Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Re: The Abstract World of Producing...

So what the hell is a producer anyway?

According to , a producer is "a person responsible for the financial and administrative aspects of a stage, film, television, or radio production; the person who exercises general supervision of a production and is responsible chiefly for raising money, hiring technicians and artists, etc., required to stage a play, make a motion picture, or the like."

describes it like this: "Although often under appreciated, the Producer's work is so crucial that on a big budget production, there may be a whole team of people - the Production Team - performing the Producer's various jobs. To fully grasp the all-encompassing nature of the Producer's responsibilities, it's helpful to divide the job description into sections and relate commonly used job titles to their counterparts in the business world.

On an small indie project, one very busy Producer might manage every aspect of the production. This would be like the Sole Proprietor of a small business doing everything necessary to make it run. On larger scale productions however, the job is simply too much for one person to handle. In this case, the Producer works within a Production Team."

"If you think of the Production Team as a company, the Producer is the Chief Executive Officer, or CEO. Just as the first CEO in a corporation is often the founder, the Producer is often the main driving creative force behind a film or TV production. (S)he may have played a role marrying the script with an Executive Producer, or attaching a well known Director or Actor to a screenplay to attract financing. Thus from the very inception of a production, the Producer plays a vital role. During production, the Director and Line Producer work with or report to the Producer to ensure the creative vision is being executed - similar to the way Managers answer to a CEO. However, even the Producer is beholden to the financing, which is represented by the Executive Producer."

So. Yeah. We do... a lot of different stuff. It's a daunting job. In addition to just the day to day keeping track of things (budget, schedule, cast, crew), there's also being able to keep in mind the overall reason everyone is there... the script. As someone who, from time to time thinks "hey, maybe I'll get back to that script I started writing..." I have to tell you, writing is crazy. I don't know about you, but for me, discipline is tough. This blog is kind of a way to get me back into the habit of writing something - anything - on a semi-regular basis and yes, I know, I'm not so good at the "semi-regular basis" part. Focus, for me, can be a problem as well. My rapidly increasing level of ADD is a bit overwhelming.

On a set, as a Producer, ADD can actually work to my benefit. There are always multiple "fires" to put out. What one then has to do is prioritize. Which item is the most pressing? Or maybe the question is: Which problem can be solved the fastest.

Sometimes, a snap decision is the best. On a recent production, we had gotten into the rainy season and showed up one day to find our set nearly washed away, but we had actors on loan from another production and our schedule was such that it would be impossible to re-shoot the scene. Meanwhile, our Gaffer(I) was telling the Director that there wasn't enough light to shoot - the cloud cover making our location (at 10am) look more like 7pm. Now usually you would go to what's called a Cover Set(II). This is like your weather contingency. Rain? Snow? Hail? Ok. Move the company indoors. Problem was we were a small shoot on a tight budget with a tight schedule and were nearing the end of production, so we had already shot out our cover sets earlier on when the weather had turned bad. In other words, what to do? Well. After consulting with the director and my First Assistant Director, we informed the cast and crew that light or no light, rain or shine, we were going to stay on the location and shoot the damned scene. And you know what? It worked. After some subtle manipulation in Post Production to brighten things up a bit (and considerable ADR [III]), we got the scene and it's in the film.

But I digress. Script. Keeping the goal in mind. What is the story we're trying to tell here? Because, as anyone who has studied film or made a film will tell you, things change once you're on set. That old famous quote that goes something like, "A film is written three times: First, by the Screenwriter, alone in his room. Next, on the set, when the Director has to make different decisions based on a variety of elements and challenges, and finally in the Edit, when the filmmakers begin to assemble not necessarily the film they set out to make, but the film they have."

Another job which is key: shielding your Director from all manner of issues. If you're a Creative Producer, this job can last for a year or more. You're usually one of the first people on a film and the last off. You could think of a film as being like a train. The Screenwriter creates the script (builds the train). The Producer finds the engineer (Director), or, sometimes the Screenwriter will also direct his or her script, in which case the Producer has begun to lay down the track and add cars. Into those cars, he or she will bring the crew and the Director (with the Producer and the Casting Director offering counsel) will bring on the talent. On and on until the train is moving safely down the track.

Protecting your Director allows him or her to focus on things like story, performance and "making the day"(IV) rather than the minutia of everyday normal movie shoot problems. You have to be sort of like a therapist, priest, confidante and, above all, protector. This part of the job you do get to hand-off from time to time. Occasionally, you ask your AD to handle these positions while you deal with other issues. In Post, your Editor carries the weight of these duties as he or she and your Director sit locked in a room for hours on end slaving under a delivery deadline.

Before you get to any of the stuff above, there's also the development process - a frustratingly slow, incredibly expensive part of the process in which a Producer finds a screenplay, options (V) the property, engages the screenwriter (if necessary) in a series of re-writes based on notes and then tries to get the film made by then seeking out people who have money or connections to money - all before the option runs out. To give you an example, I have (currently) options on two screenplays and a film from 1978. So far, I haven't found anyone who's ready to make them... but, ah, if you know anyone who's eager to get into show biz, send them my way.

So it's an interesting gig, to be sure. By the way, there are probably only ever about three people reading this blog, but if you ever have questions about anything, I'm happy to answer. Just put them in the comments section and, I'll do my best to answer.

Thanks for reading. 'til next time.


PS - Below, you'll find a list referencing some terms I used in this blog. Within the text, I placed Roman numerals, so if you'll check below, you'll find definitions.

I - The person who, under the DP or Director of Photography, is responsible for the lighting of the film.

II - A backup set the company can move to in the event of inclement weather or other issue which may cause a set to be unavailable for shooting.

III - Additional Dialogue Recording or Automated Dialogue Replacement. This is where an actor stands in a recording booth and re-records dialogue, sounds or audio which was unable to be recorded without interference during production. Voice Over narration, new dialogue embedded in a scene or, simply, sounds (grunting, kissing) may also be done here.

IV - Literally making (or, completing) all of the scenes, shots or set-ups that were scheduled on a given day.

V - Optioning a script is the process in which an agreed upon amount of money is paid to a screenwriter to, essentially, take his or her screenplay off the market for a set period of time. The option, in effect, states that the Producer has reserved the screenplay in an attempt to get it made into a film. The option will also have terms which will state that if a Producer or Studio does not come on board to make a film within the stipulated time period, the rights will revert back to the writer who may then offer it to the producer to be re-optioned (for an additional fee) or taken elsewhere.

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