Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On being a producer

I thought I'd share some thoughts on my experiences, thus far, in being a Producer.

What a Producer does is lead. They're the leader. It's true that the word has become devalued by excessive use in the film industry with all sorts of "producers" but ultimately the Producer is the one that makes it happen.

Which is where I was at about 9 months ago with the webseries WINTER. Or rather that's exactly where we weren't. No producer. Nothing happening. Until I went "if I don't do something this is never going to happen".

And that's the first step, you have to decide to make it happen.

But when you make that decision you become responsible. And if you're responsible that means things can come back and bite you. If you're worried about getting bitten I suspect being a Producer is not a good gig for you.

Personally I gave up worrying about that sort of thing a long time ago. I've made huge mistakes in my life, and I'm still here, living, breathing and having fun.

Get educated

So what comes after making the decision? I'd recommend some education, you have to make the decision first, then you can find out what it's all about. (Personally I think doing it the other way around is prevarication - trying to find out if you'll like it before making the decision is the behaviour of a person who's worried about making mistakes. You will make mistakes, get over it.)

But once you have decided, you do need to know more. What is a Producer responsible for?

That's easy: Everything except the creative decisions. The money, the crew, the cast, the food, the transport, the scheduling, the equipment. It's the Producer's job to ensure everything is in place so that the creative process can happen with the minimum of distraction. So the creative people can do their creative thing without having to worry about lunch.

But you know, I'm also the Writer. I created the original script. Doesn't that mean I have input?

As the Producer? No way. Yes, a Producer needs to control the budget and that may require negotiation with the Director and the Writer (if you haven't got the budget for a free-running sequence through the mall they have to think of something else) - the Director is not allowed to waste money. But the Producer is the one who puts everything in place so the creation can happen.

You have to get the idea of hats. Which one are you wearing? Each hat is different and you can't wear more than one at a time. I'm the Producer or the Writer. But not at the same time.

Sorry, back the point. Education. Well I looked up this guy Eric Sherman and he has a seminar he gave on DVD all about being a Producer (which he is) it's not cheap but it is valuable.

I've bought books, though they tend to be of variable quality: Some are out of date, some are purely US in viewpoint, some aren't worth the paper they're printed on.  To be honest with Eric Sherman's DVD I think I had everything I could get without actually doing the job. The books reinforced certain areas but didn't add anything fundamental. I suppose the main thing they did provide is a way to list everything that was needed.

Essential quality

There is one essential quality a Producer needs: the ability to handle the situations that inevitably arise which demand instant handling. And when I use the word handle I mean "resolve". That does not include panicking, shouting, screaming, running in circles, hiding in the toilet or anything which is simply: resolve.

At our shoot back in May the first thing that happened was the make-up girl called in to say there'd been a family emergency. That was not a serious problem, we could manage without in this instance. Then we discovered one of the leads had no costume. The wardrobe person also failed to turn up and even if she had she admitted she hadn't got all the costume together. (The other lead's costume had been acquired separately.)

It's a period piece and costume is critical.

So we looked at various solutions, phoned someone who was an expert in the period, and with their help figured out how we could create a costume from gear bought from Primark plus a brooch. And borrowed the Afghan shawl from the Cinematographer.

We lost two hours. But caught up by the end of the day.

Since then

We did the one-day shoot on a shoestring - for expensive shoes. Almost immediately after we'd finished my attention became fixated on the full shoot of twelve days in a studio. How much is it going to cost? (A lot.) And where's the money going to come from? And I have a solution to that.

It comes down to this decision thing again. You have to make the decision first. "We are going to make this webseries to professional standards."

The second part is How? Anyone who starts with how and hasn't made the decision will almost certainly fail. If you make the decision then the how will come to you eventually.

It was the Director who put me on the right track for our solution: he said why don't we try to get actor A? I thought that was a good idea but also A might be difficult to get (I'd never dealt with agents before,  and this guy is currently quite ... significant).

So I thought on it: "But if we got actor B first, who's a really good friend of A but nowhere near as big that might give us some extra leverage to get A - and B would be a good attachment in the first place anyway".

See, when you decide to be a Producer you think like a Producer - in terms of packaging and attachments in order to get the finance needed to make the project. If you think you're a Producer and haven't had this change in thought processes, you haven't really made the decision.

Anyway we have been able to attach B. And now I'm working on A. What's it like dealing with agents? Fine, they're human beings too, just understand they want to get the best deal they can for their client.

So when I have A and everything's in writing we move ahead with financing.

There is one little lie you may come across: "things take time". I can tell you this: they don't have to.

What's on the turntable? "Mobocaster" by Tangerine Dream