Producers Roundtable - BFI Policy - The emerging indie producer

I went to a meeting this week debriefing after a survey a few producers conducted with a view to feeding into the BFI’s research pre-emptive of launching the next Vision Awards in 2019.

"Presentation slide from the roundtable event"

It is clear that it is super tough for UK emerging producers. And the things they are battling are quite hard to explain without sounding bitter. We work within an industry that by and large expects Producers to be self-funded (well because most of ‘em are as highlighted by this survey!). One way or another - their role is to do whatever the job takes unconditionally and be fuelled somehow by osmosis. Unfortunately this also contributes to undermining their status within the eco-chain. As more than anything else producers are seen to be the “business entity” of the filmmaking partnership. Emerging producers who don’t yet have great big long track records, serious money at their finger-tips, gatekeepers in their phone contacts or power more generally are therefore perceived as weak and of little value. Equally the fact that most films are totally unrewarding for the producer who waves their fees and overheads 78% of the time, and receives profits from the pot about .3% of the time - this also implies a deluded entrepreneur driven by vanity pursuits.

The same might apply to their untried-untested writer-director counterparts, but no, in their case - at least to some degree - it’s all about potential… and the future is bright.

So why is the creative role of the emerging independent producer so underestimated? Their totally invaluable role as researcher, inspirer, creator, corrector, engine, coraller, fanner of fires, trouble shooter, innovator … so invisible - undervalued and so frequently actively undermined?

It isn’t useful. It isn’t healthy.

In my experience when these fragile budding teams are broken up, the projects frequently die. The directors who are generally seen as the engine, sputter and fail without their partner. Film is the result of team work. Writing, directing, producing can all be lonely isolating destabilising work. Together teams are stronger and more viable.

Because producers are juggling so much. Because they are so frequently navigating complicated delicate situations saddled very often with unreasonable narcissistic teammates, the ones who are resilient enough to get through a couple of short films and still embark on feature film development full of optimism and enthusiasm, these people are some of the most wonderful amazing people I know!! I love producers!! I am in awe of the grit, resourcefulness and sheer positive determination I have witnessed time and time again.

So, I was super psyched when I caught up with Ben Roberts at an LFF BFI Network do, and he mentioned that the BFI are canvassing opinions, doing some research to see how things can be improved and making plans for 2019…

So what can they do? Is it all about the money? I think the money thing does matter, but it’s rarely just that…

Is the financial set up at the source of all the disrespect? Or is it because people come to producing from all walks of life? You don’t need a degree, you don’t even need any experience - there are countless examples of different types of producers associated to films. And of course this contributes to another source of disrespect - what exactly did you do? Justify yourself! Are you just a parasitic presence who has latched onto the talent, got yourself a credit? Yeah, we’ve all used credits as currency… When you need something from someone you can’t afford to pay, you share your credit with them. Always the producer credit, never the writer or director credit… But generally if people get a credit, it is because they have done something that the film needed. But anyway…

Whatever it is, there are a million assumptions that are propagated through schools and workshops, through agents and the media, through patterns of behaviour within the industry at large that promote a contagious irreverence and a lack of understanding of what an emerging producer needs and what they contribute.

This leads to producers being confronted with these feelings over and over again:

Jen Corcoran Producer Tweet

Like all these things in self-perpetuating cycles of abusive behaviour, there’s an element of chicken and egg conundrum. Where does one start to improve things? Educating? Financing? Validating? Well they’re all important, and any one of those methods could help - but what I hope they will see is that you’ve got to hit all of ‘em to really be effective.

Teaching more meaningfully that film is a collaborative work at film schools and in training labs. Industry recognising that the full core team is the beating heart behind any film - should be recognised for their accomplishments. Not cherry picking the director out of that (I know - is there any way to discourage Film4 from constantly doing that? Possibly not). I have been told off over and over again for saying that my films have won awards, my directors have won awards - not feeling that transfers over to me, that I too as producer have won the award. Industry recognising that fanning teams is more effective than fanning individuals, strengthening bonds by showing that everyone is valued and respected equally…. Will lead to better working practices, I am sure. But it runs deep so it will take time and 360 thinking.

I have suggested affordable “surgeries” at the BFI. External impartial experts available for consultations at a subsidised hourly rate at the BFI and regional agencies (or Skillset building). Offering mentorship, mediation, training - on a one-on-one basis. I have suggested industry agents and gate-keepers be encouraged to play their important parts too. Not being the enemy… Respect, collaboration, information, transparency…

I know it all sounds a bit naive, but here you go… another blue-skies optimistic still-emerging-after-all-these-years producer!

In any case well done to those producers who put together the survey and I will watch this space with febrile impatience…. See where we land in 2019!

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