Writer, Producer, Director or Writer-Producer-Director?

Stephen Follows wrote an interesting blog piece about how many films people make in an average career. It was well written but it wasn’t pretty reading. I won’t go into the specifics because you can read it here, but the gist is:

  • Only 13% of producers of low budget films have subsequently produced a second film
  • Under 3% of directors who have directed a film have gone on to direct two more
  • 23% of writers who wrote a film wrote a second film
  • Directors are more likely to make a second film than producer, writers or actors

He goes on to note that producers are only likely to shoot about 1.6 films (on higher budget) or 1.2 (on lower budget) throughout their career. I am assuming that the base rate entry level is that you must (in some capacity) have made one film, as this is what qualifies you to be considered a filmmaker in the first place. It is unlikely that someone is keeping a record of all the people that are trying to make one but failed, but this would probably drag the statistics even lower (as plenty of people considered themselves filmmakers but will never make a feature). It would be weird to read that, statistically-speaking, producers make 0.4 features in their lifetime, but I think 0.4 would be very generous indeed if you counted all the short filmmakers who tried/wanted/failed to make features.

There was a great piece of research written by Baker and Faulkner (1991) that looked at the rise of the Director-Writer as a combined role in the blockbuster period. Despite all statistical evidence suggesting that movies were open to less variable discrepancy in box office returns (more reliability) when the writer/producer/director were separate roles, the hyphenate roles of director-writer became fashionable for economic (early director-writer combinations did well which created a rationale for imitating it when financial new films; a self fulfilling prophecy) and pragmatic reasons (there is marginally less arguing between writer and director if they are the same person!). The success of the separate producer with director-writer combined was statistically wilder at producing reliable box office returns, but because a few instances had succeeded in doing well, it became fashionable to back such projects. The report concluded that the blockbuster ‘disturbed the social organization of Hollywood’, power shifted to business interests (producers) and the consolidation of writer-directors favoured those with established track records but decreased the odds of newcomers without a history of accomplishments. Therefore, if you made a mistake with your first film, you most likely didn’t get a chance to make a second!

To some extent I believe the new technological era has led us to more necessary change. I have been the multi-hyphenate (writer-producer-director) on a variety of projects despite the statistical likelihood that this combination is likely to fail. Baker and Faulkner noted that one-film producers used full role consolidation (writer – producer – director) much more than multi-film producers (19% v. 8%). But here is the bit that doesn’t get told within the statistics; I rarely did them by myself. I was collaborating with others and we shared the credits.

I think a lot of the reason why people are failing so miserably to produce a lifetime of work is because they are doing it in isolation and in competition with others. I believe that our film education system is stacked in the mythologies of individualism, I believe that our film festivals champion competition and give credit only to the key crew and I believe that our industry benefits from the mythology of individualism more than anyone else. Hollywood cinema is dominant and it is the one place where the American Dream can only truly exist – in fantasy. Far from the belief that ‘if you work hard enough you can have it’, Hollywood is more nepotistic and less meritocratic that most industries. You only need to be a woman to know that this is a fact (don’t believe me? Google ‘celluloid ceiling’).

In my opinion (as someone who is statistically unusual for producing, directing and writing more projects than most) collaborating is the way in which you continue to make films. Your connections and your network. And I’m not saying anything new, as it has always been this way, but TV shows and DVD extras make you think as if your talent will be the difference. It won’t. I’ve seen plenty of talented people fall by the wayside because they didn’t work with people.

So, if you want longevity into your filmmaking career, work with people. And work with them with patience and politeness, as if you’d like to work with them again.

James

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