Ten Rules On The Producer's Role In Development

On one hand there's the methods we use to develop scripts, and on the other there is the process.  In the method we ask the questions, finding what works with the writer, director, and story.  The process is what happens in between those questions and where the relationships are born.

What is it that we want to accomplish in the development process?

  1. We learn in the process that "development" is not just making the story or script better; it is about learning or unearthing what is important to your director.  Find those big ideas, and protect them for the rest of the process.
  2. It is about gaining & securing confidence and trust in each other.  The movie won't work unless you achieve this; if you can't, it probably is not one you should stay on.
  3. In the development process we create a common language, a short hand for what we are trying to do and what we really mean when we say a certain thing.
  4. The producer asks a series of "what if..." questions to see where the story might go.  You don't have a choice unless you know the choice exists. 
  5. As decisions are made, it is the producer's responsibility to reveal the repercussions of the choices, both creatively, to the process, and in business terms.
  6. Ultimately we want the director and writer to be "lost in the head" of the story.  We can't expect them to follow each thread as to how it may play out on a practical basis.  That's the producer's responsibility to reveal it.
  7. Protect the characters, protect the relationships, protect their world.  In doing so, you are also protecting the audience.  Often when someone has something they want to say, they bend rules to try to get their point across.  Logic can suffer.  Emotional truth can fall by the wayside.  Whatever is not your writer or director's top priority, should become one of yours for the benefit of the film and those involved.
  8. Speaking the truth about choices is not the same as opening the flood gates.  Managing the flow of information without playing your partners is an instinctual art that can not be taught; the craft can only come from experience.  I found that it helps to pause before sharing a realization and ask what good comes from discussing it now, and really examining where the creative flow is headed at the tim.  You can always make notes to discuss later, and difficult choices have a way of addressing themselves over time.
  9. Through the development process, you learn both what you all want to happen in front of the camera, but often also what the director wants to happen behind the camera.  These closed door discussions reveal a great deal what  the public creative side of things will later be.
  10. The process continues until there are no more questions that can be asked that haven't been answered (and are relevant).

What have I left off?


How To Spot Problems Early: It All Begins In Development

For an indie producer, to engage -- and remain for any serious length of time -- in development of a project is a testament of belief in the project.  The producer works with no promise that the film will ever happen, and generally speaking will have nothing to show of their efforts unless the film actually gets made.  If  the film isn't made, the producer can't use the script to get them future work.  If the film doesn't get made, the producer's reputation suffers -- even if they have improved the project with their involvement. Nonetheless, I find the development process invaluable for a number of reasons.  One of the strongest benefits of development is that it reveals who you are truly collaborating with.  Have you ever worked with a writer and director team and they think the script is perfect and you know it needs work -- and probably a lot of it? How do they respond to your notes? Do they recognize they can take the script further, or do they think you are just pushing them for pushing's sake? Do they think each new draft is perfect until you point out otherwise?  Arguments are healthy, if they are used to bring things closer to the truth, and not just so that someone can feel they've won.

When supposed collaborators don't want notes, when they just want to go out with the script, or get angry that you have questions, or are confused, these are all good indications that you just are not going to get there.  These are good indications that you are not working with people who want to make the best movie, but people who just want to be right.  These are people who are telling you that they are not good collaborators.  These people are using development to let you know that everything that comes next is not going to be an enjoyable process.  They are asking you to evaluate your choice.

Protect The Integrity Of The Story & The Emotional Truth Of The Characters

I was fortunate to take part in episode 6 of Sabi Pictures' "The New Breed", a co-production of Filmmaker Magazine and The Workbook Project. They shot seven episodes around the LA Film Festival this year and really put together something nice.

NEW BREED LOS ANGELES - Episode 6 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.