Interview Project: Life of a Producer

Who doesn’t like to watch movies or television? Movies and T.V. are the ways in which we tell stories today. Certain films or shows can have such an impact on our society. But most of the time when we watch a show all we really care about is the show itself, whether find it worthy of taking the time to watch it or not. The fact is for all of the movies and shows that get made, there are a great deal that do not. We really don’t think about the process of getting a movie made. We know all the names of the actors and some of the directors, but what about everyone else? There are always a lot of people credited as producers, but what do they do?I set out to find more about these mysterious people and what their job entails. To do so I interviewed a producer to find more about their job and the work they behind the scenes.

More and more people want to get into the film industry, but it is becoming more and more difficult. Part of the reason is the amount of competition. One way people try to get into the industry is through film school. There are a growing number of applicants into film schools every year. An example of this can be seen using USC. In 2011 4,800 people applied to its film school to fill only 300 spots. But just the year before there were only 2,800 applicants (here). So basically there is a growing demand for film jobs but not enough to supply all of the demand. This means that the people who do breakthrough into the industry have to work extremely hard to get there, and even more so once they are in. It is such a time demanding job because there is a “what have you done for me lately” atmosphere. And if you don’t succeed than you are kicked to the curb because there are ten other people waiting in line for your job.

I interned at a production company called The Allegiance Theater last year. They are a small company that seek out scripts and novels and try to get the rights for them. They then work on the stories and try to sell them to studios. It is a fairly new company so they don’t have many films that have gotten made. I contacted the assistant and she told me about a new girl who was hired not long after I left. I told the assistant about this project and she gave me the contact information for this new producer. Her name is Carly Norris and she is not even thirty yet and already has a high level job at a production company. But I wanted to know more about her life as a producer. There are hundreds of producers, maybe even more. When you watch a movie there could be at least a dozen people that are given some type of producing credit, from executive producer, to co-producer, even co-executive producer. And then there are all the people involved who didn’t even get screen credit.

M: So why did you want to become a producer?
C: Well, I always loved movies. Early on in my life I wanted to be an actress, but I knew that wasn’t going to work out. One of my family’s friends was a producer so I knew a little bit about producing. It seemed like a cool thing to do and to be involved in making movies. So I started interning at some production companies and before I knew it I started making money at became a producer.

M: So you had to work yourself up?
C: Oh yeah. Like I said I started interning and from there I worked as an assistant for a little bit. Then I finally got hired to be in development and so on. I still consider myself to be working myself up to become more established and perhaps one day if I am lucky enough maybe have my own production company.

M: What is the hardest part about being a producer?
C: Umm, everything. Being a producer pretty much takes up your entire life. There is really no time off. You may have meetings all day about projects then when you go home you are still searching for new ideas either from scripts or books. It is never ending. And you may spend years trying to get an idea made but it just doesn’t happen, so it feels like you did all that work for nothing. And you may not even get paid until something gets bought. There is a lot of uncertainty in this profession.

M: Do you tend to focus on finding material that you really connect with or that you think you can sell.
C: I think it has to be a little bit of both. I’m not going to devote a chunk of my time and effort to work on something that I don’t care about. It makes my job much easier if I want to produce a project. However, I know I don’t live in a world where I get to make all the decisions. I don’t have enough money of my own to make a movie for millions of dollars. When deciding about a project I have to try and think how other people would react to the same project. If I know that it is too offbeat and won’t garner a large audience, unfortunately I may have to pass no matter how much I connect with the story. I must remember I have to try and make stories not just for me but for others as well, and that includes the public and heads of studios because they are the ones that make the decision. There is nobody, not even the biggest stars in the world who could make anything they want unless they are able to finance it themselves.

M: Has there ever been a project that you really loved but just weren’t able to do anything with?
C: There was one script that I came by which I really did love. I thought if I got the right director it really could be something special. I went everywhere I could hoping to get it green lit, but unfortunately no one did. But I don’t like to say that I quit. I still have it saved on my computer. I like to think that it was just the wrong time and maybe somewhere down the road I could try working at it.

M: Has there ever been a story you sold that you did not like that much.
C: Yes. There was this comedy script about a bunch of stupid frat boys. The only reason I got involved with it is because I knew someone who was interested in buying it. It wasn’t like it was the worst thing ever, but it definitely wasn’t very engaging. I’m not surprised that it hasn’t actually gotten made yet.

M: Have you thought of the line that you will not cross in order to make a living out of this career? For example, producing adult entertainment?
C: Ha. That is not a question that I was expecting. Well I never thought about going into the adult entertainment business but the answer is no. I would rather quit and work as a waitress than make porn movies.

M: Have you thought about quitting this profession?
C: I think every rational person thinks about getting out of this business every once in a while. It is a grueling industry and there are definitely times when it is not worth it. It is not just a career but it is a life. I’m sure if I don’t get to my goal I probably would have to sit down and think about my future and perhaps change my plans. But all you need is that one big break. That is what everyone is waiting for and that is what gives us hope each day.

M: So would you say living this life you’ve chosen is worth it?
C: I think it is to early to say that. Nobody wants to read bad scripts all day. Like I said before you just keep going to hopefully get to that day when you have some pull in this town and can make the projects you are passionate about. If I am lucky to get to that place one day than I do believe that everything I went through will have been worth it.

M: What is that goal you have in mind?
C: Well I suppose it is to be successful at producing. I don’t expect to be a multi-millionaire like Jerry Bruckheimer. I would like to be able to films that I am passionate about and have other people enjoy them as well. I don’t think there is a point in time when you say to yourself that you are successful because you are always worried about what is next. So maybe when I am old and retired and have earned a nice bit of money and can proudly way that I was a part of this so-and-so film, then I could think about the success that I have had. But I guess the longer I am able to support myself in being a producer the more successful I am.

So hopefully from now on you will be a little more aware of the producer’s life behind the camera. We tend to focus on the actors on screen and the director of a movie. But we never think about those producers. I am not saying that the producer has the most important job, but they certainly are an under appreciated one, especially in the eyes of the public. So perhaps from now on when we think about movies we like because certain actors are in it, maybe we could have similar feelings towards producers.

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