The Art of Producing

I still disparage, from time to time, my ability to organize and be thorough. It's helpful of course, and, for me, it feels right for a way of life. Still though, it's sort of a feeling like having drawn the short straw when they were assigning super-powers. Imagine it:  "For I shall endow onto you super-strength! You will go forth and be a hero, removing the heavy from the weak and needy. And to you, I shall endow onto you super-accountability! You will plunge into the dirty, messy world and bring a method to the madness."

Don't get me wrong, it's a cool power; but it's not going to save the world. Granted, likely none or few of us will or are even moving in the direction of world savior; some very much the opposite.

Here's the thing; a lot of my life has been about uplifting others or being in the background. To basically, find and work the knowledge that background operations are kind of my thing; well it just kicks out any sort of ladder that you thought might elevate you.

Let's be clear; most everyone I know and am around are very much struggling. On a recent episode of the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, Scott Aukerman and Marc Maron discuss the delight of coming up in the business together and being among the ones still standing from their early days; but that feeling and that level of success, whether considered great or marginal, is still years off for most of us.

Much like the magic of editing, producing at its best is invisible; in better, more descriptive terms, it's unobtrusive. A producer is meant to take an idea and give it legs; he brings the elements together so production can happen. In terms of tasks, this would be getting a location, camera, lights, sound equipment, actors, crew; anything that needs to be acquired is done so, generally, by the producer. Of course there's also sub-tasks like setting-up casting calls, generating release forms for the actors, crew deal contracts, location agreements, and money but generally, at this level, the expenses are shared amongst our severely abused credit cards and bank accounts.

I wonder how many independent films could be funded off the overdraft fees of aspiring filmmakers?

Producing is definitely an art just as I learned, watching my father over the years, that business is an art. Producers need to talk to people, need to know when to humble themselves and when they need to stand their ground. They have to use language and coercion to curry favor, make deals or assurances; in other words, take risks of their name and good-standing. John Proctor had a lot to say about that.

Good producers keep the production shoot on track, they keep everyone moving and make sure everyone knows the time [to indicate how slow the shoot's is moving, not to provide a service]. They also offer limited or ideally no input into the creative aspect of the project. A producer is meant to bring the tools but not really participate in the construction. In Hollywood, this is out the window because, many times, it's all the producers' money which they expect back and then some; also many times, those monetary producers don't do the job of acquiring production elements.

Producing is a very behind the scenes task; perhaps one of the most non-physical yet labor intensive aspects of production. Generally, without a good producer, an entire production goes off the rails; that could mean extra shooting days, getting kicked out from a location, losing actors. But, if the production still goes through, these things are invisible to the audience; they generally can't tell if a production itself went off without a hitch or was a disaster all the way through. It's a hidden art behind preventing unorganized, wasteful productions and channeling stress to a single individual.

There's a lot to producing; it's not something I want to do for life, at least not without help. But, for the time being, it feels good to produce for myself as well as for the projects of close colleagues; and doing so will surely open a door, one would hope.

Yesterday, I watched Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate; it's a documentary about Michael Cimino's production of Heaven's Gate. It is a tale of budgets run wild, innumerable takes [actually 52 takes is mentioned fairly frequently by more than one person], and, most relevantly, absent producing. It's well worth the watch because while masterpiece is goal, it cannot be in sacrifice to everything else; that you should care about your art but, at the end of the day, you still have some accountability to your scheduling, people's time, budgets, etc. The importance of balancing vision with productivity; with professionalism, not just for the images you capture but for your conduct and how you get things done.

"Lunch? This is bigger than lunch."