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Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 4 of 18

The Producer/Director Relationship


Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 4 of 18

The Producer/Director Relationship


Lesson Info

The Producer/Director Relationship

Now let's get on to the other side of producing the creative producer um now this is a term that like doesn't always apply some directors are honestly just sort of like here's the script it is what it is you guys figure out how to make it that's it right that's sort of how they work and god bless producers who can deal with that and who can make that movie happen for that director I like working in a little bit more of a collaborative environment in which um the director is sort of looking for a little bit of or open to creative collaboration because I think it can be really essential to have a person in the producing team who understands what the director is trying to do really, really well and who the director trusts completely because that makes things when you come to actually making the film a little bit easier, you know, they know that somebody who's looking out for the the actual operation of the film knows what they're trying to chief um some other parts of being the creative p...

roducer, which is a term that you kind of like here tossed around more and more these days um is ah, you know you you could work directly with with the director on the script if they're open to it bounce either bouncing ideas off of each other or or they use you as a sounding board or um you know, you could even provide like kind of a timeline for them a lot of times people need to feel like they're on a deadline and writing in a vacuum can be very hard, you know, like I don't know when I'm supposed to turn this in or whatever and you say well, here let's let's establish a kind of timetable um let's see uh oh as the creative producer you khun gather key creative collaborators for the director meaning for example like the director of photography for the production designer he's sort of productive heads of you know, like heads of departments that are very, very crucial to the making of the film they're going to determine what the film looks like what the world of the movie looks like and it's very, very important for you too find the right people for the director given what they're trying to achieve putting putting those nominees in front of them and talking about what you think their strengths and weaknesses are or why they might be a good fit and letting the director sort of parse it out. So on this sunset at the monitor as much as possible the creative producers there to offer informed opinions when desired um you know, on the decisions that the director is making so that's why trust is so important if the director's doing doing something and feeling unsure about it there needs to be somebody that they can sort of talk to to say to voice their insecurity or there I don't know if this is exactly right or there's something wrong about this and sort of parse it out with that that person um in post production I think the creative producer is the person watching and giving feedback on every single cut of the film um I just finished a the documentary that we premiered at sundance and I must have seen that film or different like fourteen different cuts of that film over the course of the last two years and it's tricky because at the end of the day like after watching fourteen versions, you start to lose your mind a little bit in your perspective but that if you're good producer you need to bring in other people who can come in and sort of offer ah uh uh what's the like amore blank slate kind of you who don't have any preconceived notions of it I haven't seen any versions and they can say here's the kind of film I think and you have here and here's where it could be improved so that's ben's island on the set of beasts of the southern wild directing the's air all actors who had never really acted before um these are some of the kids I found over the course of um a year of casting. This is this is a band that is actually a group of old, you know, they play cajun music in the bayous of louisiana, and they were all in film. Um and yeah. So, anyway, that's just a sort of visual reference point of flight. Um, there's, no producer in this picture, but ben's doing fine for himself? Um uh, let's see? Yeah, and that that's actually a good starting point. They arranged this arrangement of having a creative producer, whatever is not always is not really like a cut and dry thing. For example, on beasts. I was I was not ben's creative producer. I'm not in this frame. I'm not like by his side, and he doesn't necessarily need that kind of creative producer. However, given the grassroots nature of the production, every producer sort of had a hand and stuff that was inevitably creative, right? So ben did trust me with a key creative element of the film, which was the casting. So I was I saw four thousand girls who auditioned for the part of hush puppy, and I was the one filtering them out with with a couple other people. We would rate them as we would see them, and if they didn't I mean this sounds brutal, but if they didn't rate high enough I wouldn't send them the footage over to bend to check out then then has to go through his whole filtering process, but but he trusted me that I would know what he was looking for because we had done auditions together and parse out sort of the proper candidates uh it feels weird to call a six year old girl candidate of anything with um so anyway and like I said before, producing is not a science some directors prefer to do all the creative work without any interaction with producers they just hand over the script and leave it to the producers to figure out what the hell to do with it. But again, I think it's it's a product of being in a vacuum of resources and a grassroots situation everybody's pulling their own weight and everybody sort of has a role in everything nowhere but um right most trusted ally understands what the director trying to do creatively director has to feel like they have a creative partner um way did this too, but yeah anyway, um a prompt first for everybody here. Um first I'll kick it to the audience at home um could you be a producer if you knew that on a project if you knew that there was no creative role for you whatsoever, I think that's that's a tough question, but I think people need to hear it because if you're if you're thinking about the career like being a career producer, you're not going to necessarily be able to have a creative role in every thing that you're doing. And so if that's what you're interested in, you need tio really look at yourself and say, do I really want to do this? You know, um it just helps illuminate insight into what you're actually in it for, and I know that sometimes producers air frustrated, creative people, and so if they don't feel like they're having the proper kind of, like, creative authority in a situation which they shouldn't, if they're the producer, the director is the creative authority and maybe they shouldn't be in that situation. Um, so yeah, I mean, that's a question, so I kicked it to people at home and I'd love to hear from you guys. Do you guys think that if somebody was like, look, here's, the script I'm done with it, I know exactly what I'm doing? Would you want to be part of that project that could you deal with that and it's ok? If the answer is no, I couldn't because it means that any time you're producing, you're looking for a specific kind of creative role and if that isn't going to be welcome, then you just know that you should go into the next project, but I'd be interested to hear I'm actually curious how you think about yourself in that role certainly uh, you know, producers often think of themselves as creative people who don't necessarily have an outlet or they want to be involved with the process in whatever way that they can I'm I'm wondering if the answer to that dilemma is pursuing ah path of developing projects as opposed to, you know, sort of being a producer or line producer for higher right, that kind of thing that's a very that's very good ah and valid conclusion I mean, for me personally, I love the development process and the post production created the creative elements of the post production process, and I do know that if if e I think that you know, if if I was entertaining doing a project and it didn't have a real creative role but it's still had a certain kind of problem solving kind of role or a relationship role um if the project was exciting enough, I would I would still want to do it just because there's mohr there's there's a common interest there and so I would want to make that thing happened, but certainly I go in looking for that kind of opportunity um, I'll go more into how that happened and why a different lesson, but, yeah, that we're speaking the same language, um, and the other answers from you guys here, before we get to the online audience, I feel like, for myself, personally, I'm I would like to say I'm a creative person, I would much prefer to go into creative producing, but I feel that if somebody if I had the opportunity to be a producer without any creative role, I feel like I would take it just for the experience and to see what that is like, but I don't know if I could go into being a producer as a full time career without any kind of creative role. Um, I just don't think I could do it, because I'm the kind of person where, if I have an opinion, I really want to tell you, it must be important, because I generally don't speak up on this, I think it's something important and to feel like that's, a good quote, I wouldn't want you to feel like I would be overstepping my balance to that would probably be frustrating to me in the long term, sure, and also, I don't want to make it seem like you sign up for a particular kind of producing for your whole career that's not really how it works, it evolves. I mean, my role has been different on every single project have done so it's a matter of kind of feeling it out and seeing what? What hat suits you best and then looking for that hat, so to speak when you take on other stuff and if it's not there, just gauging whether or not it's still a ballad and opportunity for you or something that would make you happy, but and I just wanted I concur absolutely. I think that I am the best version of myself when I'm being creative on a film. Producing is to be frank, not my number one choice. Um, so if I am going to produce it's because I'm producing with an awesome director that I can collaborate with, I also think it's important to remember that the director is in charge of the creative vision, right? So my ultimate role is the producers to support that vision. But I love what you said that if it's if the project appeals to you, then that alone can help motivate you to produce even if your roles less creative, I would have to say that would I feel that I would make that exception and going back teo I think it was a chat room question about how do you appeal the professionals you know to me that's in my experience when I've been able to work with a professional it's usually because the project appeals so them on a creative level they're not just taking the job to pay the mortgage they're taking it because you know it's it's an opportunity to maybe have a little bit of fun, you know or do something important right post this question because I think they got the chat room thinking about things that they may not have thought of a lot of people struggled with this and said, wow, that's a difficult thing to answer shades of grace the yes I can be because I believe the producer to be one of the chain that links together the whole story and then we had mahogany who said this is a great question hard to me for me to really say it depends on the project but overall yes and then dina becker says seems like every time I get hired just produce I always end up getting pulled into into the creative side so I'm fine with it yeah, that happens a lot too it's better that that happens then I guess the other way um cool all right, well, we'll move on that is all of the crew not all, but usually when you go to sundance to premiere a film you bring like um well actually a couple of these people director photography productions argument you know like the department heads you know that people the director's creative collaborators key creative collaborators but on beasts we uh so that ends up being what let's say ten people at most on beasts we brought eighty people to sundance or eighty people came to sundance to support the film who had worked on the film because everybody felt like it was a like they had a really key role in it they felt a certain sense of ownership over it you know, it was a very unique uh time in place that they remember finally and they wanted to be part of the celebrating of the film so this is every this is the crew on a chartered bus to the premier in utah uh sort of a strange photo but it was early in the morning um and so anyway I just wanted to show that that will come into play and a different lesson good just ask how eighty people got there like that they'll pay for themselves did you get like you know we had a really is there no they did they did get there themselves however logistically that is just the beginning of the story when you go to sundance is getting in getting your airfare but forcefully we worked with the best financial partner possible on the film financial and creative partner centereach they are nonprofit that back the film entirely and they understood that this was a valuable thing to have eighty people in the room cheering for the film um and they provided uh they you know, they provided this chartered bus but we also managed it in a really kind of grassroots way too because, um they were staying at like, really cheap best western half hour away from you from park city um and so that's why we had this bus going there so everybody could afford the housing if you could afford the flight in the housing wasn't too bad a pill to swallow and then we just had to provide kind of getting to and from park city utah you know, normally people in park city or paying you know, I was just there and you have to pay an arm and a leg to actually stay there, but we use the same method again we used the same best western and colville utah for this other movie that just premiered and we had about fifty people stay there and it was sort of it sort of ended up being the the best party there was to go to because it was sort of a bunch of people who knew each other and we're and we're there there was a pool there's a hot tub like what more do you need? A um so we'll talk about that on different point um so, yes, so this is. This is still sort of jumped ahead a little bit. This is about the, the creative producer on what their, what they could do with the director. Um, that's. Me. Having just watched the latest movie that I produced, like, fourteen times, and something just happened. Went. Something just went awry with the subtitles. And I'm you tell him, very stressed out.

Class Description

Producing an independent film takes an enormous commitment of time, money, and energy – but there are steps you can follow to make the whole undertaking more productive and less overwhelming. Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up is your guide to reducing friction during every stage of independent feature film production.

In this class, Michael Gottwald, a producer on the OSCAR®-nominated, Beasts of the Southern Wild, will detail the process his team used to bring this sleeper hit to life. By exploring the independent film production process through the lens of Beasts of the Southern Wild you’ll learn how to generate your own independent film success. 

Michael will teach you how to:

  • Find optimal material to produce
  • Engage private and social fundraising resources
  • Craft a production plan suited to your existing resources
  • Distribute and market a finished film

Whether or not you have industry connections, or live in traditional “media centers” (such as New York or Los Angeles), you can still give life to a project that will impact the film industry and artform. You don’t have to blindly navigate the rocky terrain of grassroots film production alone. Michael will offer the insights you need to tackle common challenges during every stage of the producing process.

Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up will show you how to create films that, if positioned properly, rise above the current indie film marketplace "noise."


a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine