Being A Creative Film Producer

We will have a closer look at the role of producer both from an organizational perspective and creativity.

Historically, there have been many film producers who were part of the creative effort on the movies in which they worked.

First of all, to what extent can creativity play a role in film production? Secondly, how is this creativity practiced? To properly answer these questions, we have to take a look at the historical overview of the creative producer and its current state. Finally, the influence of digital revolution in the production process will also be discussed briefly. The reason behind this historical overview is to explore when and how some producers became creative in film production process.

The Role Of Producer: by Maria Johnsen

Creative producers assist with the choice of directors and then collaborate on the crew and actors to bring in. The creative producer is responsible for the development (together with the writer) of the script idea that needs to be turned to a film and it is their responsibility to work with the writer to polish or even rewrite scripts when necessary. The organizational producer is focused on organizing and organizational processes of a film production.

The film production has a high stress level and comes with a lot of pressure. Most producers are self-employed while some are employed by the video industry, motion picture or radio and television broadcasting companies. They can work in radio, cable TV, sporting industry and the performing arts. Their work schedule is irregular — they may have to work for very long periods, including weekends and even holidays when needed.

Producers in Canada and the United States can find work in a vast array of production fields in almost anywhere, majority of the jobs they get are concentrated in large centers that serve the motion picture industry hub. Almost all producers like to accept jobs from different parts of the world, and gain experience as they travel moving from one location to another as they get contracts.

In the periods where cinema first started, the cigar chomping studio mogul was very real — capitalizing on amazing looks and new technology and this was their way of filmmaking with the sole purpose of making money. After a while, some actors such as: Warren Beatty added production to their skill set so they would have more freedom to tell their personal stories.

The stereotypical image isn’t as common as it was used to be however, money is still a major determinant of projects which producers choose. That is what it means to be a producer in the studio world — bringing out the necessary cash to fund their movies while giving inputs on how he or she thinks things should be done.

Producers do more than people often see in the final film. They have their input in the creative aspect of the movie however; they do far more than that. It’s a job that doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. London based Canadian producer Sylvia Farago didn’t start out thinking she wanted to be a producer. She wanted to be a photographer and by 8 when she moved to London, she began shooting gigs for Dazed & Confused, from which she got into photo editing and then photographic directing. She spent 2 years as a creative producer in Burberry — working in every department from campaigns to catwalk shows — after which she set up her production company.

In the film industry, the job of the producer seems to be the one that cannot really be completely defined and it is one that isn’t all too recognized however, it is surely one of the most difficult. Son of legendary Darryl F. Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck who made movies like The Sting (1973), Jaws (S. Spielberg, 1975), Driving Miss Daisy (B. Beresford, 1989) or Road to Perdition (S. Mendes, 2002) among others noted several years ago:

People are yet to grasp the full meaning of production or what their responsibilities are. It is quite unfortunate that a position as important as this doesn’t have a clear image in the minds of people. Some people if not most, just see the producer as the moneybag. Perhaps that is why most new comers in the industry would rather be a screenwriter or a director but not a producer. However, I must point out that screenwriters and directors who have recorded any form of success did it with a professional producer who creatively helped them behind the scene to make the tasks a reality and flourish a film production project and it a successful one…most of the time.

The responsibilities of the producer right from the very beginning include both creative and financial responsibilities without having to confine itself to any one over the other. Only the industry’s evolution as well as the aptitudes of people who have held this job has tipped the balance towards technical know-how or less frequently towards the creative capacity.

Over the years, the role of the film producer has evolved through different stages. Moments of grandeur and great protagonisme — the Hollywood studio system era- have been followed by others of marginalization and downsizing — with the peak of so-called auteur cinema in the 1960s. A change has been observed over the last 3 decades. A steadily growing appreciation for the post has been observed, especially the creative producer.

What extent of creativity can we attribute the producer and how does this creativity show? Do we really understand what it means to be a creative producer?

2 The Role of Film Producer

It is often expected and quite common for producers to undertake different roles when trying to wrap up a film. While this makes it hard to enumerate, it is much easier to categorize producers’ roles into two broadly vital phases of the procedure.

The two vital phases are contained below:

Creation Phase: This is the fundamental role of the producer and can be described as the phase in which the film is being developed. This is the beginning phase and it is expected that the producer identifies what film to create. Here is where a narrative is identified, chosen or created. Is the film going to be a screenplay, a written book, a biography, or a documentary? This phase also involved gathering the crew. It is required that the producer begins discussions with the provider or owner of the content with the view of owning rights to use the content.

Bankrolling Phase: After the producer has been able to secure the rights to use content, the next line of action involves presenting this content to prospective investors (film studios). At this stage, the producer will require monetary backing to implement the movie. Subsequently, it is expected that the producer is able to begin actual film production and see the creation of the movie to finishing point. Just when you think all of the monetary planning and implementation roles of the producer are over, the monetary role of distributing the film emerges. It is important to stress that distribution is by far one of the delicate and crucial aspects of a film’s success.

A) Is it accurate to say producers directly manage finances?

This is partly correct because finance is a prominent aspect of their work description. However, the nature of roles and obligations that will be handled by the producer comes down to the individualistic approach of the producer.

In most cases, the role of employing directors and screenwriters is solely the prerogative of the producer. However after this stage, roles may begin to shift from the norm based on the proportion of the film. In simpler terms, the nature and proportion of the film determines how much responsibility the producer will delegate.

Interestingly, mater can become slightly convoluted when you consider that the aforementioned roles of the producer embody very distinct roles. Coordinating producers are required to focus on planning and apportioning of tasks. The supervising producer will be focused on the story with the role of making relevant adjustment to the script. On the other hand, the edit producer will be focused on the post-production demands.

B) Are production personnel the same as supervisors?

This is not exactly accurate because producers are often concerned with the final outcome. Producers will not necessarily be engaged in every aspect of production by supervising every process. In nearly all cases, producers employ seasoned and competent hands in various aspects of operation which leaves them with abundant time to concentrate on the final outcome.

A popular opinion that some say adequate describes the role of producer is to motivate professionals to deliver the best of their creativity and expertise while convincing investors to provide sufficient monetary backing to a merchandise that is characterized by uncertain commercial prospects for final consumers that sit in theaters momentarily.

Although it is beneficial for the producer to be well-informed and experienced on various parts of the cinematography, it is quite common to find that the producer pull together seasoned specialists on various turfs who also gather separate squads of experts.

Essentially, the extent of job the producer can offer is hinged on the financial plan available to him or her.

It is expected that the producer will undertake all responsibilities when running a low budget film. On the other hand, a major film with generous budget will require that the producer deals out responsibilities to professionals and concentrate on shaping the final outcome.

The responsibility of managing the financial plan of a film is crucial expertise that the producer must efficiently implement.

It is important to point out that potential financiers may include a long list of entities such as global distributors, home networks, individual sponsors and so on. Typically, your financiers will have separate desires which make it a very complex situation that requires a great deal of tact.

Unavailability of actor can also put a big strain on the implementation of a film because certain financiers become inclined and reviewing filming tamable in ways that navigates through unanticipated snags. Nonetheless, on big film undertakings, the producer’s role is quite encompassing with the fundamental priority of making sure that the final outcome is in line with what they set out to accomplish.

When the film has come into the concluding stages, the producer’s concern becomes hinged on viewers and profitable distribution.

Test screening is a concept and practice that is popular in America and it is designed to estimate how viewers will respond to films. This process offers a clear insight into how much to spend on promotion and marketing; it offers insight into how best to bring out the film and to gauge the overall eagerness and involvement of various networks, theaters and distributors

3 The organizational and Creative Producers

Over the years, film production has been attributed to creativity and this is something that has been identified buy film producer, historians and even critics. For instance, Jean Paul Furstenberg who was a director at the American Film Institute about 2 decades ago noted that it was the producers and the creative people that really founded the industry. As a matter of fact, if people like Adolph Zukor, Louis B.Mayer, Carl Laemmle, Ole Olsen, Leon Guamont, Charles Pathe or the Warner brothers in the US had anything in common, that thing would be their visionary and enterprising spirit.

Film production was understood to be an essentially creative task, which covers hiring the right talent, script development, and editing supervision and this is something that has acknowledged since the establishment of Hollywood. Jesse Lasky, who was one of the pioneers of the system, described the role of the producer as:

“A person that is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing everything that will affect or lead to the final output. These things include the tangible and the intangible tasks, including personnel management as well as the control of the artistic temperament and real properties.”

During this time, the producer’s job was specialized and hierarchically structured. The heads of production were in charge of the studio and their responsibility was to match the available annual production budget with the projects expected to get a good percentage of the box office. Some very popular heads of production include Irving G. Thalberg, David O. Selznick and Darryl F. Zanuck, and then there were Hunt Stromberg, Hal B. Wallis, Jerry Wald, Y. Frank Freeman, Dore Schary, Pandro S. Berman and Walter Wanger. These were the young men that helped carve the paradigm of Hollywood film production and have made it possible for us to witness “the genius of the studio system” in the words of Andre Bazin. Talking about the creative producer is equivalent to talking about the producer in Hollywood golden era because it can be considered a collection of memories written by Davies Lewis who was an associate producer and working for several emblematic names earlier mentioned.

Based on personal merits, two producers standout: Irving G. Thalberg and David O. Selznick. They became the model of the classic Hollywood producer through the studio system, and they both understood and appreciated the creativity in their craft. For instance, Thalberg saw movie making to be a creative business i.e. it has to bring in some profit but the art aspect must be preserved to maintain the entertainment part of it. Selznick, on the other hand, according to an article from that time, “like all creative producers, thought of him as a great judge of talent and commercial story properties, a film editor, capable writer and a demanding production executive” Selznick saw the producer as who was ultimately responsible for making of the pictures and this included decisions on creativity and business. He also believes that a producer has to be grounded in editing, directing and screen writing.

The producers of today have to go beyond just their ability to produce and must seek answers to the “what and why question. He should have the capability to sit and write a scene when needed and must be able to criticize objectively. “I don’t like it” doesn’t cut it. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he should be willing to give suggestions on how to make it better.

Selznick’s assessment perhaps sounds overly megalomaniac, but it actually demonstrate a how to properly produce a film.

Mervin LeRoy is another relevant example. He was the one that created titles like Dramatic School (R. Sinclair, 1938), The Wizard of Oz (V. Fleming, 1939) and At the Circus (E. Buzzell, 1939). He published a book in 1953 and this book was on the different crafts within the movie industry. He broke them down into 4 categories and they are: the skilled workers, the business management team, the technical group and the creative group. Surprisingly, he classed the producer along with the actors, directors and screenwriters in the creative group even though most people would class it in the management group. He also talked about the production process in this same volume and helped differentiate between the “business administrator producer” and the creative producer” based on the level of creative tasks or financial tasks they handle.

Any producer that refers to himself or herself as creative should be able and willing to make meaningful contributions to the movie making process such as searching for the right cast and director, rewrite the script or selecting the idea to adopt for the team. Simply put, he/she should be able to intervene in those aspects that end up intrinsically configuring the film work.

The producer of The Adventures of Robin Hood (M. Curtiz, 1938), The Maltese Falcon (J. Houston, 1941), They Died with their Boots On (R. Walsh, 1941) and Casablanca (M. Curtiz, 1943), Hal B. Wallis, who emphasized the parity of meaning which could exist between the words producer and creator:

When you identify a property, get it, work on it from the beginning to the end and produce the end product, just as you conceived it and then, you can consider yourself a producer. You have to be a creator to be worthy of the ‘producer’ title.

After 1948 when the collapse of the studio system started, talent agencies like MCA occupied the power vacuum which it left and when we consider the emergence of the auteur theory (politiques des auteurs) that exalted the role of the director as well as the competition brought on by television in the 1950s, the role of the producer was gradually restricted to just management and financing. Apart from the likes of Walter Mirisch, Stanley Kramer and Sam Speigel who joined the likes of Samuel Goldwyn and David Selznick, there were really no true independent producers capable of living their mark on a movie.

All we have stated has been about the evolution of the role of the producer in the American film industry, which begs the question of what goes on in other place, say Europe. Film production in Europe has been more personalized as a result of lack of industrial infrastructure and this is not to say that the industry was based on single filmmakers and not on consolidated production companies — even though they also existed. The assessment of Martin Dale after World War II was that the producers led the reconstruction of the European cinematographic industry and this was done in such a way that each cinematographic industry had a list of famous creative producers such as Pierre Braunberger and Anatole Daumon in France; Alexander Korda and Emeric Pressburger in Great Britain; or Cecchi Gori and Alberto Grimaldi in Italy.

This was the practice and not until the 1980s before we started seeing some changes. A group of young generation producers emerged on both sides of the Atlantic and the Hollywood majors protected their investments by depending on the professionalism of film producers.

These new generation producers came to renew the European and American film industries in the eighties and nineties. Initially, names such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg (when working as producers), Peter Guber and John Peters and so on.

They were able to relieve the movie business from the apathy it was suffering at the time thanks to their visionary and enterprising spirit which also helped them contribute to the restoration of the trust in this craft.

The traditional creative producer is back and the market can’t get enough.

From what we have seen and read, we can say that the professional profile the producer has undergone quite a lot of paradigm shifts right from the Hollywood studio era to becoming a shadow of the director during the auteur cinema era. However, we have seen an amazing increase in appreciation for the producer; especially the creative producer over the last 2 decades and this growth is evident both in America and in Europe.

There are 2 rather vaguely divided camps that the film industry tends to use in classifying the producers: the organizational producer and the creative producer. Only very few people can actually handle both successfully.

Very few producers are remotely creative. The implication of this is that those who believe they are actually creative don’t want to produce because they think production is not for the creative. They would rather direct or write because they feel that is where their creative genius will be seen.

For instance, the word “producer” is explained by the author of “a dictionary of jobs in the film industry”.

The creative input of the producer might be little or massive. The producer who wishes to have massive influence must be willing to give his input into the supervision, editing, design, writing and casting while other producers can just focus on the administrative responsibilities and stay out of the creative tasks.

These filmmakers have done several of their popular films alike -being creatively supportive- to the extent that they leave a creative imprint or personal touch.

The sensitivities of the creative side and the mechanics of film — Producers in control are usually a recipe for disaster.

4 Conclusion

At this point, it is only right to draw some concluding remarks to all what we have been able to describe throughout this paper; the extent to which we can consider the producer’s job to be creative and how this creativity is expressed. Does the concept of the creative producer redundant or does it reflect an overly remarkable quality? Is there more creative possibilities added to the producer by the digital revolution?

So what differentiates the creative film producer from organizational film producer? Simply put, producers are the project managers in television and film industries. While handling a television or movie project, these producers pull their leadership and organizational skills to ensure projects get completed within a set budget and a specific time frame.

There is a lot of room for creativity in film production, not as a condescending or artificial add-on but rather as an important aspect of the job. In my opinion, to produce is to create. A producer’s responsibility inherently includes financial control, planning and organization but he/she must also be willing to give creative input to get the final result that is desired. This creative input could be in form of digital effects, editing, casting, directing, writing or rewriting scripts, music over and so on.

In conclusion it is fair to say that, the term “creative producer or creative production” may sound redundant but it is a term that should be set aside for the producers capable of contributing their creative vision to the making of the film alongside other creative members of the team. Also, it must be emphasized that it isn’t just a common type of producer and not just because of what the job demands, but also as a result of the resistance of the director. As is often the case, great egos arise where creativity and personality converge.


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