First, an apology for leading you on with my last blog post. We will not be discussing co-writing today; instead we will tidy up a previous promise for more on the writer/producer relationship. Second, a word about why it has taken me so long to follow up on this topic.
I have ruminated, deliberated, cogitated and sublimated this topic, I have not procrastinated. I never procrastinate, some things just need more mulling time than others and this would be one of those times. That would be because it is time to progress in talking about our relationships with producers from the attracting their attention to the keeping their attention and of course on to getting them to the sign-the-cheque phase.
In all honesty with regards to the film and television business, this is an area of expertise in which I’m almost completely lacking. Yah, you read that right. I’m admitting to not knowing much about the topic into which I’m about to dive. But far be it for me to let ignorance stop me from shooting my mouth off about something. So fair warning these insights might be worth just about what you paid for them.
One of the reasons I do have a little bit to say on this is that I sorta used to be a producer. But if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it. Earlier in my career I worked as a multi-media and themed attraction producer, mostly informal science education, games, websites, exhibits so there was a place and time when I did the proposal, the budget, hired the talent, the camera crew, the composer, etc. etc. But as the years and the projects flowed by I began to work under a Creative Director who earned his bones at Disney Imagineering. Which means he did things the Disney way. Even in a small company that involved separation of Church and State or if you prefer, the Creative team and the Production team. I landed on the Creative team. Now this was totally fine by me since I’m much happier facing down an empty page then I am haggling over DVD duplication costs or calculating the contingency fund. And so I became all about content and story and creating the experience. The fun stuff as more than a few envious colleagues characterize it. And they are right, it is the fun stuff.
It’s important now that I tell you why I got to do the fun stuff and why as an emerging film and TV writer I still get to do the fun stuff since it plays into the discussion of writer/producer relationship. It is because I’m better at it than most people. And that is something that I need to remember when I’m negotiating my relationship with a producer and you writers out there need to remember when you are negotiating your relationships. Not in a big snotty I’m the creative genius and my poo doesn’t smell so you should give me bags of money and not change a word kind of way. But know that you have value and what you do has value. What a Producer does has value too, never forget they get to do the bits that you don’t want to, and if you do want to, go forth and be writer/producer.
And by the way, the reason that I’m better at the creating thing than most of the schmoos that you know is not because I’m more creative. I’m not, we are all creative and we all have equal capacity to create if we both allow ourselves to, and teach ourselves how. The part that moves me from someone who writes a bad poem or knits a sweater now and then, to a creative professional is the learned stuff. It is learning how to brainstorm, learning how to explore and articulate ideas. Learning how to evaluate ideas for their ability to deliver factual or emotional content. Learning how to trust your ear and your heart. Learning that your insatiable curiosity and voracious reading are the things that feed your creativity. And oh yah, Learning to incorporate feedback. Sucks man, I know but if you want to create for a living you’re gonna need to create with people and for people, which sadly, for a megalomaniac like myself, bites.
And here we go now swerving back on topic now that you and I have bolstered our delicate little writer egos in the face of having to talk about the Sharks. Er. I mean Producers. Though, if you’ve seen The Player and/or Swimming with Sharks or any of dozens of movies that touch on the subject – did you catch Tom Cruise’s turn as Producer Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder? And if you have seen none of the above you are interested in being in this business exactly why?
In another swerve to avoid actually addressing this topic, there is a love scene in The Player that I think is one of the sexiest things ever put on film.
Okay, so safe to say Producers, by and large, have a bit of a Shark like rep. And in truth a producer needs to be assertive and definitive and have strong leadership qualities. Unfortunately some believe the title Producer is license to be the part of the donkey immediately under the tail. It is not. And if you are wise you will search out and woo the kind of producer that is really a Dolphin in Shark’s clothing. Someone who wants to play with you, loves you, loves your stories, and believes that you can make something great happen together. Not to say that they shouldn’t look like a Shark to certain people in a certain light and if they are fighting for the creative integrity of your work with the studio or the network you won’t mind so much this occasional resemblance to the Shark. This photo (above) is a perfect example; it is in fact a Dolphin. Bet that surfer didn’t know that in the moment though, eh?
A word of caution. Even when you find yourself a nice group of Dolphins, they are gregarious creatures and, dare I say it? Not monogamous. In fact, one Internet source describes them as “one of the most sexual of creatures”. So if you are thinking that after they’ve kissed you once they’ll be back for more, or that what’s going on with your producer is in anyway a marriage type thing? Make sure you get a pre-nup, or black mail material – or better yet, both.
In closing I’ll just share yet one more example of my penchant (your word of the week) of pushing a metaphor to its most illogical extreme. I Googled “shark behaviour” in order that I could be totally accurate in my Producer/Shark comparison. Turns out Sharks aren’t as mean as I thought. Most Shark attacks are because the Shark is too dumb to realize you aren’t a Seal. More people are killed every year by bees, elephants, dogs, lightning bolts, and pigs than by sharks. So there you go. When in Hollywood don’t act like a Seal and you’ll be fine. But watch out for the Elephants.