As a producer, I'm constantly on the lookout for potential collaborations with talented directors. Producing is a huge investment of time, money, and energy, so if I'm going to work with another filmmaker, it's important to me that we're on the same page. One of the first questions I ask a potential collaborator is this: Why do you want to make this movie?
Surprisingly, a lot of people cannot answer this question. And if they do have an answer, the response is often a jumble of statements that do not add up to a compelling reason. (Note: "I want to make a movie that's like a Wes Anderson film" is not a good reason.)
I ask the "why" question of filmmakers because I'm trying to discern what makes them tick. A person's response to the "why" question reveals a lot about who they are, what they value, and what compels them to make films. Most importantly, it reveals what compels them to make this film.
People make movies for a lot of different reasons. Some people want to become famous. Some people make movies because they have a deeply personal story they just need to tell before they die. Some people make movies in order to get rich.
I'm not here to pass judgement on the various sorts of motivations that people have for making movies. But as a producer, I do want to make sure that the people I collaborate with are motivated by the same sorts of things that motivate me. When this isn't the case, the project suffers because the main collaborators are moving in opposite directions. Or, at the very least, they're not moving in the same direction, and that's often enough to derail or seriously compromise a project.
For instance, if I want to make a movie to convey a message about an important social issue, and my collaborator wants to make the same movie because she thinks it's her ticket to fame and fortune, then we're in for some tough times. We're going to butt heads constantly because we're fundamentally not on the same page about what it is that we're doing.
Another question I ask potential collaborators is this: Why do you need to make this movie now? This question is less about motivations, and more about the bigger picture. I'm trying to determine whether the filmmaker has given any thought to:
- where the film fits in the larger marketplace
- how the film and its themes fit into, respond to, and/or reflect larger cultural and social trends
- what role the film might play in the development of her career
- how this particular film fits into the larger trajectory of her evolution as an artist
One final thought on all this: It's perfectly reasonable for a person to have multiple motivations for making a movie. You can, for instance, be motivated by both a social cause and a desire to make money. People are complicated, after all, and we are often motivated by seemingly contradictory and incompatible things.
What this means for a producer, then, is that there's no easy litmus test to see if a filmmaker is going to be a good fit for a collaboration. But it's definitely a red flag if the filmmaker doesn't have a clear explanation for why she wants to make this movie, and why she needs to make it now. And the greatest challenge, of course, is when you have to ask yourself these questions. Sometimes the results can be startling.