Oct17“So What Exactly Does a Producer Do?”
The role of a producer has always been kind of opaque to me. I just fundamentally get what directors do, cinematographers do, writers, etc., but “Producer” is such a broad term and encompasses so many things. For that reasons, I’ve tended to shie away from talking to them, because I just didn’t really get it. But I got the chance to talk to producer Adam Saunders, CEO of Footprint Features, and I got a bit more of a glimpse into the day-to-day work of what is really a crucial role on set.
So that was pretty cool. And talking to him was cool in general. He’s a fast-talker and ridiculously enthusiastic, both of which are pretty good traits for a producer to have.
It’s worth noting that this interview was actually conducted a little while ago, during the media blitz for the release of Footprint’s most recent film, About Alex. The content of the interview itself is not particularly time sensitive, though, so what he said then certainly still applies now.
Let’s get to it!
Your site is open for people who want to submit a script. Do you have a quota of filling one of your two or three movies from there vs some from traditional agencies, or are you really looking for whoever seems best at the time?
The general rule in all this stuff is that the talent wins the day. The best idea wins. Always. If all the ideas come from one agent and those are the best scripts we’ve gotten that year, then we’ll make those. If the best idea came through our website, fine. We’re just trying to make the very best movies we can make.
What kind of movies, genre-wise, are you looking for? You have said you’re looking for “Character-driven” films, but that’s not really a genre.
Fair point. Our natural attraction or predilection or whatever is for comedies and dramas and thrillers. Those are the three genres that we most respond to. I mean, of those three comedies and thrillers are easier to sell, but dramas often time attract big casts and then we can sell with casts. I love all three kinds.
If someone came to you with a character-driven script for an action movie or a horror movie, would you be open to that?
We’re trying to establish a brand, so that people know the kind of movies we make. If you brought me script for The Sixth Sense, which is considered to be a horror movie, would we make it? Sure, if we could afford it. It’s a great script. But in general, we’re trying to stay on message. Movies like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, The Way Way Back, and 50/50 are in the Footprint wheelhouse, and that’s what we want people to know a Footprint movie is. With an exceptional script in another genre, sure, but most likely that script would go to another company that tends to make those kinds of movies anyway.
How do you define success, financially, critically, commercially, etc.?
Each thing is compared to its own standards. For investors, you want to get them a return on their investment. From an artistic standpoint, we want to have a movie that we’re proud of, so with the director and me feeling that it’s the movie we set out to make, and from an audience standpoint, in a perfect world people would like it. You don’t want to base your definition of success on what other people say, but we’re in the business of entertaining people, so the more people that respond to the film the better, just by definition.
How hands on are you during pre-production and production?
Very. From the moment we acquire the script to the moment the film comes out in theaters, we are very, very hands on. In terms of pre-production, when we’re putting together the cast and crew, those are decisions made between the me and the director. When we’re in production, I’m there every day on set. Every time we shoot a scene I’m sitting right there. I’m very hands on. As for the script, it depends. If it’s fully formed, there’s a short development time and I don’t do much. Other times it takes much longer and I give lots of script notes. It varies from project to project.
How do you choose directors and other parts of the crew?
Each project is different. With directors, we look to see that their body of work fits. You really want to find someone that’s passionate about the project, and if you feel like they have a vision for it and you want to hear that and see what they’re looking for. That’s the process for that. For the crew, the director will obviously be a huge part of that. The Director of Photography is the director’s choice, and the designer is largely chosen by the director as well, because they have to execute that vision on screen.
What is your role between the delivery and official release?
Well it’s interesting, because my role is kind of the same throughout. I always play the role of the general manager of the football team. I’m overseeing the process and making sure everything’s on track and putting out fires as they go. But hopefully if things are on track then I’m just overseeing and not doing a lot. But I step in if there’s a problem.
Once it’s finished and it’s been sold to a distributor, I’m in contact with the distributor, talking about the marketing materials, talking about the trailer and the press opportunites and which cities it comes out in. Just sort of making sure that everything is fine from our end. Even as they prepare the marketing and the release strategy.
Long term, would you team up with other production companies to make things that are more expensive than the $8 million films you work on now?
Sure, absolutely. We’re actually already partnering with companies. We’re open to that and working with bigger budget ranges for sure. That’s definitely something we want to do.
Was the $4-$8 million limit arbitrary? Where did you get from?
We want to make movies that feel like movies and have production value of a certain quality. At the same time, based on revenue streams and various comparable films, we want to be profitable. It depends, but there’s a market for a $1 million film and a $3-5 million film, and a $7-10 million film. Those three ranges are the areas that we work in. That’s what we get ad that’s the money our business model has dictated.
I know you were involved in theater for a long time. What do you see as the most benefit of film as opposed to theater?
Wider reach. We make a trailer and it gets a million page views. A million people. You go to a play, and I’ve got a friend who is an incredible broadway producer, but to get a million people to see a broadway show would take years. It’s harder to reach so many people, and that reach matters.
Speaking of reach, your most recent film, About Alex, released theatrically and on VOD simultaneously. Is that the future of distribution?
To some extent, we’re really figuring out how it’s all gonna go. My hope is that the theatrical release of About Alex will drive awareness and people will see it there, but by having it on VOD, you can get it into 85 million homes or something with access to it. I think there’s a value for having that many eyeballs, but I think there’s something really powerful about the screen experience. I would like for us to have our movies come out in theaters and then on all the ancillary streams. That’s the ideal scenario, but I’m aware that the world is changing. We have to make sure that we can get the best return.
Makes sense. Any last thoughts?
What we really want is for people to know what we are and what we do. We make these movies under $10 million, they’re character driven comedies, dramas, and thrillers. If we’re clear about that, we’ll get really good material and we have been getting really good material. It’s like going to a restaurant for me. If I go to a restaurant that’s selling pizza and egg rolls, I don’t eat there. I think “I don’t know what these guys are doing.” If I go somewhere that claims to have the best spaghetti in town, I eat there, because I know that that’s what they do. We want be that with Footprint. We want to be a specific brand that people know, and we want to do a really good job of making these kinds of movies so that people will be excited. We don’t want to be anything other than that.
Awesome! Thanks so much for talking to me.