How to Produce a Movie

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As a producer of a film, from a small documentary to an animated short to a full-length feature film, you are responsible for just about every aspect of the finished product. If you want to know how to produce a movie, know you’ll have to have an understanding of how making a movie works.  Whether you’re handling all of the budget line items or indirectly in charge of hiring a crew for a location shoot, the buck stops with the producer.

If you have an idea for a movie, or maybe a screenplay in hand, but want to know how to produce a movie on your own, you’ll need to wear many hats. Equal parts accountant, talent finder, HR director, technical expert, and master communicator.

Unless you’re planning on handling the directing, cinematography, sound, location scout, and so on yourself, you’ll need to get everyone on the same page. Being able to win friends and influence people will also come in handy when looking for financing for your film production. Unless you’re planning on the Robert Rodriguez method of paying for your movie.

How to Produce a Movie in Five Parts

Although some parts of the production process may bleed into each other, there are five steps to producing a movie.

  • Development/Secure a Script
  • Pre-Production
  • Shooting/Production Stage
  • Post-Production
  • Distribution

Development/Secure a Script

First off, without a screenplay, there is no movie–it’s hard to storyboard a film, figure out a production schedule, hire a cast and crew, or get funding without some kind of story to work from.

This is the development stage of producing a movie. Now is the time to secure a screenplay, or at least a treatment or outline. If you’re producing a movie for a studio, it could take months or even years for a script to be given the go-ahead. After the film has been “green-lit,” a producer will begin to develop a preliminary budget, compile an initial crew, and begin more concrete planning.

If it will be produced independently of a movie studio, the development stage will include gathering the funds needed to make the film and writing a screenplay. As financing is secured, the preliminary budget will become more detailed, locations will be scouted and obtained (including any associated fees or permits), and a timeline developed.

Pre-Production

The film-making machine really gets chugging during pre-production as shooting schedules are finalized, a crew is hired, acting roles are cast, equipment secured, and so forth. There’s an old adage about if you plan to fail, you’re planning to fail. Decisions made now can affect the production months down the road.

The director, cinematographer, screenwriter, production designers, and even the leads will begin to meet to discuss the film. Storyboards are developed, sets are built, and costumes are created. Crews are assembled as everyone begins to familiarize themselves with the film. Shooting schedules are solidified and travel arrangements are made (if needed).

The scope of the project usually decides how long this takes, but can take as long as a year. Because of this, some crew members may not be brought on until the end of pre-production or as the production begins. Time is money after all and you don’t want to hire a gaffer to sit around for months on end.

Shooting/Production Stage

How to Produce a Movie

Film Connection student Juan Armijos and producer Rob Weston with Jason Mewes of Clerks

Now you’ll see how all of those script rewrites, meticulous shot lists, and pre-production planning look from behind the camera. It’s up to the director to keep things rolling along, the line producer to ensure “non-creative” aspects of the production are kept in check (budget, legal issues, etc.), the assistant director to post call sheets, and everyone else to do their part.

Oddly enough, this is usually the shortest of all the production stages–hopefully. Google “problems during film production” if you’d like to read some real horror stories when it comes to making a movie. If you want to know how to produce a movie, it’s a study of perseverance, determination, and flexibility.

There will always be changes during the production of a film. The filmmaking process is a creative endeavor, and what sounded good in pre-production may not translate in real life. Even changing a camera angle for a particular shot can take an hour or more to adjust lighting, marks, and so on. And, of course, there’s not much you can do about the whims of Mother Nature.

How to Produce a Film: Post-Production

Once the final reel of film is put in the can (so to speak), it’s time to take the rough cut of the film into post-production. This is where the editors make their money, adding sound effects, replacing green screens with CGI, choosing the best takes, and so on.

The editor and director work closely together to decide what kind of mood to set and how to get there. There’s only so much lighting can do in some cases–the final touches of grittiness for an inner-city thriller need to be added in post-production.

In reality, post-production begins once there’s film to edit. This can be an incredible time-saver: The sooner you spot the need for a re-shoot or realize a scene doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie, the sooner you can rectify the situation. And there’s no need to call everyone back weeks later to shoot a two-minute scene.

Distribution

As the movie nears completion, the producer should already have a distribution plan in place. Much of this should be established during pre-production, including marketing on social media and in more traditional media to begin to build a buzz. If the movie is being made for a movie company, they often have marketing and distribution departments to handle this.

Independent movie producers need to work a bit harder. At this point, it’s all about marketing, submitting the film to festivals, or reaching out to movie studios to pick up the movie. If there’s no marketing or distribution plan in place, your movie idea may never be seen.

Film Connection Gives You Firsthand Knowledge of How to Produce a Movie

The film industry, much like other creative businesses, can be a very close-knit community. As soon as a producer, director, cinematographer, and other “above the line” decision-makers find someone they like working with, they stick with them. It is very much a who you know situation in many cases, but you still need to know your stuff to stick.

Film Connection believes the best way to learn about film production is to be in the middle of it. Doesn’t it make more sense to be on the set or on location than a classroom if you really want to know how a film gets made? Would you rather be sitting next to a director or cinematographer or sitting in front of a teacher?

Instead of jockeying for attention with other students, you’ll be given one-on-one time with your mentor in a production company, an industry insider with the knowledge of how films are made today. Get instant answers to your questions, feedback on your work, and opportunities to meet others in the filmmaking business.

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