Wait… nothing’s happening? Why isn’t a movie being made right now?
Because a director isn't enough. We need actors, crew members, lights, cameras, a location, props, costumes, technology services, sound systems, catering, insurance, doctors, accountants, tax breaks, furniture and, God help us, lawyers. We need the work of a producer.
A great place to find a producer June 4 through 6 was the lot of 20th Century Fox Studios where more than 1100 entertainment industry members gathered for the Producers Guild of America's (PGA) second annual "Produced By Conference."
Mixing in and around the historic sound stages, film, television, new media producers and industry support professionals attended extraordinary panel sessions, mentoring roundtables, special workshops, and exhibits. Participants also worked their networking skills from the early morning "Breakfast with the Film Commissioners" to the late night "Martini Shots Mixer."
Commissioners? Is that like the commissioner of baseball? No, these commissioners represented the city, county, state, and national agencies that facilitate the filmmaking process by providing services and, most importantly, tax advantages for film productions.
The commissioners, from all over the USA, Canadian provinces, England, Korea, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Jordan, along with a myriad of service vendors, created a county fair atmosphere in the street in front of Studio 8 and the Zanuck Theatre.
Inside the building the conference sessions were equally exciting. (Okay, I did doze off once, but that was the exception). Events included awards, celebrity panels, some old-guy-producer war stories, and lots of practical advice on getting your film project produced and distributed.
The overall message of the conference was that in spite of bad economic times in general, not all was pessimistic. Although some film commissions had cut back on the assistance they give to motion picture production, others had increased their budgets. The money to make movies is still there. Just step outside and check with the banker’s booth.
My favorite celebrity moments came from Ted Turner (CNN, The Cartoon Network, TBS). Turner was light on practical advice. He cautioned, “Don’t do anything stupid” and “If you want to start a business today, do it cheaply.” His one-liners, however, were entertaining: “I’m 71. My memory has gotten so bad I don’t remember if I have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.” He also noted, “Owning a baseball team was fun. If you ever get the chance to buy one, do it.”
Turner does deserve credit for donating one billion (yes, with a “B”) to the United Nations Foundation to support charitable works worldwide. His best piece of advice related to both filmmaking and humanitarian work. He recalled discussing the state of the world while working on a project with oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. “We talked about what makes a good person,” Turner said. “We agreed that a good person – even when you know you are going to lose – keeps on working for what they believe in; for what is right. They never give up.”
And sometimes they win awards. At the Conference, the PGA announced the 2010 Producers Challenge winners:
Best Produced Short Film: Think Tank (USA)
Producer: Jonathan Deiner
Best Produced Independent Webisode: Horrible People (USA)
Producers: Jonathan Stern, Joe Lo Truglio, A.D. Miles
Best Produced Studio Webisode: Heroes: Nowhere Man (NBC/Universal)
Executive Producers: Tim Kring, Dennis Hammer
Producers: Christopher Hanada, Tanner Kling
More valuable lessons for filmmakers were offered at the conference than will fit in one post. Over the next week, please check back for coverage of:
- New opportunities to get your film an audience
- An explanation (by produces with hundreds of credits between them) of what they do and why you need them
- Opportunities in the digital world, and
- Recommendations on getting from concept to screen