I had the occasion to have lunch with film industry veteran Jonathan Dana at Cannes and he shared some war stories of what it means to be a “producer” in this day and age.
ZC: So Jonathan, what is it that you do?
JD: Over my 41 years in the business I have done just about everything except own a theater, including being a partner in two of the prominent indie companies of the 80’s and 90’s (Atlantic Releasing and Triton Pictures), before going back on my own in 1995 as a producer and producer’s rep. I was also an initial investor in and, with the founders, supervised the launch of indie film community Withoutabox.com, now an operating division of IMDB.
I do both docs and fiction films and enjoy each. Two of my recent docs as a rep have been 2012 Spirit Award nominee “We Were Here” which has its televison premiere on Independent Lens this week, and “The Invisible War” which won the American Doc Audience Award at this year’s Sundance and opens theatrically imminently.
As a producer does that mean you came to Cannes to sell something?
We’re always selling something, no?
Did you have specific goals in mind for Cannes? Did you achieve those goals?
Yes, I always have a specific mission in Cannes, whatever it might be in any particular year. One of the art forms, and survival skills, is being able to define your goals in your own mind ahead of time so you can constantly keep steering back to the mission amidst the apparent chaos of the fest and market. And yes, the fest was a success for me, despite its rather unusual wet weather.
This year my mission was to move forward a slate of films I am executive producing with CODE Entertainment, the excellent production/finance company run by Al Corley and Bart Rosenblatt with whom I have worked for many years (“You Kill Me”, “Kill the Irishman”, “Drowning Mona”, “Sad Jack”, upcoming.)
I also had the pleasure of representing the interests of screenwriter Jose Rivera, Rick Berg’s client at CODE’s management division, who was unable to attend the premiere of his “On the Road”. I loved the film, and it was a great ‘red carpet’ evening, with fine weather to boot!
How important is networking to what a producer does?
It’s obviously a big part of the job, especially at a Cannes like this one where so many new sales and financing companies were announced. It is important to stay current, even though it often makes your head hurt. I was proud of myself this year, going totally electronic with my iPhone, both for scheduling and for keeping meeting notes, making the usually horrific task of post-Cannes debriefing entirely tolerable.
Do you have any advice for producers and filmmakers who feel that it’s just too expensive to justify the cost of going to Cannes or another major festival?
There are many ways to skin a cat. No one event is irreplaceable. Just keep moving forward with the resources at hand. No one ever failed at the movie business just because they did not go to any particular festival.
Do you have any anecdotes or a particular “Cannes moment” of note?
Having been to Cannes 30 times, I am fortunate to have had numerous Cannes moments, including huge triumphs and failures, as well as the tiny moments that are at least equally memorable, so it is hard to pick one. I do remember standing at the top of the red carpet with Patty Hearst, a lovely woman, after the premiere of her biopic that we made with Paul Schrader, staring out at the crowd, thinking “Wow, there’s all kinda ways to get to the top of these stairs.”
Previous article on Sydney’s Buzz about Jonathan Dana.