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The 3 Things You Need to Produce a Film, According to Industry Veterans

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John Cooper, Michael Barker, Mary Jane Skalski and John Sloss at Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Summit. | Photo by Fred Hayes

Bridgette Bates

“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 Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Summit.

Earlier in the evening, Cooper asked the audience the following question: “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. Here’s the verdict.

  • Will: 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: 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, how he gained business, how he lost it, and how he 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 among producers included: tenacity, courage, teeth, balls, stories, smart, failure, delusion, and luck.

Toward 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.


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