Monday, August 27, 2007

Strategic Alliances

Because our business is based on artistic creation, it’s important to be out in the world watching what people are reacting to, but it’s also important to constantly examine whether the world will continue to economically reward new movies. For this reason I make almost every decision within a strategic setting.

Each time I approach production I look not only at the script, but also at the long-term viability of the script and the film it will become in the future marketplace. This does not mean I am a slave to the trends or follow the herd. That’s not only foolish, it’s impossible. What it does mean is that I try to stay attuned to what people (audiences) are responding to and why. This makes both artistic and economic sense.

After all, when we produce a new film, we're undertaking a long-term project. The process can take years and each decision can have a profound impact on the final product. Those decisions will ultimately impact the audience’s like or dislike and it always comes back to the audience. Most of the time, what audiences want are the basics of good storytelling. This is a message too many filmmakers miss.

Because films are made in stages (development, pre-production, production, post and distribution), many producers approach each of these stages as separate entities that have no relationship to each other. That is a huge mistake.

The best producers understand the connection that every element (both artistic and economic), has to every other. I have heard some producers claim that the most important stage of a film is the stage they are currently working on. That compartmentalized view not only stagnates creativity, it's fiscally irresponsible. The simple truth is that there is no single most important part of filmmaking. Each phase is equally important and forgetting that impacts both the artistic and economic.

That’s why before I begin any new project I look out into the marketplace and try to visualize who the audience is and why they will respond. I also try to structure all of my ventures as strategic partnerships, not only in terms of the relationships with production companies and distributors, but as important, in terms of management. This way I’m more certain that everyone involved in the production shares a commonality of interest and no one party dominates. How do I go about this?

First, I define the stakes and make sure each party has equal representation and equal responsibility.

Second, I try to hire people who are entrepreneurial. That's often difficult when you're evaluating expertise but on Calling it Quits we spent significant time getting the right people, people like Roxy Gillespie, Mary Margaret O’Neil and Rich Ulivella. These are people who care deeply about their craft, their department, and also about the film they are making.

Occasionally the untalented, corrupt and sometimes even criminal folks slip through. When that inevitably happens, it’s important to take immediate action. If you stop the activity as soon as you become aware of it, it sends a message and shows the talented people who actually care about what they are doing that you also care about them.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Good Fight

Hello all, it’s good to be back! Where was I you ask…? Well, for the past couple of months I was producing a wonderful independent feature titled: Calling it Quits. I had intended to post daily about the experience, but the workload as Producer, Line Producer and Production Manager (did I mention it was low budget?), took its toll on my time. As much as I love writing, my priority was the film, so I temporarily suspended my posts.

But now I’m back and have a lot to tell you. First and foremost I wanted to thank the director Anthony Tarsitano for writing such a wonderful script. His openness, confidence, and creativity were truly inspiring. I’d also like to thank my producing partner on this film - Jeanne Suggs. Jeanne is a smart, supportive and a wonderful collaborator. Together we spent the last several months assembling an amazing team of film professionals and producing what I believe will be a wonderful film.

Producing a film at any budget is hard work, but at the budget level we worked at the hard work is multiplied several times over. This is because you don’t have enough money to hire all the help you really need so end up wearing multiple hats.

I must say the hard work paid off. The quality of the performances and the production values on this film are truly exceptional. This is directly attributable to the talent of our cast and crew. I’ve worked on bigger budget shows with larger crews, but never have I worked with better. Time and time again the crew stepped up to create sets, wardrobe, lighting and sound design that would be exceptional at 10 times the budget.

As producer on a low budget film it’s a painful fact that you will have to make compromises and will never be able to pay talent what they are actually worth. But going in we were determined to treat the cast and crew as best we could on our budget, and make sure every cent we spent ended up on the screen. I think we succeeded.

It’s an amazing thing to see all your months of planning and prep and the dozens of individuals you hired come together in a well-run, successful production. We’re now firmly into editing and scoring and we’ve been fortunate to find some equally talented people to help us here as well. I can’t wait to see the final product. I’ll keep you informed of our progress.