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Unusual Producing situation

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Dan McCain
Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 8, 2011 at 1:13:29 pm

Through my production company I have been shooting and producing projects for the past 10 years. I have stumbled upon a situation that is unusual and I would like some advice about how to proceed.

There is a person who helps get me jobs from time to time, we can call him an informal agent. The unusual thing about this person is they not only help get the projects from a sales perspective but then like to get involved in the creative and production process even though they have no background or real experience in this field. Often times is becomes frustrating to have a "pseudo client" who has very strong opinions about the direction and details of a project while not being the person who pays for changes they suggest etc. Anyway I constantly try to set boundaries and teach them about production but they typically dont "get it". I have been tolerating this because they have been quite helpful bringing great projects to the table. I have a very good track record of delivering projects on time and typically under budget.

Now to the specific issue: He has landed funding on a good documentary project with a budget and proposal that I developed and my production company attached to produce it. Because the funder knows "the agent" they have given him the money to manage the project as an executive producer and he is hiring my production company to produce it.

I produced a budget and cash flow statement with various installments that would need to be paid to allow the project to be produced smoothly. However now he says he would like to look through the budget and select line items that he can pay himself and pay vendors directly only paying my expenses as we go along. I explained that this will unnecessarily complicate things and that there are many reasons why the money should be collected in installments and managed by my production company with strict reporting back to him. However he is saying that it should be easier on me not to have to worry about paying vendors and other expenses and that I am just worried because im used to managing everything myself.

However from previous experience I realize that the person is a serious micro manager and wants as much control over the project as possible, however he is a business person and not an experienced producer and doesnt understand the nuances and creative challenges of producing a documentary like this in a challenging environment (not the U.S.).

I have a meeting with them tomorrow to decide what line items they control and which I do and exactly how we handle the money. I have a really bad feeling about how this is all going to go down based on past experiences and general experience. I would love advice about weather my fears are justified and help with a solution that will make him happy and also keep me from becoming too frustrated.

Thank you for any feedback on this situation.

Finally I am a little uncomfortable posting this under my real name and I wonder if the moderators could either change my name or eventually delete this post after we get some feedback?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 8, 2011 at 5:31:23 pm

Dan, if you really want the project that badly, maybe you should demote yourself to just strictly handling the creative, and let this guy have his head with paying the bills. Structure the deal so you get paid in installments as you progress, that way, if he crashes the project, it is his rep with vendors that gets damaged and not yours, and you're at least paid up for the amount of work that happened up to the crash.

I would phrase it like this: "Look, you can control ALL the monetary stuff, or ALL the creative, but you have to pick ONE only. You want to exec produce and run the biz side, fine, take it all, make me just another of the vendors. But I have the last word on the creative, this is my realm of expertise,not yours. You're funding the dream: I'm tasked with realizing it. I get my progress payments as we go, you handle the money, schedules and the responsibility for getting everybody paid on time. That's a division of labor that I think will work. I'm not comfortable with each of us trying to do both jobs at once. That's two extra partners too many".

You will want it written down in signed memos of understanding who is responsible for what, and also, what the protocol will be if something goes very wrong and the project has to be cancelled.

Think of it as a pre-nup agreement.

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Craig Seeman
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 8, 2011 at 9:24:23 pm

Mark has the right points. I'd add that you need to have tight control on revisions because he sounds exactly the kind of "client" who will keep giving you changes . . . even when his client isn't asking for them. If he's micromanages the funds you have to make sure you get paid for revisions.

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Mark Raudonis
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 11, 2011 at 6:21:21 am

[Mark Suszko] "you have to pick ONE only."

Excellent advice!


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Richard Herd
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 8, 2011 at 6:50:12 pm

You answered your own issues right here: [Dan McCain] "Because the funder knows "the agent" they have given him the money to manage the project as an executive producer and he is hiring my production company to produce it. "

Smile and say, "Show me the script, storyboards, shot list, shoot schedule, and post production schedule, and I'll execute it."

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Mike Cohen
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:06:45 pm

Sounds like the agent is trying to see how much profit can be squeezed out of the budget for himself to keep. Get everything in writing and get a downpayment. Beware the Jabberwocky.

Mike Cohen

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Mike Smith
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 9, 2011 at 8:06:46 am


You need to try to have a good clear-the-air session with your contact. It's great that s/he brings you good projects. But you do need to clarify your boundaries, for benefit on both sides. It sounds like your agent is on a journey towards producer status, and wants a little more of the control and the production money that you've both seen as yours in the past.

For this latest, it sounds like biggest project together, s/he is on the hook too if your company, ideas and proposals are part of what helped to get funding. So your negotiating position is quite strong - you can insist on managing things how you, as the experienced producer, think appropriate and as you budgeted, so long as you are prepared to walk away if you can't get agreement. But it would be much better to get an agreement. You both know that it's not about "taking care of the details" for you. You have to decide if and when you are prepared to take a step down in responsibility and control, becoming perhaps a hired manager or hired director. S/he has to decide if s/he's ready yet to fly solo - that has to be on the radar.

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Malcolm Matusky
Re: Unusual Producing situation
on Mar 11, 2011 at 6:55:44 pm

If the "agent" want's to be a producer, let him. There cannot be two "producers" of a film, no matter what is in the credits. Spell out all the responsibilities of a producer and then watch him backpedal.


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Steve Wargo
One more thing...
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:09:28 am

When they send you a list, it needs to be a word doc that can be added to. Say they send a to do list on Monday. Monday night they send 3 additions. Tuesday, they send another list Off 4 items. Tues PM it's 5 more things.

This is a sure fire way to miss something. Each list needs to pasted onto the end of the prior list.

This is especially helpful when you have 3 people involved.

Good luck. I just went through this and it was rocky at times.

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
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