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So You Wanna Be a Producer?

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Katherine Di MarinoI’ve gone about my career in a very peculiar fashion… and I don’t recommend it for everybody. I started out with the notion that in order to be a producer you had to know EVERYTHING and every facet of the business. So I set about learning it. I became quite convinced that it was a long hard road to getting that elusive first credit on a dramatic series, that it took me years and years to get around to getting up the gumption to produce my first short film in order to get the ball rolling. I think the fear of getting sued had me paralyzed.

I wanted to make sure I knew all of the ins and outs of things, only for it to suddenly dawn at some point this is what good entertainment lawyers are for. Trick is to make sure you’re working with enough of a budget to pay one. There is something to be said for being able to answer your own questions, there’s something to be said for having a back stop when you’re not sure. And that goes for everything…. not just the legal aspects of the business.

After many many years of futzing around delving into every facet of television except post production, I realized something that I should have known all along. Half of the learning is in the doing, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, surround yourself with people who do.

I saw this in action when a colleague I know had an opportunity fall into their lap with money attached. They were into documentaries and had no business working in the world of drama at such a high level, but there it was…. an opportunity. I sat back and watched how this all played out and was amazed to see they had no qualms about asking me, or anybody else questions. Lots of questions. What is a gaffer? Who runs a production meeting? Is the casting person bad or is it just me? (no it was not just them).

Where I had a fear of appearing stupid and being a shame to my sex, this person did not. Obliviousness ruled the day, and believe it or not it worked out. There were enough support systems in place to make sure things didn’t go off the rails. And I think that’s an important lesson. Until mid-career you will never know everything you need to know, and you need not fear the fact that this is a truth. Don’t wait ages like I did to produce your own project. There is nothing stopping you except finding the money and the voices in your head that keeps telling you you’re not quite ready yet.

I know another “producer” who has received credit on several things, that informed me they could not apply for jobs as a producer because they did not in fact know what the job involved. I almost spat up my tea! Yes that’s taking it a bit far, but a further demonstration that there are people out there doing it and getting credits as they blindly walk around counting on the good will of others to see them through.

I will admit to the fact that this method gets a bit tiring to those around you so you’d better pay attention and learn your lessons the first time. People only allow you to pick their brains so many times before they start rolling their eyes and avoiding you like the plague. There is a happy medium here. Take risks, get things under way, be a mover and a shaker, but don’t be one of those that builds their careers on the backs of others. Give credit where credit is due, and if someone is mentoring you a producer credit can’t hurt if it’s appropriate, or at least a thanks in the credits goes a long way. I’ve assisted many projects over the years only to see the finished product and despite the lengths I had gone to, my name wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Would I help them again? Not terribly likely!

Do try and get your career started early but don’t use and abuse people. They won’t like you for it! And if you think someone forgets that you phoned them every five minutes to ask inane questions, they don’t. That is the place you will always hold in their minds – the incompetent who couldn’t stand on their own two feet.

Start small obviously because that’s where you want your mistakes to be made. You don’t need a large audience watching your undoing. Things will get overlooked, you’ll have to fire somebody, things will run into overtime, and you’ll be sweating buckets but at least you’re doing it.

And I highly recommend getting experience as an assistant under a good professional producer who is going to teach you the right way, not the wrong way to do things. Make sure you’re going to the right people for help. If you go to the wrong people they will be giving you the wrong answers. And you won’t know it’s wrong until things crash and burn. Seeking out seasoned professionals is key.

I noted a huge difference between myself and another colleague that I would never work with again. They came from a guerilla style torch the village background, and me a professional one, and the two did not gel. When you’ve learned to fool around with the numbers to increase your tax credits a little voice inside your head should tell you this is probably not the most appropriate course of action to take.

Always seek to do things the right, above board, and legal way. Don’t be a short cut taker because whether you want to believe it or not this will come back to haunt you. Everybody’s style of doing business does come back to bite them in the backside eventually, so do it the right way not the wrong way. That fear of a lawsuit I was talking about could become your reality if you don’t get in the habit of crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s.

I once had someone call me in a panic while in the thick of production asking what errors and omissions insurance is. If you don’t know the answer to that, you should know the answer to that before embarking on your journey…. among other things. The good part of the story is they asked, and I told, and the paperwork was put into place. Once again, in case you missed it, they asked!

Schools are teaching great things these days and you may find out everything you need to know by that route. But if you do it like I did it by learning on the job you’ve got to be on your toes and paying close attention to what’s going on around you. And that’s what your colleagues and mentors are there for…. to provide answers when you don’t have them.

 

Katherine Di Marino

About Katherine Di Marino

Beginning her career in 1994 as the Producer’s Assistant on the TV series Highlander, Katherine was eventually awarded an Associate Producer mentorship by the CMPA on the Showtime series Dead Man’s Gun. She went on to gain a broad knowledge base throughout her work at Peace Arch Entertainment and Omnifilm Entertainment in the areas of development, production and business affairs. During her career she has been involved on many projects including Francis Ford Coppola’s sci-fi series First Wave, David Steinberg’s comedy series Big Sound, the ½ hour dramedy Robson Arms, five Lifetime Network movies, the animated series Pirate TV, along with nine documentaries. She also did two stints at Creative BC as an Analyst. She has done work for over 20 broadcasters and won numerous international awards. Katherine just produced the movie “Rio Heat” – a Canadian/Brazilian co-production featuring Harvey Keitel.