2023 Sundance Producers Keynote | IndieWire
Sundance is honoring producers Heather Rae and Nina Yang Bongiovi on Sunday, and you can read their keynote here.
On Sunday, January 22nd, producers came together in person to honor the 2023 festival filmmakers and their films and to highlight the independent producer’s role at the Sundance Producers Celebration.
This annual event, sponsored by Amazon Studios and hosted by the Sundance Producers Program, highlighted the 2022-2023 Sundance Institute Producing Fellows, delivered a keynote address from producers Heather Rae and Nina Yang Bongiovi, and presented the Sundance Institute 2023 | Amazon Studios Producer Awards. The award honors two producers with films from this year’s festival for their overall work. IndieWire shares the keynote exclusively below.
Jess Devaney/Multitude Films (“It’s Only Life After All” and “Milisuthando”) received the 2023 Amazon Studios Nonfiction Producers Award, while Kara Durrett (“The Starling Girl”) received the 2023 Amazon Studios Fiction Producers Award.
Nina Yang Bongiovi: We’d like to thank the team at Sundance – Michelle Satter, Shira Rockowitz, Kristin Feeley – for allowing Heather and I to be the keynote speakers at the Producers Celebration!
Heather Rae: Thank you again to Sundance for the opportunity to be with you all today. We want to thank you all here with films this year, years past and years to come. There are two things Nina and I would like to engage with all of you today – we would like to initiate a dialogue about ethics and values and a conversation about integrity in relation to production.
When you become a producer, there is no rule book or formal onboarding process. In this conversation I suggest that we as producers create our own ethics or values. And there are three values that I invite you to observe; these are values that Nina and I share. And it can be shared values that bring us together as employees and it can be a difference in values that divides us.
The first value to consider is good communication. Communication is fundamental to all work environments and 60% or more of communication is listening. Listening is an art form. Approach the Communications degree as you would a craft degree because as producers we are managers, in leadership positions and the ability to communicate is critical to our success. In all cases where there is conflict, it is a breakdown in communication. Communication is a science, but above all it is moved by the heart.
The second value I want to invite you to is reciprocity. It might sound simple, but it’s a powerful stat set. Our industry is deeply rooted in colonial and capitalist values, values like “get as much as possible by giving as little as possible”. Isn’t that the nature of dealmaking? What if we subverted the extractive nature of this practice and instead embraced the values of generosity and reciprocity? One of my working tenets is “everyone gets what they deserve and no one gets more than they deserve.” So reciprocity has an inherent kind of integrity.
The third value I invite you to consider is appreciation, the act of appreciation – what you might call appreciation in action. A film set is a group of people working at an unnatural pace, with high levels of stress and heightened emotions. It’s about a lot. So there is power in acknowledging those around us, those who contribute to us. We build power by outwardly expressing that appreciation, and we create healthy ecosystems. A film’s cast and crew is an ecosystem. In the Hollywood system, it is structured as a hierarchical power. If we invert this pyramid into a circle, we can see that we are one community. It can be as simple an act as Sterlin Harjo creating a set culture in Reservation Dogs where the cast, crew and background all eat together. As a community. Softening the class layers of hierarchical or perceived power in our industry.
My call to action for you today is: Is there someone in this room or outside of this room that you could acknowledge? Let that be your next conversation or call. And let’s find ways to build power together as a community. I’ll start by acknowledging you, Nina. Her work is wild, timeless and magical. You are an incredible producer and I have so much enjoyed our partnership with the projects we work on. And I believe it’s the shared values of advocacy and working for systemic change that really brought us together.
Yang Bongiovi: I recognize you, Heather. Her activism through storytelling and philanthropy inspires me. They uplift the culture and fight for justice. Having her in my corner when we build together is a wonderful reality, not just a dream. Most of all, I appreciate that you are my friend and ally, and that is truly a gift.
So I’m here to talk about INTEGRITY. Integrity in relation to producers and production.
For the producers here, how many times have you been asked what a producer is? What are we doing exactly? Because in our industry it’s a title that’s given away so easily and often carelessly. I sometimes feel like explaining to people what I’m doing is about justifying that I have a real career and that it’s sustainable. How do I define produce? Put simply, art meets commerce. But the complexity of finding a story alongside a filmmaker that speaks to your heart is the essence; Then that’s what a true producer does, bringing a project to fruition in every sense and in every way. And we carry that creative, financial, and logistical responsibility (and liability) on our shoulders. Someone who guides artists with love and support and sometimes harsh truths, but ultimately we empower projects to the finish line. We’re the ones in the trenches, the ones who hold onto a thread and a prayer as the sky falls while we shield our filmmakers from any uproar so they can focus on making art.
A strong producer must understand the film business and the artists’ language; We need to use soft skills and really should have a sense of humor because it’s not easy to navigate the entertainment business. I once said to my producing partner Forest Whitaker that this industry is unforgiving and I feel defeated at times – especially given the fact that we focus on historically excluded narratives and that we live and breathe in the realm of underrepresented communities. in front of and behind the camera… Forest then turned to me and said with a kind smile, “Nina, how does it feel to change lives through storytelling?” Shit.
So back to INTEGRITY. I want you and we to protect what we do as producers. Protect the integrity of producer credit. Don’t sacrifice or dilute what we bring to the table. We’re the glue that holds a film together, from script development, to financing, to physical production, to post-production, to marketing and distribution (and if we’re lucky, an awards campaign). We are responsible for the chain of ownership to the miserable delivery process. And on indie features, we annually file the damn taxes for each movie’s LLC. We lead by example, we are solution-oriented and we should lead with our hearts.
2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Fruitvale Station here at Sundance – the film that cemented me as a producer. Over this past decade, I’ve been fortunate to be a champion of some of the most culturally significant films with incredible storytellers that have changed and will continue to change the paradigm of Hollywood. Independent cinema gives us the opportunity to find these filmmakers and push their stories forward – these artists and visionaries need great producers to work with and excel with. By allowing producers to own our credits with integrity, we give ourselves value.
I know it can be daunting at times for those who aspire to a career in production. Don’t lose sight of the goal of creating art for life. It’s absolutely achievable. I want you to be able to say with me, “I can make art for a living, and isn’t that a blessing?”
Re: Finally, a recent study on happiness has shown that happiness is not really what we are looking for. Instead, what we’re really looking for is meaning and connection. In other words, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging are more valuable to us than “happiness”. This community is a place of meaning and belonging. And we can build collective ethics and values rooted in integrity and generosity and transform the culture of this industry. THAT is power.
Registration: Stay up to date on the latest movie and TV news! Sign up for our email newsletter here.
https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/2023-sundance-producers-keynote-1234802551/ 2023 Sundance Producers Keynote | IndieWire