A panel entitled “Creative Producing: The Cornerstone of Independent Filmmaking” was held on Saturday, November 23, as part of the 41st Cairo International Film Festival’ s Cairo Industry days.
The panel was organised by CIFF and the American Embassy in Cairo, and was moderated by Louay Khraish, project manager at the non-profit film industry organization Film Independent.
Film Independent producers Heather Rae, Kelly Thomas, and Georges Shoucair discussed the challenges and benefits of creative producing, and the changing landscape of independent film production.
Khraish opened the discussion admitting that for the majority of people, a producer is simply someone who is in charge of generating money for the production of a film. Yet, in truth, this profession has a bigger role to play, which also involves active collaboration with filmmakers the matter that needs a great deal of creativity.
Georges Shoucair spoke about the vitality of the role of the producer-director duo in bringing a project to fruition. A film, he argued, is not only a screenplay, it’s teamwork.
Kelly Thomas noted that finding a creative producer can be quite a challenge, but the benefits of finding the right producer for one’s project are well worth the wait.
Creative producers can greatly assist a filmmaker by providing notes and guidance in the early stages of their project, and helping them establish who their target audience is. In the process of searching for a producer, Thomas advised filmmakers to be clear about their goals and values, and confident about the kind of story they want to tell.
Heather Rae noted that producers must be closely involved in all the details of the movie, from the early steps of pre-production to marketing and distribution: a producer is a person who is responsible of transferring the story from the pages of the script to the screen.
Panelists also discussed the delicate balance between the creative portion of any project and the more business-oriented aspects of their work. Kelly Thomas provided the example of a film she had worked on, which was set primarily in Los Angeles, but featured a lot of Korean dialogue. Thomas knew the film would be difficult to sell, but deeply believed in the heart of the story that was being told. Hence she and the filmmaker every scene at length, and worked together and re-write certain portions of the script to reduce production costs while retaining the emotional impact of the film.
Shoucair further noted the importance of having a coherent team structure from the early stages of any project.
In terms of their own criteria for choosing which projects to work on, the panelists all agreed that the most important thing is for them to feel that the filmmaker’s vision is authentic and speaks to some deeper truth. Heather Rae, who has worked extensively within the genre of social realism, said she feels drawn to underdog stories, films that put forward underrepresented perspectives and new ways of looking at the world.
Shoucair, for his part, felt that his relationship with the director was a major factor in choosing which projects to take on. The director-producer duo, he explained, is central to any project. It is therefore important for producers to be able to see eye-to-eye with their creative collaborators.
When asked about the specifics of raising funds for a project, Shoucair said the key was patience, because it can be a long and difficult process. Rae advised film practitioners never to take their project out into the world too early, and only begin.