I just got shocking news that the NPA (New Producers Alliance) has gone down. If ever there was a sign of the times, this is it. The NPA was started in the nineties by a group of film makers to help share knowledge and resources as they were not getting any love from the established British Film Industry – and they began a minor revolution which many of us owe a great debt to (it was before The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook and Shooting People for instance).
I even spent a time on the executive committee back in the day, so to hear of its demise is very saddening. I asked Stephen Follows, fellow producer and someone who was closer to the NPA in recent times, to give us his take on the situation.
It was publicly announced today that the New Producer’s Alliance (NPA) has gone into administration. I don’t, and can’t, speak on behalf of the NPA and I am writing this as an independent film producer. Until recently I sat on their Executive Committee but resigned towards the end of last year. The NPA had lofty goals to help and support new producers. As with most similar organisations it excelled in some areas and was lacking in others. Whatever your personal feelings to what it did and did not do at least there was an organisation nominally focused on new producers.
With the NPA gone who is out there to protect, teach and inspire the next generation of British film producers?
There are general filmmaking groups and organisations that run events and offer training but almost none aimed specifically at the needs of new producers. The British film industry chronically needs one or more groups aimed at training and supporting new producers.
I know plenty of young new and wanna-be producers who are lost in their careers. They don’t know where to turn for information and advice. Most take the same journey – make a few shorts, take a few basic courses and turn up to industry events like Cannes. After that they’re left to fend for themselves, learning on-the-job, making mistakes and figuring out as they go.
This is made all the worst when you consider the role of the producer. The producer is meant to be the person with strategy and vision to take a project from idea/script right through to distribution. They gather together a large group of people, all under the same banner and for the same goal. They ask massive favours, pull strings and demand the commitment of a huge amount of time and money from an army of people. So to have their main source of knowledge and training to be ‘on-the-job’ is simply not good enough.
I can name 100’s of projects where producers have moved mountains only to discover they’ve made rookies mistakes and fallen into easily-avoided traps. But by then it’s too late for that project. When this happens it’s not just the producers who suffer but the large number of people they convinced to join them on this journey, the very people who trusted in the producer’s vision and invested in their belief in the project. In short, everybody loses.
I’m not suggesting that by setting up a few organisations or groups that the world will change overnight but the overwhelming reason for this ever-continuing cycle of self-destructive projects is a lack of training and communication.
I have learnt as much in conversations with established producers as I have on-set. Hearing other producers’ problems, nightmares and law suits makes you more aware of what not to do! (Sure, I’ve heard good stories too but there are far fewer, people tell them less often and are usually poor learning tools as they too-often start with “So I met this investor in a lift…”).
Recently I have been running free panel discussions for the NPA. The format is simple – one topic, three knowledgeable guests, a chairperson and an eager audience of new producers. When I started to organise these events I thought it would be hard to get great guests. I thought that those already succeeding in their fields would be too busy or, worse, unwilling to share their ‘secrets’. Far from it – nearly everyone I spoke to was willing to attend and to share their knowledge. Completely unpaid, out-of-hours and for no reason other than to help the audience. All it took was a small amount of organisation and suddenly a room of 100 producers could have access to the experiences and journeys of successful British producers and executives.
So what now for fledgling new producers? The future is unclear and none too rosy. British film does not suffer from a lack of filmmaking talent nor do these filmmakers lack ambition. There is little-to-no support for producers as they start their career and move up the industry hierarchy.
The NPA going down is not a landmark event which signals the start of a decline but yet another example of the lack of support and training for film producers in Britain.
N.B. For more established producers there is Pact (www.pact.co.uk) but their aim is more towards established companies. Company membership costs between £500 – £75,000, on top of which members are required to pay a ‘levy’ from their film budgets. The Pact Levy is between £750 – £9,000 per film, depending on the film’s budget. It is telling that their lowest budget range is “lower than £1million”. This lumps in no-budget, micro-budget and low-budget feature films into one uncomfortable grouping. I would contend that Pact does not serve the need for new producers.
Thanks Stephen. Sad day, and is an important event when considering the BECTU debate on Thursday night. What on earth is the furture for indie film makers?
Onwards and upwards!