Over the years, film production has been attributed to creativity and this is something that has been identified by film producers, historians, and even critics. For instance, Jean-Paul Furstenberg who was a director at the American Film Institute about 2 decades ago noted that it was the producers and the creative people that really founded the industry. As a matter of fact, if people like Adolph Zukor, Louis B.Mayer, Carl Laemmle, Ole Olsen, Leon Gaumont, Charles Pathe, or the Warner brothers in the US had anything in common, that thing would be their visionary and enterprising spirit.
Film production was understood to be an essentially creative task, which covers hiring the right talent, script development, and editing supervision and this is something that has acknowledged since the establishment of Hollywood. Jesse Lasky, who was one of the pioneers of the system, described the role of the producer as:
“A person that is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing everything that will affect or lead to the final output. These things include the tangible and the intangible tasks, including personnel management as well as the control of the artistic temperament and real properties.”
During this time, the producer’s job was specialized and hierarchically structured. The heads of production were in charge of the studio, and their responsibility was to match the available annual production budget with the projects expected to get a good percentage of the box office. Some very popular heads of production include Irving G. Thalberg, David O. Selznick, and Darryl F. Zanuck, and then there were Hunt Stromberg, Hal B. Wallis, Jerry Wald, Y. Frank Freeman, Dore Schary, Pandro S. Berman, and Walter Wanger. These were the young men that helped carve the paradigm of Hollywood film production and have made it possible for us to witness “the genius of the studio system” in the words of Andre Bazin. Talking about the creative producer is equivalent to talking about the producer in the Hollywood golden era because it can be considered a collection of memories written by Davies Lewis who was an associate producer and working for several emblematic names earlier mentioned.
Based on personal merits, two producers standout: Irving G. Thalberg and David O. Selznick. They became the model of the classic Hollywood producer through the studio system, and they both understood and appreciated the creativity in their craft. For instance, Thalberg saw movie-making to be a creative business, i.e. it has to bring in some profit, but the art aspect must be preserved to maintain the entertainment part of it. Selznick, on the other hand, according to an article from that time, “like all creative producers, thought of him as a great judge of talent and commercial story properties, a film editor, capable writer, and a demanding production executive” Selznick saw the producer as who was ultimately responsible for making of the pictures and this included decisions on creativity and business. He also believes that a producer has to be grounded in editing, directing, and screenwriting.
The producers of today have to go beyond just their ability to produce and must seek answers to the “what and why” question. They should have the capability to sit and write a scene when needed and must be able to criticize objectively. “I don’t like it” doesn’t cut it. If there’s something they don't like, they should be willing to give suggestions on how to make it better.
Selznick’s assessment perhaps sounds overly megalomaniac, but it actually demonstrates how to properly produce a film.
Mervin LeRoy is another relevant example. He was the one that created titles like Dramatic School (R. Sinclair, 1938), The Wizard of Oz (V. Fleming, 1939) and At the Circus (E. Buzzell, 1939). He published a book in 1953 and this book was on the different crafts within the movie industry. He broke them down into 4 categories and they are the skilled workers, the business management team, the technical group, and the creative group. Surprisingly, he classed the producer along with the actors, directors, and screenwriters in the creative group even though most people would class it in the management group. He also talked about the production process in this same volume and helped differentiate between the “business administrator producer” and the creative producer” based on the level of creative tasks or financial tasks they handle.
Any producer that refers to him or herself as creative should be able and willing to make meaningful contributions to the movie-making process. Such as, searching for the right cast and director, rewriting the script, or selecting the idea to adopt for the team. Simply put, they should be able to intervene in those aspects that end up intrinsically configuring the film work.
The producer of The Adventures of Robin Hood (M. Curtiz, 1938), The Maltese Falcon (J. Houston, 1941), They Died with Their Boots On (R. Walsh, 1941) and Casablanca (M. Curtiz, 1943), Hal B. Wallis, who emphasized the parity of meaning which could exist between the words producer and creator:
When you identify a property, get it, work on it from the beginning to the end and produce the end product, just as you conceived it, and then, you can consider yourself a producer. You have to be a creator to be worthy of the ‘producer’ title.
After 1948 when the collapse of the studio system started, talent agencies like MCA occupied the power vacuum which it left and when we consider the emergence of the auteur theory (politiques des auteurs) that exalted the role of the director as well as the competition brought on by television in the 1950s, the role of the producer was gradually restricted to just management and financing. Apart from the likes of Walter Mirisch, Stanley Kramer, and Sam Speigel who joined the likes of Samuel Goldwyn and David Selznick, there were really no true independent producers capable of living their mark on a movie.
All we have stated has been about the evolution of the role of the producer in the American film industry, which begs the question of what goes on in another place, say Europe. Film production in Europe has been more personalized as a result of lack of industrial infrastructure and this is not to say that the industry was based on single filmmakers and not on consolidated production companies — even though they also existed. The assessment of Martin Dale after World War II was that the producers led the reconstruction of the European cinematographic industry and this was done in such a way that each cinematographic industry had a list of famous creative producers such as Pierre Braunberger and Anatole Daumon in France; Alexander Korda and Emeric Pressburger in Great Britain; or Cecchi Gori and Alberto Grimaldi in Italy.
This was the practice and not until the 1980s before we started seeing some changes. A group of young generation producers emerged on both sides of the Atlantic and the Hollywood majors protected their investments by depending on the professionalism of film producers.
These new generation producers came to renew the European and American film industries in the eighties and nineties. Initially, names such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg (when working as producers), Peter Guber and John Peters, and so on.
They were able to relieve the movie business from the apathy it was suffering at the time thanks to their visionary and enterprising spirit which also helped them contribute to the restoration of the trust in this craft.
The traditional creative producer is back and the market can’t get enough.
From what we have seen and read, we can say that the professional profile the producer has undergone quite a lot of paradigm shifts right from the Hollywood studio era to becoming a shadow of the director during the auteur cinema era. However, we have seen an amazing increase in appreciation for the producer; especially the creative producer over the last 2 decades and this growth is evident both in America and in Europe.
There are 2 rather vaguely divided camps that the film industry tends to use in classifying the producers: the organizational producer and the creative producer. Only very few people can actually handle both successfully.
Very few producers are remotely creative. The implication of this is that those who believe they are actually creative don’t want to produce because they think the production is not for the creative. They would rather direct or write because they feel that is where their creative genius will be seen.
For instance, the word “producer” is explained by the author of “a dictionary of jobs in the film industry”.
The creative input of the producer might be little or massive. The producer who wishes to have massive influence must be willing to give his input into the supervision, editing, design, writing, and casting while other producers can just focus on the administrative responsibilities and stay out of the creative tasks.
These filmmakers have done several of their popular films alike -being creatively supportive- to the extent that they leave a creative imprint or personal touch.
The sensitivities of the creative side and the mechanics of film — Producers in control are usually a recipe for disaster.
So what differentiates the creative film producer from an organizational film producer? Simply put, producers are the project managers in television and film industries. While handling a television or movie project, these producers pull their leadership and organizational skills to ensure projects get completed within a set budget and a specific time frame.
There is a lot of room for creativity in film production, not as a condescending or artificial add-on but rather as an important aspect of the job. In my opinion, to produce is to create. A producer’s responsibility inherently includes financial control, planning, and organization but he/she must also be willing to give creative input to get the final result that is desired. This creative input could be in the form of digital effects, editing, casting, directing, writing or rewriting scripts, music over, and so on.
It is fair to say that, the term “creative producer or creative production” may sound redundant but it is a term that should be set aside for the producers capable of contributing their creative vision to the making of the film alongside other creative members of the team.
Maria works at Golden Way Media Films Company in London, UK. In addition to producing and directing she published 19 fiction and nonfiction books that are on sale online and at bookstores in Europe and North America. She has made both commercial videos and narrative films. Currently, she has two projects in pre-production.
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