On Being a Producer

Of all the major jobs on a movie, there are more questions about “producers” than any other.

Who and what, exactly , is a producer?

There are roughly three categories: 1. the “b.s.” artist (i.e., he/she who has never produced anything); 2. the entrepreneur (i.e., he who knows some actors, knows a writer, knows some people with money, and puts them together); 3. the nuts-and-bolts guy, who actually knows how to get a movie made.

(1) constitutes about 70% of those who claim to be producers;
(2) constitutes about 20%;
(3) about 10%.

There IS one agreement, though. If a movie wins the Oscar for best picture, it’s the producer(s) who receives it. This may be a reason why it’s such a desired status.

My definition of a producer is based on the root of the word itself: lead forward.

Therefore, a producer is (or should be) he/she/they who leads a movie project forward to a known and agreed-upon goal – which is a high-quality, on-time and on- or under-budget movie which can be sold.

The producer’s responsibility is to DELIVER THE FILM.

It’s a job of the greatest overview, PLUS the most details imaginable.

The producer must be as willing to host a mayor or local police chief as to calm down an upset actor, or as to assure that cigarette butts and soda cans are removed from a location.

Ideally, in my experience, a producer rarely “hangs out” with the crew during shooting. It’s tough to kick the butt of those with whom you’ve been fraternizing. Also, if a producer is omnipresent, it reduces the impact of when he shows up to handle a non-optimum situation.

The producer is the only one who can terminate the director, but he wouldn’t normally do that until gentler persuasive tactics had been tried.

Reasons for terminating a director (or, indeed, a star, a cinematographer, or any department head) could include: falling behind schedule; overshooting; incompetent footage; leaving a trail of upsets.

It is with great caution that a producer would, in fact, fire anyone. But his judgement ought to remain unquestioned.

Some of the great producers in Hollywood history have championed and been “front” people for directors: John Houseman for Orson Welles, David Selznick for Alfred Hitchcock; up to today’s Lawrence Bender for Quentin Tarantino.

I will address who and what is an Executive Producer, a Co-Producer, an Associate Producer, a Production Manager, in future posts.

There is a lot of specific technology to train producers. I know, because I do it!

Best wishes,
Eric Sherman

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