Here are five challenges TV and film producers all around the world know all too well… and my tips on how to deal with them!
It’s always the first challenge for any producer. Find the story and the characters that speak to you. This seems pretty basic, but you are going to have to be willing to give up a year or two of your life to see the project through. Do you write? Keep rewriting until you get it right. If you don’t write? Make sure the writer you are working with understands – writing is rewriting.
2. How do I want to write/shoot this?
I’ve kinda settled on the topic and I’m assuming you have too (Reality show, TV pilot, movie of the week?) But when I first started off in television working on Tales From the Crypt, we shot on film. I learned on film. Now, everything is HD and soon it will be in 4K. By the time the project is finished, will the format I shot it in still be the format that sells? With 4k on the horizon, HD vs. 4k was one of the most prevalent conversations I had during MIPCOM in 2014.
3. Who is your audience?
Buyers at the distribution companies, of course. They have a list of requirements called “delivery requirements” relating to the “how” question. Talk to the buyers and ask the “delivery requirements” for their countries. There is also a little known, little spoken of requirement of the social media market penetration. In the old days, we called this: “pre-sale”. This is the name recognition world-wide of everyone associated with your project.
4. What talent should I get for my project?
Looking at social media penetration in various countries will also tell you a lot about the talent you should try to get for your project. I’ve had many an actor or actress tell me how famous they are. James Cameron once told me “If someone has to tell you how famous they are – chances are they aren’t.” If as a producer you’ve never heard of a certain actor or actress, chances are your buyer hasn’t either. Exception to this rule is a certain set of “character actors” where they don’t have name recognition – but everyone knows their face. The more “name recognition” someone has, the more they’re going to want money for their services.
5. Financing and distribution
Wait, paying people? This is the entertainment business. It is “all about the money”. Now, we circle back to the first question: Story? What kind of budget does your project require vs. how much financing can you raise? In your conversations with the buyers you should know how much you will be able to get per country. Is this a project you are going to self-distribute? Kickstarter and Indiegogo are good sources of funding for all sorts of “passion projects”. If this is a documentary, always try the commissioning divisions of the bigger networks that specialise in “reality type” television. Or, take the project to a network directly: they all have built-in distribution networks.
The biggest unspoken challenge: getting emotional
Starting off on producing a new project is always an exciting adventure, but don’t get too caught up the excitement you sign bad contracts to “get that name”, or make bad business decisions. The unions have a great bunch of contracts for independent projects, but make sure you understand them. Getting emotional about a project is the biggest unspoken challenge and should be #1 on any list. Yes, as a producer you need to be passionate about a project – but you also need to know when to walk away. Producer Gil Adler of Tales From the Crypt once told me producers are nothing but “glorified accountants.” When it comes right down to it – we are – does the “bottom line” make sense? If it doesn’t, scrap the project and start over.
Producers on any level have to always answer a basic set of questions. Since the invention of film, the advent of television, and the rise of the internet the job of the producer is always to stay one step ahead. We overcome the challenges at the moment for that project. The next project will present a new set of challenges – it’s an ever evolving process. The game never changes, just the way we play it.
Top photo via Shutterstock – EpicStockMedia