I’m really into producing and developing film, and I just released the news with Deadline that I’m producing and starring in the Tammi Terrell biopic – that’s something that was important for me to tell her story, but also it’s very very difficult to find roles that either don’t typecast you as the token black girl, I mean Hollywood is the most racist industry.
“The 100” does not dwell much on the ethnicity (nor the gender) of its characters, but it is a quite diverse cast. Lindsey Morgan, who plays the recently injured engineer Raven, is partly of Hispanic descent. And so, as it stands now, one of the core characters on “The 100” is a partially paralyzed woman of color who happens to be a gifted and respected mechanic-engineer. And “The 100” treats this development as no big deal, which is as it should be.
For the first time in my career, I’m producing projects that I did not write nor am I directing. This is in stark contrast to my current work on 6 Angry Women, where I am wearing multiple hats as a writer, director, editor, producer and executive producer.
Yours truly multitasking on the set of ‘6 Angry Women.’
For our upcoming animated project, I am just a producer, and one of two producers to boot. It’s an entirely new experience, an exercise in letting go and simply being there for my collaborators. I’m having to curb my own creative impulses and applying my mind to make sure my director and writer’s vision is seen to absolute fidelity to their original ideas.
When you produce your own work, you have to be able to be brutally honest with yourself, and you have the advantage of not worrying about offending anyone with your glib or crazy ideas. You also have the danger of becoming married to one way of doing something, of not having an outside perspective. Over time I feel I’ve learned the ability to be very objective with my own work, and I am able to kill my own darlings without hesitation.
But when you produce someone else’s work, it is an entirely different dynamic. They are not coming to you for your vision or perspective, they are coming to you with the sole intent of having their visions become a reality. It’s the common question throughout the industry, which is what exactly is it that a producer does? The simplest and easiest way for me to express it is that a director makes a film, and a producer makes the director’s film happen.
At least that’s my definition of it. I know a lot of producers who feel their role is to creatively contribute to a project, to work with writers and directors to shape a screenplay / treatment into something that can be made. I never liked that approach, because if I’m going to put that much effort into crafting a story, it may as well be my own. I know a lot of writers and directors get frustrated with that process because they want their ideas to happen, to take afoot, to start the process of getting money and elements together.
When I get a script / treatment, I think it’s important to maintain almost absolute fidelity to the originator’s vision. There’s a fine line to be had when making creative inputs to that original vision, where your own taste may be in conflict with the creator’s taste. Which is why the selection of the project becomes of utmost importance. You should only try to produce projects that pique your interests, speak to your tastes, or are in a place you are freely willing to explore.
I know this can be a luxury - we often have to produce things we have zero connection to because it is just work. When faced with this - which is more times than not - you can offer creative input solely on whether things make sense or not. Input can be logical, and creative suggestions should always be couched in a ‘my two cents’ framework. You are there to make the artists’ vision true, and if there are moments where you feel it is not being true, then you can make your notes.
How do you know when the work is not being true? You do this by getting to know your artists, by understanding their goals, objectives and personalities. Get to know their taste. Know them inside out. When you do that, you can easily sniff out parts of a story / storyboard that were done for convenience or simply to patch something up. It’s at that point you have to make the difficult call and say “I think this part needs work because it really doesn’t feel like you or this story.” Never put your own narrative desires into your input, allow your collaborators to work a solution in their own paradigm, and assist them by giving them references, ideas, and examples. Never tell them what to write or how to write it.
The other creative part of producing someone else’s work comes in the form of sourcing and securing all of the resources that a director needs for their vision to become a reality. This starts with finding money, which has to start sooner than later. I know too many producers who drown in the details of a script, and it is years before it even reaches a single financier’s hands. The script should be ready to read, but know that it is a living document, that it will continue to evolve with the addition of directors, actors and other elements. The stronger thing is not whether it is perfect, but rather it be a perfect sell. It must be gripping, it must have a hook, something I can use to lure investment.
When we get the money, securing talent becomes the next major step, and this can involve a lot of creative business ideas, a lot of calls and positioning. As maddening as this process can be, I enjoy it. I like negotiating, I like pitching. After ten years of being in this business I’ve gotten use to rejection, and I find other ways to get what we want and what we need. And we do it with kindness and charm. No one likes an annoying nag.
There is an inherent part of me that wants to assure quality on all fronts. Anything with my name on it must be of the very best quality, and I won’t cut quality for the sake of simply making something happen. If a director has an expensive idea, my approach is to never shut that idea down, but rather an approach of honesty. I love this shot, we can’t afford it, so let’s think of creative solutions together on how we can achieve it, or something like it with what we have. We do that together. I’ll never leave a director on an island to figure something out, because I’ve been a director in that position and it’s a horrible place to be. As a producer it is your responsibility to find solutions, to research new resources, and to give your director every opportunity to make their vision come to life. And you must do this quickly and within budget, without sacrificing quality. Fail to do this and you will not be a successful producer.
Lastly, as a producer you have to make sure your production is happy. Always ask people how they’re doing. If you see concern on your director’s face, ask them what’s up, what it is you can do. Your job is to be there for them, to problem solve, to come up with elegant solutions. Nine times out of ten, throwing money at problems won’t solve them. You have to get creative and work in concert with your collaborators. Make shit happen. Produce.
It’s a nebulous dance. It’s your project but then again it isn’t. Your signature will be on it. If you do it right, people will know it is your work, even though it’s not your words and not your images. That is the magic of producing, of being that guiding hand. Initiative shows.
I got an e-mail asking for a 2nd interview from the non-profit. My old boss at large consumer goods company told me she called him this week and he told her I was “the second coming of the messiah.” Um. Oversold me a little, but very nice, thanks! Haha
Got an email from an agency I’d met with at the very beginning of my unemployment- asking if I was still available for freelance. Yes. Yes I am. They want to hire me to help with a content audit. (The boring but very necessary part of a good content strategy…)
I got a call from a recruiter about another agency she wants to submit me to. Sweet, let’s do it.
I will probably be able to fall back on the mall if nothing else pans out.
I feel good and confident in my producer role for Are You There Eli? But man, we need that money. I updated and improved our campaign a little yesterday from what it previously was. I want Evan to know that I can and should be handling all the stuff like that. Copy for anything we release on the film publicly should run through me. Not a power trip- it’s just that we all have our strengths and that’s one of mine.
I did some fancy footwork and procured the cables that we need to run the mixer this afternoon/evening to record for GuiltyFilm. Hopefully this setup won’t be as hard as I’m expecting it to be. *crosses fingers* Jim said I could call him for help if I need to. He’s my favorite sound guy!
All of that and I even got in some pool time with the bestie and made green bean casserole for girls’ night. I’m killing it.