Directing is Producing. Screenwriting is Producing. Acting is Producing.

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This is part 1 of a series.

On Saturday, Christopher Nolan addressed the Slamdance Film Festival. He said something incredibly important:

“What Slamdance teaches you is that while it’s wonderful to have a great community of filmmakers around you, you have to be prepared to do everything yourself”

If you’re like me, you got into this crazy industry in hopes of becoming an “employed creative” — a director, a writer or perhaps an actor. I’d like to say I wasn’t stupid enough to expect those kinds of opportunities would just pop up, but I may have been. Especially when you hear hyperbolic stories about agents and people seemingly falling into more work than they can handle. The reality is that you’re the only one who is going to create those opportunities. If you want to (insert creative outlet here) on a production, it’s time to put on your producer’s hat.

In this post, we’ll share some of the (boring, at least at first) nails that need to be hammered down before your can get in your creative zone.

“Producer” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Especially not in this context. To be honest, I always thought that the producer’s job must be pretty boring. Paperwork! Not for me. What I’ve learned though, is to think along the lines of “if I can solve this problem,  I’ll be free to direct this part of the film the way I want to.” In the end, I’ve really learned to enjoy the producing part of making films and video. Because when you do what Nolan says and “do everything yourself”, it’s even more rewarding.

We’re going to share more about just who and what a producer is/does, but for now, let’s talk about what needs to happen to get your production on its feet.

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Even the cheapest film is going to take some bucks, and most take many. If you don’t have a lot of patience, you’re going to be financing your film on your own. Do yourself a favour and don’t put it all on a credit card. Being a filmmaker is a great excuse to get your financial house in order and there are plenty of free resources to help you do that. Find a thought leader on the topic that you’re a fan of and start budgeting (another producer crossover…). And if you’re in debt, get out. Then pile up cash for your film.

Crowdsourcing is an incredible new model that certainly works, but it doesn’t work all the time. Just because the Veronica Mars movie pulled in more than $5 million doesn’t necessarily mean that your movie can pull in $50K. And that doesn’t mean your work is lesser, it just means you haven’t yet built your audience. Building Your Audience is an entire topic in and of itself, so stay tuned for more information on it.

If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, and you’re willing to work for it, a grant is certainly worth your time. Not just because being successful means you have a budget for your film, but because even the process of writing a grant can be an invaluable look at your prospective film. Often, grant applications will force you to think about your film in ways you hadn’t thought of before, asking questions you may not have thought about. Even if your film isn’t quite ready to apply for a grant, do it anyway! You don’t actually have to send it in, but going through the application process can often add some richness to your film, in addition to brushing up on the logistical and administrative skills you’ll need when you do apply. Which leads us to…

Logistics and Project Management

Another hugely transferrable skill! Where are you going to hold auditions? How are you going to get the word out? Where are you shipping your film? What if they magnetize it? Your grant is due tomorrow in another city, how isit getting there? Your Kickstarter campaign went great, but now you need to send out all these “thank-you” notes, t-shirts, and original soundtracks on vinyl… not to mention flying in and putting up the guy from Dallas who donated $4000 to attend the premiere!

Again, nobody is going to do these things for you, so you have to dive in. Don’t worry if you make mistakes, but make sure you apologize if you do.

“The system is the solution” – AT&T

Once you have some really strong systems in place, you’re going to be able to get more done faster and you’re going to be more confident in your abilities as a producer. Here are some tools I live by.

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  • Try Inbox Zero. There’s nothing I’ve done to my own work flow that has made me more productive. Do you have 2100 e-mails sitting in your inbox? Are 200 of them unread? It’s time to clear that crap out! Take an evening and file them all away. They don’t even need to be filed into specific folders. When I first did it, I quite literally created a folder called ’05-’08 and threw everything from those years into it. Make sure to go through the last few months though, you’ve probably missed getting back to someone or completing a task you’d meant to. Once you’ve got your inbox down to zero, it becomes the constant goal. Wake up to ten new e-mails? Clear them out. Now your e-mail is your most powerful to do list. Don’t file or delete the e-mail until you’ve completed its associated task. Suddenly, you’re paying your bills early just to get back to inbox zero!
    TOOLS: MAILBOX “Put e-mail in it’s place”. FOLLOW UP THEN “Free and easy e-mail reminder”.

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  • It seems that many people still don’t know about iCloud, even people who own an iPhone. iCloud is Apple’s free, wireless cloud syncing service. If you live in a Mac ecosystem, you need to be using iCloud. Type up some notes for your upcoming meeting on your Mac and they’re waiting for you on your phone. Add a contact to your phone at a convention, it’s available on your iPad. Take a photo on your iPhone and watch it pop up in iPhoto a moment later. All the syncing happens behind the scenes and you never have to connect your devices to make it happen. The other thing I love about Apple is the way all of their apps talk to each other. If you use Mac Mail and someone sends you a quick e-mail that says “Dinner tonight at 6PM?” you can literally hover over that text and a drop down appears from nowhere inviting you to add the event to your calendar. Add the location based on your contacts app and iCal will add in the driving time it’ll take before you get there to your calendar. This isn’t a Mac vs. PC thing, you may find a better system with an Android phone and Google. This is what works for me.
    TOOLS: Calendar, Contacts, PhotoStream

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  • Scenechronize is an incredibly powerful tool that also deserves its own post. You can create a production schedule or even generate sides. You can also keep track of your entire crew and contact list and use it for distributing scripts and call sheets so you never miss anyone.

Next time in the series, we’ll talk about self promotion & marketing and people & crew.

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About the Author:

Matt Watterworth a is a 28-year-old filmmaker in Alberta, Canada. He graduated from the SAIT Polytechnic Film & Video Production Program in 2008 and followed that up with 4 years learning from the brilliant minds at one of Canada's top ten production companies. He claps better than anyone you know and, tragically, still wishes to be Batman.
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