Passion keeps producers going

Panel sez competish, bartering, vision key to filmmaking

Passion was the operative word heard again and again at Sunday’s wide-ranging producers panel in Variety‘s Cannes Conference Series. No matter what the obstacles, if you have the desire to get your movie made and are willing to act like a pitbull, you can prevail — as long as you have a good script.

That was the common theme sounded by producers (all with films in the festival) at the session moderated by Variety publisher Charlie Koones. Participating were Marc Abraham (“Dawn of the Dead”), Lawrence Bender (“Kill Bill Vol. 2”), Lee Daniels (“The Woodsman”), John Cameron Mitchell (“Tarnation”) and Edouard Weil (“Clean”).

“It is ‘dog eat dog,’ but the bottom line is we’re all here to produce, raise money and live with ourselves,” said Lee Daniels. “It’s all about knocking on doors and bringing your vision to life for me.”

All about the competish

The “dog eat dog” aspect was clearly demonstrated when Bender shared a story about the cutthroat nature of the game while talking about losing a script to fellow panelist Daniels. The film in question, “Monster’s Ball” went on to gain critical acclaim and an Oscar for star Halle Berry.

“I lost the option on it while I was in vacation in Scotland and Lee wrestled it away,” Bender said.

Daniels said the key to the deal was agreeing with the writer’s vision and letting a character die at the end.

Key players

Although film fests are known for celebrating the director, panel pointed out that producers are really indispensable. Mitchell complained that HBO’s “Project Greenlight” “fostered the impression that your producer is your adversary, but you’re working far too hard to work with people you hate. Your producer is your significant other — they watch your back.”

The proliferation of producer credits drew sharp responses from all. Weil said France doesn’t have multiple producers but, on co-prods with other countries, he is reluctantly being forced to hand out additional producing titles for which he doesn’t even have a translation.

“There’s a real job producers do. It’s soup to nuts, but it’s becoming a negotiation, not a job description,” said Bender, complaining that the Producers Guild of America doesn’t have the clout of other unions.

Barter system

But Mitchell, who claims his “Tarnation” cost a little over $200, pointed out if you are doing an indie, sometimes credits are as good as cash. “You do get the person with the Port-a-Potty who is suddenly an associate producer, but when you are doing an independent film you don’t have the money, so titles are valuable. You do what you have to do.”

When the subject turned to working in a studio vs. the indie world, Marc Abraham, whose films include such blockbusters as “Air Force One,” said it comes down to money and it doesn’t matter where the coin comes from. He defended the studio system as easy to deal with, as long you bring in the grosses.

“If you are involved with people in a studio who are supportive, you’ll get it done. I like working with Universal, for instance. I have made them money so they are very supportive,” he said. “If you don’t make them money, you won’t be flying here, you’ll be paddling to Cannes.”