Interview with Carina Chavda: The Art of Film Producing

Professionals like Carina Chavda admit that the title “Producer” is so malleable within the film industry that it prohibits specific definition. Ms. Chavda notes that “problem solver” is likely the most apt description of what she does in a variety of narrative films, documentaries, commercials, and other projects. Truthfully, one can learn how to be a producer but the greatest among them, like Carina, possess a certain natural inclination that pairs well with problem solving. People skills, a love of organization, and a passion for collaboration are essential. Add to that the lack of a desire for the spotlight while openly offering it to others. Producing is the hardest profession in the world of film that offers the least amount of glory. Of course, glory is not what prompts producers like Carina. For those who would follow in her footsteps, she has graciously agreed to give insight into her professional life. The adventure payoff is high. From trips across combat riddled countries where no one speaks your language to the invention of new ways to strike deals with animation studios and even illuminating the process of medical breakthroughs which affect the entire population of planet Earth; Carina Chavda feels how her work changes minds and hearts on a global scale. To understand her path in life is to glimpse artistic commitment and passion at the highest level.

-It’s really hard to define the role and responsibilities of a producer. It seems as if the producers the average person is familiar with are those whom have a style or genre that they work within. What does producing mean to you?

Carina Chavda: I’ve always had a passion for producing, I love problem solving, planning, and being creative. Being a producer allows me to flex all those muscles. A producer is one of the most misunderstood professions in the film world. I think that the term filmmaker and producer aren’t drastically different. A lot of times producers are involved in the filmmaking process in a more creative way than just the logistics and the planning & fundraising. For me, it differs from project to project. I like to fill in where necessary to ensure the project gets the best outcome. Most people who aren’t in the film world think a producer is the financier of the film and while financiers will get a producer or executive producer credit, understanding that there is a role such as a producer is not something that everyone comprehends. Whenever I meet people not in the industry, I have to explain what a producer does since they are always confused when I say that I am one. 

-What has been the most challenging project for you as a producer?

It would probably be Saving Saffron. (Saving Saffron is a 2020 documentary produced by Ms. Chavda which explored the struggles of the inhabitants of a particular region in Kashmir). The film had budget constraints, location constraints, language barriers, cultural barriers, was filmed in a war-zone, and involved interviewing people whose voices are being suppressed. The access to subjects was limited. For example, we wanted to interview women in our documentary but the Kashmiri women were too shy and were essentially not allowed to be on camera. On our flight into Kashmir, there was only one other civilian on the flight, the rest of the passengers were military guards. That should explain the situation in the area and how conflicted it is. When you drive out of the airport, all you see in the city walking down the street are armed guards. 

That sounds harrowing to put it mildly. Situations like that really reinforce the idea that a producer must have great “people skills” and be able to deal with anyone in even the most stressful of circumstances.

Yes, film producers need people skills to be successful in their job. We must also be able to manage conflicts that arise during the production process, whether it’s disagreements between cast and crew members or unexpected challenges that arise during filming. In order to achieve the desired outcome, you have to maintain good relationships with everyone involved in the production and ensure that everyone is working together effectively. I often say that part of being a film producer is learning how to manage different personalities. All productions have a wide set of people with such different personalities. You need to make sure they all come together and work in unison to achieve the desired outcome. The work is tiring and the hours are long. When I’m doing things properly, people are happy in their environment, they feel respected, and that they enjoy what they are doing. 

Whether it’s working around a strong military presence or on a film set, would you say that grace under pressure is key to what you do and why you get such incredible results?

My biggest strength as a producer, is my ability to stay calm. No matter how prepared you are or how much pre-production work you put in, there are ALWAYS conflicts, changes in the schedule, or other unforeseen challenges that come up. The worst thing a producer can do is panic. That won’t result in anything productive. I find staying calm helps me think clearly and find a solution for different problems. One of the tasks I take pretty seriously is making sure the last person to hear about any logistical production challenges is the Director. I want the director to only focus on being creative and how to bring the scene to life. My plan is always to figure out a solution and solve the problem at hand before we need to inform the director and pivot. 

-You are currently producing the documentary Unlocking RNA with filmmaker Bill Haney (recipient of an Amnesty International Award, a Silver Hugo, and others) which presents the life and work of Nobel Prize winning scientist Phil Sharp. Documentaries are more popular than ever with streaming platforms allowing a wider audience to access these productions. There is also a noticeable backlash by members of the film industry about the popularity of streaming services. How do you feel about them?

The role of a film producer is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies and trends in the entertainment industry. With the rise of streaming services and social media, there are more opportunities than ever for producers to create and distribute content directly to audiences. One of the big changes is that producers now have access to new funding models and distribution channels which can enable them to bypass traditional studios and reach audiences more directly. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have already disrupted the traditional distribution model by producing and releasing their own content, and this trend is likely to continue. As a result, producers may need to become more entrepreneurial, taking on more responsibility for financing and distributing their own projects. They may also need to develop new skills in social media marketing and audience engagement, as these channels become increasingly important for building buzz and reaching audiences.

-What are the warning signs to you which tell you to not accept the position of producer on a project?

One of the most important things to consider before accepting the project is the script/story. I need to believe in the story we are telling, in it’s importance, and that we can execute it in a way which is compelling and exciting. The benefits of having a good story is that everyone in the crew is motivated to tell it. That is a big win! They are excited to work on it and show up each day with enthusiasm. Filmmaking is such hard work. It’s tedious and involves long hours. An invested and driven team makes that much more fun. 

-What makes you feel most satisfied upon the completion of a project? 

Hearing audience reactions is probably the most satisfying part. If it’s a comedy and I hear the crowd laugh at the right beats, I know we’ve done our job. I’ve produced a number of comedy short films and I remember being in the audience during film festivals when it was screening and hearing a unanimous laugh at all the right moments, which made me smile. I know that even for a few minutes, I put a smile on someone’s face and that is powerful. My favorite thing about filmmaking is that emotional reaction to a film. With the documentaries, the knowledge that people’s voices are being heard as a result of my work and that this can result in tangible action; it’s a deeply motivating feeling. When my films screen at different film festivals all over the world, I know that more and more audience members are being impacted by these stories and that can result in actual change. I still get e-mails from people who have watched Saving Saffron and enjoyed it. They express true concern for the people of Kashmir. I know how important it is to give a voice to the voiceless and if I can do that in my little way it means a lot to me.

Writer: Sharon Howe

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