Are You Expecting Your Producer to Save You?

Fernanda Rossi October 12, 2010

Dear Doc Doctor: I’m working alone and getting stuck and overwhelmed with so many things to do. How can I find the right producer?

Doc Doctor: Working alone—producing, directing, shooting and editing—can be exhausting for some and liberating for others. You might dread the overload, or on the contrary fear the dependency.

The idea of wanting outside help is not unique to our overscheduled era. Artists have been hooked on external stimulation and on both divine and earthly intervention for all of recorded history. Today you might not negotiate with ethereal beings for some clarity on how to proceed, but you might expect a producer to help you figure out your next steps. Like troubadours singing out to the lonely night in hopes of finding a muse, filmmakers may advertise their needs online. And your call may be answered; you’ll discover that the right producer can bring not just their own rolodex but also know-how and renewed enthusiasm to a stalling project. Yet waiting for that call to be answered in order to go on with the film can put your documentary in eternal limbo.

If you are delaying working on the story until your dream producer shows, you might be dealing with garden variety creative block. You’ll soon find that working with someone also takes time, and plenty of energy. Many relationships start on the wrong foot because of this gap between the filmmaker’s need and the true job description of those being hired.

Also know that more cooks don’t necessarily make a better broth, especially if rather than a cook, what you actually needed was a busboy! You may wish you had a producer when in reality you want someone to solve a specific issue or type of task, such as putting together a budget or running errands or keeping a schedule. Producers can do that, but they can and should offer so much more.

The first step in not falling into the hoping-your-producer-will-save-you trap is to make an honest profile of your needs. What is really stopping you from moving forward with your film, both externally and internally?

Also consider the amount of hourly work you're looking for and how much involvement you want from a producer or other collaborator. What could that person bring to the documentary? Create a job description. Read it to yourself, and, if you're ready, show it to friends or colleagues. Is this a job anybody would want? Would YOU take this job? Now make an equally long list of the things you can offer!

Sometimes the mere act of putting something in writing will bring you the awareness you need to make an informed decision. You might realize an intern is enough to free up some mental space or get more done. Other times a colleague may suggest a potential co-producer based on your description, thereby saving you weeks of going through resumes. Then starts the long, always interesting process of getting to know each other—a process that should only begin once you're sure that you’re looking for a team player and not a white knight or Florence Nightingale.

In a world of online social networking, it would seem that finding somebody for any job is a question of just a few clicks. But those we seek are also seeking… and what they want may not always line up with what we want from them.

Internationally known speaker, author and story consultant Fernanda Rossi has doctored over 300 documentaries, scripts, and fundraising trailers including two documentaries nominated for Academy Awards in 2007 and 2009. In addition to her private consultations, she lectures worldwide. She is also the author of the book Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making your Documentary Fundraising Trailer. More info and book at