Many filmmakers talk about the tension of creative vs. money. But there is also tension between Director and Producer. Producers are certainly invaluable. They usually raise the budget. They maintain the budget. They hire the crew and sometimes find the writer and director. Many projects originate with the producer. Movies would not get made without them. But now that I’ve sung their praises, I have to admit that there are a lot of days where I’m at odds with them. The producer has notes for the script. They have ideas for the music. They think one take is better than another take. Many producers fancy themselves as creative producers and want to “help” the director. I’ve debated a single line of dialogue with a producer, or a single joke, over days and days. They think it’s not funny, I think it is. When we come to one of those creative forks in the road, I really need to say…
HEY PRODUCERS: I love all the stuff that you do. It’s the stuff I hate to do. And in turn, I do a lot of stuff you don’t have the patience for either. You’ve hired me for one thing — my instincts. Making touchy-feely choices is my job. You push me to justify my choices, and that can be good for me. It can make be rethink, adjust, and sometimes make a better choice. But you can also be the “Overthinker” that messes up the clear line of communication I have with my instincts. When you ask me why I put the camera over there, or why I wrote that line, or why I want to cut a scene, I want you to imagine me… doing your job. It would be ludicrous. Imagine me questioning each line item in your budget, or revising your production schedule, or helping you write the business plan. I would never try to do your job. So why are you trying to do mine?
Let’s all admit it. We all have agendas. That’s okay! Some people talk about agendas as if they’re evil. But they’re inevitable. My agenda is a happy audience, or artistic satisfaction. The marketing team’s agenda is a movie that sells. The producer’s agenda is a movie that’s cheap and makes a large profit. The crew’s agenda is a good resume to get them a better job after this one. Be aware of these agendas and accept them. No agenda is bad… they just serve each individual. Hopefully, all of these people share the greater agenda of making a good movie. But the job a person has changes their focus. It’s just a fact.
So Producers: Acknowledge your agenda. Then you do your job and I’ll do mine. I promise I’ll never recommend some course of action in your arena. I’ll leave it to you. Then maybe you can agree to not stand over me in the edit room and suggest a wider camera shot or a different title font. Just tell me what your concerns are, what you don’t like. Then let me do my thing. When my plumbing doesn’t work, I don’t question the plumber’s choice of wrench or turn my head sideways and say, “Mmmm, are you sure you want to run that pipe there?” No. He’s the expert. I hired him to… plumb. Or whatever he calls it.
Producers, I could never do your job. So please trust me to do mine. Conflict will happen between us, and good art can come from it. But when we come to an impasse on a creative choice, be brave… let the creative one take the creative risk.*
*This blog is in no way addressed to the good producers out there. You know who you are.