Thursday, February 5, 2009

Producer Training and Mentorship

I commented on Ted Hope's blog Truly Free Film (if you aren't following his blog, you should) about my thoughts on how there is minimal producer training and mentor programs. This is something that needs to change in the industry. Here is what I had to say for you all to consider: 

Much of the struggles of the industry are due to the lack of resources, training and mentoring to producers. If we have enough support for the group of people whom actually greenlight the pictures then maybe that will trickle down over everything.

I can't think of one organization that strongly focuses on the development of indie producers. Film school producing programs are just the beginning of training. And most indie producers don't attend film school anyway. You must already have films distributed in order to join the Producers Guild as a producer. By then you have already typically made a few crappy ones that never got distributed. IFP and Film Independent and Sundance try to offer help but they also heavily service directors and writers. And much of the best resources are given in tiny labs that are very hard to get into.

I think we need an organization specifically for producers -- that will be the most effective.

Most of the interviews in film magazines are with writers and directors. I know more about the writers and directors of indie films than producers. That needs to change. More publicity and knowledge of what a producer does will help. Maybe those less experienced won't jump in so quickly if they really understand how big a job it is.

I think that if we start an organization that is helmed or guided by successful producers that really gives back to the next generation of producers then we are on to something that can help indie films get better. Teach indie producers how to develop strong films and be a strong creative partner to the director. Help them understand the importance of a strong cast. Distributors have said they want projects with name actors. How do indie producers make this happen? They need help. Bigger producers could help make inroads with the agents so they are more open to having their clients in smaller films. Give indie producers resources that really help them secure distribution.

You help to teach and build the skills of indie producers and I guarantee there will be significant change in the quality of films being made. They will develop projects longer. Staff it right and cast it well, etc. We lament the loss of billions of dollars each year on indie films. Who is gathering this money and using it? Producers! Let's get us trained and organized and perhaps these losses will diminish. I'm ready to do what it takes to fix the situation. This is my livelihood. If I don't help fix it, who will?

If there were an organization providing more significant training and support from the top at the producer level, we would see a huge difference in the quality of films being made. I know my producer colleagues and I could use more support and the problem is that we haven't been able to find this "ongoing" support. We lean on each other and we join all the usual associations that do exist, but we still struggle finding the mentoring that we really want and need.

Sure, most of us have worked with amazing producers in the past who try to be approachable but it's not an effective system. These amazing producers are extremely busy and have their own projects to worry about. I think these producers would be more available if they were working within an established system of giving back. I personally find it much easier to give back through an established means rather than random email and phone requests that have a high chance of getting lost in the shuffle. In addition, an established system would allow mentoring from multiple sources, which benefits everyone.

I am a case study in what is broken in our system. I work extremely hard and have the best of intentions for making entertaining films that appeal to a wide audience. I want my investors to make their money back, and I believe I am making the right decisions but if I had a system to lean on a bit more, I know I would increase the odds of my films being a success. And if producers like me have a hard time building a proper support system, how do those just starting out have a chance? It's a real dilemma.

We need a system that offers producers a means for receiving guidance and training, and in turn, allows those producers who have "made it" to give back in a significant way. By the time a producer has made a name for him or herself, he or she has usually already made a few films that have lost money. I am sure this "learning" period is where we are seeing the greatest loss in the billions of dollars of investment money. We catch producers at this phase in their careers and we provide a foundation for a thriving independent film industry.

1 comment:

Phantom of Pulp said...

I think this is a great piece about the lack of support for emerging indie producers.

I am primarily a writer/director, but I have produced because I couldn't find the right producer to work with. That's not an ideal solution.

In Australia, some of the government film bodies provide what's called "producer packages". These packages provide the producer with financing for a set period of time. It allows them to buy options, pay for drafts, travel overseas to markets and to meet distributors, draw up budgets, and create a reasonable infrastructure.

I think it's a very helpful program.

Still, producing doesn't carry the perceived "glamor" of directing, so fewer entrants to the industry are interested in doing it.

I think there is a dearth of good, emerging producers, just as there are a rare number of truly caring, nurturing producers out there.

As a filmmaker, my greatest frustration has been finding a true producing partner.

With more mentorship and training, the chances of there being more great partnerships would be much higher.