Before films dominate the silver screens, the journey starts with a humble idea and an individual who would stop at nothing to turn it into reality. This individual is the producer ― the vessel that carries the entire weight of the production and the captain who guides and leads each crew member and department in the right direction.
They are the ones who march to the stage to get the coveted Best Picture Award at prestigious award shows, and while a producer’s job may look glamorous from the outside, the stark reality of producing is far from the picture-perfect image we have in mind. The job entails being put under immense pressure from managing various aspects of film production from inception to execution. Let’s take an in-depth look into the mind of a producer and how pivotal their role is in the completion and success of films.
Jack of All Trades
One thing’s for certain ― the films or TV series that we lose sleep over wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the tenacious producers who moved mountains to make a dream a reality. While each crew member is a vital part of the process, producers are the ones who breathe life into the entire project by overseeing all elements of pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution, ensuring that everything is moving forward smoothly and all goals are being met on time and on-budget.
“It is not uncommon for a film production or TV show to have several producers. Some producers hold the title in name only, in exchange for ceding rights to the story, for example, or contributing financing to the film,” via MasterClass.
A producer can work independently or be employed by a studio or a production company and are primarily responsible for discovering and launching projects. They are always out and about searching for the next big story, winning screenplay, or top-notch talent, which is why you’ll oftentimes see them in networking and high-profile Hollywood events.
However, established producers in the industry simply find material to produce from agents, managers, or prestigious screenwriting competitions. Therefore, for an aspiring screenwriter, it’s not as easy to get your screenplay into the hands of a producer if you do not have representation, the right contacts, or have not placed in a competition. On the other hand, producers sometimes just have an idea or an optioned material for a project and they venture out to find and hire the most suitable writer to pen the story.
While each crew member is a vital part of the process, producers are the ones who breathe life into the entire project
After finding an exceptional screenplay to produce, the producer pitches it to investors or launch crowdfunding campaigns to get financing for the film or series. This is a grueling and laborious process that oftentimes takes months or years to put together. Once the budget has been finalized, the producer assembles a team of talented creatives from the director, actors, cinematographer, production designer, editor, down to food catering, and lodging.
Over the course of months or years, the team will constantly collaborate to tweak and polish the nitty-gritty details of the screenplay based on the expertise and recommendation of every member of the creative team. During the production stage, some producers are hands-on and actively working alongside the director as well as overseeing the logistics, budget, and calling the shots on creative decisions from start to wrap. In post-production, they are in charge of determining and influencing the editing, marketing, publicity, advertising, and distribution plan and strategy of the project.
Pursuing a career as a producer entails having a diverse set of skills to be effective and successful. As the compass of the entire team, producers must be organized, composed, resourceful, and knowledgeable on all aspects of filmmaking and the responsibilities of their crew members. Most who follow this path are those who had experience working on set for a good amount of time, went to film school, or studio executives, agents, or writers who know the ins and outs of the industry. No two projects or teams are alike, which implies that producers must possess the ability to understand and quickly adapt to changes, find solutions to problems, and deal with the eccentric personalities of crew members. Above all, having persistence and resilience in the face of adversity as well as an immense passion for the art of storytelling.
The Disaster Artist
The ultimate fear of most producers is when their projects flop at the box office. There is an unfathomable amount of pressure not only from the audience but also from the studios and investors who put millions of dollars on the line, so failure is never an option. Prominent and veteran Hollywood producers such as Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Kevin Feige, Jason Blum, Nina Jacobson, and Scott Rudin are some of the unstoppable forces with a proven track record of spewing back-to-back billion-dollar box office hits year after year. But there are some who failed to do their homework and bombed so miserably that they put their studios in debt and out of business.
Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island (1995) went down in Guinness World of Records history as Hollywood’s biggest flop. With a whopping budget of $98 million dollars, the film only earned $10 million dollars at the box office. This entirely left Carolco Pictures with no choice but to file for bankruptcy, and its assets were eventually sold to StudioCanal a year later.
“The knives were already out before the film even made it to cinemas thanks to a troubled production where everything from the casting to the script was constantly made to walk the plank. Audiences were even less receptive,” via Mental Floss.
After the success of Anastasia (1997), Fox Animation Studio and its producers Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and David Kirschner decided to produce an animated sci-fi film entitled Titan A.E. in 2000. The $90 million dollar film that was expected to compete with animated Disney classics, regrettably flopped and merely earned $36.8 million dollars. Due to the poor box office returns, the film was pulled out just a few days after its release and Fox Animation Studio was shut down for good.
Even the creative genius behind classics such as The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979) was not spared from flopping at the box office. Francis Ford Coppola embarked on fulfilling a passion project entitled One from the Heart (1982), which was done under his own company American Zoetrope. It cost $26 million dollars to make but only earned $636,796 at the box office, forcing Coppola to file for bankruptcy to protect his family and other companies as he was knee-deep in debt because of his ambitious passion project.
“One From the Heart, however, is a strange, blue-collar romantic comedy set in a purposely artificial-looking Las Vegas, with painted backgrounds and a built-from-scratch replica of Vegas’ McCarran Airport. Coppola experimented in his filming technique too, using both video and film stock during production,” via Looper.
Even the creative genius behind classics such as The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979) was not spared from flopping at the box office
Films are living proof of the collective effort of talented creatives who have a deep passion and respect for storytelling. However, at the heart of every project is a producer who believed in the power of the story and remained steadfast in spite of the unprecedented difficulties that are inherently part of the culture and nature of the entertainment industry.
We have heard hundreds of horror stories about the toxic culture and abusive acts of producers in Hollywood over the years, but the positive shift in storytelling and the wide spectrum of stories from minorities we see on screen today goes to show that the future of cinema is promising. Multi-cultural and socio-economic films are finally getting traction and recognition in the West, and these were made possible by producers who were courageous enough to stand up and tirelessly fight to give the underrepresented a platform to share their culture, experiences, and view of the world through one of the most powerful medium that unites us all ― cinema.