By Amy Shepherd & Danielle Turkov
UNREAL (2015-2018), an Emmy-nominated US TV drama series that slices open the manipulation, provocation and lies driving production of a fictional competitive dating show, describes the role of a Producer as to create conditions for things to happen. Well, it might be said that the role of an Impact Producer is to create conditions for meaningful things to happen.
In a good filmmaking team, impact production and classic production complement and enhance one other. Across the value chain, Impact Producers bring new perspective, expertise, access and influence; these in turn bring in new forms of financing, audience, distribution and revenue.
Of primary concern to both Producers and Impact Producers is making a good product: if content is neither captivating nor entertaining then it will not sell or succeed, making it extremely difficult to achieve any meaningful outcome. Thus impact begins with helping scriptwriters and directors understand and harness the power of their story.
Many of the best and most celebrated films are instinctively created from a place of impact, with film narratives and visuals that touch an audience’s core and provoke response. BLACK PANTHER (2018), UP (2009), BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), LEGALLY BLONDE (2001) for example – each of these understood the “why” behind their story.
The next major concern for both Producers and Impact Producers is timing: every film needs to capitalise on its moment to stand out and achieve its goals. By fixing their gaze on the socio-political zeitgeist, impact producers can often be the best ‘hot topic’ predictors or even make a wave for a film to ride. This work also supports Publicists to hone a press strategy and capitalise on networks for film promotion.
Mental health is high on the agenda since COVID-19; what if a film embodying this issue like JOKER (2019) had leaned into impact and gotten ahead of the curve? Maybe it might have kickstarted new societal mental health support before 2020 and helped us be better prepared.
Technology use has also soared during the pandemic, and people are questioning more than ever before humanity’s relationship with our smart devices. So why then did SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2020), a big-budget comedy starring James Corden and Melissa McCarthy, not get the results it deserved? Perhaps if an expert community had positioned and championed it as the film to watch in the context of new AI regulations that are and will soon be coming in, audiences and critics might have given it a more enthusiastic reception.
The third key concern shared by Producers and Impact Producers is legacy: every film has a moment; stretching and making this last to maximise viewing and after-sales balances the books, extends the profit potential and keeps the impact issue on the agenda by taking the story forward on new journeys.
For a brief, shining moment, SQUID GAME (2021) was literally everywhere. Netflix’s released viewing figures suggest that somewhere in the region of 300 million plus people saw the show in its first month. But one collective binge-watch later, audiences have already moved on. The most popular drama (almost) ever came out and – is that it?
SQUID GAME is fundamentally about debt and desperation. What if a strategic impact release campaign had mobilised those 300 million viewers to demand politicians institute real-world structures to prevent and counteract the likelihood of people ending up in extreme negative financial situations and feeling as helpless as the series protagonists? A generation-defining outcome and a whole new lifespan for the series could have been the result.
Impact Producers work with and alongside Producers at every stage to help shape a creative vision and support content to develop, expand and evolve. Producers and Impact Producers have an equally important role to play, and the value they each bring deserves equal recognition, budget and respect. The day will come that funders and awards committees acknowledge this too.