How Sloan is Giving Independent Film Producers Some Much-Needed Love

Ask the average movie goer if they've ever heard of Kathleen Kennedy and you'll probably get a shrug. Ask them if they've ever heard of Steven Spielberg and you'll get a swift and confident nod.

Kennedy is the American film producer behind such smashes as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Jurassic Park trilogy, and the upcoming Episode VII of the Star Wars series (recently dubbed Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

Steven Spielberg, is, well, Steven Spielberg.

Our point is that producers often fly under the radar. Directors (and occasionally) screenwriters seem to get all the accolades. Funders like the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, however, are fully aware of the important role producers play in American cinema, which brings us to the entity known as Film Independent.

Film Independent is a nonprofit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and its Film Independent Producing Lab. The latter, which owes its existence, in part, to entities like Sloan, the Time Warner Foundation, and the National Endowment of the Arts, is a kind of immersive boot camp for aspiring producers.

The way it works is simple. Participating producers all bring an in-development project to the table, and over the course of four weeks, they develop a strategy and action plan to bring their current projects to fruition. The lab also helps to further the careers of the producing fellows by introducing them to film professionals who can advise on both the craft and business of independent producing. Producers are chosen based on the strength of their submitted script, their business plan, and their creative vision.

Film Independent just announced the nine winning fellows, listed here, as well as a one-time $30,000 Sloan Producing Grant to producer Summer Shelton for her feature film project The Buried Life. The film examines a kleptomaniac archaeologist who "embarks on the dig of her career. But when her dysfunctional family follows her to the excavation, she discovers her biggest challenge is facing what's above ground."

The film sounds fun and appealing to the mass public while simultaneously hitting on scientific concepts — in other words, exactly what the Sloan Foundation is looking for. As loyal IP readers know, the foundation is keen on supporting films that increase the public understanding of science and technology (whether the viewer realizes it or not) and that "challenge stereotypes of scientists, engineers and mathematicians through compelling artist-driven films made by new, independent voice."

Bottom line? Producers matter. Who knows? Without Ms. Kennedy maybe directors like Spielberg would have ended up teaching classes on the use of lighting in Citizen Kane at a local community college (though we doubt it).