In the last installment of this series, I discussed how we evaluate the screenplay and story in a proposed film investment, both from a legal and creative standpoint. Once that hurdle has been cleared and you've decided that this might be a film you can support, the next step is to look at the team.
As every smart investor knows, the ability of management to execute and solve problems and pivot in response to the unexpected are the hallmarks of successful businesses. It is no different when making a film. It is impossible to make a good film from a bad script, but it is very possible to make a bad film from good material. If you are going to put your hard-earned money into a creative project, you need to have a high level of confidence that the filmmakers will make the best possible version of that story.
Let's look at the key players on the team.
Most people don't know what producers do. It is difficult to describe their job because they are responsible for such a wide range of functions. The producers of a film are like the heads of a company. The producers are in charge of both the business side and the creative side of the film making process. The producers generally have ultimate authority for how the money is spent and what ends up on the screen. Good producers know how to solve problems, control a budget, inspire the team, support the director, and maintain a positive, creative atmosphere and process. Get to know the producers of the proposed project - talk to them and see if they inspire confidence. You should feel that you can trust them and rely on them to protect your investment and make a great film.
The director of the film is responsible for everything that ends up on screen (subject to the approval of the producers). You should watch other films that the director has made and feel confident that he or she not only has a talent and facility for film making, but is also getting better with each new effort. You should look at the reputation of the director within the industry, with actors and with the public. In many countries, audiences go to films mainly based on who is directing. Even here in the U.S. many top directors have their own fan bases. You should feel that the director of the film in which you are investing is consistently getting a positive response to his or her work.
The Line Producer/Production Manager
While the film's producers are ultimately in charge, the Line Producer and/or Unit Production Manager are the people who are responsible for how every penny gets spent. These are the people who are truly guarding your investment and making sure that it all shows up on the screen and is not wasted. It is important to know that there are competent, experienced people in these roles. (You might also want to know about the Production Accountant - another important guardian of the funds.)
Of course, strong performances are at the heart of a successful film. While the actors are the most visible participants in the film making process, they are only one factor of many. It is of course critical to have talented actors in the film, and it is sometimes important to have popular actors in the film (and the most popular actors are often not the most talented). But if you have good producers and a good director, they will be sure to cast the film with solid performers and help those people to deliver their best performances. So, it is important that you feel confident in the cast, but don't place too much emphasis on those people just because they are names that you happen to know.
There are many, many other talented, hardworking people who participate in the creation of a film. Just sit through all of the end credits and that is obvious. As an investor, you can't investigate every crew position. You have to rely on the management team to get good people and manage them to their best work. However, I encourage you to know as much as possible about the people tasked with turning your investment into a work of art (and hopefully making a profit). Film making is very much a collaborative effort, and it is never a mistake to invest in people with great attitudes and a history of success.