What Does A Producer Do?

by Michael D. Sellers If there is one question that I get asked more often than anything else during my work at MovieBank and Quantum Entertainment — it’s “What, exactly, does a producer do?” Imagine working as hard as we all do…..if you’re a doctor, an attorney, an architect, a deep sea diver — people know what you do. And they know what a director, a screenwriter, or a composer does. But a producer?Okay, as will frequently be the case in these technical discussion, I have to start with a disclaimer. What I’m about to describe is what an Independent Producer does. A studio producer, or a TV producer, or a supervising producer, or a line producer — these are somewhat different. But let’s look at what an independent producer does.First, the word “independent” refers, specifically, to “independent financing”. That is, the independent producer assembles “independent financing”, or financing that is not coming from a studio.So … point number one. Producing movies is a whole lot about producing money. I have often complained that I feel like I spend 80% of my energy producing money and 20% producing movies — something that feels like a waste when you feel, as most producers do, that we have a lot to offer creatively but we just can’t clear enough time to do it.But having said that … here is what we do.First, we develop properties. This can mean we spot a novel and get the rights (although in our indie world it won’t be a brand new hot novel–their rights go to the studios before they’re even published)….we might read a magazine article in the New York Times and think ‘that would make an interesting movie’….or we may have a raw idea of our own and hire a writer to create a screenplay under our direction, or we might really get lucky and just be given a fullblown spec screenplay (one written without compensation) that really works. Anyway, one way or another, we find something we think would make a good movie and we invest time, energy, and money in getting it “developed” into a full blown, well written screenplay.Next, we “attach elements”. Elements in this context include a director, actors, financing, distribution — each of them an “element” that adds value to that thing we are developing. Eventually, as we add elements, a certain type of “critical mass” is achieved in which the film gets enough elements attached that it gets a “green light” and then we’re off into actually making the film.Making the film really involves three phases – Pre-production, when we do the casting, hire all the crew, design the sets and wardrobe, refine the screenplay — make countless decisions that are critical to the ultimate success or failure of the film. During this phase, the producer and director are usually pretty much equal partners and if it comes down to a clash … well, the producer hired the director, so guess who wins?But that changes when we go into production. Produciton — meaning the actual shooting of the film — means that the director controls the creative decisions. He designs the work plan for each day; he directs the actors (producer’s don’t interfere much with that). Now … if the director is falling behind and is in danger of not “making his day” (finishing all the scenes scheduled for that day), then the producer becomes something like the police. Not pleasant, but necessary.Finally, there is post production. The director gets first crack at editing the film. Then the producer does revisions, often in consultation and partnership with the director. But finally the producer makes “final cut” decisions. Similarly, the producer makes final decisions on music, the sound mix — often done in full consultation with the director, but usually wth the producer having final say.When the film is done, the producer shops it for distribution, finds a distributor (we don’t have this problem since we are a distributor), and assists in developing the campaign.And one final thought. The producer usually doesn’t have the luxury of doing one film at a time. We usually have 5-10 films in development, and 1-2 in the various other stages, so i’s a juggling act.And that’s what a producer does.

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~ by Michael D. Sellers on May 22, 2007.

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