Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: "FilmCraft: Producing"

FilmCraft: Producing
By Geoffrey Macnab & Sharon Stewart
Focal Press, 2013


“The way I see it, my function is to be responsible for everything.”
n  David O. Selznick

“What is a producer? An enabler.”
                                    Jeremy Thomas

So what is a movie producer? A visionary who brings cinematic glory to life, despite all odds? A blackhearted bastard who reduces people and ideas to numbers? The new installment in FilmCraft’s anecdotal survey of cinema, “Producing,” does its best to answer the question. It’s a hallmark of the position that it is both so nebulous and so all-encompassing that you still may be confused about what it involves even after reading the book.

The producer does indeed do everything – from finding scripts and directors to back, digging up financing, generaling the logistics of the shoot, securing distribution, generating publicity – and anything else that needs to get done to make a movie come to life.

Despite the auteur theory, it’s the producer who picks up the Oscar for Best Picture each year, an acknowledgement of the ultimate responsibility of the producer to make things happen. And, although the titles of producer, associate producer, executive producer, etc. are flung about liberally these days, usually as an honorarium for a substantial cash contribution, the buck still does indeed stop with the producer.

“FilmCraft: Producing” follows its usual m.o., which is an anecdotal and not an analytical approach, lavishly illustrated. No fewer than 16 prominent contemporary figures, such as “Avatar”’s Jon Landau, Jon Kilik (“The Hunger Games,” much Spike Lee), Jan Chapman (Jane Campion’s long-time partner), discourse in cut-together monologues about their experience and approach. There is as well a quartet of profiles from the past – Selznick, Korda, De Laurentiis, and Balcon.

The variety of experience outlined here clearly demonstrates that a producer’s involvement and structuring of each project can be radically different. The highly structured, hierarchical paradigm of Hollywood’s Golden Age still exists, to some extent, and churns out international product efficiently. The American indie movement, where many of today’s top producers learned their trade in the DIY spirit of the time, is fading fast. The producer must constantly keep his or her skills honed and be ready to adopt new techniques – whether it means CGI or fundraising.

“FilmCraft: Producing” suffers a bit from its anecdotal approach in this instance. Unlike more concrete crafts such as editing and cinematography, producing is so ill-defined by nature that, after hearing from all the participants, the ultimate impact is less informative and cohesive than in other FilmCraft volumes.

If, as it is said in the book, that each film production is akin to creating a startup company, the demands of the job span both diplomacy and ruthlessness, exacting planning and foolish faith, persistence and energy. For those who seek information about the craft from highly respected industry leaders who are working now, “Producing” is a good place to start.

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