New producers get crash course

If young Brit producers knew the awful truth about how hard it is to get films made, let alone to emerge with any reward at the end of it, the faint-hearted might well have a change of heart about their chosen career.

Yet that’s exactly the crash course in reality that Marc Samuelson has been giving to eight students for the past nine months on his innovative Producer Training Program for U.K. org Skillset.

The eight, who all had at least three years of production experience, have undergone a series of work placements and master classes with leading players in the British film industry.

They have emerged with their illusions stripped away about the challenges ahead, but equipped with the kind of insights and contacts that would otherwise have taken years of costly trial and error to acquire.

“The idea was to give them what I’ve spent the last 20 years learning,” explains Samuelson, whose own credits as a producer range from “Tom and Viv” to “Stormbreaker.”

“Putting them into an acquisitions meeting at Momentum or Focus, for example, letting them hear how perfectly respectable projects from perfectly respectable producers can get ripped apart mercilessly, is the best way to understand how high the bar is to get things made.”

The weeks they spent witnessing the dark arts of film lending at Allied Irish Bank were a particular revelation. Students had to sign tough confidentiality agreements, and learned all about the previously utterly obscure world of film banking.

In fact, Samuelson’s real innovation was not trying to teach the producers to do their own job, but to understand everyone else’s.

They worked in distribution, exhibition, acquisitions, accountancy, law, banking, insurance, music publishing and PR, with companies such as Buena Vista, Olswang and EMI.

“It’s quite rare to get such insight into the hard-edged market end of the industry, to see the distribution and sales side and see how the finance is put together” says Dhiraj Mahey, who previously made shorts and worked on diversity initiatives but now hopes to break into the mainstream with a black British superhero project.

“To spend time at exhibitors when the holdovers are being done just opens your eyes. It’s quite brutal and quite scary,” he admits. “Ten years of blood, sweat and tears making a movie are reduced down to whether it can be held over on a particular screen on Monday morning.”

Such experiences led several of the students to tear up or substantially revamp their own development slates in a more commercial direction.

“It told me that you might as well be very ambitious,” says Elisabeth Pinto, a French-born but U.K.-based producer with a taste for horror and animation. “It’s easier to make money if you make a film for £50 million than for £2 million, and you might as well have a go because that’s what distributors and exhibitors want.”

“It’s a bit like taking the blinkers off a horse,” says Norma Burke. “For me, it was inspiring to see that good projects do get made.”

All the young producers come across as clear-eyed. If that means working outside features for a time, so be it. Adam Morane-Griffiths shot a sitcom pilot for $4,000 and now has a deal with a U.S. TV distributor.

In the end, the dream persists. As Mahey says, “To be a producer, you do have to be a bit in denial of the facts. You have to be realistic, but if you looked at the odds before you started, you’d never get anything done.”

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