How to Become a Movie Producer
The most successful movie producers in the industry are able to bring almost any script to life and turn it into an award-winning blockbuster. It’s not just a matter of finding a diamond in the rough – although that helps. It means being able to turn a “meh” movie into a summer blockbuster or turning a surefire hit into a beloved film franchise.
Most producers didn’t start out producing movies. They were directors, writers, cinematographers, and even secretaries. Steve Spielberg didn’t produce his first big-budget film (E.T.) until after establishing himself as a director with several TV credits and the films Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
James Cameron was a production assistant, set dresser assistant, miniature designer, and matte artist before his first feature-length film director credit – Piranha II: The Spawning. He went on to produce Titanic and Avatar, movies that combined to gross nearly five billion dollars at the box office.
Kathleen Kennedy has produced the last five Star Wars movies but started as a camera operator at a San Diego TV station. Her “break” came when she was hired as a Spielberg assistant that couldn’t type. Kevin Feige had to apply six times before getting accepted to film school and he’s produced more than 40 Marvel movies.
What we’re trying to say is big-time movie producers aren’t born, they’re made. In many cases, they had entry-level jobs and worked their way up the ladder, learning all the way. Feige may be the outlier here – an encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe got him hired as an associate producer at age 27. At 34 he was named President of Production at Marvel Studios.
So you can spend time brushing up on comic books and wait for lightning in a bottle, or you can roll up your sleeves and put in the work, learning everything you can about what goes into making TV shows or feature films. Because as a producer, you’ll be responsible for it all.
What Does a Producer Do?
Being a film producer is an interesting position. You are responsible for almost everything that happens during filming, even though you never act, operate a camera, apply makeup, or any of the hundreds of other things that happen on and off the set. As the producer, you’re the one in charge of hiring all of those people.
In smaller films, you may even be the writer, director, cinematographer, gaffer, and so on. Robert Rodriguez is famous for producing El Mariachi all by himself for just a little more than $7,000. He handled the filming from start to finish, secured funding, took care of post-production, and found cast members.
For El Mariachi, all of the pre-production took place in Rodriguez’s head. On a major motion picture, however, that becomes a much bigger job. Pre-production includes securing the rights to an existing work, locking down the script, getting the storyboards presented to the director, and getting the locations established.
From there, the cast is chosen, crews are hired, and even wardrobe decisions are made. Other creative choices, such as the amount of CGI needed or technical aspects of shooting the film are discussed. It’s up to the producer to bring everyone together and set the parameters.
This is where having a little bit of history in the industry is a good thing. You meet a lot of people moving from job to job, company to company. Is there a key grip you especially liked working with? Or a wardrobe professional who effortlessly made those last-minute alterations? Conversely, was there a chief lighting technician or gaffer who refused any and all input?
These relationships will serve you well as you begin your producing career. Successful producers are the ones who have a phone bursting with contacts for each and every job on the set. Whether it’s getting the best hair and makeup person in the film industry or having several camera equipment, wardrobe houses, and other rental companies on speed dial, you’ll need to be able to take care of all of it.
The bigger the picture, the bigger the bankroll. In today’s marketplace, it takes a lot of money to make a film – marketing alone can cost millions. As a movie producer, establishing a good relationship with those bank accounts – we mean investors – is a must. In some cases, that means working with an executive producer.
As the link between the studios and the film production, executive producers oversee the financials of the movie being made as well as the creative end of the film. This means keeping the production on-schedule to prevent costly overtime costs as well as making sure creative standards are being adhered to.
Executive producers won’t usually get into the weeds of a film, such as how sets are built or if a bank of lights is sitting at the proper angles. But they will make sure the budget won’t get busted. All it takes is one humongous flop to sink a smaller movie studio.
While the major studios all have their own production companies and have the money to spend, independent companies will need to seek out financial backing from others. Once again, the relationships you’ve made in the past will play a part.
Showing you understand what the movie is about, how it will be made, and what the expectations are can put a financier at ease and willing to open the bank vault. A good producer then makes good on those claims. Even if they need an executive producer to keep them on target.
As we’ve talked about becoming a producer, there was one common thread: relationships. These are made spending time in the industry, not burning bridges, and keeping the promises you make. And while you could get a degree in film at a 4-year university and then start networking, Film Connection introduces you to industry professionals from day one.
Lights, Camera, Action!
With the Film Connection Film Producing and Editing Program, you can start building those relationships from the start. We place you inside a working studio where your mentor will start showing you the tricks of the trade. Where to set up the lights for the best effect, how to operate a boom mic, or laying down cables so they don’t interfere with filming.
One day you could be operating the camera during a morning TV show, the next you may be on location a hundred miles away for a 12-hour shift. Each day you’ll learn something new – it’s a good idea to make those relationships wherever you can.
Because everybody knows somebody in this industry, if they call your mentor looking for a production assistant, is your mentor going to feel good about giving them your name? Have you been responsible, gone above and beyond, and always handled yourself professionally? If the answer is yes, then you might be on your way.
First things first, however – apply to Film Connection today and get going on building a future you’ll love.