TBI Weekly: Unpacking the reality of being a producer

The Bear (Fishes)

TBI’s man in LA, Arrested Industries CEO Anthony Kimble, draws a line between the hugely stress-inducing episode of The Bear and the life of a producer as the US strikes drag on.

Who’d be a producer?

Earlier in my TV career, while working for broadcasters and distributors, I envied many of the producers I met. Between their homes in London’s leafiest suburbs and shiny offices in trendy locations, they seemed to lead gilded lives packed with talent lunches at swanky restaurants and business class flights to exciting network pitches.

Or so I thought…

Having jumped the fence, I quickly realised that the jobbing producer’s lot is far from easy. You need to be able to both lead the charge and bring up the rear on every project, have assiduous creative and commercial sensibilities, be able to herd cats, hundreds of them, and possess definitive nerves of steel.

In fact, after watching a cracking festive episode of The Bear on Hulu, I think Christmas – and more specifically the matriarch’s role in it – could be the perfect analogy for the life of a producer.

Producers are the only big cog in the Hollywood machine not to be unionized, so do not receive the same pension, health care and residuals that the unions are currently fighting for

You start worrying about it and planning months before everyone else. You buy everything, carefully choosing the best gifts for everyone. You accommodate everyone’s likes and dislikes – from food to entertainment. You wrangle various relatives and guests to preserve the peace. You do all the clearing up. And, despite your hard work and vast expenditure, there’s little thanks. On top of that, you hardly sit down for the duration and when you do, it’s just to drink. Heavily.

Sound familiar?

So please, at a time when everyone’s focus is on writers and actors getting what they absolutely deserve, do also spare a thought for producers. Not the big glitzy ‘celebrity’ producers like Ryan Murphy or Shonda Rhimes with their mind-boggling nine-figure overalls… but the everyday producers working project to project with the same concerns as their peers in other parts of the industry.

Producers are the only big cog in the Hollywood machine not to be unionized, so do not receive the same pension, health care and residuals etc that the unions are currently fighting for. Bizarrely, producers seem to have been lumped into the AMPTP, when the reality is that it holds most producers over a barrel as the studios know that we will do almost anything to get a show greenlit.

This isn’t a pity party. Just a reality check as so much of what is happening in the US is faced by producers everywhere.

(CC: Izayah Ramos – unsplash)

Typically, we are the only cradle-to-grave part of the production process and, as development is rarely funded, we are working for free for most of the time while having to pay option fees and writers. With studios and streamers insisting on near full project ownership, the back end, where we used to play catch-up, has gone the way of the snow leopard (rarely seen). And of course, producers don’t get residuals.

In my experience, when you do get a development fee, it’s often so derisory that it’s quickly eaten up paying the legal fees to negotiate the studio contracts and their notoriously complicated MAGR (modified adjusted gross receipts) definitions!

Prior to the 2007-08 writers’ strike, independent producers had more access to the back end from their projects and there were more overall deals, which kept the wolves from the door. Now, such deals are only reserved for ‘super producers’ or multi-hyphenates who also write, direct and/or even act.

So, most producers are left existing off the upfront fee, which they desperately try to protect. However, every time studios need to cut budgets, this is usually the only place where it can come from as we have already committed to pay everyone else. The studios hardly care; they assume we are grateful for the work and as a result, will sacrifice anything to get our show made. Sadly, they are right.

It certainly makes you wonder why we do it.

Finding and creating a breakout international hit is the holy grail for any producer and this quest probably keeps many of us going. But to some extent, it is a serendipitous by-product. You really can’t bank on it.

Of course, we want to be remunerated fairly too, but what gets me out of bed every morning is a passion for finding and sharing incredible stories. Stories that take me to new worlds and show life there through fresh voices and unique lenses. I even love the challenge of finding all the right people to fit each different project jigsaw. And I think I have this in common with producers everywhere.

To return to my Christmas analogy for summing up; we may not get much credit, or thanks, and we may end up being out of pocket, but we probably love it more than anyone else and will keep beavering away in the background to make it as special as we can, all the time pursuing those content ‘crackers’!

Check out Anthony Kimble’s other recent TBI columns:

Shifting targets in South Africa amid Hollywood shutdown

Will US strikes provide the great Hollywood reset?

Hollywood’s fatal attraction to reboots

Why Hollywood’s C-suite shouldn’t be biting the hand that feeds it

In the long run… I’ll always love a limited series

Arrested’s Anthony Kimble on staying nimble in a rocky market

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