Three professionals discussed their work at a Caribbean Film Mart panel on Friday and attempted to help an audience solve the age-old conundrum: what does a producer do?
“A producer is someone who will start from scratch,” said Aurélien Bodinaux of Belgium’s Neon Rouge Productions. “Looking at talent and trying to help them accomplish their goals… You’re the protector of the idea and the protector of the entire process.”
Bodinaux was joined by Shrihari Sathe of Infinitum Productions and Rachel Watanabe-Batton of Producers Guild Of America in a lively I Am A Producer! session moderated by Jan Miller of TransAtlantic Partners.
Sathe said the job among other things entailed pushing the director and writer to do the best they can.
“It’s having a healthy conflict,” he said. “The producer is like an architect and a contractor at the same time: you do the creative side of the overarching vision and put together the nuts and bolts to realise that vision… Sometimes ‘no’ helps you find the better ‘yes’.”
“It’s part-strategist, part-shepherd and connector,” said Rachel Watanabe-Batton of Producers Guild Of America.
All agreed that it was critical to strike a personal-professional balance that enabled the producer and director to gel as personalities while nurturing a piece of material that inspired mutual passion.
“It doesn’t matter if this person is the [biggest] genius,” said Sathe, who comes from a cinema theory and history background and got an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from Columbia University. “If the connection isn’t enough it’s not interesting enough to continue with the process.”
The New York and India-based producer cited a project he has been developing with an old film school friend for six or seven years. “I’m not going to walk away, because we have a personal connection and I believe in his work.”
At the other end of the spectrum Sathe parted company with a director even though he liked the material. “After six months I realised I couldn’t get on with this person. His aggression didn’t match my more pacifist behavior.”
“I like honesty,” said New York-based Watanabe-Batton, a self-styled activist who has studied arts and worked in the studio system. “Am I uniquely placed to help your film? If you think you could work with any number of producers, you should go with them.”
Bodinaux warned of the struggle within between discipline and desire. “There’s a production company and a producer and those are two different things. You can have conflict: you want to do something but it’s not good for your business.”
The Belgian recounted an occasion when he produced one of his own early directorial efforts and the results were not good. As a former actor who studied film, he learned quickly that he was better suited to bringing other people’s visions to fruition.
Watanabe-Batton returned to the notion of the producer as a shepherd and recalled working as an assistant to Peter Weir on the Los Angeles shoot of Fearless.
Production came to an abrupt halt when a car careened through a barricade blocking off access to the LA river and a person jumped out and collided with a van.
“Do you keep shooting? No, we didn’t. We didn’t know if this person was alive or dead. We were doing a movie about plane crash survivors and morally what kind of people would we be if we kept on shooting?”