significant points. The production was over-budget; it wasn’t clear at that time by how much; Dodds still wasn’t being completely open about the extent of the problems.

On 25 June an independent report indicated the film was $124,000 over its budgeted cost of $90,000. That $214,000 wasn’t the final cost when all the information was found. The amount spent, committed and required to finish the film was closer to $250,000.

Opinions vary on whether $90,000 was the film’s total budget, or part of the budget – the sum committed by the NZFC when Blue Harvest selected it. Certainly others had put up support for the film – the Invercargill Licensing Trust for one. It’s not entirely clear what money if any (other than the NZFC funds) was intended to form part of the production budget.

A number of people have since said that Dodds’ budgeting is not the easiest to follow. Crewed asked the EPs about the degree to which they were involved once they’d chosen the projects they wanted to see made.

“We picked teams who seemed ready,” said Barr. “We offered help but didn’t hover.”

The Premiere Shorts scheme was the top tier of NZFC short film funding. Many of the applicants to the scheme had already made shorts, some of those supported by the NZFC’s Fresh 10 or Fresh 30; some had already made features. Inns hadn’t made a feature, but Dodds had. She’d produced Juliet Bergh’s Escalator title Existence and several shorts, and had been the Production Manager or Line Producer on nearly 50 hours of film and television.

While assumption is sometimes the mother of fuck-ups, it seemed reasonable to assume that she would be competent.

As Story noted, “The other three worked.”

It’s a fair point. Blue Harvest were also the Executive Producers for Judgment Tavern, Cradle and Feeder. The latter two recently picked up prizes at Show Me Shorts; a few days before publication of this article Feeder director Christian Rivers was announced as the director of the Peter Jackson-produced Mortal Engines.

Everybody on Maddog Quinn agree that Inn’s project was ambitious, and that it wasn’t a $90,000 short. They also agree that nobody ever sets out to make a $90,000 film if they’ve got $90,000.

“The project was ambitious,” Inns said. “We had a strategy designed with that in mind. That plan wasn’t adhered to, despite our being led to believe it was.”

But, by late June 2014, most people involved with the production were unhappy not because they thought Maddog Quinn looked like an expensive film, but because they hadn’t been paid.

The Film Commission settled on its own position fairly quickly. Its contract with the Maddog Quinn production company, Little Dragon Pictures, was the same as its contract for other productions. In the simplest terms, it was: we pay you money, you deliver a film.