Film Producing: Leave Your Ego at the Door

The line between being passionate about what you do and being a egotist is a fine one. In entertainment, you trip over more egos than cracks in the sidewalk. But are people really arrogant or does the ego act as a front for incredibly thin skins?

In filmmaking, there are two types of people: creatives and sellers. The creatives can be directors, writers, actors, or anyone that is focused on the art or craft of the film. The sellers are focused on numbers and how to market the final product. When these two groups come together, egos often collide.

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But filmmaking is a business, and business isn’t personal.  There isn’t time or money to walk on eggshells, especially when working in low budget situations.

Whenever I say I’m a producer, I usually get a sideways look or a telling sarcastic nod saying, “Oh, you’re one of those.” I’m villainized. I kill creativity. I only think in terms of money and what will sell. While this is true in some cases, without a “seller’s” mindset or approach, the “creative darling script” that was a labor of love for months, would not get off the ground.

When a script is optioned by a producer or production company, it is because they see potential in the concept or story. But it is near impossible that a first draft makes it directly to the screen without changes made along the way. This is not a personal attack on the writer. It’s an adjustment for marketability and revenue potential.

It’s not you, it’s the market. 

district 9For example: In 2008/2009, the market was flooded with docu-drama monster movies like District 9, Cloverfield, and Quarantine. Even Gareth Edwards continued the fad with Monsters in 2010. Saturation of the genre forced producers and productions companies to start looking for the next trend since audiences were over the fad. But, as a writer, more often than not, you’re not privy to what studios want next.

You have to anticipate the next trend before it happens. If you bring a well-crafted, well-written script that is more of the same, it has a slim chance of getting made. It has nothing to do with your talent as a writer. And the same goes for a finished film. If the final film doesn’t sell to a distributor or reach the heights you hoped for, take the temperature of the market before villainizing the film industry.

Filmmaking is a team sport with newbies and veterans. Newbies don’t have the chops or experience to be arrogant. I was pulled into a project to assist a producer and new director on a feature film. We had a productive first meeting with a long list of to-dos for the next ten days before principal photography. Just three days later, the whole project was called off because of an argument. The producer expressed concerns over rookie mistakes the director was making on such a tight deadline. The director fired the producer. I was left holding my list of to-dos, shocked that something so trivial could break up the film and a friendship.

It is paramount to take constructive criticism and have a thick skin. But, it can also go too far.

I had a discussion with a fellow producer several weeks ago where all they did was talk about their achievements and opportunities. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise, so I politely nodded and sipped water in between checking the time. For thirty minutes, I listened and even was handed an article published in the paper describing their accolades. When the meeting finally commenced, there wasn’t enough time to cover all of the pertinent points to the project. I realize I should have spoken up, but the situation was awkward since this meeting was contingent on tardy colleagues lending itself to another discussion about being on time.

As we said our goodbyes and promises to follow up later, I was told, “Maybe in three years, you’ll have as many credits as me.” Even though I took offense to this, I chalked it up to the need to protect our thin skins in this incredibly competitive field.

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Time is money. With both in short supply, just leave your ego at the door. No one has time to tip-toe over creative egos nor listen to self-affirmations. If everyone just talked about what they do or have done, nothing would ever get finished. Show the world through actions instead of words and the work will speak for itself.

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