Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Are producer's born with the innate skills needed to succeed?

Sometime ago, I can't remember exactly when, I was at a conference or seminar listening to someone talking about the skills a film producer needs to be successful. The gist of their argument was that unlike the other (more technical) roles required during a film's production producers don't have any specific skills required to actually do that job.

The person went on to describe the role of the producer: they talk to writers, talk to directors, make phone calls, talk to financiers, bring people on to a project to get a job done and generally oversee the process of getting a film made and distributed from end to end. Their job is organisation and co-ordination. Whilst there are a hundred and one different things they have to do in the lifetime of a single project ultimately, the things that producers actually do (seemingly a lot of talking) are things that absolutely anyone with a mouth can manage.

This was compared to the technical roles - writers need to know how to craft narratives, director's need to know how to direct actors and pace action, cinematographer's need to know how to frame and work with light; sound recordists also need to know their onions as do make-up artists and gaffers and setdressers and editors and so on and so on. Basically, a film production is made up entirely of people who have specific craft skills that take years of training to master. All except one person, the producer!

So, says industry expert, anyone can be a producer!

Except, I don't think that's true. In fact I think it may be that the opposite is true and that actually a good producer is the one truly skilled person in the personnel of a movie production. To demonstrate the point lets first look at directors, or writers, editors or whatever. Yes, each of those roles requires training and experience to be done well but its not as if all of the people that occupy these roles are trained to some baseline standard. There are great directors and very, very bad ones but they are all directors nonetheless. Each of the specific roles on a film can be appraised and you can spot the good from the bad but can you tell a good producer from a bad one simply by looking at the results on screen? Perhaps bad producers don't get films made in which case there is no public evidence of their ineptitude.

I think my point is that you can train hard and be proficient as a craftsmen or technician - you may not set the world alight and you may only manage to deliver workmanlike results but with enough commitment anyone can become a passable director, editor, actor or cameraman.

Producer's on the other hand have to be able to talk the good talk, win a room, negotiate and conciliate, hire and fire and generally be all things to everyone. A good producer is, or should be, a people's person. Someone who knows how to get things done whilst pissing off the minimum number of people to do it! How can that not be a skill? And what's more how much of those things can be (or are) taught in formal training or through a dedication to personal development. Just as we think that some people are born to be good at sports and others good at art and others to be strong personalities then could it be that producer's are born with some of the qualities (or at the very least develop them at an early age) to be good at what they do?

Perhaps the above description of a producer is naive! Perhaps what I've described is the sort of producer I would like to be but is not a real reflection of most producers in the real world. Afterall, film producers do tend to have a reputation for being scumbags! But I would argue that those producers who do shout and are generally abusive are bad producers.

I can see that there are a number of obvious flaws in my above argument and it is fairly simplistic. However, it leads me to some questions that I, at least, find pertinent. What is a producer? And more importantly, what is a good producer? What qualities does he/she need to succeed and are their skills in any way innate or can they be developed in the same way that directors learn their craft?