27th January 2016

On 27th January 2016, filmmaker João Paulo Simões met aspiring producer Aidan Oldroyd in a very traditional tea room for a short interview. The following transcript is a rare insight into his own approach as an independent producer.

Aidan Oldroyd - Would you tell me about a couple of projects you have produced, please...

João Paulo Simões - Ok, I suppose I can tell you that, as a producer, it all started full on with Frontier Media. As I established the company and started doing work as Frontier Media, that’s when I fell by default into the role of a producer. So Frontier Media was conceived precisely to do commissioned documentaries, music videos, promos, adverts and things like that. So, I could tell you about a couple of projects that I recently worked on, that cover those areas and I found particularly rewarding. I did a series of documentaries called Transmitting Musical Heritage. It was prompted by a research project by the University of Sheffield and, amongst all the films I have made within the factual genre, it’s probably the one that kind of established most a new way of working and I found that particularly rewarding as a filmmaker and, as far as the producing role is concerned, the one that I think of most fondly. Simply because things can go wrong very easily and with that one everything just ran smoothly, you know - which is not to say that something hard is not rewarding either. It’s sometimes even more rewarding as you manage to overcome difficulties that challenge you along the way. But I think it’s the one with most legacy - with a very specific role for posterity, in a way, because of what it tries to explore, to make a record of… And it has opened doors to all sorts of other projects. 
Gingerbread - Music Video produced by Frontier Media
Another, perhaps trickier, production which I did recently would be Gingerbread which was a music video for Nancy Kerr who was last year’s BBC Folk Singer of the Year. It was, logistically, a very difficult and hard production, but I wouldn't change a thing at the same time about the experience, It took me to the North of Portugal, to the Yorkshire countryside and it was difficult to schedule, as we filmed in areas that were not so easy to get to, but it was all towards pursuing that original spark of an idea…

AO - You say it was difficult to schedule. Is that because of the artist that couldn't do certain dates?

JPS - As well, I mean, yes. You are working to everyone’s schedule, I had to work with the actress’s schedule, I had to work with transport and I had to work with the singer and around her gig dates and, you know, all those things. But, at the same time, it was a project that I had full creative control over. The concept for the music video was approved quite quickly and we all just committed to doing it the best it could possibly be. 
Gingerbread - Music Video produced by Frontier Media
AO - The money side of producing: you would have been given a budget to work to?

JPS Yes, it was established from the outset, the kind of budget I had to work within. When you do this kind of work, which is certainly commissioned but also something that you believe in and commit to, you must embrace it with passion. That’s the only way I think anyone should work, because it shows in the end result. You have to be prepared to be flexible. In this particular case, the fixed budget was established, incorporating my fee, production costs and post-production time. All that stuff was included.

AO - So you have to keep within the budget. There no room for overspending...

JPS - You have to keep in budget, otherwise you would be compromising on some part of it - on how much you would get paid to edit it or how much you would get paid shoot it, for instance. So, yes, Gingerbread was very carefully scheduled and broke-down in terms of costs. It was a limited budget but it was budget nonetheless and what mattered was how we could attain the best result - the finished product that totally honours the original idea, within these limited resources because there were a lot of limitations. So, that’s always what a producer (and myself, as a filmmaker who has to think as a producer) bears in mind.

AO - In a bigger production, the producer is like the boss. The director often comes up with the idea and sometimes writes the script, but the producer has control over the money and has the power to say whether that certain idea can be financially created. So the producer will have a say in the overall creative process. How much say does the producer have?

JPS - I can give you an answer to that, I think. In regards to the director ever being the boss I think it only really happens if he is the producer, as well. I have worked with producers on projects before and I’m thinking of one example in which I was only directing and had, therefore, my decisions undermined by the producer I was working with and, on another occasion, I had a producer pulling the plug mid-shoot, so I have experienced it all, in a way.
I have had a few years of producing my own material, enabling a couple of shorts by younger filmmakers, but mostly I produce my own work.
Uma Curta de Amor (A Short of Love)
At this point, I am moving towards co-production. I have some co-producers enabling the development and funding of upcoming projects. I think if a producer is a good producer he knows when to intervene and how to intervene and must have a good understanding of what the project is meant to be. I think there are too many people getting into this business for the wrong reasons. I don't want to turn this answer into a rant but it shows in a way that there are producers that only care about keeping in budget, on schedule and all that kind of stuff. A good producer is a creative person - they have to be! Even if they see in another person a vision that they don't have for that particular project, a producer has to have a good creative understanding. He can’t just be a financial enabler or someone who is there to sort out locations and things like that.
You will also find that the tricky thing in this business is the amount of people that are producing but have always wanted to direct and then end up taking offense or resent if they are treated as someone who just sorts practicalities out and gets on the phone to secure permission for this and that. I appreciate it all. I mean, I wouldn't say that I have encountered it all, but I have come across a lot of different egos, a lot of different approaches.
I find that it to be a great advantage being my own boss. There’s always a certain degree of friction in the dynamics. If you look at productions of a large scale, for instance, people often wonder who the boss is. It is right acknowledge that the producer is the boss. He has the power to shut down a production, while the director is in there trying to make something special. But it works both ways. There are producers that are more creative than directors and there are producers that are mere accountants working with directors with “too much of a vision”, so it’s just the way it is…

AO - Do you have any words of advice for an aspiring producer?

JPS Photographed by Marina Vieira da Silva
JPS - I think the main thing, when you’re first starting, is to be humble enough to ask for advice from producers you know, you meet or whose work you admire. The person that made possible the films that you love - try and get in touch with them, because you usually find that people are more receptive than you would expect and ask for advice early on; and always be open to criticism, of course, always be open or be prepared to deal with and engage with people (and always doing so in a positive way). Also, you need to believe in projects so much that you are willing to put yourself in front of it, no matter what come towards it, you know. Be passionate! That’s one of the key things. Practical advice: create your own database of people (more than funding bodies and people within funding bodies). You need to know the right people in the right places, of course, but just take people as individuals, because you never know when, in a production, you may happen to need something - even the smallest thing, the smallest prop that would be crucial for a certain scene and that guy in that corner, in that workshop making silver spoons in a certain way: “Hey, that’s the guy I should ring or knock on the door of to get that prop.”
Create your own database and treat everyone with the same level of respect and importance really. Don't just pursue it for the profit or the fame. Do it because you love it with passion and it will show through in your work.