Marginalia, Graduate Blog

The Halfway Mark

Conor O'Farrell

Last week my cohort hit a milestone that at many times throughout our first year seemed far too distant: the halfway mark.

Many of our professors assert that to be a good producer you need to be somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. That’s why the range of what we’ve learned this year has been so broad. Our three development classes have included Writing for Producers, Story Development, and Acquisition, Development and Presentation. In terms of analysis we’ve taken Critical Analysis of Contemporary Film & Media, Cinema Studies I, and Cinema Studies II. To tackle the business side of film making we’ve had Business & Legal. Our practical classes have included Line Producing and Post-Production. I came into this program unsure of what precise area of producing was for me, I finished my first year knowing with cast-iron certainty that I am a story guy, and that the path that l lay before me leads toward studio development. Finding that path, however, took some time. The same goes for the rest of the producers. Our first year has been a stormy ride for us all, but I think that was the point.


I believe we learn more from our failures than we do our successes, and though there might be much to be gained from working with someone that may not be our first choice, it doesn’t always go as planned and often, if you permit it, the lesson will be in hindsight, like the lesson that Karen taught me, which was that sometimes my sentences go on too long. Structure. Back to my point, whether developing story with a writer, negotiating budget with a cinematographer, or working closely with a director during production, relationship management is key. From knowing how to make & back your point up one-on-one, to being ‘good in a room’ pitching to studio execs or financiers, developing that ability to communicate confidently and effectively will serve you highly.

That said, even with stellar efforts from all involved, some situations just aren’t salvageable, and in some cases relationships did turn sour this year. One of my own included. It’s unfortunate, but look beyond just that and there lies an opportunity to learn one of two key lessons; the efforts it takes to restore balance in a difficult situation, or the value in knowing when to walk away from a project. But, before I veer too far into some form of self-help-for-filmmakers column, I will round this paragraph off by stating that these seemingly frustrating situations subsequently provided the most scope for learning, which you might say is even more annoying in a I-didn’t-come-here-to-learn-this-much-stuff kind of way. Stop it.

We made it. And I’ve managed to get some sleep the last few days. I’ve discovered Vine, and I’ve already seen Star Trek: Into Darkness two times. Tonight was the second time, and then on the red line home I read the American Cinematographer feature on how the film was shot. Trying to be a jack-of-all-trades is easier when you make it relevant to films you like. And Into Darkness is a great film that reminds me of why I’m in the game, and inspires me.

It has been interesting documenting my journey here this first year. Thanks for keeping up with my ramblings, and I’ll write some more during the summer. Emily Railsback and I will be shooting our thesis film in Kansas late August – The adventures of an imaginative young boy tear at the seams, when his neighboring farmer bulldozes his childhood fort – and while in pre-production on that I’m 2nd Assistant Director on a feature film shooting in Indiana for the next two months. Plenty to write about. But keep up with @producingmfa in the meantime. For now I leave you with the sizzle reel for mine and Emily’s thesis film He Owns It, We Built It. (There’s more info on what a sizzle reel is beneath the video).
I’m really glad to experience yet another American holiday, and thankful the thunder & lightning storm that put an end to Memorial Day provided such a sharp salute to fallen service members. It has been a great year, and I look forward to taking on whatever next year throws our way.
The Halfway Mark

Last week my cohort hit a milestone that at many times throughout our first year seemed far too distant: the halfway mark. Many of our professors assert that to be …

Cinema Art + Science - Creative Producing Conor O'Farrell, conor.ofarrell@loop.colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605

The Graduate Experience