Below is the second installment of DFA’s first web-based, episodic delivery of its Dance on Camera Journal.
In a previous post, you’ll find the introduction to the Sept/Oct issue, and the first of four articles written especially for it. If you’d like to read the entire issue now, please become a member – or return to the site in a week or so, to continue reading further episodes in the coming weeks.
What is a Producer – and do I really need one?by Tanja Meding
To sum it up in a sentence: the producer’s job is to manage, organize and oversee the entire production process from start to finish and beyond, sticking to schedule and budget – while keeping everyone happy!
I always advocate for adding a producer to a project. Making films is a collaborative effort and extremely labor and time intensive. All too often, time and money are limited, so the more the filmmaker can focus on directing the film, the better. It is the producer’s role to ensure that everything budget and time allow, is there to fulfill the filmmaker’s vision. Additionally, the producer can also serve as a mediator for the filmmaker. Handling rejections of grants, festivals passing on the film, distributors turning the film down or renegotiating excessive licensing fees; the producer can deal with these matters on a business rather than a personal level. Understanding the filmmaker’s vision with an insight into the entire production process, the producer brings another set of eyes, the producer can offer the filmmaker valuable feedback. Also, the producer is there to troubleshoot any crises that inevitably occur during production. And the producer will be a valuable spokesperson for the film, promoting and advocating for it.
Ideally, the relationship between the filmmaker and producer is a collaborative one. Both parties should understand and respect each other’s roles and responsibilities, working together for the good of the project.
Depending on the project, whether it is a documentary, a short dance piece or a fiction work, my involvement as a producer varies. I prefer to enter the project during the development phase when the filmmaker defines what the focus of he film will be, who the audience is and how the story should be told.
However, sometimes I come in during pre-production after this initial development process has already been completed. At that point, I join the project when it is being financed. I will identify potential funding sources, draft a budget and collaborate with the filmmaker on writing a proposal that will be shaped according to the different grant requirements.
Especially with dance related films, I am also part of the actual production. Sometimes this may be due to budget constraints, but also because I enjoy working hands-on with these smaller projects. Good organization, project management, as well as problem solving and people skills, are all needed during this phase of production. The work ranges widely from researching and locking locations, renting equipment, coordinating the crew and dealing with any legal issues to ordering lunch. In short, anything that is needed to get the job done.
Once production has wrapped, I co-ordinate the post-production process. In addition to arranging the work flow, I make sure the editor has what is needed, and coordinate the communication between editors, directors and composers. I very much enjoy the editing process, in particular for a documentary because this is where everything comes together. Reviewing and discussing the different edits is one of my favorite parts of the entire production process. The more I have been involved in the previous steps of production, the better I can offer comments and feedback.
Handling a film during all stages of production from its very first idea to the premiere and well beyond, is what a producer does – and to me that’s what’s exciting and gratifying – being part of this entire creative and managerial process with all its challenges and rewards!
Tanja Meding moved to New York from Germany in 2003, and has worked as a producer for Maysles Films and other independent production companies. For Maysles she produced, among others The Beales of Grey Gardens, Albert Maysles Talks About Marlon Brando and Sally Gross – The Pleasure of Stillness by Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile. Funded in part by NYSCA and DFA, the documentary premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland, aired on WNET/Thirteen and is now available on DVD through the Reframe Collection. Starting in 2007, Tanja has been producing and distributing short films by Rosanne Chamecki, Andrea Lerner and Phil Harder. Conversation with Boxing Gloves was commissioned by PERFORMA and the San Fransciso Museum of Modern Art and Jackie and Judy premiered at the 2010 Dance on Camera Festival. The Line and The Collection are two more shorts currently in post production. In addition, Tanja is the associate producer of Pascale Obolo’s upcoming feature-length documentary Rose, Calypso Diva about music legend Calypso Rose, and co-producer of Gabriella Bier’s Love During Wartime, a documentary about an Israeli dancer and her Palestinian husband and their struggle to find a place in this world to live together. Tanja Meding is a member of DFA, New York Women in Film & TV and the Producers Guild of America East.