Top 3 tips for emerging producers

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Richard Watts

Independent producers from Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne offer advice for those who are just starting out in the game.
Top 3 tips for emerging producers

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Everyone needs mentors and everyone needs advice, but when you’re starting out in the arts industry it’s sometimes hard to find the right people to turn to. If you're an aspiring producer, or just starting out in the field, we’ve made it easier for you.

LINDA CATALANO, BRIEFS FACTORY

Tip One – Have courage

The number one thing I always say to any producers who come to me for advice is that you need courage. Courage is the number one thing because you need to be brave when it comes to finances; you need to be brave when it comes to which content you’re going to back – because as a producer you need to really believe in the work and you need to be brave about that, because you’re going to come across obstacles. So if you have the belief in the work that should give you the bravery to continue, because most of the time as a producer you’re going to be told ‘no’. And your job is to turn the no’s into yeses … and to break down the barriers, whatever they may be, and to do that you need courage.

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Tip Two – The first ‘no’ usually isn’t really a no

The first no is a signal for you to approach that challenge in another way. So if there’s a particular goal you want to achieve – say for example if you want to get your show into a particular venue – if they say no the first time don’t be discouraged to go back again, and again, and again. The advice I often give is that the first half-dozen no’s are not really no’s for me. Try and understand things from the other person’s point of view. And because I have a programming background I’ve really got an insight into that – and sometimes a programmer or a venue will say no but it’s not because of the reasons you imagine. It might not be artistic quality, it might not be any of the things that you might think it is – it might be something else entirely. And that’s why that no is not necessarily a hard no. So don’t be afraid to go back again and again.

Third Tip – Play  

My third tip is a quote my acting teacher gave me when I was 15. It’s called ‘a play’ for a reason. During the stress of producing it’s really important to remember the fun of it, because it is fun – we are enabling play to happen. And we need to do what we can to make our rehearsal spaces and our tours places of creative innovation – and that means reminding everybody that it is play.

Briefs Factory's next engagements include Briefs: Close Encounters, Brat Kids Carnival and Club Briefs at the Leicester Square Spiegeltent in London’s West End this Christmas. Visit www.briefsfactory.com for details.

CHRISTOPHER WAYNE, THE NAKED MAGICIANS

Tip One The poster is king

You want that money shot, that amazing-looking poster. There’s two things I want people to experience when they see a poster for one of my shows. I want them to look at it and think “I have to see that,” and I don’t want them to look at a poster and go “What is that show about?”And as a side note to that – you’re the producer, not a graphic designer. So many people try to make their own poster images or have a friend that dabbles. No. Spend your money on a graphic designer: it’s one of the most important things ever.

Tip two  Be willing to bet on yourself

You’ll never work as hard until it’s your own money and your own reputation in the game. And it’s not just your money, it’s your time as well – and that’s when you’ll really work hard and create your best work.

Tip three  Learn from your elders

Look at the people ahead of you and see what you can learn from them – and not just the positives, what you can learn off them that worked, but the things that didn’t work as well. Anyone who’s gone before you, they’re your gift of hindsight. I’m always finding out what other people are doing with their marketing for instance, and finding out what does and doesn’t work. And now, where I’ve been lucky enough to experience some success, I still want to learn from the people who are ahead of me.

www.nakedmagicians.com

LAURA MILKE-GARNER, MILKE

Tip One – Do one thing a day on your show

The moment you have said yes to that project, press ‘send’ on the venue agreement or paid that festival registration, you need to starting doing one producing thing every day for your show. This could be setting up files on your computer, organising a photoshoot, calling the graphic designer etc. Whatever it is, get one thing a day off your list. Obviously, as the show gets closer to delivery date there will be more than one thing to do, but from the start it will create the momentum you need.

Tip Two – Read the room

Know how to read the room. Be it at an industry or networking event, or in the room with your creative team. Producers are usually leaders of the project. Be aware of what is going on, what the vibe is and how you can proactively participant or navigate conversations.

Tip Three – Get it in writing

This one is a must. I don’t care if you’re producing a show with your best friend.  Get your something in writing.  It doesn’t have to be a big scary contract; it can be a simple word document or even email with dot points outlining what the arrangement is. This could contain dot points on your role as the producer, outlining what you will be doing, defining who is doing what for marketing/social media, and the most important one, budget: who is managing and maintaining this, where the money is coming from, if profits are made how will they be shared, and if there is a loss, who is covering this?

Discover more practical producing advice from Laura Milke-Garner on her podcast, Run The Show.  

ANDREW BAKER, INDEPENDENT PRODUCER

Tip 1 - Network beyond your mates 

In order to improve and grow as a producer you need a diverse range of voices and collaborators. Keep building your network of good operators to develop your practise. It'll help grow your audience, too. 

Tip 2 - Program to perfection 

Choosing what show(s) to produce is the most important decision you will make. Establish a guiding mission and seek advice to help you make consistent and smart programming decisions that will challenge and inspire you, while still attracting an audience. And then, make sure you know your show better than anyone! 

Tip 3 - Be patient, present and kind

Everyone knows that getting a show up takes time. The good news is, that means more time for planning and troubleshooting. Be in the room as often as possible. And throughout the process be respectful, professional and kind. Mainly because that's just a good way to live, but also because your team will walk away with a fun, valuable and worthwhile career experience, even though they may not be getting paid very much.

Andrew Baker is an independent producer of musical theatre in Perth. A graduate of WAAPA, he has worked for indie producers The Last Great Hunt and is currently Program Manager at CircuitWest, a performing arts industry body.

Samantha Nerida, Creative Producer

Tip 1 – Set deadlines

If you're asking someone to do something, make sure you tell them when you expect it to be completed. The more specific, the better! Lines like 'by the end of the week' are much less useful than 'COB this Friday.' If they're a particularly tricky customer, feel free to ask them to respond confirming they acknowledge the deadline, and perhaps even pop in a follow up date if you don't hear from them. 

Tip Two Keep your eyes on the prize

There are a lot of opportunities out there, and a lot of the time you won't get the ones you go for. That's the way of the world. Make sure you know what else is going on, and reframe your rejections as a kick-start for the next application. As a maker-producer, I used to have a master spreadsheet of all the festivals, grants, commissions, development programs, residencies and miscellaneous opportunities I could find, and when in the year they accepted entries. It made it a lot easier to know where to focus my attention, and helped me get past those unfortunate 'no's. 

Tip Three Support support support!

You're here to support the artists and their work, and to make sure things run as smoothly as possible. Things inevitably get stressful and difficult, but when they do it's important not to pass that stress onto the artist or company you're working with. They're just trying to make art! Make sure you have your support networks in place too; you're no use to anyone if you're burnt out and exhausted.

www.staticdriveco.com

CAMERON LUKEY, CAMERON LUKEY PRESENTS

Tip One – Collaborate with co-producers

Anxiety and criticism often get the better of me, and as someone who's funded or co-funded most of my productions, thoughts about breaking even have been the source of many sleepless nights, especially in independent theatre where you have no marketing machine behind you and you're relying on word of mouth and PR. That doesn't really change and I'm still figuring out how to process it. If you have a similar temperament, I think having collaborators you can be open with is crucial. I've learned that I enjoy co-producing for that reason. There aren't a huge number of producers around, so it’s incredibly valuable, insightful and comforting to form a few good relationships where you can ask for advice or share your experience.

Tip Two – Produce shows that speak to you

Produce shows you would honestly pay to see if you had no involvement. If you wouldn't buy a ticket, then the challenge is figuring out how to attract the audience you think would. Not impossible, but much harder as an independent producer. This sounds obvious, but projects can easily seem like a great idea worth jumping into even if they don't speak to you.

Tip Three – Approach festivals cautiously

Melbourne is over-saturated all year round, so if you want to be part of a festival where there's a thousand other shows competing for a similar demographic, be especially cautious about your goal. There's a threshold where being part of a festival is great, because the core active audience going through programs and wanting to see lots of stuff will account for 200-500 tickets, maybe. But once you cross that threshold and are looking to sell 1000+ tickets, it becomes very difficult, even if you've got the money for advertising or a strong angle for publicity.

Cameron Lukey Presents' next production, Moisés Kaufman's 33 Variations, runs from 7-17 March 2019 at Melbourne's Comedy Theatre. Visit www.cameronlukey.com for details.

JENNA MATHIE, ASSOCIATE PRODUCER, PERTH FESTIVAL

Tip One Love your work

Be passionate about the work you produce. Your love for a show or an artist/team will be evident in the work you do. Not only will it inspire confidence from others, it will make all of the hard yards and late nights so much easier.

Tip Two Get a mentor

A mentor will help you navigate those tricky situations you might not have encountered before or provide new ways of addressing situations that you keep encountering. A good mentor will help you on your road to being the best producer you can be, and might even get you a job or two along the way.

Tip Three - Be curious

See as much theatre as possible and critically engage with it. Think about what worked and what didn't work. Why did you like it or not? How did audiences respond to it? By analysing the work that exists around you (and further afield if you have the chance to travel), your practice will become more informed and you will become a bigger asset to the artists you work with and champion.

www.perthfestival.com.au

Related reading:

Tips for engaging an independent producer

Why Become a Producer?

Why we need more independent producers

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Twitter: @richardthewatts