Last week I had an accidental meeting with a producer I’ve been trying to meet for a long time. I have been trying to get this gentleman’s attention because I wanted to pitch a film to him. As it happened, I didn’t have to pitch because I got to hear his views on the relationship between directors and producers when he hijacked a conversation about a completely different subject. The gist being- directors must produce their own material. As I met him at a neutral venue, a friend’s office I had dropped in for coffee, I was glad that I didn’t get to pitch to him and disagreed with him wholeheartedly. To me his assertions were not only wrong they seemed silly. His ‘I know it all’ attitude further pissed me off.
Mulling over the conversation later on my way home I realized there was some truth in what the man said. At this point in time studios are farming out films to directors who are also willing to act as producers. This is just how the system is evolving, especially if you are working on small or mid-budget films. (Maybe the aforementioned producer had been having his chat with studio heads as well. But I digress) The system works like this -Studios that have faith in a project hand over a fixed amount of money and the director turns in the finished film. On the surface it seems like a good situation for both parties. The director gets to be in control, more or less, of his vision and the studio gets their film within a tightly laid out budget with minimal, a couple of midlevel executives taking turns at auditing the shoot/script, supervision and associated pain of managing creative egos. In addition the studio gets full control over the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).
My quarrel with this arrangement is that it doesn’t take into account a basic fact; most directors aren’t great producers. The skill sets required for the two jobs are not identical or interchangeable. Proximity to the subject does not ensure automatic transfer of skills. A good publisher or editor doesn’t automatically make a good writer or vice versa. Similarly just because a director in seeing the film clearly in his head doesn’t mean that he is also able to see the logistics needed to bring the vision to life.
In real life there are very few examples of directors being good producers. A good producer isn’t merely the manager of resources. A producer is the creator of opportunities. A good producer is able to steer the director to a completely new and hitherto unseen horizon. He is able show the director a new path, sometimes several paths, thereby increasing the choices available to a director. A good producer nurtures a director’s vision like no one else can.
When it comes to the business end of filmmaking the producer’s contribution is even more valuable and quite literally worth its weight in gold. Most directors aren’t businessmen. Making deals doesn’t come naturally to them. They might over time develop some of the skills but it is not an instinctive thing with them. The ability to smell a business opportunity in a chance encounter is a producer’s special ability. To turn the screws on an already good deal thus making it a great deal without breaking it down is an invaluable talent.
On a personal note- I am a writer and director. That makes two hats. If I add another one of a producer it will kill me for sure. But how does one survive in this industry that believes that anyone can do any job?