Recently on this TrulyFreeFilms blog, Michael Walker of Pangofilms asked why more producers don’t invest in their own movies. This is part two on my attempt to answer Michael.
It seems like until the late ‘80’s producing was solely the province of the wealthy and privileged. Up until then it also seemed like those that could pursue producing in this country, had to do it the Hollywood way – which meant that if you succeeded presumably you quickly became more wealthy and privileged. Producing will never be a secure profession in America, but it is open to those who are willing to work at it and have something to offer – not just the wealthy and privileged.
I don’t have money to offer – and never expect to – but my partners and I do make considerable investments in all our films. When we consider taking on a new project, we anticipate it will be a three-year commitment at the very least. Although we have had projects like AMERICAN SPLENDOR that only go through a few drafts (and go on to get nominated for the Academy Award), we also figure that each project will have a minimum of fifteen drafts. Some have forty or more. Each draft represent reading time, discussion, notes, and generally a fair amount of emotion. The scripts themselves require research through books, websites, and other movies -- more time, more energy, and more thought. Even AMERICAN SPLENDOR was something that I had spent years developing before I brought to the writers, having already shot footage on Harvey & Joyce, secured the Letterman tapes, committed to a hybrid structure, and decided on the central theme of the project -- when Bob & Shari walked into the office they were like a dream come true, the perfect peg to fill the hole: a couple who had written bio pics and made docs on off-center pop culture.
A producer gets no glory for the films they create and make. A producer’s name is rarely recalled for the work that others have enjoyed. A producer is the one that each side looks to for solutions, and thus one that has to sacrifice to bring satisfaction. When the film works, it has no bearing for the producer on future rewards, as it will the actors, directors, and writers. When things go well for a producer, it means more people seek them out, more people expect them to pick up the tab. The producers I know are creative collaborators who put their heart and soul into their projects, but never achieve the ownership that might lift their savings into real levels of security.
The demands on a producer don’t change due to their limited finances however. Each project is also a relationship, or rather several. The filmmakers, investors, and collaborators all have real needs and need thoughtful attention. The forays that we make to investors, cast, crew, distributors, critics, and fans all depend on different relationships that we have put considerable time and effort into. If we are going to survive, theses other relationships will need to extend far past the singular film. How well we service these relationships will directly reflect what fruit we can bring to subsequent projects. Each new film is a risk, where all this historic good will, this capital we have raised, is tested and re-valued.