A: Always Remember, the People Matter Most. Always.
“The money in your budget can only take you so far. But the passion, hustle and camaraderie of a team can and will take you the rest of the way.” I said this recently at the producing workshop I lead at the Black TV & Film Collective. I know it’s true because I’ve seen it, time and time again.
When I was producing Keloid, I saw this phenomenon in full force.
I’d asked artists both in front of and behind the camera to work for rates that in no way mirrored their skill and experience. They stepped up to the plate though, some of them even taking vacation time to work on the production. I saw this when I produced All My Friends Are Married, through my own passion and dedication, wearing many different hats, and on every other film I produced regardless of the budget. No matter how much money you have, you will never be able to pay people what they are worth because you can’t put a price tag on passion, on camaraderie, on determination. People honed into the vision, are invaluable.
Not to mention, your people will follow you wherever you lead them. Because of this, you have an enormous responsibility.
(Behind the scenes during the filming of All My Friends Are Married)
I implore you, don’t be so locked into what you want (to make your project) that you put the project before the people in a way that endangers them, minimizes them or disables them from doing their jobs. Long hours, cold, rain, slim pickings at the craft table, no budget for props, wardrobe, etc…crew members understand those are sometimes par for the course in independent film. Danger to life and limb is not. I remember my first and last crew injury. A light fell on the head of a grip. Granted, he had rigged the light, but that’s neither here nor there. I felt sick to my stomach. Here was this poor guy with blood streaming down his face apologizing. It was horrible. I called to check on him that evening and the next morning. I thought about the ‘what if’s’.
What if that had fallen on the head of an extra? On my head? I don’t bleed well.
I had to hold myself accountable, and ask if a decision I’d made led to that. He’d worked on many productions with me before, and many more without me. He was definitely qualified to rig lights. Check. It wasn’t a long shoot, only a few hours, so he wasn’t overworked or pressured. Check. After a few more questions and answers, I had to chalk it up to the fact that sometimes, these things happen. But I will always advocate for crew safety first (nobody mention crazy ass Snyder hanging out the car on the highway here. That wasn’t my idea). Take these words to heart and if you don’t remember anything else, remember this: Your crew will do pretty much whatever you ask of them. They’ll grumble about it, but they’ll do it.
And that’s HUGE.
If you don’t believe me, think about that train trestle. Think about Sarah Jones and the fact that she lost her life shooting Midnight Rider. The crew followed their director and producer onto live train tracks and just prayed they weren’t killed. When I read about Sarah Jones, I cried for her and her family. I was soooo pissed at those producers. What the fuck? The funny thing is I could understand their thinking, ” just get it done.” But I will never agree with their methods. You don’t get it done like that. Not on a trestle two stories high in the air on a live train track. What the fuck? Think about your people, they matter more than the project.
The minimum bar that you must set as a producer is to keep the people in your charge safe and fed. If you’re not doing those things, take an honest account of what’s going on. You may be putting the project over the people and that’s asking for trouble. The people always matter most. Always.
So you want to be an indie film producer, or maybe you already are. Either way, I commend you. It’s a wonderful job. Some of my best moments in life, greatest accomplishments and longest friendships were forged while working as a producer. I never went to film school. Everything I learned, I learned in development, pre-production, production and post of actual projects for whom investors had invested their hard earned money, artists (both in front of and behind the camera) had rallied around and audiences experienced in some form or fashion. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride SO FAR, and baby it ain’t done yet. But I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned along the way.
Here are my ABC’s of Producing.
The Black TV & Film Collective a 501c3 organization that operates as a NYC film collective. In our work, we support all artists of color including but not limited to black filmmakers. We are a collaborative platform that represents diversity in film and supports inclusion in Hollywood and TV. Our professional network of New York City filmmakers gives knowledge to those who want to learn how to produce film, how to make a web series, how to budget film projects and more. We host NYC film workshops that welcome a variety of experience levels from first time filmmakers who are either students in film school or to notables within the television and film industry. See how you can make a difference in the world of cinema by becoming a member of our NYC film collective.
Huriyyah Muhammad is the Founder of the Black TV & Film Collective and Managing Partner of Infinite Wings Media. Huriyyah has been instrumental in bringing the power of storytelling, media production and digital media opportunities to entrepreneurs and artists. As an independent feature film producer, she has led the production of multiple independent feature films from development to market, and most recently completed filming projects in Nairobi, Kenya and Madhya Pradesh, India. Her documentary, Bulbul: Song of the Nightingale is currently in post-production, while Soko Sonko, Swahili for Market King, continues to win awards. She will make her narrative directorial debut this winter with the supernatural suspense Keloid.