Shaista Justin

Produce this! (Produce what?)

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Head-spinning, nerve tingling end of an interview, I had little time to be jubilant when I got my very first job as a producer. …because, well, I had no idea what a producer did! So, the night before my first official day of work, I hired the movie version of the Broadway hit, “ The Producers.” Surely Nathan Lane could enlighten me through song? Now if you don’t know the plot of the “The Producers” (which I didn’t), it involves a Hollywood scam to produce the worst musical ever in order to bankrupt the production and take off with the insurance money, leaving the investors in a tizzy. Hmmm…initial goal suspect. He produces a musical which reminisces fondly about Hitler’s 3rd Reich days sure that it will fail at the box office, but is a shocking smash-hit. Oh yeah, I didn’t realise I had rented a comedy. Where does the producer come up with the money? He has a bevy of little old purple-haired women he sleeps with to get the funding. Strike two! Where was I going to find such a coterie? And, I didn’t recall persuasion in the form of prostitution was on my job description. Like Matthew Broderick’s performance in the film, clearly, I was about to be an enormous failure.

I went into work the next day ready to pack up my Goodwill leather attaché (don’t all producers have one?) like a nose-twitching rabbit at the slightest suggestion that the subject of firing was on the horizon. My Artistic Director, the lovely and unflappable David Anderson of “Clay and Paper Theatre,” greeted me warmly at the door, hand-made me an Americano and then, as he would for every morning of the duration of my time there, started the day with a 15min politics/arts/culture chat. Not only did this serve to ease my entry through the door each day and prepare me to be a bull-dog on behalf of the project and company I came to love, this is where all the nuggets of the best information about my job, the company, and the world of Toronto arts culture were handed down. Who says coffee first thing in the morning is a waste of time?

David was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. I had come in with a very strong transferable skill-set, but it was his gentle and patient guidance that allowed me to soar in my role and outdo both our expectations of what I would achieve there.

So, what does a producer do? It varies with the production: size, profit or not-for-profit, operating funds, type of company (film, tv, theatre). But in general, a producer is the project manager of a production. Responsible for finding and managing the funding, usually hiring the creative team, dealing with insurance, marketing, outreach, and delegating any tasks best left to someone who knows the details better. In a “mom & pop” operation, the producer may end up doing or contributing to all or more of these tasks. In a major film production there is often more than one producer, but their involvement varies. Sometimes you can get producer credit just for bringing in a big name actor or likewise contributing money or resources.

Like many culture jobs, lots of people want to be a producer. But, if you’re not into paper-work or don’t have flexible people skills, let me warn you in advance, the job of producer is not for you. Expect to be the bad guy a lot, and don’t expect thanks often.

The “thanks” comes when you see the project you worked so hard to achieve come together…now that’s worth a nose-twitch or two.

I’ll delve into this topic further in other posts, but in the meantime, check out:Lynda Obst’s _Hello, he lied_, an outdated, but well-written and insightful look into the life of a Hollywood producer. For the non-glamour-puss version, keep your eye on Cultural Mechanics!


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