Preparation of a Project is Perfectly Psycho

When a producer finds that script, that project, the one that they know they just have to do, there is an immediate euphoria that takes over.  Visions of success, excitement in dealing with new talent, directors, other producers, and the like, and a feeling that this project is going to be a bigger success than anything they have ever done.

This feeling lasts for about an hour.

What follows is the fear of failure, the struggle to synchronize thoughts of success with the hill that must be climbed to even get the film started.  The producer must first work through the script.  What may seem like perfection will slowly reveal slight flaws in tone, character, and plot.  These are dealt with in a surgical manner: meeting with the writers, the talent, getting everyone’s take and then incorporating these ideas without losing sight of the initial story that is to be told.  Then there is the struggle for funding:  finding investors who believe, as the producer does, that this film will be a success, convincing the team working on the project that their pay rate may have to be lowered in order to make the film they all want to see.  Once production starts there is the constant flow of problems, information, and dealing with the small things on a set:  food for the crew, making sure the locations are suitable and still available, ensuring that everyone gets to and from the set on time.

By the end of production, the producer has lost all sense of reality.  The whirlwind of the shoot has caused a lack of sleep which in turn has caused a sense that reality is slowly fading away.  A worry sets in that threatens to reduce the producer to a small child cowering under their parent’s stern looks.  Everything feels like it is in limbo, all the way to the premier where the producer can not help but bite their nails until they draw blood on their trembling hands.

The next day, after all is said and done, the producer wakes up, maybe they breathe a little easier, maybe they even allow themselves a smile.  Then, they start back on the road to find the next project that will drive them insane.

Preparation of a Project is Perfectly Psycho

Theater Owners and The Producer

There was once a time when studios owned the theater chains.  In the early days of film up through the mid-60’s, this was a common practice.  However, when the laws changed, theater owners became able to determine what would screen at their chains, what their concession prices would be, and most importantly they could charge what they chose.  Now, the cost of screening a film is still determined, to an extent, by the studios.  As the price of films goes up and the variety of screening options increases (on demand, YouTube, etc.), theater owners must recoup the cost of screening the latest Hollywood Blockbuster.  This has lead to a decrease in the amount of theaters that will carry an independent film, or something out of the ordinary.

For a producer of independent films this has become frustrating in a variety of ways.  One, an independent production depends on building an audience through word of mouth.  The ability to screen films at small “art house” theaters in Los Angeles and New York, was once a necessary factor in the success of an independent film and gave those films the ability to sometimes, play with the big boys.  Two, theaters demand audiences, now more than ever.  As I stated above about the other entertainment competition out there, people have other options than going to a movie.  So, theaters must show the biggest, baddest, star driven vehicles in order to ensure they stay in business.  An independent producer often does not have the money nor the luxury of shooting a big budget, commercial film.  Their films are usually more personal, character driven, unusual subjects are often broached.  Mass audiences are not necessarily ready to take in a two hour journey that forces a mindful examination of the human condition (granted, not all indie films are this and not all Hollywood Blockbusters are void of this), and do not have a familiar star.  Thus, the independent film is left to struggle outside of the theater system.

The relationship between the theater owners and the Independent Producer has always been a bit of a fight.  What it boils down to is money.  The solution to this would be for audiences to grow and accept independent films for what they can offer, for the stories they tell, and for introducing them to the next generation of stars at the doorstep.

Theater Owners and The Producer

To Indie or Not

Independent film has always been a staple of filmmaking.  The popularity of indie film gave rise to such successful directors as Samuel Fuller, John Casavettes, and more recently, Quentin Tarantino.  In the indie heyday of the early 1990’s, indie film was seen as an equivalent of the rich, distinct, and more socially conscious filmmaking of the late 1960’s through the 1970’s.  Companies such as Fine Line Features and the Samuel Goldwyn Company saw unprecedented numbers of fans and audiences attending their films.

However, as we progressed into the late 1990’s and the new millenium, indie films have struggled to gain a foothold in the public conscious.  Critics attribute this to a deluge of average indie films and too many filmmakers.  Other insiders attribute this to the purchase of the major studios by large corporations, in turn, forcing budgets up higher, costs of filmmaking higher, and creation and dominance of theater chains by booking their films in multiple screens in the same theater.

As far as I can tell, the perception of an indie film downfall is a combination of all of the above.  With the introduction of so much new and relatively cheap technology, almost anyone can make a film.  However, there are less of these burgeoning filmmakers that are seeking to hone their craft in film school or any one of the guild programs.  Give ’em a camera and they will call whatever they shoot, a “film”.  Availability to websites that will show and advertise the “do it yourself” films and videos, also contribute to a glut of independently created movies.

The studios have pretty much cut out all of their independent divisions.  The value of the art and craft of filmmaking has turned to strictly business.  Now, filmmaking is a business first and foremost (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), however, talented and driven filmmakers who believe in the art of the story, the creation of a distinct world and its characters, were always able to find some bit of comfort in the studio system.  That time is gone.  Indie filmmakers have had to learn to crowdfund their films, beg and plead small studios with foreign investors, to compensate and believe in their vision.

So, if one wants to make a film independently, what kind of benefits can they be assured of?  None, really.  The modern indie filmmaker has to make the film because they love movies, because they love seeing artistic people creating something unique.  The modern indie filmmaker can find success in their film’s completion.  They can submit the film to the festival circuit and have it seen by a wider audience.

The most important thing to remember is this; an indie filmmaker must be educated in film.  They must be willing to seek assistance from those who have experience.  They must take the time to intern on a set, work with other filmmakers to learn all aspects of the process… even read as many books as they can.  Just because there is no set system to work in does not mean one can ignore every past teaching.  Talent is one thing, learning to harness that talent and use it properly is another.

Let’s all of us indie filmmakers try to keep fighting the good fight.  We don’t have to take down the studio system, and it would be negative to do so, but we can create our own system of respect, artistic viability, and entertaining and educational films if we just continue to focus on building our strengths and asking for help from other like-minded individuals.INNARDSv004

To Indie or Not

Behind The Scenes

Producers are generally not household names.  In fact, name the executive producers of the 5 highest grossing films of all time.  No, nothing?  Not surprising, since we as film watchers have never been expected to know who these particular folks are.  However, do you know that if not for producers, and most notably, executive producers, you would not be able to watch your favorite films?  Without them, you would not watch any films, or television, or videos on YouTube.  So, exactly who are producers and why is their role in the filmmaking process so vital?

A producers job first and foremost is to wrangle the cast and crew of a film together so that it can be made.  Years, months, weeks, and hours are spent talking with agents, guilds, lawyers, managers, wives, sons, daughters, great-great uncles… anyone with access to a particular talent, location, writer, etc.  The majority of the producer’s time is spent taking baby aspirin to ensure their chest does not explode with the frustration of finding out that actor “A” will not do their film unless director “A” is hired and financiers “A”, “B”, “C” are putting up enough money to cover their on set expenses.

If and when all of the parts come together, then it is the producer’s job to make sure that everyone actually gets what they were promised as well as making sure that everyone gets along.  If a producer is working for a studio and it is the studio’s money at stake, the producer can look forward to sleepless nights, extended arguments, half-baked assurances, in-fighting among other producers, and protecting their film as if it were the answer to the existence of a god.

When the film is finished, when all of the sweat and blood have permanently stained the producer’s psyche, then it is time to introduce the completed project to the public.  Mind you, before we ever get to see a second of the completed film, the producer has had to subject the film to pre-screenings with audiences, cuts made by executives (if in a studio setting), cuts “suggested” by the talent, mixing and re-mixing, hour upon hour of toiling over a scene where the lead actress cannot quite nail her line which is simply one word “yes”.  So, the film comes out and now the real work begins.  If the film is a hit, the talent and directors take the credit.  If the film misses, well, the producer is looked at as the goat.  Their name is mentioned in angered tones (mostly to do with negative costs), they are forced to lick their wounds in public as critics, audiences, and sometimes, even their own cast and crew, pass the blame on to them.

So, why become a producer?  More important, why would anyone choose to do this for a career?  The answer is simple for those that do it, more complicated and insane to those looking at it from the outside.

For me, the rush of putting together a creative group of people to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal, the time spent making money stretch, the race to complete the film on a budget or risk the loss of the film completely, the feeling when it is all done and I can look at the project and feel a sense of complete euphoria… this is why I do it.  Some of it is ego, some of it is masochistic need, some of it is rage to prove something to myself and others who never believed.  Most of it, though, is the desire to entertain people.  Creating something that will last long beyond my lifetime and will continue to put smiles, tears, fear, and excitement in people’s lives.

Yeah, it is worth it and for producers, it is always worth it.  By the way, the producers of the Top 5 grossing films of all time are as follows:

“Avatar” – Jon Landau, James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Colin Wilson                                   “Titanic” – Jon Landau, James Cameron, Rae Sanchini                                                             “Marvel’s The Avengers” – Victoria Alonso, Jon Favreau, Louis D’Esposito, Kevin Feige, Alan Fine, Jeremy Latchman, Stan Lee, Patricia Whitcher                                                                  “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 2” – David Barron, David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Wigram                                                                                                                              “Frozen” – Peter Del Vecho, John Lasseter, Aimee Scribner

Behind The Scenes