Ask the Filmmaker: What Does a Film Producer Do?
Written by Deborah Osment
Does anyone have any idea how many movies are made each year as opposed to how many get distribution of some kind? It has to literally be in the thousands. DVDs sit gathering dust on shelves everywhere and every single one of those DVDs is responsible for at least one person who calls themselves a producer. Usually it’s more like five or six people who have that title on that DVD.
It used to be that people would ask me what a producer is when I told them I was a film producer. Now I hear that they’re a producer, too, or their cousin is or some guy they know at work, or all three.
I don’t mean to, in any way, suggest that these people don’t have the right to call themselves by that title. What I’d like to suggest is that “producer” is a job in itself and other than a few selcet MFA programs, no one is teaching what it really is. More is required than buying a digital camera, writing a script and getting your friends and family to play along. The reason I’d like to suggest this is that there are some good ideas out there that never seem to make it from script to screen.
A producer is the person who keeps the production on track and that track should be straight to the movie screen or one of the thousands of television/cable/satellite channels anxious for product these days.
I’ve never understood, for instance, how there can be such a thing as a producer/director. Unless, of course, said person is an actual schizophrenic and capable of arguing two sides of a question at once. He or she also would have to be a person capable of squeezing 48 hours out of your average 24-hour day because both producing and directing are full-time jobs. And we’re not talking the traditional 40-hour week here. My license tag once expired during a long shoot and I put a sign in my back window that read “In production, will get my tag renewed as soon as I remember my name.” As I lived in Venice, California, at the time, I went without a ticket.
The producer is the problem-solver. You have to be able to solve any problem and to do it instantly. I once was called into the make-up trailer to find the leading lady and her make-up person in hysterics because – you ready for this? – her blusher had dropped and the powder had spilled all over the floor. This was at midnight on a night shoot and it was expensive make-up that was only available in a few exclusive stores. I, being the producer, knew that I could call Nordstrom and they would open the store and replace the blusher for me. I knew that fact and that number because I was the producer and that was my job. Don’t think about this as a run to replace makeup, think about it as a run to keep from burning money because a crew was standing around or, worse yet, getting paid for a full day (per contract) and not working at all. And, no, you cannot tell the lead actress that another blusher will do just as well.
The producer has to see problems before they happen. I was involved early on in a shoot which is just finishing up in Michigan. A period piece, part of it was set in the jungle in Vietnam and those in charge were determined to shoot that part in the Ann Arbor Arboretum. Feel free to go back and read that sentence again. I was the only one arguing against it. In fact, it is supposed to be based on a true story and the dude who had written the script insisted that the arboretum looked exactly like Vietnam. I insisted that he just wanted his movie to be made and would agree to anything. I pointed out that, even if the Ann Arbor Arboretum did look exactly like the jungles of Vietnam, there would be traffic noise, planes flying overhead, kids riding skateboards, and so on. As far as I know, I’m the only one not working on the film. They are, however, shooting part of it in Vietnam. But it came down to this for me, if they were ready to make that kind of decision before the film was even greenlit, what would they do during production? I hope they’ve made a wonderful film.
So, what is a producer? A producer is someone who has to know everything about everything. They have to be able to keep their cool when everyone else is losing theirs. The primary job of a producer, however, is to make a creative bubble in which the director, the DP, the actors and all the crew can create a film. The producer has to start working on the project before anyone else but the screenwriter and can’t stop working on it until every penny of revenue has come in and every bill has been paid.
More tales of movie-making fun to come …
Deborah Osment, is an award-winning screenwriter and producer. Her work has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, HBO, AFI and many other venues throughout the world.Check out the Filmslate website here
As Ms. Osment stated
how there can be such a thing as a producer/director. Unless, of course, said person is an actual schizophrenic and capable of arguing two sides of a question at once. He or she also would have to be a person capable of squeezing 48 hours out of your average 24-hour day because both producing and directing are full-time jobs.YES that is true, but on the lower end budget stuff I had to produce it wasn't THAT hectic, but it is grueling at times. You have to constantly make on the spot decisions and you just say "YEAH go with that." It always helps to have a good co-producer and a good AD (Assistant Director) to help you carry out tasks, but the producer/director is the final decision maker. As she stated "A producer is someone who has to know everything about everything. They have to be able to keep their cool when everyone else is losing theirs." and that is 100% correct.