Having a "C" or "E" in Your Title
Because there is no such thing as “executive” or “chief executive” school, I thought I should write about my “executive school equivalent.” While “executive producer” is the most obvious in the entertainment industry, my next few thoughts can be applied to almost any industry where people have titles containing “chief” or “executive.” For this piece, I will refer to them as “Cs and Es” and what it means to have one of those letters in your title.
As some of you may know, I work as an engineer during the day, and then work on my media/news/entertainment gigs at night. So going to journalism school was out of the question. Instead, I searched for other ways to get into “the business,” and learn all I could about how things worked (hey I work an engineer gig…give me some credit). One of the ways “into the business” included funding other people’s projects. My engineer’s salary was comfortable enough, and I could not exactly go to journalism/film school so I thought that funding other projects might be the way to go.
So, a few years ago a few colleagues pitched me with a project. I agreed to fund it not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. I asked for an agreement with what they would spend my money on, along with the most important piece naming me as an executive producer. The agreement was e-mailed to me at 5 a.m. the morning of production. I remember asking for it way earlier. It was not well thought out, and left a some gaps. I thought well it was my first one, so let’s just see what happens.
Production happened at a house in West Lake Village in the morning. I would arrive later that night since I was booked during the day. The co-producer texted me some updates telling me what was happening with the production. Some of the crew was late, and might have gone over budget. Great…this was happening on my first film that I wrote a check for. It was definitely a learning experience. Being the nice guy I was, I covered the overage, and bought dinner for the cast and crew. All I wanted was a good film, and do this day, I still have not seen the finished product.
After that experience, I decided to tighten my wallet and not fund any more of these shorts, but something told me that I should continue making the work of this screenwriter/producer that got me started in the business. Another project came along, and was extremely well done. The script, logline, budget breakdown, locations, releases, were all in place. This time, a different crew really thought about how to spend the money.
So, I said yes, but this time I would be more involved in exercising more control over the production when necessary, but allowing people with more experience and talent to do their jobs. That is what having a “C” or “E” in your title is about. It is exercising control and responsibility when necessary, but allowing the people who are working for you to make something great. The short turned out wonderfully, and it was completed within 2 months of production. It took another month to polish and get it ready for festivals.
A third project came my way, and I agreed. I exercised some of the same control and responsibility. Just before the second day of casting, I get a call from the my co-producer/writer telling me that the production company wanted to use a union actor.
A union actor would bring some additional paperwork and maybe some additional hassle so, I said no. Additionally, I heard that they may not seem as prepared as I thought they would be. The co-producer wanted to pull funding and cancel the production. To be fair, I told him that I should at least meet them and see how they were doing. So the next day, I showed up at the casting location, and not one person from the production company was there. Actors were waiting, and I did not find that appealing. This was a short, and while it was not too much money, a lot of people were donating their time. The least the production company could do was show up on time. Other actors that we wanted to audition were not contacted. As the afternoon went on, I started realizing that the company was not ready. I asked questions to gauge their readiness. Some of their answers were questionable, and towards the end of the day, I decided to cancel the production.
The work they had done was very good, I just felt that they were not as prepared as I would have liked them to be (after my second short being phenomenal, my standards were pretty high). I talked to my co-producer and we decided it was best to cancel the project. I felt uneasy about doing it, but it was best for everyone involved.
That is something else that many “Cs and Es” forget. The decisions they make need to be the best possible ones for everyone. Not the best for their company stock, not the best for them, not the best for their ego, not even the best for their clients. They need to make the best decisions for everyone. This is the main reason that “Cs and Es” are paid their outrageous salaries and stock options. They are responsible not just to their clients, but also the employees who work under their direction.
Today, a lot of “Cs and Es” forget about what they are responsible for. With my engineering gig, I saw a lot of management styles where the people at the top forget what they were responsible for and slowly started driving the company into the ground. I just thought, hey let me do the opposite.
When I was asked to executive produce, I knew I had some power, but I also knew that I would never abuse it. I also knew exactly what I responsible for. In making a short, I was not just responsible for the end viewer, but also to the cast and crew to make sure that everyone was safe and doing their absolute best work. A few times on the set, I had a production assistant or two that needed help doing their jobs. So, I helped them figure out what they were doing. Production assistants are not lowest on the set, they are extremely valuable in doing a lot of the work that other people can not focus on. Because I choose to exercise balanced control, everyone that I have been able to work with backs my decisions and wants to work with me again.
As a “C or E” the best compliment you can get is not money or a great film, but having an army ready to back your decisions and most importantly work with or in some cases for you again.