Thursday, September 6, 2012

Screenwriting Article - What The Hell Does A Producer Do???

I wanna do what Harvey did for screenwriting in the 90s.

Since moving back to LA, I've been offering up bite-sized reasons for why I returned, but haven't really gone into any detail.  Well, it's time to go into detail.  After the madness that was The Disciple Program, I started getting a lot more e-mails and calls from agents and producers, and the discussions all seemed to steer in the same direction - Why aren't you producing?

Hmmm, I'd never thought about producing before.  I always kind of thought of producers as the enemy.  The Player burned into my brain that producers were clueless twits who destroyed everything that was sacred about screenplays, turning them into emulsified processed chicken nuggets battered for mass consumption.  I didn't want to be one of those guys.

But you already are, the responses came back.  You're finding material.  You're bringing it to the rest of town.  That's one of the hardest and most important things a producer does - FIND MATERIAL.  Hmmm, I thought.  I guess they were right.  I *was* finding material.  I could do that.  All of a sudden, I looked at producing in a whole new way.

This gave life to a few ideas, the biggest of which was to create a production shingle for Scriptshadow.  If I was going to be finding and producing multiple projects, I needed a company to do it under.  I've been slowly putting that together to launch later this year, and in the meantime, well, trying to figure out what the hell a producer does!  So in classic Scriptshadow style, I'm going to let you know what I've learned about the profession over the past couple of months and what it means for you.

First off, producing is a lot of MEETINGS.  This is a huge change for me, since I'm used to sitting behind a computer 18 hours a day.  Going out to meeting after meeting is not only the complete opposite of that, but it takes up large chunks of your day.  So I'm still learning how to manage my time in this new world.

Why do producers have so many meetings?  From what I gather, it's all about establishing relationships and trying to find mutual points of interest so you can potentially work together.  As I was telling a group of writers last night, a big part of selling a script is timing.  Let's say I found this really great zombie script set in the desert last night.  Well, if I go to a meeting and an exec says, "But what we're really looking for is a great zombie script!"  Boom, I just read a great zombie flick!  I give it to him.  He reads it and loves it.  He buys the script.

Now if I hadn't just read that script?  If it wasn't still fresh in my mind?  Or if I was tired that day and cancelled the meeting with the exec, setting something up for a month from now instead, that sale may have missed its window.  I still have a great zombie spec, but now nobody I know is looking for one.

This is what I mean by timing and this is why all these meetings are so crucial.  You're looking to accumulate information and interest from a number of parties, hoping to match those interests up, giving someone what they need right when they need it.  Now I've helped a writer sell his script AND I'm a producer on the project.  How exciting!

This leads to the obvious question.  What does a producer do?  You know what, I'm still not sure, lol.  There seem to be a lot of different types of producers and there seem to be a lot of different types of ways to produce.  But so far, this is what I've gathered.

The first option is to physically produce the project yourself.  So, for example, I would directly purchase a script from a writer, raise the money for the project myself, hire a director and actors, and make the movie under the Scriptshadow banner.  I guess this is what's referred to as an "indie producer," because you're doing everything independently.  This is a tough route to take because raising money all by your lonesome is difficult.  Therefore, this route feels too complicated for me at the moment.

Therefore, what I'd like to do instead is find material through Scriptshadow, partner up with a much more established producer (say Scott Rudin), sell the script to one of the studios with both of us attached, then let him use his muscle and expertise to get it through the system.  In essence, I would be more of a silent producer.  I'm in it to learn because, let's face it, I don't know what I'm doing yet.  I mean, I can help a writer whip the script into shape, but I can't call Tom Hardy and ask him if he's free in three months to shoot a desert zombie film.  Not yet anyway.

Once I do this three or four times and get some produced credits, establishing myself as a "legitimate" producer (whatever that means), I might be able to go into the studios myself, instead of having to partner with one of the bigger guys.  Also, since I have more of a track record, it would technically be easier to raise money myself. So heck, I might go back and produce movies independently yet!

One of the more interesting things I've learned about producing so far is the credit system.  When you're asked what kind of producer credit you want on a film, what's the first credit you think of?  You want that Executive Producer credit right?!!  Not so fast.  Even though the EP credit sounds the fanciest, it's actually smaller than the producer credit!  I know.  Doesn't make sense, right?  And here I've been going to movies all my life thinking the EP guys were more important than the producer guys.

Anyway, you want to aim for the producer credit, then an executive producer credit, then a co-producer credit, and finally an associate producer credit.  Each credit will mean a different amount of money when the deal is made with the studio to buy the project.  Come in as an Executive Producer instead of a producer, and it might mean the difference of a hundred thousand bucks.  So if you plan on following in my producer footsteps any time soon, aim for that producer credit!

So what does all of this mean for you? Well, I remember a couple years back when I'd occasionally come across a cool script or a cool writer yet couldn't do anything about it.  My contacts in Hollywood were limited, so I'd basically pat the writer on the back and say, "Good job and good luck."  Once I start Scriptshadow Productions, however, I'll be able to go back to and potentially do something with those lost scripts (and lost writers!).  I'll also have access to more untapped writers than any place in town.  So I'll have plenty of options to hire people to rewrite material I need punched up.  What I thought were missed opportunities all these years could turn out to be future Hollywood writing forces.  That's exciting.  And it's the reason you guys should keep submitting Amateur scripts to the site.

Which brings us to what I'm looking for.  What kind of movies do I want to produce under the Scriptshadow banner?  Well, the way I see it is the genres that sell the most matched up with the genres I like the most are thriller, sci-fi and horror.  However, I don't want dumbed down versions of these genres.  I want stories that are unique in some way (something I haven't quite seen before), characters I care about (and who are complicated and interesting enough that A-List actors will want to play them), and stuff that has some meat on it, that makes me think a little.  I want to make the next The Others or The Orphange, not the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5.  I want to make the next Source Code or Inception, not the next Cowboys and Aliens.  If you have that kind of material, and you've been slaving away at this craft forever, and are on the cusp of your break, send me those scripts!

What's really important to me is that Scriptshadow Productions stand for something the companies in this town haven't stood for in a long time - QUALITY WRITING.  I want everywhere in town to know that when they get one of our scripts, it's going to be a quality piece of material.  That's what I started this site trumpeting, and that's how I want to operate my business. So even if you don't have a thriller or sci-fi or horror script, but you have a great spec, I want to be the one pushing it.  I want to be the one getting it out there.  I want to put the emphasis back on the screenplay again.

So that's it for the moment.  This part of my career will continue to evolve in the coming months, and I'm sure be both an adventure and a learning experience.  I'll keep you guys updated on my Twitter account, and maybe put up another post at the end of the year, giving you an update.  And hey, feel free to use this opportunity to ask me any questions you may have.  Anything related to producing or Scriptshadow Productions or just questions about producing in general, shoot me your thoughts and I'll try to answer.

In the meantime, if you're one of the many Hollywood companies fighting the same daily battle I am and you wanna meet up, shoot me an e-mail.  Let's help each other.  As for right now, I'm going to try and figure out the answer to the question that started this article: What the hell does a producer do again?