What Part Will You Play To Fix This House?

By Karin Chien

On March 10, Dear Producer hosted a roundtable to offer organizations a focused opportunity to engage with, consider and discuss its landmark report on producer sustainability. Rebecca Green and I worked together to invite a wide range of diverse filmmaker collectives and non-profit film organizations, especially those with producer support programs. We decided on a closed Zoom gathering to encourage open and honest dialogue, but we wanted to share some of the themes and ideas that were discussed with Dear Producer readers. 41 organizations were invited, with 32 attending, from which 50 representatives were present. At the end of this post, you can find a list of the organizations and collectives that participated. 

The roundtable started with Stephanie Ariganello, a marketing, communications and data specialist, who presented the Producer Sustainability Survey report. The presentation contextualized the data, comparing our demographics to national averages and other industries. The glaring urgency of this data lies in the way it clearly maps who gets to produce films and who is excluded from doing so. Because of this, we focused questions to the participants about what systemic or structural changes were needed to address problems of access and equity. 

In advance of the roundtable, we emailed 5 key topics for participants to consider:

  • WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY MEAN TO YOU: How does your organization or collective understand the sustainability of indie filmmaking?
  • OPPORTUNITY LEADS TO SUSTAINABILITY: If we see the sustainability of indie filmmaking as a path towards or a path alongside network and studio/bigger budget filmmaking, what can your organization be doing to help vault producers onto those paths?
  • ACCESS TO FINANCING YIELDS SUSTAINABILITY: If access to financing is a path to indie producing sustainability, what is needed to cultivate that financing network, educate financiers on sustainability and actively engage financiers with producers?
  • PIPELINE TO SUSTAINABILITY: How do we reconcile the need for arts organizations to be sustainable when their artists are not? 
  • SUSTAINABILITY AND WORTH: How do we change the narrative around art as sacrifice?

While the allotted 90 minutes didn’t allow time for everyone to speak, we did engage in a robust conversation that went on for 120 minutes. 

There were two key themes that emerged in the dialogue that are essential to continue discussing. The first theme concerned questions about prioritizing project-based grants over direct filmmaker support. Several organizations offered that they are actively pursuing funders or implementing programs to provide support directly to producers. Others added that it is challenging to find funders who will support artists over projects, as markers for career success are not as easy to define as project success. 

The second theme was a presumably greater lack of support for independent producers in the nonfiction field with fewer experienced diverse producers in nonfiction, compared to fiction. (Here I will note that many directors in nonfiction serve as producers.) Some nonfiction support organizations said they do not have a single program or fund that supports producers. A producer sustainability survey specifically for the nonfiction field would be a great place to start. 

To close the roundtable, we asked organizations and collectives to take on one of these five action items:

  1. HOST YOUR OWN ROUNDTABLE or one-on-one conversation. Ask your producing fellows (or the producers of your directing fellows) about this report and listen to them.
  1. WRITE A THINK PIECE OR REFLECTION about this data or the roundtable discussion. Our field benefits from a multiplicity of points of view on this data.
  1. BUDGET IN HONORARIUMS to producers, not only when you ask us to speak on public panels, but when you ask us to give advice and feedback to your filmmaking fellows. 
  1. CONNECT DIVERSE PRODUCERS TO FINANCIERS. Inquire whether your producing fellows (or the producers of your directing fellows) have investor / funder contacts, and if not, connect them with the aim of addressing systemic issues of access.
  1. OFFER TRANSPARENCY. Interrogate your own beliefs and their relation to how you operate. To quote Michaela Coel, what part will you play to fix this house?

In closing, I’d like to offer a reflection on what the Producer Sustainability Survey data means to me. Reading this report made me feel seen in an extraordinary way. I am deeply grateful to Rebecca Green for taking on this work herself (without the benefit of salary, staff or infrastructure). This data validates what producers have known but could only back up through anecdotal evidence. It was alarming when the report did not elicit a public response from artist support organizations. This prompted Rebecca and I to collaborate on hosting a roundtable. 

Perhaps this data, which we’ve understood for so long, was overwhelming to others and they needed a way into understanding it. This is what I hope we achieved. Engaging with the report has transformed my own thinking around what’s needed for producer sustainability and pointed a path forward for me to explore. As one participant insightfully offered, once you have data, you can organize around solutions. 

If you are part of an organization or collective who would like to have a conversation around this data, reach out to Rebecca Green at hello@dearproducer.com to access support materials.

A-DOC (Asian American Doc Network)
AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
Austin Film Society
Bay Area Video Collective (BAVC)
Black Documentary Collective
Brown Girls Doc Mafia
Black House
BPM (Black Public Media) 
CAAM (Center for Asian American Media)
Documentary Producers Alliance
Film Festival Alliance
Film Independent
Firelight Media
Ford Foundation
FWD-Doc: Documentary Filmmakers with Disabilities

Genuine Article Pictures
The Gotham (Formerly IFP)
IFA Chicago (Independent Film Alliance)
IDA (International Documentary Association)
NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)
New Orleans Film Society
Northwest Film Center
Perspective Fund
PIC (Pacific Islanders in Communications)
PGA (Producers Guild of America)
Producers Union
QueerDoc/Queer Producers Network
SFFILM (San Francisco Film Society)
Sundance Institute
Undocumented Filmmakers Collective