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Within the screen production industry producers often bear the brunt of frustrations from other craft groups when things are tight (when aren’t they?), or not going their way. Aspiring to be a producer is not as common as aiming to be a director, writer or even cinematographer, make-up artist or special FX operator.

What do people misunderstand about producers? The misconception that a producer is a frustrated director. You can almost hear the ADs echoing her, saying, “Us too, we don’t want to be directors!”

Filmmakers, hoping for empathy from the NZFC when they front up with their own visions, should take heart as they learn about the person behind the producer. There is a sense of narrative in conversation with Leanne that definitely brings to mind the idea of a creative producer. She has her own gift for story telling and, alongside established business acumen, this must surely enhance her value to the creative community in her role as head of Production and Development with the NZFC.

In production for Paul Campion's The Devil's Rock

In production for Paul Campion’s The Devil’s Rock

When surveying her filmography it’s hard not notice how the jocularity of Wilderpeople stands in stark contrast to painful reality or darkness of earlier features (A Song of Good, The Weight of Elephants, The Devil’s Rock). If some producers find a groove and stick to it, Leanne is not among their ranks. It’s apparent that she hasn’t shied away from the bleak or gritty, and has had a hand in the telling of – and presumably a feel for – a wide range of stories.

Her well-developed sense of humour is evident. She also values the idea of dreaming: “Dreaming about holidays. Dreaming generally. Watching films falls into this category often. I experience some films like dreams. Dark warm spaces watching someone’s else’s story unfold… OK! I’m obviously too tired to answer this one.”

You get the feeling that being tired is not likely to end any time soon. Though the image of Leanne trying to hide in bushes in the end of the garden to take important calls when her kids were small. “It never worked.”

Over time she has become ‘less agony aunt, more strategist’ in her role. So many protective and adaptive elements seem to be inferred by that one shift, one that might be summarised as a powerful shift in perspective.

Born To Dance

Born To Dance

Not drawn by a question designed to probe deeper into whether or not and how producers manage active careers with families, or not, Leanne does make it evident that she is – to use modern workplace terminology – family-friendly.

“This is just another job and if we stopped working just because we had kids nothing would happen. Technology has helped. I was a cell phone and laptop producer when my kids were small and did a lot of work at night… If I hear kids on the other end of a call now I don’t care if people hang up on me. I get it.”

More explicitly she describes Kiwis as valuing life work balance and believes it is increasingly important for figuring out how this industry will look in the future.

What are good lessons for producers to learn early? “The script is the blueprint. It’s the least expensive place to get it right. Don’t assume you can fix it later in the edit. Keep your eye on the goal. The vision for the project needs to be shared by all the team. Stick to that unless there is a compelling reason not to. Your responsibility for health and safety is from the start.”

 
 
 
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Written by Fritha Stalker

Fritha works with the NZ Writers Guild, and has a checkered past including being EO at the Techos Guild, a biologist in Rarotonga and spending random bits of her childhood on film & TV sets where NZ’s independent film & TV pioneers were making it up as they went along. This grab-bag adds up to knowing a little about a lot.

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