Share This Page

Producers play many roles in guiding films to the screen

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 6:35 p.m.
Getty Images
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 22: Producer Tim Bevan poses with the Hollywood Producers Award during the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Awards Gala presented by The Los Angeles Times held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
The cover of 'Filmcraft: Producing'

According to Academy Awards rules, the only person who can get up on Oscar night and receive an award for best picture is a producer.

So, it must be a fairly important job, but what does a producer actually do?

Nobody knows.

Well, some people know, but it's not really a role that's set in stone. The job often depends on the needs of the movie being made. Even the person who literally wrote the book, film writer Sharon Swart — author of “FilmCraft: Producing” (Focal Press, $29.95) — admits that it can be a little confusing.

“The best producers do pretty much everything,” Swart says. “It's a very collaborative process. They have to make sure all the positions are filled by the correct craftspeople and are being performed at a level that will bring the film to fruition in the right way. A good producer will always know what the film should look like, and never ever takes their eyes off that goal.

“A real producer develops a script with a writer, has knowledge of the financial world and knows how to access money and put it together. A producer knows who the audience is, will see the film through production and post-production, and once the film is finished, try to find the right home for it.”

Swart and her Britain-based collaborator Geoffrey Macnab have collected interviews with and profiles of many of the world's leading producers for “FilmCraft.” These aren't household names, for the most part (like, say, blockbuster super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer), but they're the people in the movie business who make things happen.

When producers like Tim Bevan, Jon Landau or Bill Kong are on the phone, movie people always take the call.

They don't all conform to the image of the classic cigar-chomping, sharp-tongued Hollywood wheeler-dealer, either. Many got their start in smaller national cinemas, like Bevan, who helped build the commercial potential of British cinema with “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985) and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994), which made Hugh Grant a star. Bevan will be striding to the stage should “Les Miserables” win best picture this year.

The French producer Marin Karmitz has similarly staked a claim in the world of French and international independent cinema, working with everyone from French New Wave legend Jean-Luc Godard to Iranian shooting star Abbas Kiarostami to American indie maverick Gus Van Zant.

There isn't really a typical profile for the job, though the work rewards excellent multitaskers and motivators. Many come to the job after trying other roles in the movies.

Karmitz describes it this way: “I wanted to work in cinema because I was terrible at everything else. ... I was a very mediocre writer, and I tried acting, but was too shy.”

Swart sees a producer as the person who brings everyone and everything together — director, script, actors, financing — and keeps them working together until the movie is made. Given the often-outsized personalities involved in the movie business, this can be tricky.

“So many people have to come together,” she says. “A costume designer has their own ideas of what a film should be. Producers have to make sure everyone is going in the same direction. It's such a thankless job. A lot the indie producers out there, they found the material, helped develop the script, have been beating the bushes to get the financing together, and so on.”

Then, others can come in and scoop up a big share of the credit. The title “executive producer” is usually someone who put a lot of money into the film, but may or may not have done much else. Titles like associate producer and co-producer tend to proliferate, though their exact roles tend to be nebulous and ill-defined.

To keep the stage from being swamped by producers, the Academy Awards implemented a rule that only three producers are eligible to receive a single award.

That rule has been relaxed in recent years, Swart says, as a response to the “fiasco” surrounding “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), which saw two of its main producers left offstage to satisfy the award limit.

Obviously, if you had anything to do with an Oscar-winner, you want to be among those striding to the stage.

“A pure producer credit is the Holy Grail,” Swart says.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.