Saturday, September 7, 2013

What's a Story Producer?

You've all seen the credits at the end of a movie. In recent years they go on forever. Just by their length six-digits is likely added cost of prints and bandwidth each year. Next to the CGI department, with even their hundreds of names in movies without special effects, the next longest list belongs to producers. What the heck do they all do, you may wonder?

Let me make an important suggestion. We need a new kind of producer with one production-wide responsibility— the story.

A little background.

Most producers are nothing more than a coordinator who has a particular affinity to detail. Although due to their obsession with detail, especially those involving schedules and expenses, "nothing more" is a serious oxymoron. The proper idiom is more likely "everything plus more".  The industry's nod to this important personality disorder is to list the producer's name above the director's in the opening credits, e.g. a BRAIN GRAZER production of a RON HOWARD film. Of course they switch places at the end of the movie, where all the other producers share the spot light with Mr. Grazer.

Here is the list of Grazer and Howard's RUSH from IMBD. I'll leave the links in place.
Tobin Armbrust.... executive producer
Andrew Eaton.... producer
Eric Fellner.... producer
Brian Grazer.... producer
Jim Hajicosta.... co-producer
Todd Hallowell.... executive producer
Daniel Hetzer.... co-producer
Ron Howard.... producer
Jens Meurer.... co-producer
Peter Morgan.... producer
Kay Niessen.... co-producer
Brian Oliver.... producer
Anita Overland.... co-producer
Gernot Schaffler.... associate producer
Raj Brinder Singh.... co-executive producer
Tyler Thompson.... executive producer

My work on films over the last decade, which includes tracking their box office progress, suggests that if more attention was paid to the integrity of the story in all aspects of the filmmaking craft, movies would attract a larger audience.

I've written this before, but William Goldman was wrong when he wrote on page 39 of his famous book ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE (p.39) that "NOBODY (sic) KNOWS ANYTHING."  (emphasis is Goldman's).  The truth is Somebody does know something. Just drive through Beverly Hills. Either they know something or they're printing money faster than the U.S. mint. In fairness, however, Goldman isn't claiming that E.P.'s are stupid. His context is that before a picture is released the E.P.'s don't really know how well the movie will be accepted by the public.

I contend they CAN know...if they follow the story principal of The Moral Premise, and if they had a Story Producer that was trained in those principals, and whose sole responsibility was to watch over every aspect of development, production, post-production and marketing. Of course, there's the assumption that the E.P. Producer, and Director will need the Story Producer's advice.

Back to Goldman. He points to the holiday release schedule for 1981-82. Of the 17 films released, ONLY ONE film did well at the box office. (Again, recall that numbers reflect connection and audience resonance, all other things being equal.)  Here's the list, box office numbers in millions from

On Golden Pond $119
Reds $50
Taps $36
Sharky's Machine $33
Neighbors $30
Modern Problems $24
Ragtime $17
Ghost Story $16
Rollover $10
Pennies from Heaven $6
Whose Life is it Anyway? $6
Heartbeeps $6
Buddy Buddy $5
Pick-up Summer $0
Four Friends $0
Clash of the Titans $0
Man of Iron $0

I admit, I have not analyzed any of these films for a true or consistently applied moral premise. But I have studied hundreds of movies since, and if the pattern holds, I would predict that ONLY GOLDEN POND possessed a true and consistent moral premise and that REDS had some inner truth going for it, but the presentation of the moral argument was not consistent. That's why a movie about two old people beat the rest of the pack.

Here's a description for a person on the project team that can substantially help connect stories with audiences.

The Story Producer is a co-producer who reports to the Producer and Director. The Story Producer has overall advisory responsibility for the consistent implementation of a true moral premise in all creative aspects of the project, including but not limited to the decisions and activities related to producing, writing, direction, photography, art direction, casting, scoring, effects and marketing. The Story Producer's work is based on the integration of a true and consistently applied Moral Premise as discussed in the book and blog of the same name. The Story Producer begins work during development with the writer and director to determine a true and resonating set of Story Fundamentals e.g. Hook, Log Line, Conflict of Values, Moral Premise, major plot beats for all main characters and sub-beats for minor characters including visual and aural motifs,  metaphors, script pacing, emotional roller-coast of beats, and dialogue.  The Story Producer reviews and gives notes on everything the writer generates including synopses, treatments, and final screenplay. During Production and Post-Production the Story Producer monitors all aspects of production for consistent execution of the moral premise in everything seen or heard by the potential or actual audience.

No comments: