Why Can't Producers Get Along & Work Well Together?

Today's guest post is from NYC-based feature film producer Adam Brightman. Recently I was asked by a couple of smart but fairly inexperienced producers some good questions about how producing teams can work well together (and not so well).  For better or worse, in my career, which is now in its third decade (ouch), I have averaged about 70/30 good to bad.  Maybe that is par for the course.  Maybe it is reflective of how much of my film work has been on non-studio, extremely challenging films.  In any case, since they asked, and since it is a crucial and, perhaps, unappreciated part of the filmmaking process, here are my thoughts.

1.  Everybody counts.  All producers on films today are important, and unless they are clearly dead weight or baggage (a star's manager, an executive's friend, what have you) then every producer makes a valuable contribution.  And whatever the credit one gets on a movie, if you are part of the producing team then you are a producer.  Plain and simple.  So as I said, everybody counts, and the producing teams that recognize and acknowledge that fact work well.  The ones that feel a need, for whatever reason, to undermine and minimize each other's contributions do not work well.2.  Communication.  That's the business we're all in, yet some people are better at it then others.  I have worked with some producers who can barely articulate a thought, much less effectively communicate an agenda, a plan of action, an argument.  If you cannot communicate, you are in the wrong business.  If you have other skills that lend themselves to being a producer but have trouble communicating, then, in my opinion, you should let other people be the communicators and confine yourself to the role you are best suited for.  Which leads me to...

3.  Define the work.  Movies are complicated to make, and only get more complicated, which is really why we do in fact need bigger producing teams (that and the practical fact that there are very few people around anymore who are the great 'all around' producers of the past.  It really was simpler then.)  The producing teams that work best are ones where everyone understands their role and does what they do best.  This is not to say that a good team does not share and overlap duties.  The best teams feel free to advise each other, and support each other, but also trust each other to do what they do without being second-guessed.  Which leads me to the most important and admittedly cliche part of this little essay...

4.  Trust and Respect.  Easier said then done, sometimes, but a little bit of the latter goes a long way, and if you don't have the former, why are you on the team?  Of course, there are many answers to that question, since movies come together in so many ways and with so many combinations of people.  But if there is one thing I have seen over my many movies that really made the difference between a good team and a bad one, it would be trust, or lack of it.  Making movies is a frightening enterprise.  There is generally a lot at stake.  Money. Career.  Relationships.  Success!  Failure!  This pressure can bring out the worst in people.  But I say, if it is so hard, and so much is on the line, then all the MORE reason to depend on each other and work together to make it a success.

Adam Brightman has worked in film production since 1982. He has been a part of the producing team on many movies, including "Two Family House", "Funny Games", and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist". He is currently producing the Amy Heckerling comedy "Vamps".

Manufacturing Desire For A More Diverse & Robust Diet

It is  a huge number of films made in this country and the world.  I used to use the annual Sundance submissions as the number for the number of films made in the U.S.  (although that does not include studio films); when I participated in a discussion with Chris Hyams the other night he corrected me and said it was far greater.  Whether it is 4500, 7000 in the U.S. or 45,000, the problem is the same. A huge number of movies are made and few of them are seen, distributed, and championed. We vote for the culture we want with our choices, voices, and dollars. You'd think they'd be more action in the voices department for better film -- and not just negative attacks, but thoughtful praise for what artists are striving for.  Me, I am sucker for the noble failure, for the artist that reaches and may not always achieves, but tries nonetheless. Still we lack the places where we can see and communicate about the work we love (despite the technology being there).

There are some folks who like to dismiss the low percentage of work being seen by simply stating that most indie films suck.  Sure, there a lot of simple things many filmmakers could embrace to make better films.  I labored to put to print the "32 Qualities Of Better Film" that I was feeling at the time, and it remains far less read and commented than other things I've written.  From this, rightfully or not, I discern that the community is more interested in the business than the art.  Maybe I look in the wrong places.  Maybe I hear the wrong voices.  I think everyone I know chose to work in film because of the art, but the business is still against it.  I truly believe that can change.  I truly believe that it is good business supporting the art and a business structure can now be built that allows "better films" to flourish.

The divide and conquer effect happens in film because most only focus on their individual work -- and thus although good movies are made, no business is done (except by exploitative aggregators and the occasional success story.). Simple changes of behavior can lead to profound change.  A little help from your friends goes a long way.  Honestly engaging folks around the things you love, even your closest circle of friends and family, can start the ripple effect.

Filmmakers have to accept our mandate to curate and champion if we want our work to spread.  I used to think that only 3 or 4 new American directors emerged each year whom would go on to have significant bodies of work.  I was able to help co-found and launch HammerToNail.com and through that filter became aware of much more work, and saw over 15 filmmakers whom I suspected would hit that bar.  Good movies are getting made that still are not getting seen and appreciated. This may have always been the way it is, but we don't have to stand for it anymore.  We have the tools.  We reach other.  We can build it better together.

It is on one part a consumption problem.  We need to manufacture desire in addition to art and entertainment.

It is also a communication problem.  We need to get the word out both as to what is out there, but also why we care about it.

It is a perception problem on many fronts.  Our work is truly connected to each other -- united we stand, divided we fall.  Whether we look at ourselves as individuals or collectives, we  don't benefit from a limited definition of cinema that addresses only the creation process and builds a wall between art and commerce -- particularly when we live in a country that does not recognize it as their responsibility to support diverse and vibrant culture.  We need to expand what the perception, both that we hold and that which different audiences hold, as to what people think indie film, truly free film, is.

We have to put a lot more of thought and discussion into the discovery and appreciation process.  Great discoveries are to be made, but I personally think it all starts with us.  We have to increase and accelerate the discussion of the films that don't have the big studio support.  We can not get it done on our own.  We need to watch and talk about each others work now, and in a positive way.

Remember To Never Forget: Communication For Producers

I have a lecture coming up on Communication For Producers. Seems to me before one can communicate they need to know what needs to be expressed. This is that list.

Why do you love this movie?

You are making the director’s movie. (which isn’t the same as doing everything the director wants).

You are trying to make the best movie possible.

You will make the movie profitable.

You will get the movie seen. You will find the film's audiences.

The producer works to create the right environment for all.

You appreciate people’s good work & hard work.

You have chosen to be here and know others have chosen that too.

People like to be led. You are here to provide leadership.

People like to participate. Provide opportunities.

Anyone can follow a plan. What can you do to provide inspiration?

Calm = clarity What do you need to do to reduce stress so all see clearly?

Why will they believe you? How will they follow you?