GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “GIMME MY DAMN CREDIT!”

Being a product of undergraduate and graduate film school, I’m well aware of the belief that producers were born to director’s assistants. Thankfully, the real world is nothing like film school. The overt lack of respect for producers at film school has bled into a similar disregard for producers on indie films. This, in turn, causes a tremendous amount of confusion with film credits, which is what we’re discussing today.

Landing a prestigious producer credit on a film or television project is usually more important than money. This is because the credit one negotiates places them on a perceived financial, social and professional level, which triggers far more income in the long run than agreeing to take several thousand extra dollars in the short term in exchange for a lesser credit.

Furthermore, while it’s obvious what directors and writers do, producers are as varied snowflakes – no two are alike. Every producer his or her own tactic and strategy to their producing style and everyone’s path to becoming a producer includes fiercely unbelievable but often times ridiculously true stories.

Some producers raise money, others attach talent, some land distribution, while others still, do everything from land sponsors to babysit directors, investors and stars. Thus, there’s one million ways to earn a producer credit.

However, the ‘valuable producer credits’ flip from feature films to television productions, adding to more of the confusion. So, let’s untangle this web of credits as we make sense out of what credit means what, which one could launch you into a new Ferrari, and which one may drop you to driving a used Yugo.

In order to keep things simple, we’ll discuss feature film credits first, and then we’ll take a glimpse into television credits.

Feature Film Credits

Producer
Make no mistake; “Producer” is the highest credit available on feature films. Not only is the “Producer” higher than “Executive Producer,” but also “Producer” is the only credit that qualifies to receive the “Best Picture” Oscar at the Academy Awards. Thus, obtaining a full “Producer” credit on a feature film (especially a studio feature film) will certainly launch you into more career opportunities, provided the film is a success. But, being a producer of a film that bombs or is otherwise forgotten, means about as much as being a part of any venture, in any business, that is otherwise forgotten by society….

Executive Producer
“Executive Producer” credit is just a half of a step lower than “Producer,” but it too can carry a strong punch professionally. For example, one widely accepted definition of “Executive Producer” is the person earning the credit successfully secured a vital element, which helped the film become a reality. These “vital elements” may include the following:

a) Money.

b) The right connection to money.

c) Delivering an A List element (actor, director) that helps the film get made.

* A List stars often times receive “Executive Producer” credit, which makes sense within the rules laid out above, since they are delivering themselves.

Executive Producer credit can be an enhancement to anyone’s career, however its perception by film professionals is that it’s being a reward for either investing or finding money. Thus, those who seek to become creative producers may be hindered by this credit.

Co-Producer
“Co-Producer,” the bronze medal producing credit behind “Producer” and “Executive Producer,” usually means the person did as much or more than the “Producer” of the film but wasn’t able to negotiate a producer credit.  “Co-Producer” may also mean the person did such great work, that they got upgraded from the lowly “Associate Producer” credit.

One common mistake I’ve found on several independent feature films is when two people produce the film, they credit themselves as “Co-Producers.” This is not right, nor is it smart, since the two people deserving of “Producer” credit are severely lessening their credits. Simply put, if two or more people equally produce a feature film, they both should have “Producer” credit.

Line Producer
This person physically produces the film on-set. Most seasoned “Line Producers” negotiate themselves at least “Co-Producer” and often times full “Producer” credit. This is why some films won’t even list a “Line Producer,” since they’ve upped that person’s credit.

Co-Executive Producer
“Co-Executive” credit in the feature film world usually means the person getting the credit failed to deliver all of the elements needed to earn “Executive Producer” credit, but their contributions were significant enough to receive this credit. This is by no means a bad credit to secure; it’s just an odd one, since it denotes gratitude on a lower level than “Executive Producer.”

Associate Producer
My dog Pepper, who is 10½ years old, has a limp and is slowly going blind, could be an excellent feature film “Associate Producer.” With no disrespect to the current “Associate Producers” out there, this credit flat-out sucks and does virtually nothing for anyone’s career. Thus, for those who wish to progress in their producing careers faster than a disabled turtle walking from New York to Los Angeles, try to stay away from “Associate Producer” credit like you want to stay away from an STD, a mean EX or a disapproving in-law. Of course, if “Associate Producer” credit is the only one offered, by all means take it! Getting a low level producing credit is better than getting no credit at all. Just don’t expect your career to launch from an “Associate Producer” credit, unless the film you made rakes in north of $1 billion worldwide.

Television Credits Differing From Film Credits

Executive Producer
Unlike the world of features, “Executive Producer” credit on television reigns supreme. The person with this credit accepts the Emmy Award for best TV series (comedy, drama, etc) and oftentimes is the head writer and creator of the series.  Thus, earning an “Executive Producer” credit on a TV series is equal to earning the coveted “Producer” credit on a feature film.

Producer
In television, the “Producer” credit is below the “Executive Producer.” This person is responsible for many aspects of the physical production, but usually isn’t involved in the creation of the show or the creative direction of the series.

Created By
It’s fitting that the “Created By” credit is the alpha and omega of television. This person, who is usually also an “Executive Producer” and “Head Writer,” holds, creates and drives the creative vision of the show. This is what TV professionals envy, because it is the credit that gets the credit for the TV show being successful.

Producing Credit Placement Concerns
Once a revered producing credit is secured on a feature film or television show, the next concern is how high on the list of producers the credit is placed. Since many feature films and television shows employ more than 10 producers, only those producers near the summit of the “producing mountain” will enjoy mad praise, big money and hardware (Oscars, Emmys). Thus, being one of 13 producers on a project can only change ones Rolodex and tax bracket if that person finds themselves within the top two or three producers listed.

In closing, the key to landing the right producing credit is to know what to ask for. Like they say, “ask and you shall receive.” Of course, if you don’t receive the first time you ask, ask again, again and again on future projects, and then start demanding the credit you deserve until you finally secure it. Credits are all about expecting the best for yourself and never giving up until you reach your goal.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day, I thank you for lending me your eyes and I’d be honored to borrow them again next Tuesday!




Posted on May 31, 2011 in Blogs, Going Bionic by
Buffer


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