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FILMMAKER: Charlotte Atkinson
STORY: Building a Career as an Indie Producer, or How I Learned to Love My Niche
Whenever I tell anyone who doesn’t work in film that I’m a short film and radio producer, I always get asked, ‘so what exactly does a producer do?’
As you likely know, it can be a bit of a difficult question to answer.
Sometimes I’m picking up scripts, and sometimes I’m picking up stories and commissioning scripts.
Sometimes I’m just working on distribution and marketing for a project. Sometimes I’m pulling everything together from start to finish.
And by that point, I’ve usually lost the person who asked the question in the first place.
Indie producers are often a bit like chameleons. We’re also mothers, we’re multitaskers and we’re tired.
Go to any gig site, Facebook group, or online network, you’ll see ads for producers that usually run along the lines of, ‘this is a great opportunity for a producer to work on a cool project with a strong script. We’re looking for £5k funding which the producer would need to find.'
After seeing these, or being sent them, a few too many times I started to get frustrated. If this was the expectation of me by total strangers then I wasn’t cut out for it.
I’m not cut out for the ‘script goes in this side and money comes out this side’ robot that a lot of indie filmmakers think producers are. Not only do we end up exhausting ourselves going from project to project and only ever working on other people’s projects, we get no enjoyment or fulfillment from it.
What I've also realized is that this approach is also damaging for our careers.
The other day I was having a session with a young director I’m coaching. He told me he liked Damien Chazelle’s work but he couldn’t see what his ‘thing’ was.
“The thing is, when you see a Tarantino film, you know what you’re gonna get. Same with any of the big directors. They’ve all got that unique touch that brands their films to them.”
And it’s precisely that touch that brings in audiences, financiers, and distributors.
If you can do something well, and then do it again just as well, people know that your future projects are guaranteed an audience. They might not be guaranteed a success, but there’s a solid chance of it, and that’s a key factor for the big decision-makers.
When producers start their careers and jump from horror to drama to doc back to narrative, they learn a hell of a lot, but they’re not developing a solid career path for themselves. They’re not giving themselves that opportunity to become known for something in the way directors do.
Back when I started as a producer I did the same thing. I jumped from female-led drama to female-led horror to all-male thriller.
It meant I had to look for a new audience every single time I made a film. It also meant I had to go to new investors every time and no one knew what I was going to make next. Even I didn’t know what I was going to make next.
And when I look back at those films now, the majority are so far away from the films that I want to be known for, I regret doing them.
It’s similar to the thought process of a lot of film students.
I’m sure you’ve all heard someone say, ‘I can do a bit of everything.' They work as a runner, a camera assistant, a location scout, a 2nd AD, and constantly jump in and out of roles.
On the one hand, it’s a great thing to do because they get a ton of experience from every angle of filmmaking. But it’s also not going to build them a solid career. And if you know you want to produce (and only produce) then jumping around weakens your CV.
A few months ago, after reading the post on Filmmaker Freedom about leaving no-budget filmmaking for good, I decided that I was finally done with jumping around.
I knew exactly what sort of films I wanted to make, and the audience that was desperate for them. I found a writer whose style I loved and we got to work creating a slate of scripts.
We’re making films for the 18-25 female market which ties in with my key audience on social media. That audience already comprises of 5000+ members thanks to Instagram alone. It means that when I’m pitching my projects, people know exactly what they’re getting from me and that I already have an in-built audience that’s interested in the films I’m making.
You would not believe how much easier it makes life.
Before I read that piece on breaking up with no-budget filmmaking I was convinced that cutting a big part of indie filmmaking out of my life would be a mistake. I thought jumping from creative team to creative team was just how it’s done.
It’s crazy how wrong you can be sometimes. Turns out, niching down and confidently branding yourself can make a world of difference in your career. And it's the first step in making work you're proud of.
If you’re tired of jumping around and letting the market define you, and never having any ownership of your work, feel free to reach out on my website. I'd love to chat.
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