WHAT THE HECK DOES A MOVIE PRODUCER DO?
A movie producer is a big-shot in a Hawaiian shirt, right? — WELL MAYBE…
So what does a movie producer really do?
In today’s post, I will explore a few basic areas of what (my opinion) a movie producer is or does. Now, before I start, it is important to understand that this is show business, and let me emphasise the term “business”. Contradictory to popular belief, filmmaking is a business first, and an act of artistic mastery second. Without economy, your creativity doesn’t mean squat.
There are many misconceptions to what a producer is or does, and in Hollywood, that term typically is given to any creative power that sheppards a project through the studio system. And in some cases, producer, or executive producer titles are given to actors, directors, or other powerhouses, who either take a cut in salary, or use their celebrity status to get a film made.
The term “Producer” for independent cinema is allot less glamourous. The term in the indie world means, “I will do anything and everything to get this movie done, including getting coffee, running errands, paying people, dealing with talent, and distributors.” You are by de facto, the general manager, CEO, head coach, VIP, grip (sometimes), and even creative genius when the crew lets you be.
When I teach young upstarts, the things that I try to stress is the importance of leadership, and organization. If a producer is good at those two basic things, the production will be much more successful and the product will flourish.
Here are a few basic components to what I think a young producer needs to focus on:
Be the moral leader for the production.
It’s one thing to be the “boss”, but it’s another to be a “leader”. A moral leader is someone who inspires and commands respect at the same time. This individual is someone that can be looked up to, and depend upon even during the most uncertain times. You only get those things when you command your productions with clarity, simplicity, decisiveness, integrity, and honesty. A producer who acts immature, or wants people to fear them doesn’t get the same level of respect. A producer doesn’t need to be unkind or rude to accomplish things, and they can certainly get the respect from anyone on set by simply making their mission clear.
The story is the mission statement. The script is the blueprint. It is the role of the Producer to make sure that the entire cast and crew understand both, and that they all have a great respect for the mission.
Master communicator between all departments.
On big productions, a producer has several different department heads that are delegated various tasks. On smaller indie productions, the Producer has to get more involved. A producer may be forced to communicate with the transportation people, cast, or grips. He or she may also need to hold regular meetings to ensure that everyone is constantly on the same page. Information is key when you are working in the “idea business”, so make sure everyone has a clear picture as to what needs to be done at any given level. You will also discover that giving people the information they need to make their own choices will keep them engaged and inspired. Allowing people to find their voices is key to any successful collaboration. Information helps people find their voice.
Visionary of the entire course of the film or series.
Walt Disney was a great producer. Not only was he the studio head, but he was the master visionary behind his films. When it comes to vision, it is your job to be at the forefront of that focus. Even if you have purchased someone else’s script, or someone else is at the helm directing, it is your mission to mentally see the project’s completion before it’s even past the first day of principle photography. Your vision will create instinct which will allow you to keep your project on track despite any pitfalls. Your confidence is also important.
Business leader and manager.
This really goes without saying. A producer is the driving business force behind most projects. He or she must have a solid business plan, or goal in mind when developing a project.
Simply completing a movie is not enough!
You must have a plan for distribution, marketing, sales and beyond. You have to be big picture and long term. If you fall short in these areas, you risk financial disaster and trouble moving your career forward.
The head coach of the team.
Even though a director is king on set, you need to think of them as your lead quarterback. You are the coach. Your team’s success and failure is on your shoulders. You must inspire and drive your team on a daily basis. If they are underperforming, then you must act. You need to know when and what to delegate.
A time management master.
Time is everything in life. Time is the only thing none of us can get back once its gone. Do not waste people’s time. Make sure your sets are ran like a military operation. Keep them tight and well oiled. If you see a breakdown in one department, act immediately. Do your best to keep things moving on time and in step. In addition to going over budget, lack of time management can also destroy a production by watering down enthusiasm and energy. Give your people breaks and rest time, but don’t allow complacency or slacking. Keep it tight! If you have a director or talent that is milking the clock with indecision, or ego, act immediately.
The first one in and the last one out.
You will most certainly be the first person involved with a project, whether you’re the writer of a script, holder of rights, or person who believed in a project. You will also be the last person out as the project’s life cycle starts to decelerate. Understanding this makes you more aware of the consequences of not having a long term plan. Once the film wraps, premiere is over, distribution contracts are signed, you still have years of work ahead in managing the project into a successful retirement.
In closing today’s post, these items may seem obvious to most, but it’s always surprising to me how people call themselves “producers” but have never truly considered any of these things. In some cases, a title is enough, but for those of you who wish to be successful in the business, you should respect the term and wear it with a sense of duty.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Best of luck. Happy Hunting!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy © Nominated filmmaker who has written directed and produced 6 feature films, dozens of music vides and commercials, and has owned successful media companies in Las Vegas.
Kelly also does one-on-one consulting for filmmakers. Click here for more details.
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