This post was written by Ayelet Emma Regev Junger.
It’s no wonder that when aspiring filmmakers search for established producers on databases like IMDb, they look to see which person was instrumental in bringing certain films to life. Simply put, one looks to collaborate with whoever has the most and best-fitting producer credits, connoting the most relevant experience and contacts in getting a film developed, packaged, and funded, a prerequisite to making the film at all.
Executive producer, creative producer, associate producer, and line producer are all offshoots of the all-important producer role, suggesting that the credited individual was indispensable during the arduous quest towards bringing a film from an idea into a theater or television screen.
But an often-overlooked credit could be the key for a relative newcomer or outsider to get their foot in the door: the "Thanks," or "Thank You," "Special Thanks," and similar credits expressing gratitude.
Producers with a "Thanks" and "Special Thanks" credit obviously contributed something the film’s producers deemed helpful: an introduction, an idea, advice, information, and inspiration. While they didn’t get involved in the project fully, they eased the project along in a way the filmmakers thought remarkable, so they remarked. "Thank You" credits are often granted rather than requested or negotiated so it’s likely that the recipient asked for nothing in return, not even the awarded credit.
Those producers who, in addition to producer credits, have accumulated a decent amount of "Thank You" credits are more likely individuals that like to help and are able to do so. Beyond mere willingness, a "Thank You" credit also suggests the ability to help.
While there are loads of cold calls that we will inevitably have to make to move projects forward, some calls are more likely to yield fruit than others. If we prioritize producers with many "Thank You" credits, we will increase our chances of meeting someone helpful to our cause. A producer with many "Thank You" credits is more likely to pick up the phone, return a call, and extend a favor without necessarily wanting a piece of the pie. Often, they help because they like to help.
IMDbPro does not have a way to sort or prioritize the people that have had the most "Thank You" credits—and how ‘bout that, by the way?
The ability to sort by number of "Thank You" credits also benefits those being thanked. By becoming known for their ability and willingness to help, helpers ultimately will get their pick of the litter in terms of projects they might want to become more involved with, as they should. The "Thank You" credit is a “for he’s a jolly good fella” credit (or whichever moniker goes best with your preferred pronoun), and that should be noticed, and in fact, celebrated in our profession. Research on happiness shows both giving and receiving help increase individual well-being and are a step toward pushing the bounds of excellence in any industry. This is also a prime example of how a change in technology can shape an industry in a way that benefits its constituents. With artificial intelligence being the buzzword on everybody’s lips, we should keep in mind that we’re yet to exploit all available data with good old garden-variety intelligence.
Algorithm or no algorithm, a simple search can reveal who you might call first. Call the producers who are helpers. The ones with the "Thank You" credits. If you have to cold call, and if you’re a fairly new independent producer, you absolutely do, it’s good to keep in mind there’s a way to predict who is at least in theory more likely to be forthcoming. In fact, this is a back door into Hollywood because it helps focus your cold-calling efforts in a way that stacks the deck in your favor.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course; many producers are necessarily selective about who they help, but by and large certain individuals are more receptive to lending a hand than others.
When I transitioned into entertainment from a nearly decade-long career in law to follow my dream of producing movies, I knew nothing other than that I wanted to make movies and television shows. I couldn’t write. Well, not like a proper screenwriter, anyway. I could write like a lawyer and who wants to read, let alone watch, that? I never went to film school so I hadn’t the faintest clue how to direct. Admittedly, I’m not the most visual person. And I was 34 years old and had a family. Also, I didn’t live anywhere near Los Angeles and couldn’t move there. And I knew no one in Hollywood. Well, nearly no one.
The day I quit the law job I called everyone I knew that had anything, even remotely, to do with entertainment. It was a shortlist. My bet was “birds of a feather flock together,” and it wasn’t a miserable guess. It was amazing how many people were willing to entertain my very broad questions about my new career path. Questions like “what does a producer do?” and “how do I start?”
Several of those calls resulted in invaluable insights such as the advice of Gray Watson, with the Netflix marketing department at the time, whose simple advice was, “if you want to be a producer you have to make a movie."
He was right, of course. Calls to my shortlist also resulted in meaningful collaborations. Julie Berke and Dan McMellen come to mind, but I digress; that’s not the subject of this article.
I attended a film festival and Heather Buckley made an introduction to Corey Asraf, now my producing partner. I also met Gary Sherman, and we became friends. Then I started cold calling. And that was a… mixed bag. Yes, I made some lifelong friends like veteran Miami agent Tammy Green. But there were many naysayers, unreturned voicemails, even more unreturned emails, and even the occasional boilerplate “we do not accept unsolicited submissions,” i.e the please-stop-calling form response.
Look, I get it. It’s an overcrowded and highly litigious industry. But of those cold calls, some people took pity on me and threw in their two cents. Others took a chance on me by inviting me onto their project. And when I started thinking about it I realized that someone took a chance, in one way or another, on every single person in the entertainment industry.
There are countless notable examples of helpers that propelled me forward but, to focus on one in particular, early on, I called Joshua Astrachan. At the time, I was working on my very first feature and we were thinking of making an offer to a certain actor who Astrachan had worked with before. The actor ultimately declined our offer, by the way—so it goes. Either way, as the conversation went on, Astrachan, in the most unpretentious way, explained to me what the term “most favored nations” means. As I said, I was starting from scratch. He was encouraging and he knew his stuff. I left the call and reworked our casting plan.
We didn’t speak again after that, but the 20-minute call was immeasurably valuable to my knowledge and morale. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside Ananey, a Paramount company, and with Oscar-, Golden Globe-, Peabody-, and Independent Spirit Award-winning filmmakers.
I still cold call. A lot. Recently, I started as head of legal and business development for Red Coral, a production company and film fund. I still produce, and I couldn’t have done it without the helpers.
And so, to pay it forward as others have for me, I started holding “office hours.” Each week I dedicate an hour of my time to speak to a writer, filmmaker, or producer and help them through a career, financing, development, casting, or distribution impasse the same way people have helped, and still help, me on many occasions. The conversations I’ve had during my office hours have been super rewarding to me, to say the least, not to mention great networking. If you are in the position to help others, I encourage you to join me in offering such a service.
And so, I’ll end with a show of gratitude for the ones paying it forward and the ones asking for help, because it takes both to move our industry closer to its highest potential, experientially, creatively, and commercially.
Ayelet Emma Regev Junger is an award-winning, Miami-based producer, executive, and attorney. Prior to becoming a producer full-time, Mrs. Junger developed an extensive and proven track record handling matters concerning artists, agents, publicly-traded VOD companies, and other entertainment professionals, production studios, and film festivals. An innovative strategist at heart, Mrs. Junger enjoys applying her business acumen and creativity to compelling film and television projects.