Just this past Sunday, I was having lunch with someone who asked what exactly I’m doing on this upcoming Kentucky production, M30 OXY MOVIE. “I’m one of the producers.” “What does a producer do?” She inquired. I get asked this question all the time. Can you believe I was asked by my recent ex-girlfriend after we dated for a couple of months? She even watched me work on set!
Most common moviegoers don’t know what a producer does. Heck, I’d wager most people getting started in the movie business, as actors or background extras, don’t even know. Before I get into the job description, let me remind readers that the producers accept the award for Best Picture at the Oscars, not the director.
The simple answer is the producer organizes the movie. The producer carries the picture from the beginning to the end. Sometimes the producer even hires someone to write the initial script, based off his/her concept or source material he/she has optioned. A project isn’t always spearheaded by a director, especially in Hollywood. The producer administrates and facilitates the movie from pre-production to production to post-production and often times through distribution. The producer hires (and sometimes fires) cast and crew. The producer works hand-in-hand with the director to bring his or her vision to existence, ideally creating an environment where he or she and collaborators can do their best job. Regardless of who is boss (director or producer), the producer is often the backbone of the production.
In my opinion, it’s the hardest job in the movie business. It was way harder to produce 12 Westerns than it was to direct them. Producing entailed everything from raising the money, setting the schedule, choosing the cast and crew, finding them lodging/food, sourcing the gear, securing the insurance, and making sure it all didn’t fall apart on one film while planning the other upcoming productions. I’d also say I’m a better producer than I am a director, even if I enjoy the latter experience much more. Of course, on an independent level, these roles often blend together. It’s very difficult to find someone who truly knows what being a producer means and is cut out for the job when you’re working on a low budget. After twelve years of doing this and going through many candidates, I’ve had a lot of great help but never met someone who could live up to the position. When I worked on TERROR ON THE PRAIRIE last year, I was encouraged to work alongside Dallas Sonnier and Amanda Presmyk, two tried and true producers. Now I know they do exist, even if they’re few and far between. Here is one more story to illustrate what I think being a producer really means:
Let’s flashback to 2016 and explain the photograph below. I was “hired” (without pay) to help produce a film by cult director Alex Cox. The film was called TOMBSTONE RASHOMON, an offbeat riff on the Western genre and Kurosawa’s classic. Some of you may remember the production. We had a relatively small crew, budget, and one of the tightest shooting schedules I’ve ever worked with (the whole film was shot in six days with two units working at the same time). There were two producers, including myself. One of them spent 90% of the shoot sitting in the production office on his laptop, flirting with the BTS girl in his spare time. That, for the record, is not producing.
In the meantime, I was present for as many scenes as possible. I coordinated between departments, helped the Assistant Director (a great guy I’d go on to work with again) make sure we stayed on schedule and got the shots we needed, corresponded with Alex to make sure his vision was coming to life, and kept a close eye for any problems that might arise. When I wasn’t busy doing that, I ran water bottles for the cast/crew to stay hydrated in the desert heat. At one point, we needed horse manure cleaned off the street for an upcoming shot. No one took initiative so I picked up the pooper scooper and got it done. Alex remarked, “Travis, you don’t need to do that. You’re a producer.” “No one else was doing it,” I said.
To me, that’s perfect illustration of producing. A producer cleans up the crap.