Writing your first low budget feature? Wondering what the producer actually does? And why the hell they’re trying to butcher your script?
In June 2014, screenwriter Tom Kerevan produced his first feature film, Tear Me Apart. Here he talks about his early beliefs about producers, and why he couldn’t have been more wrong…
I never wanted to produce. As far as I could tell, producing meant a constant headache, interrupted only by violent migraines.
After meeting director Alex Lightman at the London Screenwriters’ Festival in 2011, and then cinematographer Ernesto Herrmann on a short film set in 2012, the three of us started working together on music videos, shorts and adverts. Given that they were mostly one day shoots, we just ‘produced’ them ourselves.
In May 2013 we made the somewhat snap decision to take the plunge and produce a feature ourselves. Having never taken on something of this scale, I fully admit that the undertaking was terrifying, but with that dangerous mix of confidence, arrogance and blind optimism we figured that between the three of us, we must amount to at least one competent producer…
And it turns out we weren’t entirely wrong. Nine months of raising finance, four months of pre-production, four weeks shooting on location in Cornwall, and we were able to shout the words, “That’s a wrap!”
Since I also wrote the film, there were plenty of schizophrenic arguments between my writer brain and my producer brain! So what I have learnt about the producer’s role on a British independent film? Mainly, that most of my pre-conceived ideas about producers were entirely wrong.
Time to dive into QI mode and have a look at my top 6 producer myths…
1. The myth: Producers only care about money.
The reality: Some do, most don’t. I mean, of course they all care about money, that’s their job. But they also care about telling a great story, affecting the audience, making ‘em laugh, making ‘em cry. All the things you care about. But they wouldn’t be a very good producer if they didn’t have at least one eye on commercial sensibility.
2. The myth: Producers don’t understand what I’m trying to say.
The reality: Producers understand better than you what you’re trying to say. The film industry is just that… an industry. The producer is an entrepreneur who risks everything to make a product and take it to market, the most competitive market in the world. They’re looking for a story that they can be equally as passionate about, and then work out how to position the film in the marketplace – who’s going to watch this film? How will the audience engage with it? How is it going to stand out? They’re not trying to squash your voice; they’re trying to give it a megaphone.
3. The myth: Producer’s notes are a pain in the arse, normally killing all that’s good.
The reality: Yes, sometimes they are a pain in the arse – deal with it. They are juggling dozens, perhaps hundreds of moving parts, and the script has to reflect that. We had to cut scenes my writer brain loved due to budget, location availability or even basic logistics. If a producer asks if you can set a scene at night instead of day, firstly, they usually aren’t asking, and secondly, just figure out a way to do it. There are so many elements in a film that coming back to the producer and saying, “What if we do X instead?” just isn’t worth it. I know you’re trying to be helpful, but you can’t see the big picture. If it really is impossible, then my best advice is to pick your battles. You’ll win about 1 in 10 with the producer.
4. The myth: Producers are not creative.
The reality: Couldn’t be further from the truth. They have to think fast, stay calm, and adapt in an instant. I have had to be more creative as a producer than I’ve ever had to be. Creativity is not just in the story or on set, it’s in every aspect of making a film. And the producer is involved in every aspect. Producers are thought of as non-creative because they bridge the gap between the art of film-making and the business of film-making, so have to be able to speak both languages and understand all of it.
5. The myth: Producers either have, or have access to, lots of money.
The reality: Producers are poorer than you. Producing a movie takes up every waking second of your life for minimum two years, often for no upfront fee. As for the access to money? 95% of the time, no. It’s the Executive Producers who tend to be the ones with easy access to cash. Producers either have to find execs, or become execs and find the cash themselves. Even when they’ve found finance for one film, it’s not a given the same avenue will reap rewards next time. It’s a never-ending search.
6. The myth: Producers are the gatekeepers to my career.
The reality: You are the gatekeeper to your career. Get out there and make it happen.
All in all, my experience of being a producer has been working harder and longer hours than I’ve ever had to in my life for no pay.
But I can also now see why producers adore writers. And why they fucking love good writers.
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Tom Kerevan is a writer and producer. His debut feature film Tear Me Apart, made with Cannibal Films, was shot in June 2014 on location in North Cornwall. It is currently in post-production, scheduled for completion early 2015.
See more guest blogs from the team on how they made the movie: