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in Filmmaking
on Jun 11, 2009

The 2009 Producer’s Guild “Produced By” Conference wrapped up on Sunday after two days of back-to-back panels discussing the past, present and future of the film business. Attendance was beyond capacity (begging the question, who was left to wait tables at Marix?) and while the information delivered wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, the conference did serve as a summation of the State of the Industry. In a nutshell, here’s where we are today: find alternate ways to squeeze money out of your product (not just ticket sales and ad dollars), and focus only on content with a pre-existing audience, i.e. sequels, adaptations, and the like.

Despite sessions devoted to financing independent film and indie distribution, the discussions definitely had a Hollywood focus (and it’s really hilarious to hear what Hollywood considers “independent” film). During “Branded Entertainment for Producers,” lawyer Ken Hurtz and branding guru Brian Turkelson talked about the disconnect between the slow-paced, risk-averse advertising world, and the high-volume movie business. In “Financing Independent Film,” a tribunal of bankers talked about different types of financing for indie film (gap, mezzanine, equity, etc.) and respectfully asked producers not to bring them small, “Sundance-y” movies. So if anyone out there has a fully-packaged, franchise ready indie based on a best-selling series of novels, the reps at Morgan Stanley and Newbridge Capital are waiting with your check.

The liveliest session by far was “Gordon on Gordon: How to Be a Great Creative Producer,” in which Vance Van Petten, executive director of the PGA, moderated a discussion between legendary producers Larry Gordon (Die Hard, Field of Dreams, Watchmen) and Mark Gordon (Speed, Saving Private Ryan). “If there are any reporters in here, leave now,” said Vance, to prefaced the rowdy discussion that followed. The next hour was packed with less practical information on studio producing, than—more enjoyably—anecdote after anecdote from the Gordons’ careers. Mark Gordon talked about developing Saving Private Ryan by inviting writer Ian Bryce to his office once a week to toss around ideas until they found the one that clicked. Larry Gordon confessed that if when he was a young boy in rural Mississippi, someone had put a gun to his head and told him, “Go to Hollywood, make fifty movies and run a studio, or I’ll shoot,” he would have told them to pull the trigger. Both claimed that anyone who tells you you’re wrong, is wrong.

The feel-good platitudes were peppered with a few pearls of tangible advice (don’t count on getting a development deal based on a pitch ever again, studios are looking for pre-sold, pre-packaged material), but the theme of the discussion—and, one might say, the conference—was that there is no one road to getting your film made, and the only common ingredient amongst successful producers is hustle. — Smriti Mundhra

Smriti Mundhra has been working in the film and television industry for over ten years. With partner Ben Rekhi, she co-produced Bomb the System, a 2004 Independent Spirit Award nominee for Best First Feature, and produced the award-winning feature film Waterborne. She also co-produced Punching at the Sun, an official selection of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, as well as over one dozen award-winning short films.

Her other production credits include Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty and the Coen Brother’s features O Brother Where Art Thou and The Man Who Wasn’t There. She has also worked in casting at Sony Pictures and as an entertainment journalist for Latina Magazine and IGN Film Force.

Smriti was awarded the 2005 Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker by the acclaimed director and the Harlem Film Foundation, and the 2007 Chairman’s Fellowship by Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She has an MFA in film with a concentration in producing from Columbia University.

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