Everyone knows how essential a good producer is – but what do they actually do? Film Ireland got producer VANESSA GILDEA on the case.
Most times when you tell someone that you’re a producer, the first thing they ask is ‘What exactly does a producer do?’. The reason the question is so often asked and why the answer is so complex is that producing can encompass so many facets of the filmmaking process – it’s almost impossible to define succinctly. But we decided to give it a go anyway and talked to four established Irish producers working across a variety of genres: Macdara Kelleher, Martina Niland, Cathal Gaffney and John Murray.
Macdara Kelleher is managing director of Fastnet Films. He produced the award-winning feature film Kisses (an Irish/Danish/Swedish co-production) and was also selected as Ireland’s Producer on the Move for Cannes in 2008.
Martina Niland is a producer with Samson Films and among her many credits are the multi award-winning feature Pavee Lackeen and the Oscar®-winning film Once. She has also worked on Carmel Winters’ new feature Snap.
Cathal Gaffney established Brown Bag Films with Darragh O’Connell and currently executive produces. Brown Bag has been twice nominated for an Oscar® for the short films Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O’Grimm and they also make several international animation series.
John Murray is managing director of Crossing the Line Films and has produced and directed over 100 documentaries. He has a passion for adventure, exploration and travel docs and recently produced The Yellow Bittern, the Liam Clancy documentary.
How would you define what a producer is and does?
MACDARA KELLEHER: Start with an easy question why don’t ya? It’s almost impossible to answer that, there’s so many different types of producer out there. Sometimes you originate the idea or come up with the initial concept or sometimes a writer/director comes with an idea and it’s your job to realise that. In one way you could say that the producer is the person who brings the project to life. Some days you’re a lawyer or an accountant and some days you’re creative, it’s hard to define…
What training or experience really helped you become a producer?
MK: I started working on films when I was about 18. I think just being around films and filmmaking gave me a good understanding of how it works. If you’re shooting a film in the North Pole, and you haven’t done it before, no amount of training or experience is going to prepare you for that. Every time you do a co-production with a new country it’s a whole new set of rules. It’s kind of like a game of chess, you’re always developing new strategies.
What’s the most unusual way you’ve ever funded a film?
MK: I funded one with credit cards, I wouldn’t recommend it. Sometimes you might come across a private investor who happens to be a philanthropist but it doesn’t happen very often. Also, taking private money for features and promising to give it back can be a dangerous process. In America they’re quite canny about funding, largely because outside of tax credits they have no public film funding like in Europe.
Do you find raising finance the hardest part of producing?
MK: It depends. If you have a director that people know or you have a great cast attached then it might not be so hard. If you’re working with a first-time director it can be difficult, but in that case you have to set the budget to an achievable level. Budget levels are coming down across the board and that’s proving difficult.
What has been your proudest achievement as a producer?
MK: To be still at it, I think. I’ve been doing it for ten years now. I’m still at it and I’ve kept a company going. The film that I’m most proud of having made would definitely be Kisses.
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133.