Trite but True: A Closer Look at Filmmaking Advice from One Producer to Another
Scott Macaulay shared a few pointers he had received from fellow producers over the years — wisdom that he initially dismissed as eye-roll inducing industry platitudes that had little relevance in the real world of filmmaking. But over the course of his career, he found that their words held much more weight than he previously thought. If the advice given to Macaulay is reduced to its base elements, I think that what remains are universal and beneficial lessons for all creatives, namely filmmakers — important guidance that if considered, may offer a new perspective of the industry, and help steady your footing as a filmmaker.
Originally published almost 10 years ago, Macaulay’s article for Filmmaker Magazine describes these words of wisdom as “vague, counterintuitive, or just plain silly,” even “Erma Bombeck-ish.” From the perspective of a producer, the advice seems too simple, too trite to carry the weight of a complex and merciless industry, but Macaulay explains how powerful it became later on in his career.
It’s interesting to see how relevant their pearls of wisdom became to all types of filmmakers once their roots were exposed. Take the first one for example: Macaulay shares what producer and Focus Films co-president James Schamus (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) said to him:
When seeking financing for a film, don’t get people to say “yes.” Get them to say “no” and move on.
Macaulay describes how working with a flakey person hurt his project, because he was able to convince himself that “their ‘yes’ was truly a ‘yes’,” instead of accepting that perhaps the individual just wasn’t that interested in the project. Which, at its base, says: Work with people who match or exceed your passion.
I’m sure most of us have experienced working with people on a project who heaved copious sighs every time we’ve requested another take, tighter editing, or revisions to a screenplay. Independent filmmakers have enough working against them to be encumbered by tepid collaborators. Plus, enthusiasm shows on the screen. Most of the time, putting your time and energy into convincing someone to work on your project, when they really, really couldn’t care less about it, is a wasted investment. Get them to say “no” move on.
Another tip to consider from Macaulay’s list came to him from French producer Jean-Luc Ormieres, who explained that when producing a film, you can take a gamble on the script, the director, or the cast, but you must choose only one. This gives great insight into what some producers may be thinking when considering films.
Taking chances on a project can pay dividends in the end, because the very nature of doing so means that there’s something out of the ordinary there — an original story, a new voice from a director, a new talented actor. But, maybe this would be a good thing to think about when making your film: are you finding that you’re gambling on more than just one of those things listed – or maybe on other things pertaining to your project?
I think it’d be wise for all of us to ask ourselves what we’re willing to give up in order to widen our gait and inspire confidence in others who will eventually have to take on investing in us — be it a big time producer or a PA. None of us want to make sacrifices in order to get a film made. In an ideal world, our darlings would live forever, but sometimes some need to die in order for the rest to live.
What do you think about the advice Scott Macaulay received? Let us know in the comments.
[Correction: Regarding Macaulay's tips about gambling on a film's script, director, or cast, it's not about mitigating overall risk,
[Film Reel photo by Flickr user Livingstudios]