Producers – Who needs them? – Page 4

Clare Kitson was the final speaker. She is a commissioning editor with Channel 4 and first becomes involved with any project when it is presented to her by the film-maker “It is normally the director who brings it to me,” explained Clare. “I think that is quite right, because all I am after initially is the strength of the idea and nobody can sell that idea as well as the person who has originally had it.”

Clare said she is quite easy-going on the way things are presented, she doesn’t demand things should be very beautiful. Nevertheless, if you have someone who is going to play the production role in your film, certainly involve them early on. “If this then becomes something we decide to go ahead with then the producer becomes of absolute paramount importance,” remarked Clare. “Firstly with the contracts and finance people and if this is all successful and we go ahead the producer has a crucial role representing the director. As far as I am concerned they have to be fully committed to that project and defend it with their life.”

The producer also has to understand the situation of the broadcaster. The broadcaster has constraints and one of them is budgetary. “When I get my budget for the year, that is it! There are not sums of money waiting to be used if the thing goes over budget. The producer has to make sure directors understand that,” said Clare. There are always problems with the running time. The director may feel the project needs to run longer to develop certain story points. For them it is a question of artistic integrity. From the broadcasters point of view there are certain plot lengths that can’t be exceeded. “Quite often an idea is presented as a draft storyboard with an approximate running time which is right in terms of the idea as far as I and the potential audience is concerned,” said Clare. “Directors may fall in love with little bits within their films and feel they need longer. The problem for the producer is to understand both of these feelings and requirements and to adjudicate accordingly. There are times when I am right and occasionally there are times when the director is right.”

As well as representing the broadcaster to the director, the producer has to represent the audience to the director. “This is not of paramount importance when you are making student films, you are trying to express yourself and that is fine, but if it is a TV commission the very first consideration for the broadcaster is the audience. In my experience the director’s friends and family are not to be trusted at all, they do not represent the audience, they want to please,” said Clare. “If they are friends from film school they are on the same wavelength as the director and are one of a handful of people in this world who are on such a refined level. It is a very good producer that can identify with the audience. Why should animation only appeal to a tiny group of people, why not try to say something to that larger audience. That is what I need from a producer.”

On the business side Channel 4 have a contracts department and a finance department. The designated people in them work together very closely on animation projects. They actively encourage the producer to get advice from the contracts department on clearance rights. “Our people have an enormous amount of experience with rights. We are quite happy to deal with inexperienced producers and to give them guidance in these areas,” said Clare.

The producer has to present a budget, a production schedule and a cash flow. “The cash flow is the magic thing that makes the best use of my budget, so I do not have to pay out money that sits there unused – everything goes out when it is needed,” explained Clare. There is insurance to organize and there are completion guarantees if it is a big production. There are reports throughout production on keeping to the budget and sounding alarm bells at both ends if there appear to be problems. “It is no good sounding alarm bells and just keeping going, you have to keep to the budget,” said Clare. After the production is finished there is an enormous amount of paperwork, music queue sheets, extracts for clearances. “The finance team are very knowledgeable about production as well as finance, they are there to help rather than to police or hinder,” concluded Clare.

I believe the audience left this seminar much wiser about the role of the producer. A member of the audience was heard telling one of the speakers they thought it all sounded marvellous and would love to have someone shoulder their film-making problems for them.

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Printed in Animator Issue 32 (Spring 1995)