Reality of Film Development – Part TwoIn part one of this three-part series we examined the transfer of power throughout the various stages of film production. We saw how the writer enters an arc of power that begins with him pulling all the strings and inevitably ends with him losing all control to producers and financiers before once again taking  control of the wheel at the start  of the next project.

In the case of an independent film that is financed through multiple external sources (rather than internally as a studio film would be), the creative power still transitions through this arc. Distributors and financiers will exit the equation towards the end of the process because their creative input has ceased, and the writer has regained control ready for the next film. However, their overall involvement, particularly financial , is still strong as far as the business of the individual project is concerned.

It is typical for the development financier to leave once shooting begins, although the development financier is often one of the production financiers, meaning that their involvement will continue throughout shooting and into post-production.

The Changing Power of the Producer

It is important to consider that the producer is usually the first and last person involved in a film, so once his production fee has been spread over the entire time-frame, he will most likely not be the best-rewarded financially. In addition to this, he will seldom find himself in a position of power, so his greatest asset will be to influence the influencers to the best of his ability.

The director’s tenure seems rather short; he enters the equation late and gains power very quickly before losing it at the end of the shoot; once the film enters post-production. The director may decide to approach the writer and producer and work with them on further projects, or he may decide to take his talents elsewhere, if he is dissatisfied with the film.

It is usually preferable for the producer to remain with the same director so that the team will be more coherent for the next project. This also means that the producer, director and writer are more likely to be working on a basis of equal control and influence. The advantage of having a director involved from the very beginning of a project is that it completely circumvents the possible negativity that may arise when a new director, with the desire to change things, enters at a later stage.

Retaining directors can prove incredibly useful for producers because they will soon end up with a selection of directors that are willing to work with them. This will provide them with much greater leverage when it comes time to negotiate with financiers, either scouting out the ideal candidate or utilizing multiple sources. Generally speaking, this will afford the producer and director much greater power and influence during the decision-making process in the latter stages of production.

A Synergistic Relationship

The importance of a solid relationship between the writer, producer and director should be quite obvious at this point. Forging a tightly knit team will breed trust and support amongst the group, bolstering each individual’s strengths and assisting with their weaknesses; encouraging their high points and supporting their low points.

Beyond the development of friendships, this has a purely practical benefit in that it will prevent power struggles and disputes over decision-making. The writer will feel particularly confident in this kind of environment as his original vision is more likely to be respected and he will be able to trust his colleagues not merely to do it justice in the latter stages, but also to welcome his involvement, input and feedback.

The more projects the team can successfully work on together, the more power they will subsequently have when embarking upon new projects. They will have greater financial backing and tighter cohesion; enabling them to raise their fees for their next film. The producer will probably have gained contacts for funding, and will also have more credibility and therefore more power simply on the merit of having completed previous films. Even if the film was not a critical success, this can easily be blamed on actors or scriptwriters, so the producer will still be in a position of power.

So it is clear that the more films the trio can successfully deliver together, the more their reputation will develop and the more power they will hold at the start of each new project.

The Lost Writer

It is vital to the integrity of the team that the producer has an understanding, that once the shoot starts, the writer will be completely pulled from the creative process; potentially leaving him feeling alienated and unappreciated. Although the producer and director will be busy on the set, they should not neglect the writer and they should remember that the whole project rests upon his original concept.

To prevent the writer from losing his creative spark and potentially wandering to other projects and other producers, this is an ideal time to discuss new ideas with him. It can be difficult working with a writer who feels a creative droop, but the invested time is well worth it, as the team can begin coming up with the new ideas for the next film.

As screenwriter Tony Grisoni explains: ‘What I’ve found is that me staying in the picture is a very useful thing for a director or a producer. Instead of me delivering my various drafts of the screenplay up to the shooting script, and then them sailing off and leaving me on the quay, I’m there during the shoot. I know what’s going on, I watch rushes along with the director, I’m aware of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, or what’s worked in a different way.

Suddenly the script is coming up against reality, and it is also being developed because of the creative relationship going on between the director and the actors…the director’s being asked a million questions every day, all of which he has to pretend to know the answers to. He has an ally, someone with ammunition, someone who can go away and rework a scene, drop a scene out, write a new scene, come back and say – how about this?

Maybe a clearer head, who’s not under such pressure. That can only be in the producer’s interest. And I would argue that a film that I love and I’m part of – I never feel that I’m done with it until there’s the final cut. …You may have a situation where there is voiceover or voiceover is needed and therefore I obviously play a part there. But I think in less obvious ways I can, because I was there at the beginning with the script, so I think I still have something to offer. But as I say, that works on two levels; on one level, I absolutely believe I have something to offer to the film all the way through, and on another one I want to be part of the film all the way through because, because it satisfies me creatively. I need to be totally involved.

[…]I’ve worked as a runner, as a third assistant, second assistant, first assistant director and a production manager. I’ve done those jobs, so I’m aware of how things work on the floor. I’m not going to pop up in the middle of a director directing a scene and say, ‘Oh I’ve had a great idea’ , I mean that would be just stupid. So I know about how those things work. You have to be sensitive to how films are made. In the same way, the editing room is a little space for the director and editor to sit in as they work towards a final draft of their cut. And no-one in their right mind is going to walk into that and start having brilliant ideas, until they are ready to show something. So you choose your moment, and you have to be aware of the dynamic between people. I mean film-making seems to me to be all about the glue between people – it’s all about the dynamic, you know? And then I come in on the rough cut, see the rough cut, and can be involved in discussions about where to go from there.

[…]What’s going to get good work out of me is to feel that what I do counts for something and to feel that I’m part of a group making a film; that I’m part of the social act that is film-making all the way through. And if I feel that, then I’ll do anything, of course I will’.

The writer will often experience short periods of control when the option arises for renewal, as the writer obviously has the right to refuse renewal. This is typically the case if there is a strong underlying property and the writer has a break clause or approval clause. This can also be the case when the option and automatic renewals expire, and the producer is forced to return to the writer to request a new, longer option. This places the writer in a position of control as he has the leverage at this stage to demand more ongoing control.

The Power of Different Types of Financiers

Different financiers have different levels of control of influence depending on their role and the stage of production. In the context of a large studio set up such as the Hollywood studio system, there will typically be one primary financier. However, things are not that simple in the independent sector.

The greater the number of financiers involved in a project, the more complicated matters may end up being. Local broadcasters are usually involved earlier on in the process than pre-buying or equity distributors, so they will typically hold greater influence over the development process. This is due to the fact that broadcasters will possess development funds and without their absolute confidence in a strong sell, it is much more difficult to generate pre-buy and equity interest for unsold territories.

While the film is screening at cinemas, the distributors will be in full control of the marketing campaign. Local broadcasters and equity investors in production financing will probably have no influence at all at this stage.

Financier Difficulties

In reality, the funding situation for independent films is usually impossible to sum up in just a few sentences because of the different financiers involved, each with their own level of influence, but the distributor will invariably be the one in the strongest position of power, because they will be in full control of the investment in terms of print, advertising and DVD releases.

Financiers such as BBC Films and Film4 tend to prefer developing ongoing relationships with writers and directors, so their level of influence can vary throughout production depending on their relationship with the team. Sam Lavender, Film4’s Head of Development explains: ‘The priority is to be able to partner up with the producer, writer and director. It’s about our future relationships, not just about this film. It’s not just a one-off, it’s about developing (hopefully), a longer timeline’.

Another factor to consider is public subsidies, which can cause some difficulty for the writer and producer. Throughout the 2000s, the development department of the UK Film Council would only ever be willing to release funding for the next draft of a script if both the writer and producer were willing to consider script notes submitted from the development department. This kind of condition, it could be argued, can stifle creativity and could potentially bloat the power of the financier – in this case, the UK Film Council.

What’s more, when the financier becomes too influential in the development process, its efficiency and the quality of the resulting product can suffer. This is due to potential conflicts that can arise if the financier’s vision for the project is different to that of the writer and producer.

If some element of the financier is able to withdraw or withhold funding simply because they want things done their way, the influence on the overall production can be negative – it breeds animosity and resentment; and stamps out the creative process.

Conclusion

It is quite clear that funding a film project is not the simplest affair. Power changes hands several times during production and if there are multiple financiers, the situation becomes a lot more complicated.

We have also learned the importance of forging friendships and alliances to create a cohesive team consisting of the writer, producer and director. By maintaining solid relationships, a producer’s list of contacts will grow, granting him and his team significantly more power over future projects.

In Part Three of this three part series, we are going to take a look at the factors surrounding receiving commitment to a green light from financiers and stakeholders.

Part One | Part Three