Take Stink Studio’s Executive Producer Omid Fatemi, for example. He’s behind the TUMI x Chris Pratt spot, which is simple on the surface, yet infinitely effective—a funny film about a man packing for his first trip to Hong Kong. Of course, it helps to have Chris Pratt as your talent—but, there’s so much more to this project than that. And that’s where Omid’s magic tricks come in.
Micro-budget filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. You end up wearing multiple hats, taking on debt, asking friends to work for free, and toiling away on a project — likely for years — without seeing much (or any) monetary return on your investment. Not to mention it’s highly unlikely you’ll attach a star of any kind at this level, so getting press or festival attention for even a great film can be challenging.
Whether it’s documentaries, mockumentaries, feature films, or wildly popular television shows, you can probably find it somewhere on Alex Buono’s résumé. Although he’s primarily known as a cinematographer, he’s also a successful writer, director, producer, and workshop instructor. Oh, and he’s been nominated for an Academy Award.
It takes a lot of people to make a film, but only a handful of them get much credit. Director. Cinematographer. Editor, if he’s lucky. The end credits go on and on, but few people understand what all of these people even do. For example: the producer. It’s a nebulous, seemingly catchall term for someone who does the nitty-gritty work of putting a production together. But while the title might be ambiguous, it requires a very specific type of person. A mix of optimist and realist. A relentless self-starter. A serial entrepreneur. A person like Jens Jacob.
Every project comes with its own lessons. There are lessons in failure and success, lessons in easy clients and difficult clients, and lessons in not being able to drum up any projects at all. Some of the most important lessons, though, come when we make projects for ourselves ⎯ passion projects. When left to our own devices, we have the chance to discover what we really have to offer, what we value, what we believe good work actually means. The lessons we learn by making passion projects have the ability to affect every aspect of our work, from the clients we choose to the stories we tell. Often, that’s worth the cost of production alone (whether that’s dollars, or simply the time spent by the people producing it).
From the outside, it’s not always clear what a producer does. Turns out it’s the same on the inside. “There’s no manual for it,” Nicole Irene Dyck told us, a prolific producer who, at the time of this interview, was working on no fewer than six films. “When people ask me what a producer does, I laugh and tell them, ‘Oh, everything’s my fault. That’s what I do.’” It’s an essential role. And as anyone who’s ever made a film knows, a good producer is the unsung hero behind every successful project, and the scapegoat for every failure. So it goes.
There’s nothing harder than doing work that conflicts with what you truly believe. So, instead of changing your mindset to adapt to your work, why not adapt your work to your mindset? That’s what Rand Getlin did. As a prominent sports reporter with the NFL Network, he enjoyed the job, but also felt constrained by the parameters of traditional journalism, so he left to start his own production company. According to him, it’s the same type of work, just tweaked to reflect his own philosophies on truth and objectivity.
It was tempting to open this interview with some sort of dog cliché about learning new tricks or letting them out or barking up the wrong tree. But the truth is, any cliché used in relation to Animal Studio’s web-series-turned-TV-show, Downward Dog, would be tone deaf. The show is the opposite of a cliché. It’s a fresh, dark, genuinely funny spin on what could easily have been a farce: a talking dog named Martin. “I got Samm [Hodges] involved, which is ironic because he thought it was the worst idea in the world,” writer/creator/director Michael Killen told us. “We landed on this very self-involved, Millennial-toned dog who’s looking back on his life and trying to decide whether or not he mattered. That gave it this dead serious tone, which is actually what makes it so funny.”
There are a lot of action-sports films out there. A lot. Maybe that’s because in extreme sports the drama is baked in. High stakes (failure, injury, death), conflict (man vs. nature, man vs. skate park, man vs. gravity), and dynamic characters (who does this stuff anyway?). But despite all of this, these films often lack the basic element for a lasting effect: relatability. They are awe-inspiring, yes, but don’t connect. Spellbinding, sure, but hard to remember. They are — not always, but often — lightning minus the thunder.
The hardest part of making a film isn’t the grueling days, the logistical Rubik’s Cube, or the 10,000 problems that arise over the course of production. The very hardest part is getting started in the first place. How do you go from having an idea to doing something about it? And then how do you keep doing something about it? The great garbage heap of abandoned ideas is both deep and wide. We’ve all contributed to it. But at some point, if we’re ever going to make the film we want to make, then we’re going to have to actually make it.