Producing vs. Directing

I will start off by saying that I got into producing so that I could produce my own projects as a director.  Of course, that hasn’t quite happened yet on the feature side (shorts and what not)… but it is still the case.  Although I do love certain material and want to be responsible for bringing it to the big screen (or smaller screens), in terms of overseeing the script, director that is brought on, casting, etc…  This applies more to things in the world of fantasy – worlds that need to be brought to life.  I don’t need to be the director to see that through.  I guess science fiction can fall into that category as well, but I’m actually a bigger fantasy fan.  It’s kind of funny to me that my first two feature films are science fiction – set in space.  I like sci-fi, but it isn’t something I grew up obsessing over.  Star Wars maybe, but that is a totally separate animal in my opinion.

Film is a director’s medium.  Ultimately, the producer is seeing the director’s vision through. So when it comes down to it, I want to be a director. I admire producers (those that actually run their own set), but I don’t really enjoy doing it. The paperwork, the coddling of everyone (you’re basically like a kindergarten teacher), the finger pointing every time something goes wrong.  For the most part, it isn’t fun. I could be working in finance and making way more money than I currently am – having no fun. I got lucky on my last film, White Space, in that I was partly responsible for the writing – so my connection to the material was greater.  So not only was I lead producer, but a lot of times the actors or crew would come to me about the story.  That is what I enjoyed the most.  And that is why I want to be directing.

As an aside, what may turn out to be my first feature as a director is R.E.M. – which is a science fiction drama/thriller.

Fire the Caterer

I remember one of the refrains from a professor of mine at Stark was ‘Always fire the caterer after the first few days.’ It was from someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for, who was a producer on Seinfeld, among other hit TV shows and movies.

It was said in a joking manner, but only slightly. The lesson was that you need to exert your power on the set, while showing the crew and cast that you care about them. And of course the caterer might suffer, but they are the sacrificial lamb.

This lesson definitely did not escape me when I had to fire the caterer on White Space after a few days. I didn’t set out to do this… but the food wasn’t that good, and it was a goal of mine that the crew and cast be served the best food possible (for our budget). And the guy serving it was creeping me out. I just found it pretty funny that the first person to fall under the axe was the caterer, after this lesson imparted on me back at USC.

Graham Taylor’s ‘Prescription for the Evolution of Indie Film’

Still catching up on all of the blog posts by Ted Hope in recent weeks and came across the one about WME’s Graham Taylor’s speech at LAIFF (Prescription for the Evolution of Indie Film).

You can listen to it through the link on the blog.  But the best part was re-posted on Hope’s site, and gets to what I was talking about yesterday as to what I felt was the most important first lesson in filmmaking:

“In closing: I’m not an optimist because I’m a lunatic. It’s a learned optimism, one that’s founded upon years of experience, tenacity, and perseverance in this business. We have to be educated on the issues and challenges that face us. I have not gone into the economic issues today as they are well-documented and we are bombarded with them every day. BORING!
What’s not boring is making shit happen. We are the inmates taking over the asylum. We Build, Enable and Activate content, financing and distribution. We are in a revolution and now is our time. We finally have a bigger seat at the table.”

Unions. SAG.

Suck.  They create a toxic environment in terms of actually making films.  I understand they are created to help those that fall under the union – but they don’t.  They make it harder for anyone trying to make a film.  It drives business not only outside of certain states/cities – but also outside the US.

Best First Lesson In Filmmaking

I just landed in NY after wrapping principle on my first live action feature as a Producer and just happened to read an old post from Ted Hope’s indieWire blog.
Here are some that I agree with wholeheartedly:
wvfilmmaker Jason Brown 
whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t – you’re right. 

dnbrasco David Davoli
Choose your partners wisely.

FilmmakerMag Scott Macaulay
Best lesson? I wrote about this in the mag, and it comes from James S. in 1994: “Get people to say no and then move on.”

Kleb28 Mitch Klebanoff
Know your audience.

Baanzi Larry Long
if you want to direct, then direct. Don’t try to work your way up through the ranks. 

im2b dl willson
as a director/producer Mike Figgis “90% of the director’s battle is won or lost in casting”
Brian Linse: “Good, Fast, Cheap – pick two.”

Michael Gaston: “Get it in writing.”

Those are all good, valuable lessons.  But they aren’t the first lesson you need to learn.  For me, the first lesson you need to learn is a variation on Larry Long’s:

If you want to do something, then do it.  Don’t try to work your way up through the ranks.  People don’t hand things to you – you have to go and take them.