Thursday, August 29, 2013

Don't Be Clueless When Producing Low Budget Films

This post is inspired by a Facebook status from a friend who is a focus puller. This friend is someone with whom I have worked on both low budget and decent budget projects. He's a great person and a really good focus puller.

Today he lamented that he's working with a low budget producer who asked him why they needed a 2nd AC and what does a 2nd AC do?

This obviously did not sit will with my friend or all of his other crew friends as his comment started an outcry of similar frustrations about clueless producers.

As a producer, I take what people say about their experiences working with producers very seriously. This is my career and my industry and what one producer does carries over and affects the work of all producers. I want to know about people's frustrations so I can try to avoid making similar mistakes and improve the future of independent film. If we want to make movies, we should all have this goal in mind.

Let's examine why my friend would be so upset with this clueless producer.

Well, as we all know, a producer helms a production. He or she is the glue that keeps the production together. If you're working for someone, you need to feel confident that person knows what he or she is doing and understands the inner workings of your department and the resources you need. Why is this so important?

You need confidence in your leaders so you can trust that you're being treated properly and will have what you need to do your job successfully. As soon as you distrust management, feelings of angst start creeping in and job performance suffers and then all hell eventually breaks loose. I've worked on sets as a crew member with clueless producers and trust me, all hell eventually breaks loose.

In this particular case, the clueless producer may have a valid reason for questioning the 2nd AC hire. However, he went about questioning this hire in a really bad way that undermined any trust he had between himself and my friend.

On the outside, it's pretty clear to me that the film is probably having budget problems and this clueless producer is thinking of ways to trim the budget. This is a completely valid issue and one that this producer needed to address. However, instead of respecting my friend and his team, he actually insulted them by asking what a 2nd AC even does. Ouch.

First and foremost, you as a producer need to know what every crew member does. That is your job. It is not the job of your crew to tell you. If you don't know what a crew member does then google it. Don't ask a crew member.

Second, if you are having budget issues then say so to your key team members (not the entire crew - your PAs do not need to know you are having budget issues) and get your department heads to help you figure out a solution.

In this case, the clueless producer could have said to my friend, we are having some budget issues. We're needing to make cuts in all areas. Is there anything we can cut back on in your department? Do we need as many crew members? Solicit advice and possible solutions from your team leaders. Don't insult them by implying that a person they hired isn't needed and definitely don't ask what that person does. Even writing that makes me cringe.

Clueless producers give us all a bad name. I work on all kinds of films and some have great budgets and I can hire enough staff and pay people their real rates. And there are other films I take on because I believe in the creative team and I want the world to see their work. I bring professionalism and knowledge to both kinds of projects. Because both are valid even though one may not have the funds of the other.

In fact, low budget productions are the hardest ones to make. When I take one on, I know I won't make enough money, if any at all, upon which to survive. And I will have to ask other people to do the same. I hate having to ask other people to work for peanuts.

I make small films because of my belief in someone and his or her vision. And I know I will have to beg, borrow and steal everything to make it happen. It's an arduous journey at best but I keep doing it because I love helping to bring someone's vision to the world. It feels good. But they are incredibly painful to make and super personal - which can be both amazing but also heartbreaking.

So when I hear the cry of disgruntled crew over low budget filmmaking, it makes me sad. These little films need all the support they can get. And when I hear outcry over a producer's cluelessness, it makes me even sadder or actually pissed. Because what another producer does to his or her crew affects me. I may hire his or her crew later on and he or she has tainted that person's feelings about working on a low budget film - the hardest kind of film to make.

In conclusion, if you want to produce movies, get experience, increase your knowledge, read books, read blogs, attend seminars, work on all kinds of projects, respect your cast and crew, and for goodness sakes, don't be clueless! Low budget filmmaking is necessary and really, really hard and it needs producers to treat it with care and respect.


Mark Stolaroff said...

This is a great post, and so true. At first, I thought it was going to be about how you need to have a 2nd AC, (or any other specific position) on every shoot. Clearly Jane knows that isn't true and she's had to sacrifice positions like 2nd AC or script supervisor when the project just couldn't support that. But HOW you go about doing that is often overlooked, and so great advice here. You have to know what you're giving up before you can give it up, just like you have to know the rules before you can break them. And those working under you have to feel like you know what you're doing when you announce there will be no boom op or DIT. And yes, sadly, you will likely not make any money producing these projects. (sigh)

Mark Stolaroff said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
janekk said...

Thanks Mark! I appreciate your insights.