Producers – Who needs them? – Page 2

        Category: #32 Spring 1995 | Article posted on: December 27, 2010

Sometimes directors are also producers, sometimes they also edit their own films, they take on a variety of roles but there are always several people working on it and ideally they all make creative contributions to the film. We are careful about the camera person we use or fussy about the editor we use because we recognize they have a valuable creative contribution to make to our film. If they did not have a creative contribution to make we could just pick them off the Street. The same applies to a producer. There is no one type of producer,” said Orly. “There is also a question of dynamics, if the film-maker and producer do not get on then the film is going to suffer. The trick is to find the right match.”

A director might be extremely competent technically, have very good ideas, but perhaps be less good at structuring a story, or writing a script. This is where the producer can make suggestions on bringing in other people who will complement the team for that particular project. Once the film is in progress the producer can act as a buffer ensuring the best possible working conditions for the director, making sure all the extraneous worries, pressures and so on are kept from the director so that he or she can concentrate on what they are doing. There may be financial constraints; or there may be broadcasting constraints such as pressure to change it slightly to fit a different kind of slot and so on. Producers have to protect directors from all that although at the same time be the realist and know the pressures of the market as well as the creative process. They will juggle all these irritations and not permit them to land on the directors shoulders, in this way they will have done their utmost to ensure the best possible film.

The second speaker was Mark Baker, director of The Three Knights, The Hill Farm and The Village. Mark started making films when he was sixteen and still at school. The idea of making a live-action film seemed impossible to him, whereas animation was achievable. “Working on an amateur basis you can do everything on your own. The results may not be brilliant but at the time you think it is really good,” said Mark. That experience made him realise he wanted to specialise in animation, not live-action. He went to art college to study animation and while there he made The Three Knights.

“Many art colleges do not understand what they are taking on when they start a film course,” said Mark. “They often regard animation as moving graphics, they see it as an extension of other things going on in the college. Once you start making those graphics move, adding sound effects to them, editing them and so on you are actually taking on the whole of film-making. You are tackling something even more complicated and that gives rise to all sorts of technical problems. Students do not get the right sort of technical tuition, they are given no inkling to the financing of film production, even though everything else in terms of help and equipment is provided. As a student you tend to think of that as boring stuff taken care of by some poor secretary ringing the labs and so on, you do not understand that is part of the film; which seems a shame, because being an animator and not a fine artist or a sculptor, once you leave that cosy environment you can’t carry on making films in that way.” Mark has done a little teaching and finds students are fearful about what is going to happen to them when they leave college. They have the idea they could work for someone else and make their own film in the evenings, while overlooking the fact that their college film-making is highly subsidised. They are working in an unrealistic environment. “In the outside world you can’t even watch your rushes without hiring a screening room, or spend a lot of time persuading someone to let you have something for free,” observed Mark.

“I left art college rather naively thinking I had made The Three Knights for £250. The BBC bought it for £800 and I thought I had made a profit. I reasoned that if they gave me another £800 I could make another film,” confessed Mark. However, in those days the BBC did not commission short animation films, they would simply buy films from festivals, the Canadian Film Board and so on.

After working for an animation company for a while he realised it was going to be very difficult for him to make his own film. He decided the only practical way to make another film was to go back to college. In fact, he applied to the National Film School. “The difference between the National Film School and art college is that they are organised in totally different ways. It is a ‘film’ school rather than an ‘art’ college and animation is just a part of the curriculum. For this reason I learnt some important things about film-making,” observed Mark. “At art college you tend to work as a loner, people are jealous of each other, and everyone wants to be a director and make their own film. You weren’t allowed to do that at film school, you had to apply to perform a certain function. You could be a student producer, sound engineer or an editor, and animator was just one of the categories. I had a resistance to working with other people because up until that time I had done my own editing and so on. I quickly realised it was great to be able to work with others and spread the worry of making a film.”

Even the film school cannot be a training for the outside world because everything is provided and students are willing to work long hours for free. Nevertheless, it did enable Mark to set up with a team of people he has worked with since. “Working under those conditions as students you become very loyal,” said Mark.

He left film school without having worked with a producer. There were producer students but animation was, at that time, regarded as an odd department. However, sound students could see the potential of working on animation as a way of really having fun with sound. Mark was also able to find an editor and a music composer.

When he left film school he went back to working on commercials and his next film, The Village, was produced by the company he was working for. “Although I was then working with a real producer I hadn’t chosen my producer in the same way I would choose an editor. I took what was on offer. Although it worked out well the balance of power was not in my favour because the producer was employing me,” said Mark.

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