What it Takes
John Cooper, Michael Barker, Mary Jane Skalski and John Sloss. Photo by Fred Hayes
What it Takes
John Sloss. Photo by Fred Hayes
What it Takes
Photo by Fred Hayes
What it Takes
Photo by Fred Hayes

What it Takes

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"In the early years of indie film, there wasn't community...and Robert Redford made a place."
—John Cooper

“We have viagra, estrogen, and vodka. Also, a lawyer, but that might not help you,” quipped Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper on closing night of the Creative Producing Summit. Earlier in the evening Cooper asked: Besides money, in a single word what does it take to produce a film? All of the participants—from career producers to first-time filmmakers—attempted to find that golden nugget that makes a successful producer, a role that Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, claims can’t be pinned to one thing because a producer is a renaissance man. Well, Barker did come up with a word along with John Sloss, Mary Jane Skalski, and other Summit participants and here’s the verdict:

  • Will: John Sloss found his word by reflecting on the producers who inspire him through sheer will power, including Lee Daniels who raised the funds for his unlikely hit Precious and took it all the way to the Oscars. He also noted the flip (and most fulfilling) side to being driven by will, “We are suckers every time we put money into a movie. I am one of those suckers and I don’t regret it for a minute."
  • Confidence: Mary Jane Skalski saw a more nuanced meaning of her choice, focusing on the “con” of confidence. She looked to elements of con movies and found a parallelism to their plot structures and the role of a producer: cons are a game of getting people to believe in your agenda, a con artist has a specialized skill set, and they have the faith to believe that somehow their plan will work.  
  • Trust: After Michael Barker resisted applying one word to a producer’s success, he confessed there was one factor to which he always returned. He recalled stories about his early start in the competitive industry and how he gained business, and lost it, and then gained it again. When things worked it was because he was working with people he trusted and they trusted him, “In hard times, trust is not sentimental or bogus.”

Some of the other favorite words amongst producers included: tenacity, courage, teeth, balls, stories, smart, failure, delusion, and luck. Towards the end of the conversation Cooper was asked if “Redford” was the path to success as a producer and Cooper responded, “He [Robert Redford] created opportunities for us to do things. In the early years of indie film there wasn’t community. Indie film used to be lonely and Robert Redford made a place.” As Cooper continued to search for a common understanding between the different words floating around the group, perhaps in the end the essential element was the “community” of the whole.

As Creative Producing Fellow Jennifer Cochis offered the final word of the night, “It may be a little of Wizard of Oz, but you have to have heart.” It’s also worth noting, Dorothy had her Toto, tin man, scarecrow, cowardly lion, munchkins, and a couple witches.

Click here to read about the opening night remarks at the Creative Producers Summit.