Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Producers

One of the filmmaking questions I get asked is "what does a Producer do?"  Seems this position is almost as mysterious to the film newbies as "Best Boy."  In simplistic terms, a Producer is the individual who gets the film elements all together and oversees the process of making a movie from the idea to the screen.

A Producer doesn't need to work exclusively on one movie.  Most producers in LA have multiple films they've got going.  It helps if they're not all shooting at the same time-- as that's when a movie can urgently call out for the services of the producer.

I was the producer on the first four films I made.  On Rising Stars, I was hired to write and direct, leaving the producing to others.  (And boy that made a difference in directing-- not having to produce at same time).  The lead producer is usually the one with the direct tie to the cash.  The cash is usually represented by the "executive producer."  Sometimes, a producer credit is given out contractually and the person getting the credit actually does nothing.  You'll see this a lot in big Hollywood films-- an A-List actor can only be attached if their producer is given credit.  You might see a bunch of producers in the credits, but there's usually only one that wields the true power.

A lot of people think on a movie that the Director is the top dog.  Nope.  The Producer is where the buck stops and they hire and fire directors.  There's no doubt that the director's chair is a lot more fun than the producer's chair, but the final decision maker is typically the Producer.

Most good producers will hire a solid team and leave them alone to get the movie made-- stepping in when there's only a problem.  You can have insecure producers (just like insecure actors and directors) that want the fun of the set and hang out in video village-- they usually end up second guessing the director and backseat driving.  When this happens, their producer duties fall between the cracks and other problems will arise because they're not getting the producer's attention.

I know of one case where the producer did just this-- was in video village everyday on the set.  Then she wondered later in post production why some contracts weren't signed, why there was an insurance claim or two, and stuff like that.  She wasn't reading the daily production reports and certainly wasn't overseeing the office staff on contracts.  But that stuff happens and a hired director just has to deal with the distraction on set.

Once the film is shooting, the good producer is focused on making sure that the cast and crew have everything they need to tell a wonderful story-- within the allotted money.  They will help secure deals-- looking for ways to increase production value without increasing expenditures.  In the indie world, this boils down to the attribute of resourcefulness-- getting a crane for a fifth of the going rate-- stuff like that.

If shooting starts going over budget, then the producer has to step in and help find a solution.  Is the DP taking way to long to light every setup?  Is the director insisting on too many takes?  Is the lead actor consistently late to the set?  There will be warnings, department head meetings, then finally more severe action might need to take place-- like replacing a DP, or even a director.  (And in a recent case of good foresight-- the producers saw a huge prima donna complex with the lead actor and went ahead and fired him the first day of production so that they could get someone with a better attitude).

At the end of the day, the producer is the one responsible.  If footage is missing, the producer will stand before the executive producer to explain why it happened on the producer's watch.  Yes, the producer might toss people under the bus, but the good one will own it and say he didn't have the proper system in place, but does now and here's what we did to fix the problem.

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