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Everything I Know About Producing, Pt.2
By Ted Hope
Yesterday, we ran part one. All of this is courtesy of Andrew Einspruch and Screen Hub. And of course Screen Australia who brought me to Sydney for a two day lecture last month. Today: part two. (P.S. There are 98 more parts to this lecture but it requires a few more trips to Sydney before I can spit it out!)
by Andrew Einspruch
“For Hope, who is a producer is pretty simple. It is the person there from the beginning of the project to its end.” Daunting but true, and Andrew Einspruch tracked his definition for being there down to his feeling for percentages.
As Ted Hope made abundantly clear on the second day of Hope for Film, effective feature film producers have to know a lot of stuff, and have to keep at it to learn more. Here’s a brief list of things he rattled off:
- Dramaturgy and script development
- Breadth of available actors and crew
- How to maintain the line during production
- How to elevate a project during its creation
- A solid business and financial background in the media space so you can determine the value of what you are creating, and then do that evaluation.
- Who the foreign sales companies are and their reputations (Hope’s own list has 72 on it).
- The meanings of the various film festivals, and what it means to launch at one vs. another.
- How to manage the 90+ territories that are out there (generally sold as about 60).
- The different digital platforms that are out there, and how they can help you sell your film.
- Having big opinions on marketing and distribution, and the wisdom to know you are not always right.
- What brings people together to create an audience.
It is an overwhelming list of knowledge and understanding. “The nice thing is that there is probably no one out there that can answer all those questions,” said Hope. “But it doesn’t stop you from striving to hit it and to try to have the best practices available to you.”
As a producer, you also have to think through contingencies. “Dark paranoia is the producer’s best friend,” said Hope. That is, your ability to fantasise about how things can go horribly wrong helps you create strategies to prevent those problems.
Hope spoke of trying to determine whether a script was ready to go or not. “No one ever says, ‘I love that script. I wish there was more of it.’” When his collaborators think the project is ready to go out, he often exerts one more step, and that is to try to cut another 10% of the script and of the budget – more than anyone thought possible. “The shorter a project is, the more inevitable it is that it will happen, and the more people believe that script is ready to be made. But good luck. It’s hard.”
Some of his guidelines for working out if the script is ready include:
- You’ve cut that extra 10%.
- In hindsight, you see the intent of every action and every word is understandable and explainable.
- You now what the characters are truly feeling throughout, and expecially at the end.
- All action is influenced by action that has occurred before it or by their psychological makeup.
- There is specificity on the page throughout the process. You are world-building when you make a movie, so have you as the scriptwriter determined what makes up the world, and done so with brevity and poetry, making it a good read?
Hope emphasised the need for the producer to totally be across the script, because that is part of what he described as building a sense of inevitability around the film (mentioned in the previous article). “Before go out and raise money for your film, before you start to submit it, really try to drill down and understand your personal emotional connection to the characters, to the themes,the way it’s being told, what the directors wants to accomplish – know it better than you think anyone else can know it. That is how you communicate the inevitability of that movie being made,” said Hope.
Hope pointed to one of his blog posts, The 99 Recommended Steps For Making Good Movies. It is a good template for doing what you can to make sure the movie is a decent one. Here are the first twelve steps:
1. Maintain wonder & love for the world & most/some of the people.
2. Recognize the barriers & be empowered by my desire for change.
3. Find an inspiring idea & the correct collaborator for it.
4. Maintain love & respect for the film industry.
5. Develop script.
6. Fall in love with project.
7. Get non-financier, non-buyer industry types to give feedback on script.
8. Maintain wonder & love for the process.
9. Further develop script.
10. Maintain respect for collaborator(s).
11. Identify audience & market for project.
12. Enhance my enthusiasm for potential of the results of audience engagement with ambitious cinema.
It goes on from there, all the way to 99, which is, “Do it all over again, but do it a little bit differently.” It is not all hard work. Step 80 is “Celebrate.”
A fair bit of time was given to the topic of the producer-director relationship. Hope likes to work with a range of directors, because that feeds him as a producer. But it has to be a good fit. Some directors want a collaborator – someone to tell them the truth and work toward what is best for the film. Other directors want a producer is a general, executing what the director wants and reinforcing the righteousness of their decisions. Hope said he uses the book The Art of War, which some people have adopted as a kind of filmmaking manual, as a kind of litmus test. He’ll mention the book, and if the director says, “That’s it!”, he knows that is not someone he wants to work with.
He spends time determining if the director is compatible. Can you get a sense of their values? How will they perform under pressure. Do they have a significant other that has lasted a while? Can you have an enjoyable dinner with them? What are they like if you invite them to your home for dinner and to meet your family? How does the person present themselves on social media platforms? Or, as his friend, producer Christine Vachon, half-jokingly asks, “Do they have a long-term, meaningful relationship with a living thing?”
All of these clues help him work out if he can work with a particular director.
Hope also talked at length about the integrity of the producer credit. Too often, people get producing credits, but don’t really act as producers and you see the result when there are eight (or fifteen) people credited for producing a film.
For Hope, who is a producer is pretty simple. It is the person there from the beginning of the project to its end. That’s it. His rule for himself is that if he dips below 50% of being there for the film, he does not deserve the credit “producer”, and would more likely opt for executive producer. “If everyone tried to live up to that line of 50% or more engagement being required to get that credit, we would have a credit that actually means something.”
Screen Hub is “The daily online newspaper for Australian film and television professionals.” Their web site for the link is http://www.screenhub.com.au.
Andrew Einspruch’s indie Australian film company Wild Pure Heart Productions has created the feature film Finding Joy and the documentaries 2012: This Sacred Earth and 7 Days with 7 Dogs, and is currently working on the low budget feature The Farmer. Andrew can be found on Twitter as@einspruch and at andreweinspruch.com.