Unfortunately if I sought to get compensated for the work I do, my movies would not get made. If I sought to get paid like normal people are, I never would have been able to produce any of my films. I have been fortunate enough to have made about sixty films in about twenty years. I am not foolish enough to think I was the deciding factor in bringing good ideas into cinematic being, but I do know that certain practices of mine, have helped significantly. Yes, it is also true that good work begets other good work, and a track record certainly helps -- particularly a track record of profitability -- but generally all of my films depend on two things to get made: 1) superior quality of the material, and 2) the willingness of the collaborators to make great sacrifices.
There's more though on why these films have happened; there have been commonalities amongst all the films that have helped significantly in their getting made. I have to repeatedly go out on the limb, believing in the film and the filmmaker for years on end, with no remuneration, pushing to make the project better, figuring out how in the hell to bring more "value" to it, shopping it, strategizing and the like.
I am highly selective in my choices to get involved with a project and as a result some of my movies get made and it usually only takes 3 years of my unpaid labor to do so. And then generally after we get the films financed, and the budget locked, I far too often have to make further sacrifices with my fees and "perqs". I am not complaining; these are my choices. My eyes are open. But when I talk to other producers, particularly new ones, often they don't believe it. Being a film producer requires abandoning the concept that you work for a living.
My first five or six years in the business I had jobs. I exchanged my labor, ideas, and relationships for the ability to survive. I came from very modest means, put myself through film school, and sacrificed most things so I could get the movies I wanted to see done (cue violins please). And yes, occasionally along the way, I did some things generally to pay the bills or support my company. If I had pursued a job or security initially though, none of it would not have gotten done. If I had pursued money over responsibility and knowledge, my life would have taken a much different path.
We live to work, we should not have to work to live -- but we do & maybe it is because most don't realize part one. Reading in The New York Times how 37% of Americans between the ages of 18 -29 are not in the work force, makes me wonder if they are all becoming producers. I have not had the guarantee of a salary since generous overhead deals for producers went by the wayside. This is also not a complaint. This is my choice to use my labor to build the culture that I want.
I state all of this now because filmmakers of different sorts have also stated to me that they don't want to do certain things when they are not getting paid for it. Unfortunately I think that means, at least in terms of today, that their movies will not be getting made. Well, maybe not so for those few true geniuses out there, but what are the rest of us to do? Stop making movies? I have watched movies not happen because of small budget discrepancies. I have made errors seeking too much money for my films, and witnessed their death as a result.
I am not endorsing the practice of exploiting people for their labor. Yet, I support people making the choice of using their labor, albeit not at it's proper value, to deliver the culture they want.
Yes it would be great if there were some support structures in America beyond academic institutions that helped those that did not dabble in the most commercial of creative choices to support themselves. Although, when I get to travel to the different countries, some of which have had film cultures benefit greatly, from the subsidies to the arts, I often find cultures with more rigid rules than ours as to what is "finance-able" film. I have seen how subsidies may provide for employment across all categories, but also how they diminish the will for many to invest their labor for the sake of growth or supporting an artist they believe in.
Still though it would be nice to get a little help or acknowledgement beyond the marketplace that your work matters. Maybe first though, all of us need to demonstrate that we value and want a diverse and dynamic culture. Maybe we need to work a little harder letting those values be known. We need to show that there are communities throughout this land that love ambitious film and will vote with their time, labor, and dollars to bring it to their friends and neighbors. Paying artists directly for their work will go a long way to making filmmaking a legitimate option when it comes to choosing how to earn a living in this country.
And in the meantime, we all have to continue to make real sacrifices to get our work done. Either that or take a real job.