Remember the days when the title card representing “producer” listed only one or two names? Even if you were a civilian and not at all sure what such a person did, you could rest assured that the movie or television show you were watching was somehow guided by a strong and committed presence. Anyone who’s made passing note of the credits leading into most of today’s movies and TV shows knows the situation has drastically changed. Now it’s not uncommon for 15 or 20 people to be designated as producers, and not just in TV.
Perhaps the definition of the job has changed, but the hard, day-to-day work of getting a project up on its legs and through to completion hasn’t. I have the highest respect for the true producers of this world, those who search out and develop great ideas and scripts, nurturing them and whipping up support for them; the ones with years of experience, who can read a budget and schedule and see the big picture; the ones who know their way around a set from teeth to tail. Unfortunately, it appears to be a dying breed. As for the rest, I propose a new title: the phantom producer. Every show seems to bring more of them out of the woodwork, and you might wonder who they are.
Of course, the industry has a long, glorious tradition of nepotism, and significant others are often given their moments in the spotlight (not to mention a nice slice of the budget). Then there are the agents, managers and representatives who might bring in a star or two to help obtain the financing. Stars themselves tend to cede the producer title, though they occasionally deliver practical value beyond their box-office appeal. Writers have made tremendous advances in the producers’ realm over the years, especially in TV, where they enjoy much more influence than in features. Investors, bankers, completion-bond people, distributors, and almost anyone else with some small role in the process who doesn’t fit into any other category are also good fits for the phantom prefix. That they don’t know a sprocket hole from a donut hole is of no concern. To many of them, the title is just a line on their résumé, something to jack up their rate the next time out or get them a good seat at a hot restaurant. Even if they prove vital to the preliminary stages of a show in some way, once the rocket leaves the pad (often sooner), they become irrelevant, which is quite the opposite of a real producer. I can’t imagine having a dozen or more cinematographers credited for something I’m shooting, especially if they only arranged the tests for me. I’m sure the genuine producers of the world are wincing at a similar denigration of their profession.
Given all the ridiculous, frivolous and outright deceptive practices that often define the producer credit, why hasn’t some smart individual figured out that it would be efficient and cost effective to allow the cinematographer a measured hand in producing? Think about it. No one is more qualified, across the broader scale of a show, to make clear and intelligent decisions about budget, scheduling, equipment and personnel; most of our time in prep is spent huddling with the director and making decisions in these areas. Calling us producers would sanctify the relationship and encourage more respect for our contributions, and the time and money saved could only benefit the production.
The streets are filled with cinematographers who also direct and directors who also produce. The leap from cinematographer to producer is a lot narrower than you might think, and this idea deserves serious consideration. We are well prepared from the start, so what’s the big deal?
Cinematographer/Producer. Yeah, I like the sound of that. And it’s long overdue. Now if we can only get the powers-that-be to listen.