Filmism.net Dispatch November 3, 2013

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Recently I've been thinking a lot about the question of what constitutes the term 'producer'. There are a lot of stories about it online, but it's very hard to capture definitively. A producer's job seems to apply to anybody associated with a film who makes any kind of business or creative decision but isn't the director.

At the big end of town, an A list star or director might simply pick up a phone, call another A list star or director, say 'hey, you need to talk to (insert name here) about this script I just read.' When audiences sit down to watch the finished product a few months later, the A lister will then have an executive producer credit and a fat cheque from their agent.

In the lo-fi and indie worlds, a producer will work alongside, just in advance of, or be one and the same as the director. He or she will knock on the door of the house and ask if the guerilla shoot films outside for a day. Run to the convenience store for bags of corn chips for the erstwhile craft service table. Make sure nobody's double booked the free editing suite at the university media lab. We like to think the producer on a large film does much the same (albeit with more money and a team of underlings) but as a project gets bigger, the definition grown murkier.

The line between a Hollywood blockbuster made by a big name studio for release on 3,000 screens and the low budget horror film shot in a backyard that doesn't even have a distributor is getting blurrier, so I hesitate to use words like 'official', 'major' or 'system' when describing how a movie reaches a screen, but when a movie comes from an established supply chain, often a producer can just be someone who contributes financing.

We've all watched the seemingly endless title cards of producers, executive producers, line producers and associate producers with incredulity, wondering why a movie needs as many producers as a football team needs players. Here's the extreme case of how Lee Daniel's The Butler ended up with 41 (yes, a four and a one) producers, for example.

But Hollywood itself knows how ridiculous the practice is, and there's usually something in motion by the industry to legitimise the term, most often when some film comes out with dozens of credited producers and the media and industry let out a collective 'this is ridiculous'. The latest attempt is that the Producer's Guild of America (PGA) have convinced all the major studios to adopt a seal of approval, mostly because 'real' producers want to be credited as having done the real work.

From now on when you see a name with the letters 'pga' after it in the credits, it's the Guild's guarantee that person has actually worked to get the movie made, not just gone to the beach for the day so the crew can shoot on the sun deck of their Malibu mansion.

For what it's worth, here's the definition of the term from the world's biggest repository of information, but I'm betting the word 'producer' will always be a very movable feast as everything from the technology to the economics changes faster than any of us can pin it down.

I also want to start sharing more reviews with you in the Filmism.net Dispatch. Like all film critics I see too many good movies fall by the wayside and get ignored in favour of the latest superhero sequel. Among those you should have sought out if you had the chance are;

  • Europa Report, a realistic and gripping space odyssey.
  • Byzantium, a vampire saga with a difference.
  • Don Jon, Joseph Gordon Leavitt's brash and accomplished directorial debut about a young guy and his love of porn.
  • Gravity, the film of 2013 so far.
  • The Lone Ranger. Like many supposed flops, it was unfairly maligned and isn't nearly as bad as you've heard.

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