Producers play many roles in guiding films to the screen
By Michael Machosky
Published: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 6:35 p.m.
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?
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 email@example.com or 412-320-7901.
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