The role of the producer is a little unclear, both within and outside the industry. A writer writes, a director directs, an editor edits. But it's never really clear what a producer does. I believe this is in part due to the fact that the role of the producer has shifted and expanded with market demands and the changing conditions under which films are made and distributed.
In the golden age of Hollywood, the producer was the creative force behind a project. By the 1950s, with the rise of the auteur in the modern era of American filmmaking, producers became the people who deal with funding and managing the business of making a film. Once the film went to market, the producer's job was over and left to the studio's distribution arm, or in independent film, the distributor that (if all went spectacularly) bought the rights to take the film to the audience. If things went exceptionally well, the filmmakers may even see royalties on their work after the initial payout.
In the last 10 years, with the advent of digital filmmaking and distribution systems, everything has changed. The film industry has been turned upside down as theatrical fell into a very serious and deep decline, the market has been flooded with content, and new digital avenues have sprung up. In this environment the producer has come to be something more. Though fundraising is still a chief responsibility, this new creative producer must do much more than that -- from nurturing the initial concept all the way through to marketing, distributing. As the person who shepherds the film through the world after completion, he or she has become the link between the filmmaker and the audience. And the producer's success is leveraged to make the next project possible.
The producer has become a curator as we've moved from a project-based producing culture to a career-based one, and in that shift, the producer has become something new, and perhaps much more fundamental to our film culture as whole. If we look at a handful of the most notable producers of our age (Christine Vachon, Ted Hope, Scott Macaulay), what we find in their filmography is not necessarily one hit after the other (though this is remarkably often the case), but films that have changed the landscape of American cinema. With the glut of feature films coming out every year, the focus has understandably been on how filmmakers reach their audience. But a bad picture is never going to do well, no matter how many Twitter followers it has and, in my experience at least, a great film will always find it's audience. The producer must therefore be the person with the eye for the great project. And a producer's body of work should represent that producer's unique tastes.
In thinking about this I realized that in my own personal path to becoming a producer (in the indie world) and curator (in the disposable one) that I've always been a curator. My first love is not actually film but records. I began collecting vinyl at the tender age of 11 and have never stopped. But I made the transition from collector to curator when I began deejaying in bars to supplement my income as a grad student. I would carefully curate songs and share them with the public. This was music I deeply loved and so I externalized my tastes and became an evangelist for the music I loved.
Good producing follows exactly this model. The producer collects projects that he or she believes in, nurtures them into living things, and shares them as best as he/she can with the audience. A good producer LOVES film, and in the end the mark of a good producer is that ability to recognize the great project and then passionately share it with others.
The Disposable Film Festival premieres March 21st at San Francisco's Castro Theatre and runs through March 24th. More information can be found on their events page .