Have you ever had an out of body experience, standing nearby, watching yourself in a scenario that you can’t stop from happening and you’re not exactly sure how you got there? That’s how I felt as I watched myself, standing on my porch having a conversation with Mr. Money screaming at me, “You’re not a producer. STOP CALLING YOURSELF A PRODUCER.”
Let me back up a little bit.
About 5 months ago Mr. Money, who I’d been a friend with for 10 years, called and asked if I would help produce his feature that he’d been sitting on for 10 years. He’d donated some money to past short films of mine and was impressed with what I had been able to do with little to no budget. I jumped at the prospect of producing a feature, the next logical step in my producing journey. Bonus, I actually really liked the premise of the film and knew that we could make an amazing movie AND the prospect of working with an actual budget that’s more than $5000? I’m in.
I quickly requested a month off from my restaurant job knowing that once we had shoot dates, I’d really only need 2 weeks off for the actual shoot dates and since he was going to pay me a little, I’d be able to afford at least those two weeks off.
We were a few months into working together when I quickly learned that being a producer means lots of phone conversations with the money man, talking about the process, and juggling lots of different personalities. I’ve always known that, but when there’s one person holding all the cards, aka the money, there’s a bit more dancing to do.
I admit that I was nervous to discuss how much he was going to pay me but knew that we were going to have to do it eventually. One day I hesitantly broached the subject, asking for what I knew I would make at my restaurant gig, praying that he would say, sure, that’s fine. When he came back with double that amount, I was floored. I was also excited and so grateful. Paying me that kind of money meant I could actually afford to take off the entire month to focus on the production! A whole month of NOT being a server, this is a dream come true. It also upped my ante in this game. I immediately knew that I was now responsible for this entire project, to push it through to fruition, to love and care for it as if it were my own.
Mr. Money and I had some difficult conversations. He had a director and cinematographer on board with the project for a few years. When he had a conversation with the cinematographer (who has his own camera, equipment and crew) he was quoted $125,000 for a 14-day shoot. That was almost our entire budget. Talk about tying my hands and not leaving anything else for the project. After some research I discovered that if the full budget is $100,000, you’d have $30-40K to spend on the entire camera department in order to come in under budget.
The director is a first time director who makes his living editing, which is fine, I love that Mr. Money wants to give his friends a chance, and support their dreams. But, when the director wouldn’t commit to the project, I lovingly suggested that perhaps it was time to release him from his role as director.
I was willing to look past that his “audition process” was to meet actors at a café, sit around a table, talk about the project to make sure they “got it” and then declare (in front of the actors) “I think they’re great! You guys?” I was willing to have unending phone conversations that seemed to go in circles. I was willing to accept that we couldn’t send anyone the script and that I couldn’t tell anyone else what the actual budget was. I was not willing to become the verbal punching bag with him screaming at me on the phone.
I hung up from that conversation in tears. I was in shock. Saturday when I had last spoke to Mr. Money on the phone he was over the moon, ecstatic to be moving forward, on Tuesday, he was screaming at me that I was awful. This all stemmed from his inability to get the new cinematographer on the phone. He had after all called him yesterday and emailed him an hour ago and he was yet to return. Not to mention the fact that he had quoted him $60K to shoot the film with all equipment and crew. I knew that he was aiming high, that sight unseen having not read the script; that he would quote higher in order to protect his company. He had assured me we would come in WAY under that and once he got the script would give us an accurate quote. Mr. Money could not understand any of that and because I had caused him to “burn bridges” with two of his friends and move on to other options, this was entirely my fault.
On Friday when I hadn’t heard from Mr. Money I called him. I told him that as my friend he really hurt my feelings and that I wanted an apology. He said, “Fine, as your friend, I apologize. BUT. . .” and proceeded to yell at me some more, this time throwing in that EVERYONE on the project thought I was AWFUL and if they knew he was paying me that they would be appalled.
This is not how I want to be treated as a producer, nor is this the experience that I want to set up to be the norm for my career. I understand that this industry is full of people and situations exactly like this, but they are not ones that I want to be a part of. Walking away from a lot of money that would afford me the freedom to escape the restaurant for a month was not easy. In the end, that’s what I decided to do. I value my connections in this industry too much to put them in a possibly explosive and harmful work environment. I value my own sanity and myself too much to put myself in that situation. Being able to say, “This is a ‘Fuck No’ for me” was and is way more important than any amount of money or experience will ever be. I chose me.