Producers sit in the middle between the “Creative Types” (also known as “Production”) and the Distributors/Finance people. It is a hard job, as one has to balance the passion for the project with the return on investment for the business. How does one achieve balance? It typically takes many years of practice and trial and error. What do you do if you’re just starting out? Talk to as many experienced, seasoned producers as you can. And, try to keep these 5 things in mind:
1. It’s a Business
Unfortunately, without some sort of financial investment, the project would never get made. There has to be some sort of return on investment (ROI). Make sure the goal of the return is clearly defined. If you are creating branded product, the return may not be financial, but there will be an expectation of brand exposure. Creating a crowd funding campaign? Make sure you have the “perks.” You’ve been awarded a grant or commission? Make sure you understand what you need to deliver. Every contract for distribution and/or financing is different, so make sure you or your lawyer read the fine print.
2. Say Yes
When a distributor wants things done a certain way, it’s for a reason. Their ultimate goal is to make money and when they make money, the project makes money. Production is a collaborative medium. If you include the distributor early in the process, it will only make the project more sellable. There may be suggestions as to casting, location, and storyline/character changes. Take these to heart. Do your homework on which actors have “presale” and which ones don’t. This is where your passion to see the project get made will carry you through the process.
3. Bad decisions happen. Move on
I think every independent producer has that one film where “my cousin” has to be in it. As a producer, you cringe, and carry on. In some cases, it may be the only way the project gets made. This decision may be the difference between making money or not. However, the return on investment for the financier might just be having his/her cousin be a “star”. Sometimes the distribution deal is a bad deal, but at least your project makes it into the marketplace. Your ROI then becomes the publicity for having distributed product. Already having distributed product in a territory makes it easier for a better distributor to take a new production to market later.
4. Define your own success
As a producer of the project, what was your ultimate goal? To make a profit? Get brand exposure on a wide scale? Sometimes, the goal can just be “I want to finish this and get it into festivals.” This is a business of relationships; every project builds on the next. Everyone will have a different opinion about your project, but remember only your opinion matters. Critics may or may not have good things to say about the production. At the end of the day, the producer is the only one left from the creative side, so you will have to carry on even after the director, writer, and actors are long gone from the project.
5. Have fun
It’s long been said, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” As a producer, you have to enjoy the process. You’re constantly learning, constantly evolving because the industry is in constant motion as we embrace new forms of technology. Sometimes the project may take days, or even years to come to the screen. Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes, it takes even the most seasoned producers decades to get their vision on the screen.
So, with that in mind, who is making the journey to MIPCOM this year? See you there!