How to Become a Producer
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“I do not need a producer. I need only a good production manager. I need only a man who will give me money.”
Film and TV producers take a concept and find the money to turn that concept into reality. These are two diverse abilities: the first is being able to recognize a good story idea, or show concept, when they see it; the second is the business acumen to secure the intellectual rights to this story idea, or concept and then find the necessary funding to turn the idea into a finished film or TV show pilot.
Recognizing a good story line—defined as a movie or TV show pilot that resonates with the audience and scores big at the box office or in the Nielsen ratings—requires talent and luck. One reason action movie sequels are so prevalent these days is they reduce the amount of luck required to be successful. After all, if the audience has invested in the first episodes of a movie franchise, the odds are good that they will attend subsequent episodes. They are the closest thing to a “sure thing” that exists in the movie industry. This makes them easier to secure financing for as well.
High concept, novel and original story ideas are harder to get off the ground. In many cases, the producer will need to get a major star or director on board to secure the financing. This requires that the producer has a relationship with actors and directors. Federico Fellini was both director and writer for his films which is why he defined the role of a producer as a production manager and money source.
The time between securing the story idea or concept, and the finished movie or TV show pilot is where the producer makes their mark. They’re involved with, or are in charge of, hiring the writer, the director, the cast and crew. They make sure the production sticks to the schedule and budget, and once the project is wrapped and edited, they’re working on its distribution. As you can see, the producer must have a wide range of skills. Often overlooked, but probably the most important skill or personality trait is patience. From finding the right idea to finished films is a process that can take an average of five to seven years. That’s a lot of time to spend on a project that you are not passionate about which is why finding and securing the intellectual rights to the right story idea or show concept is so important.
Another skill producers must have is the ability to multitask. Most producers have multiple projects they are working on simultaneously. Usually, each of these projects is in a different state of the production process—you could be budgeting out a script in the morning, pitching a new idea to investors at lunch, and hiring cast and crew in the afternoon, and all the while keeping the projects clear but separated in your mind.
So, how does one become a producer? While there is no made-in-stone path to becoming a producer, the tried and true method is to start at the bottom and work your way up. One such approach is to start as a production assistant, then move up to line producing or production manager before trying to make the leap to producer. A similar approach would be to offer your services to a producer you admire as a reader, production assistant or runner. These ladder-climbing approaches also help you build industry relationships while you work.
Additionally, producers need to be good “people persons.” You need to be respected for a director to sign on with you, you need to motivate and inspire the writers, you need to be able to talk the talk with directors of photography and you need to charm investors into giving you money. You need to be constantly building your network which means not only do you have to gain new connections as often as possible, but you have to avoid losing any connections because they didn’t like working with you.
When it comes to becoming a producer, there is no substitute for experience—which leaves you with the Catch 22 of how do I gain experience (take this to mean on-screen credits) if they won’t hire me unless I already have experience. That’s where film school comes into play. A program like Film Connection’s Film Production & Editing can be invaluable in helping you get started on your journey. It places you inside a production company so you can experience all phases of the film and TV production process. Its extern-based model of education ensures that you spend time inside a production company while they work on project(s). If you can “show your stuff” during this program, the production company could very well hire you (for a bottom of the ladder position) and even give you an on-screen credit for your contributions to the project(s) while you were taking the program.
A Practical Guide to the Film Production Process
Famous Movie Producers You Know And Those You Don’t
Our Roundtable conversation with Producer, Richard Brandes