Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Demystifying Producing...

Gearing up to begin teaching another film/video class at the University, this one about producing for film and television. It's my third time doing it (other classes have been screenwriting) and it seems to get a little easier every time. Like anything, it's nice when you can review what worked and what didn't last go around, refine and focus it, and then go do it again.

I build the course around each student conceiving of a pitch for a movie or tv series, writing a short summary or synopsis, mapping out a development plan and schedule, formulating a financing plan and structure, creating a development budget, designing a one sheet, packaging all the materials, and then pitching it to a panel of local producers/network/funding agency people on the last day of class. I do try to focus on navigating the Canadian system, but tend to keep it more about the general 'process' of trying to produce something...anything...highlighting the important things you should always be thinking about as you go through the steps.

And now reading a new book I ordered for a text this semester, and boy...what a winner. It's called 'So You Want To Be A Producer' by Lawrence Turman (The Graduate, Short Citcuit, American History X). It's perfect for this kind of class. Other books I've used focused more on the legal and dealmaking and financing and, quite frankly, all that can be a real turn-off for film students in their early 20's. Not to mention totally overwhelming. So far, Turman's book steers clear of most of that stuff (though not short-changing its importance) and focuses on what producing is and what you need to do and be in order to produce movies and tv well. His model is the Peter Stark Producing Program course at USC - a Master's course he revamped and has run for the past dozen years or so.

Rather than review the book, I'm just going to post excerpts I find interesting or enlightening as I continue to read through it.

Here's the good news: you already are a producer. Yes, really. Because producing is simply thinking ahead, planning, and getting a series of things done to accomplish a goal for yourself. You have to work backward: start by figuring out everything you're going to need for a specific time in the future, and then making sure it's ready when you need it to be ready. Much like inviting your friends to come to your place for a dinner party, you have to 'produce' it.

A film/tv producer is the person who decides an idea, a character, or a story is worth telling. He's the 'starter' and the 'finisher', and therefore involved in every aspect and most details of production. In all cases I arrange the financing, without which a project can't get off the ground. And as the producer, I put together all the necessary crative talent and then act as a guide and sounding board, hopefully enhancing their work and coalescing all into a unified whole.

So would you like a job where you're the one who decides what movie (or tv series) to make, and how it should be made? That's a producer. It's one of those rare professions where you can start at the top, if you control a super, terrific, dynamite script.

Other than that being a really big 'if', seems pretty simple, right?

Stay tuned...


English Dave said...

A producer once told me that the art to being a producer was to know who to hire.

Sounds like a good book. Good luck with the course.

The Film Diva said...

I always tell folks, if you are a producer you make jobs, you don't look for one.

Crashdummie said...

teaching kiddies (read: corrupting young minds)- interesting ;)

wcdixon said...

They're all already corrupted, Crashy...I can only offer direction and guidance.

Surround yourself with good people is another one Dave. Yeah...I might turn producing into the theme of the next few months - to explore it a bit since not very many blogs go there, and it helps me figure out what to teach.

Mef said...

i always thought a producer was someone who used the word 'creative' as a noun.


CAROLINE said...

Mark - that's funny. BTW, can you email me, please? I have a question for ya.

Dix - I wish you taught here. I'd love to take a class from you. You have a lot of insight into work and life and I learn a lot from you.

wcdixon said...

Thanks for that Caro, but I have a feeling its you that'd be teaching me, about the business and legal side of producing at least.