Answer by Robert Evans, producer and author:
I am often asked to define the term producer. These days it can be anyone from a financier to the fiancé, but a real producer is the guy who employs everyone, including the director.
Directors currently have the right to what’s known as the “film by” credit, but this is a misnomer. In reality, the film is “by” the producer, without whom it wouldn’t exist.
A producer must understand every aspect of the filmmaking process. He or she must be able to recognize talent in others in order to build a skilled cast and crew. He needs the nagging gene to relentlessly follow up on even the tiniest detail. He needs a gambler’s instinct, a juggler’s skill, and the balls to see the process through to the end.
Unfortunately, greed is the industry’s biggest problem. Monetary remuneration is considered its measure of success, dictating a poisonous and amoral deportment by the participants responsible for dreamland’s products.
Sadly, it ain’t dreamland. That is the highest hurdle a filmmaker must overcome.
* * *
Answer by Stan Hayward, film, TV, and book writer:
What do you mean by “successful”? Do you mean successful like:
- Orson Welles, who rarely made box office movies in spite of being one of the best known producers of great movies
- Woody Allen, who just about breaks even on his productions in spite of winning lots of awards
- Jean Luc Godard said, “The art of making films is the art of getting money to make them.” Godard changed cinema with his editing techniques—and found it difficult to get backing.
- Luis Buñuel is regarded as one of the most imaginative producers and directors in history. He rarely made money.
- Stanley Kubrick, a genius by most standards, did not live in a Hollywood mansion with all the usual bling.
- Norman McLaren's films changed cinema in more ways than just about any other filmmaker
Or do you mean box office success with popcorn movies? The usual recipe for successful movies is: Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em think. The other bit is: Make 'em pay.
The normal path trodden by Hollywood producers is:
- Make a sequel to an already successful film
- Do a remake of a past successful film
- Make a movie of a successful book
- Make a movie of a successful TV show
- Make a movie with a successful star
- Make a movie using a new technique
- Make a movie of a recent scandal
- Make a movie of a big news item
- Make a movie of a current or recent social hero
But these are not a guarantee of box office success, as we know from movies that bomb at the box office in spite of coming from top studios.
Producers have little control over the success of a movie. The movie industry has changed considerably over the past 50 years. There was a time when cinemas had one screening a day and two on weekends. They showed A and B movies, plus a cartoon or short, and had a few advertisements. On top of which there was a nice lady with a tray of ice cream and sweets you could buy during the interval. You were allowed to smoke in the back seats, and someone with a scent spray would walk up and down the aisle spraying the air a few times. It was a night out.
Today, movies have to be made for a global market, so they are limited in what they can cover without offending someone. There are the competing forms of TV, Internet, DVDs, etc. There are fewer new ideas to present, so most movies deal with versions of established ideas. Effectively just about every movie is a cowboy film. And cinemas don't actually make much money on tickets; they rely a lot on sales.
So, in all, any formula for a producer would have to take all of these into account.
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