What I Look For In A Project: Why Producer Team Is More Important Than the Script, Director, and Actors Combined

14:00 09 April in Musings, Rants and Raves

There are only two factors that I look at when considering a film investment: the script and the producer team.

I’ve probably just caused outrage from all my director and/or actor readers.  Let me first mention that without a strong filmmaker and cast, your chances of making an extremely powerful film are much, much lower than without these elements.  The talents of these individuals bring filmmaking to the next level.  But they don’t make up for shortfalls in the quality of the script and/or producing team.

Considering the quality of the script is an obvious notion.  A bad script has never been made into a great film.  But choosing a good script falls into very subjective territory.  I’ll leave those gritty details for another post.

The strength of a producer team is largely overlooked in indie film.  A director with a script and an actor is nothing but just that until a producer comes aboard and makes that package into a film.  When I invest in a film I am not investing in a single idea or piece of talent—I’m investing in what the producers say they can execute.  Failure to execute the vision they present will be no one’s fault but their own.

If the director does a subpar job on set, the producer should intervene.  If the film doesn’t recoup its budget, the producer has assessed the value of the film too high.  Even if the distributor did a poor job of exploiting the film I hold the producer team responsible for engaging this particular distributor.

When Netflix embarrassed themselves in 2011 by splitting their company in two, it was Reed Hastings, the CEO of the company, who came forward and apologized to his investors and customers.  Producers are the CEOs of films.  They’re the managers of their production LLCs.  If I don’t believe in the producer team behind a project then I won’t invest, no matter how enticing the rest of the package may be.  

  • Finally Someone that gets it….There is no movie without the producer and there is no film release without producer getting it to market….Great Article….

  • Interesting take, J. So what do you say when the director and producer are the same person?

  • Adel

    There is no movie without a producer?? Really?? This is the most stupid thing I have heard in ages. Pretending that the core creative heart of a film is anything else than the director and actors is plain stupid nothing more. Again and again this crazy idea of the factory without the workers. pretty much the dream of any low-level capitalist. This is just so depressing to see so much mediocrity everywhere.

    • If you’re making a film without a producer, then you are the producer. Someone has to line up all the elements. Someone has to work out compensations, legalities, budgeting, scheduling, or hire the people to do those things. Someone has to bring on the right crew. And someone has to oversee distribution. Otherwise, no one sees the film. And do you want to see a return on your investment, or are you independently wealthy enough to fund your projects, without and return, and don’t care if anyone ever sees them?

    • Jamie Parsons

      Now that is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard.
      Producers run a movie. Core creative heart is the director and actors? No. Unless the director and actors are producing, editing or writing then the only thing they are the ‘core creative heart’ of is principal photography. Unfortunately for your opinion there is also pre- and post-production to get through, both of which usually take longer than the few weeks or months where actors are involved.

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James Belfer - Founder & CEO

James founded Dogfish in 2009 to produce and invest in independent film (in which he made 6 films). He was named by Deadline Hollywood as one of 2012′s 10 Producers to Keep Watching. In 2013 he launched the Dogfish Accelerator program after an inspiring experience working for TechStars in Boulder, Colorado. He’s a Northwestern University graduate and received his MBA from NYU Stern in 2013. He currently is an Adjunct Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he teaches Strategies For Independent Producing. James aspires to be one of the world’s most renowned hermits. He tends to spend most of his free time in South Williamsburg watching cartoons and googling “best Texas BBQ in NYC.” He also runs a monthly meetup called A Presentation of the Deplorable, Bizarre, and Terrible in which he binge watches 10 films in a row that most of the world has never seen (most of the time for glaringly obvious reasons). As of July 2014 only 3 people have attended.