g The Film Panel Notetaker: IFP Industry Connect: Producing 101

Sunday, April 29, 2007

IFP Industry Connect: Producing 101

***If anyone attended this event and stayed through the entire audience Q&A and wants to add any questions and answers I unfortunately missed because I had to leave to go to another panel discussion (Julie Delpy at the Apple Store Soho presented by Indiewire that I'll post soon), please post them in the 'comments' section. Thanks! - TFPN

IFP Industry Connect
Producing 101 & Benefit for the
Adrienne Shelly Foundation
Saturday, April 28, 2007

IFP Executive Director Michelle Byrd opened the program by introducing Andrew Ostroy, husband of the late actress and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly, who died last year and for whom The Adrienne Shelly Foundation is named. Andrew talked about the Foundation, which “supports the artistic achievements of female actors, writers and directors through a series of scholarships and grants, providing recipients with financial support and consultative access to the Foundation's advisory board of actors, directors, producers, composers, law, publicity, academic and trade professionals.” Shelly’s last film, Waitress, premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and opens in NYC on May 2 from Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Panelists:
Lydia Dean Pilcher (LP) – Producer, The Namesake
Peter Saraf (PS) – Producer, Little Miss Sunshine
Michael Roiff (MR) – Producer, Waitress

Moderator:
Jason Guerrasio (JG), Managing Editor, Filmmaker Magazine

(JG) How did you become producers?

(MR) Finished school in Boston. Worked as a management consultant. Did theater, improv and writing. Boston wasn’t the place to make a mark in entertainment, so went to Los Angeles. Mostly sat at coffee shops and talked about what I wanted to do. Did theater in L.A. Not a good idea. Goal was to be in film/tv. Raised money to make a film through business contacts. Went back east. Solicited scripts, mostly bad ones, until someone slipped him the screenplay for Waitress and he met with Adrienne and Andy.

(PS) Studied and worked in theater. Tried to get into film schools, but was rejected. Got a job as Jonathan Demme’s office manager. Was given a documentary to produce. Worked there for 10 years and then went out on his own.

(LP) In 1980, went to NYU Grad School around the same time as Spike Lee and Ang Lee. She was a fish out of water because she was making documentaries, which weren’t as hot as they are today. Took an entry-level job on feature films for studios and worked her way up. Started developing her own material in the 1990s. Met Mira Nair. Joined the team of Mississippi Masala as Associate Producer. Formed Cine Mosaic in 2002 to produce socially conscious feature films.

(JG) What tips can you give to be a successful producer?

(PS) Need to find great material. Learn everything you can technically, financially, etc.

(LP) It’s an apprentice business. Important to have mentors. Identify career path you admire. Determine what your vision is early on.

(JG) What lessons have you learned as a producer?

(PS) Just do it. Set a start date. We’re going to do it come hell or high water. People walk around saying they’re producers, but no one believes you, so you have to convince them. Your job is to be there and make sure everyone has what they want at all times. The crew should want to be there everyday.

(JG) How important is it for the producer to have good relationship with the director?

(MR) I was the luckiest guy in the world. Adrienne had an amazing vision. We worked hand in hand together.

(LP) Directing is the hardest job in the world. A great producer creates the environment for the director so he/she can make the creative process. Create a relationship of trust and collaboration. Be a third eye for the director. Teamwork brings everyone together on the set.

(JG) What’s your approach for searching for talent and material?

(PS) Through agents and by going to film festivals. There’s no one way to find material or talent. It ultimately comes back to the script. Share a vision and respect talent and the director.

(JG) Talk about your collaboration with Mira Nair.

(LP) A real privilege. Grown together in the business. Raised kids on film sets. She’s incredibly passionate. Share mutual interests in culture, arts and politics. The material is generated in man ways. For example on Kama Sutra, we read a short story, then commissioned the screenplay. Mira likes to maintain creative control, so we mainly finance her films through international markets.

(JG) How do you juggle financing with the creative side?

(MR) For Waitress, we just made the best film we could and not be stupid about it. Make a film that people want to see.

(PS) Most of my career, I had to raise the money. My attitude is that I’m working for the film. Started a new company with equity financing. Little Miss Sunshine was fully financed by company. Make decision to make a film and protect your investment. It’s a tricky balance to figure out.

(JG) What was your experience bringing Waitress to Sundance after Adrienne’s death?

(MR) Was the hardest part for me. One a personal level, I miss her as a friend, mentor and teammate. We bounced everything of each other. At Sundance, I listened to her in my head saying “Now’s not the time to be sentimental.” Had to explain her vision more than he would have, but it was easy because she had such a clear vision. Goal at Sundance was to build a strategy. Worked with sales reps and publicists. Couldn’t allow a distributor to cut the film up. Fox Searchlight was great.

Audience Q&A

Q: When raising money, what promises do you have to make to investors?

(MR) Can’t make any promises. Anything can happen. Pitch a general concept for a price. Make something with commercial appeal, but not a dumb movie. Set up that investors get their money back and hopefully a profit.

(LP) Decide if you want to finance your film with or without a distributor. A lot of equity producers would like distribution to be in place. For The Namesake, we had a $10.2 million budget with a $600,000 New York State tax credit. We brought equity to the table and had a strong position to negotiate terms.

Q: With equity investors, was that arranged as an international co-production?

(LP) It was straight equity.

Q: Why have business in New York City, and not in L.A.?

(PS) I like living in NYC, but spend a lot of time in L.A. What’s happened in L.A. is there’s a certain desperation about the film business. People start making movies there to make money, but not really to tell a good story, but that’s sort of a generalization. To get a job in the film business in NYC is hard. There’s more jobs in L.A.

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