The film industry’s recent equity era turned executives, financiers and, sometimes, stars into “producers” but, in reality, that is often not where the real credit is due.
When Sandra Bullock won her Golden Globe last weekend for The Blind Side, she thanked the film’s producer Gil Netter not just “for producing” but she added “for actually producing”. The distinction brought to light once more how the producer label is so easily abused in Hollywood and outside, and how real producers who “actually produce” can often be marginalised in the face of executives, financiers or stars who suddenly fancy themselves producers.
I was amused to read in the press notes for the recently released The Book Of Eli that the film’s star, Denzel Washington, was “so taken with the story that, when initially approached for the title role, he also signed on as a producer”. While Mr Washington no doubt contributed greatly to the film behind the camera, quite how he “produced” the movie is anyone’s guess especially with Joel Silver, David Valdes and Alcon’s Broderick Johnson and Andrew A Kosove also on board as producers.
On the other hand, Invictus was produced by its star Morgan Freeman and his business partner Lori McCreary and they “actually produced” the film, optioning the material, hiring a writer, working on a few drafts and then approaching Clint Eastwood to direct.
It’s a fine line between the real producers and those who grab a producer credit because they can. In the recent equity era, many private financiers or high-net-worth individuals suddenly became movie producers and numerous film-makers suffered for it. On the one hand, they were thrilled when they had the money locked down; on the other hand, when the film was taken away from them or the money wasn’t released until certain changes were made, they realised they had no recourse.
“It’s a fine line between the real producers and those who grab a producer credit because they can.”
When your financier is also your producer, you haven’t got a producer to protect you from the financier. Look at Christine Vachon, one of the greatest independent producers of our time. Vachon will do anything to protect her film-maker and, while she may have a reputation as a ball-buster, it certainly means you want her on your side.
Alas, there aren’t too many producers of her calibre around. An editor friend of mine was recently working on back-to-back “producer’s cuts” of two independent movies. By day, she did the producer’s bidding, making changes to the directors’ vision. By night, she called up the directors and told them what was happening to their films. It’s not a pleasant process but it’s one that is increasingly common, especially for young directors who haven’t got the standing or track record to pull their weight. I even know stories of - producers’ discouraging film festivals from inviting directors or preventing them attending premieres.
Of course the Producers Guild of America and PACT in the UK have stepped up their efforts lately to ensure the real producer is given credit. The Academy works with the PGA to establish “real producer” credits on Oscar-nominated films in order to ensure that no executives or financiers take the trophy for work they didn’t do.
But the liberal use of the term, and the abuse of the credit, continues.
Which is a pity when you look at the real independent producers out there putting together their projects with ingenuity, patience and resourcefulness. Many have to make compromises to get the film made, not just in financial deferment (almost a given these days) but in reduction of credit.
I often wonder how many of them make a living, and admire how they pick themselves up when a director or actor drops out on a whim and they have to start all over again. I salute the real producers who actually produce. May they get all the credit and compensation they are due.