This is a hard blog post for me to write primarily because in many of my past films I’ve taken on both roles, but also because to fully address this issue I’ll have to hold up my hand and admit my own inadequacies in one of these areas. Before we get into the weeds, let’s take a quick look at the roles of the producer and the director in a film and then we’ll discuss why you shouldn’t be both.
(As an aside, there is no right way to make a film. There are however many wrong ways to make one. Everything here is based on my experience and understanding. If your experience is different, let me know in the comments and start a conversation. That way we can all learn together)
Firstly the producer. “Producer” is a title that means many things, and if you’ve crowd funded a film it’s likely that you’ve given it out to someone as a perk. In reality though a producer is the person or persons primarily responsible for the financial success of a film. They are ideally the first one in on a project and the last one out. Their job starts with greenlighting a film and finding initial funds, and ends with distributing the profits (if any) to the investors. They will guide the film through pre-production, production, post, and distribution, and will only lay it to rest when they’ve sold all the rights to the film.
The director, on the other hand, is chiefly responsible for the artistic quality of the film. He or she will lead a crew and steer a cast in a unified direction to creat a single work of art. The director should, to some degree, be shielded from the scrutiny of the investors in order to have the freedom to explore new ideas and try new things without concern to the films bottom line. Which isn’t to say the director should be careless of the finances, but rather that the director’s best work will be enabled if budget considerations are left to someone else.
So with those working definitions, you can see why taking on both the role of the director and the producer would be a conflict of interest. At some point during the film the director will have an idea that is either risky or expensive and the producer will consider it too reckless and potentially a waste of money that will need to be paid back to the investor and if the director and producer are the same person, inevitably the producers pragmatism will win out and the result will be a rushed production that lacks the quality it needs to be financially successful. On the flip side, the director will want to get into the production as soon as possible and will likely skip or cut short the funding phase insuring that the production is cash strapped from the word go.
I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and I’ve been a part of it for most of my IMDb credits. Inevitably, stuff that would have been easy to do and would have increased the quality of production exponentially has been left on the table in order to squeeze the production into fewer days than it needed, or just to save a few hundred bucks.
This doesn’t just apply to narrative film either. When I worked in corporate, I found myself in the roles of both producer and director on almost every project. I was a terrible producer. I undercharged for almost everything I did, and was always having to concern myself with keeping the negative costs of our productions low enough for the profit to keep my company in the black... which was a constant challenge. As such my directorial decisions were constrained and never allowed to flourish and produce the sort of quality I knew I was capable of, which was honestly stifling and depressing and made me hate doing the work. Thats why, when I switched to narrative, I made an effort to drop all pretense of being a producer and focused solely on being a director.
Unfortunately, to date, focusing on one of the two roles has been rather unfruitful. I live in Greenville, SC, a charming city with a thriving arts community, but that has yet to extend to film. For whatever reason, it seems that people here do not value film as an art (yet) the way they value theater, or sculpture, or painting. As such it is almost impossible to find a real producer, someone who can navigate the film through the entire process starting with pitching investors. This means that, even though I’m trying to focus on directing, if I want to work I still have to put the producer’s hat on and somehow function as both.
So here I am, with a script, with the talent, with the vision, and with the drive to make a great film that not only provides thrills for the audience but also challenges the status quo in a very relevant way, and I can’t get the project off the ground because I’m a terrible producer and haven’t even managed to get any potential investor to respond to my emails requesting a meeting. So if you’re a producer that would be up for a partnership with a young director possessing both drive and vision, please hit me up. Until then I’ll be over here reading every book I can find on producing and refreshing my email continuously hoping one qualified investor will respond.