Last month, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) held a presentation entitled Independent Film Producing. Experienced local producers Mel Eslyn and Lacey Leavitt outlined the role of the indie producer and the mechanics of such a position. Using real world case studies and detailed insights, the course followed the job from development, to physical film production, through to distribution. Local filmmaker Ben Rapson was in attendance. He shared some of his takeaways on the class with WF for those who couldn’t attend. Thanks, Ben!
Nothing gets the creative juices flowing quite like getting nuts-&-bolts wisdom straight from the pros. And nothing creates a sustainable film community quite like experienced local filmmakers offering their knowledge to the next wave of local artists.
Seattle-based independent producers Mel Eslyn (Your Sister’s Sister, Touchy Feely) and Lacey Leavitt (Safety Not Guaranteed, Laggies) recently took over SIFF Cinema, to dish out four hours of juicy intel on producing. It was a rare and valuable opportunity to download direct experience from two ladies making a living making movies.
Eslyn & Leavitt greeted the 70-some-odd filmmakers in attendance with the modest intention of sharing some of their own experiences. The result wasn’t just informative – it was electrifying. They were impressive in their achievements and empowering in their accessibility. Many of their suggestions were broadly inspiring (“Surround yourself with people you trust! Listen to your gut!”), while others were simply to save unneeded headaches (“Make the name of your production company’s LLC short, since you’ll have to type and write it a billion times!”). They offered ways to “think on your feet”, like on the set of Safety Not Guaranteed, when the producers & crew joined together to push the broken-down picture car in order to make their day.
Every one of their stories, tips, and insights sent a clear message to the attendees: producing will take a lot of your time & energy, but it’s a blast, it’s worth the effort, and you are absolutely capable of doing it.
High-kickin’ Wisconsinite Mel Eslyn started the session with a start-to-finish breakdown of producing a low-budget feature film: development, pre-production, shooting, post-production, distribution, and everything in between. Describing the cold hard details of each stage, she bounced effortlessly between stern recommendations and hilarious anecdotes. The sheer amount of essential knowledge was staggering. An uninterrupted whir of pens & pencils scrawling notes made it clear how priceless these fine details were to the filmmakers in attendance.
Seattle native Lacey Leavitt led the second half of the workshop, using the horror/comedy Catechism Cataclysm as a case study for the producer’s role on a feature. Leavitt prides herself on learning as much from mistakes as smooth successes. More than once, she would eloquently illustrate why a certain rule has no exception… and then tell us about the time she made an exception. From casting to distribution, it became clear that business-minded savvy is a necessary companion – not a hindrance – to artistic creativity.
Throughout the evening, Eslyn & Leavitt displayed a heartening mix of expertise and humility. They offered ways to nourish and support the director’s creative vision, while keeping the nuts and bolts. They revealed ways to know when to say “yes”, when to say “no”, and when to delegate. Filmmakers in the audience left with heads full of ideas and hearts full of encouragement. It was a valuable reminder that our film community thrives because its filmmakers give back to one another.
About Ben Rapson – Ben Rapson is a Seattle-based director. His silent shorts films include Teething, YOU ARE HERE, and Upon Your Shoulders (STIFF 2013, 1 Reel Film Festival 2013), all produced by Breathing Media. Rapson is actively involved in other local productions, as a social media manager, fundraising consultant, extras coordinator, key set PA, or really whatever is needed. He ain’t picky, he just likes to help. And he makes a mean tuna melt.