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SXSW Film + Interactive

Fri., March 16, 2012

Producer Sarah Green
Producer Sarah Green
Photo by Jana Birchum

Collaborations in Film: Writers & Producers

Saturday, March 10, Austin Convention Center

While any number of things can go wrong in the delicate process of steering a movie from concept to screen, one particularly important thing to get right is the chemistry between a writer and producer. The strength of this relationship, according to panelists at Saturday's discussion, can make or break a film. "When you find a producer able to allow you to let yourself into your writing," said writer/director Jeff Nichols, "you have to latch onto them." Nichols was joined onstage by two producers: Sarah Green (The Tree of Life) and Brunson Green (no relation), who produced The Help. Both got their starts in Austin, Brunson as a props intern ("mainly cleaning guns") and Sarah interning in "every department in the film studio" because, as she claimed, she wasn't good at anything – until she stumbled "by accident" into a PA gig. Sarah, who also produced Nichols' Take Shelter and forthcoming Mud, said, "You have to make sure you and the writer are making the same movie. That seems basic, but you can't imagine how often that doesn't happen." The key to successful collaboration – aside from communication – is in prioritizing relationships over other things (like, say, money). Sarah emphasized that taking a "lesser" position to work with "people you want to be involved with" is worth the sacrifice because "those relationships can carry you." Brunson pointed out that writer-producer relationships without a close creative chemistry can be tricky. He described watching writer-director Tate Taylor of The Help go through several iterations of rewrites with studio producers who unwittingly recommended fixes at one stage that merely undid fixes they'd recommended earlier. Without a cozy collaborative relationship, that process, said Nichols, can turn political. You have to decide which notes (edits) you can give in on, and use those to bargain against those that truly run counter to what your script is about. Nonetheless, he said, notes – at least "from the right people" – are essential to the creative process. So often, when filmmakers get successful, their work suffers, said Nichols, "I think it's because they're no longer getting notes." – Nora Ankrum

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