For the film lover who aspires to do it all in the entertainment industry, learning how to become a movie producer puts you in the driver’s seat of a film production. The producer is possibly the most misunderstood, yet most important person involved with any movie. The producers – people like Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer – all join a film project at the very beginning and commit themselves to seeing it through to completion. In short, they’re the generals running the entire production, doing it all.
Fans and film aficionados who want to break into the industry to produce their own films may feel overwhelmed. It takes a ton of knowledge about a variety of fields to climb the mountain in becoming a movie producer. However, the team at TomCruise.com again has assembled a guide to give you some resources outlining the basics of film producing. While not completely exhaustive, we hope this gives the aspiring film producer a first marker on the road to becoming a success!
Every team needs a leader. For movie fanatics with leadership skills and tons of energy, becoming a film producer may be your calling. With the right combination of intelligence, people skills and tenacity, we definitely believe you can make it happen!
As we did in the posts for emerging actors, directors, screenwriters and visual effects artists, the team hunted for the best information online to bring you a guide to begin your journey into the world of movie production. We’re hoping this sets several of you off on a trip ending with you screening your blockbuster or, perhaps, grabbing the last gold statue awarded on Oscar night.
Here’s what the TomCruise.com team has included for you in the post:
- A description of what a movie producer does, including the different titles for producers.
- Books written on different facets of movie producing to start your self education
- Publications you can read online or in print to learn more about the film industry, including inside news about deals
- Colleges offering training specifically for aspiring movie producers looking.
- Professional training programs run by industry groups
- Trade groups and associations for movie producers
As always we welcome any comments to the post to share other resources we can add to the guide in order to offer more complete information. Any reader with experience in the field, we love to hear your thoughts! Let us in on your wisdom, or point us to links, and we’ll add it.
So, here we go movie fans and aspiring producers! Buckle up for the first mile of your journey to becoming the head honcho on a movie production: a film producer.
The first question nearly everyone asks about movie producers is what do they do? Even the casual movie fan know producers are important figures, but give them five chances to answer that questions and you’ll probably get six answers.
The short explanation: producers do everything.
A slightly longer answer is provided in the video below, courtesy of Joel Holland at Big Deal Report. Holland interviews James D. Brubaker, President of Physical Production at Universal Studios, quizzing the industry veteran on the many skills needed to become a successful movie producer:
Wow! It seems as though the short answer basically sums it up; movie producers really do have to do everything. But there is hope. Brubaker himself came from humble beginning at his studio to rise to a company president, producing several popular movies and winning awards.
Just to provide a little more granular understanding of what it takes to become a movie producer, we’ll turn to filmmaker Nathan Boehme in his report to Expert Village. Boehme breaks down the many facets of a producer’s job methodically from the beginning to end of the filmmaking process. Take a look below:
Again, a producer’s job is to pretty much do everything short of holding a camera or yelling action, although they’re often doing those jobs too! As the supervisor overseeing every element of the production, it comes down to the producer to get all the disparate elements of pre-production, financing, location shooting, post-production, distribution, marketing and promotions.
Here’s our short check list of these jobs in rough chronological order:
- Finding script, story or idea to turn into a movie: The first step is easily the most important, having a story to tell that people can’t wait to watch on the screen. It’s the foundation to everything that follows and gives everyone in the production the passion to create. At this stage, a producer may possibly hire a screenwriter to turn an idea into a finished screenplay if it’s not already written, or to polish an existing screenplay to perfection.
- Locating financing to meet the production budget for the film: Another absolutely crucial part of the producer’s job. This is where the financial wizardry of many of today’s producers come into play: you can’t make a movie without the money to pay for all the highly skilled people involved. From buying the screenplay to marketing and advertising the film, it all takes money. In some situations, producers may finance the production themselves or use whatever wealth at their disposal to secure loans for the production.
- Finding the creative team to make the movie: For the major producers of a Hollywood movie, this normally means the key players on the production including the director and star actors. The producer often secures financing based on commitments from negotiations with these partners for a film shoot, so pieces of this step may come before the previous. Much of the other creative team are hired either through the director or producers further down the hierarchy of the production.
- Managing schedule and expenses during the shoot: Depending on the difficulty of the shoot or the environment, costs can quickly escalate during production. It’s up to the producer to keep the creative team on task and moving forward as quickly as possible in order to keep expenses down. However, producers also have to balance costs with the quality of the finished product. Here lies the source of conflict on many movie shoots – what to keep and what to get rid of and when to just move on.
- Keeping post production on schedule and under budget: Just as they manage the schedule and budgets on location, producers stay in partnership with directors, editors and visual effects artists to keep post production running smoothly. While post production isn’t under the same pressures of location filming by nature, it has increasingly become an area of film production where costs skyrocket. Careful planning in pre-production may mitigate costs and time crunch in these latter stages.
- Finding distribution to get the film into theaters: In most instances this comes in the form of a partnership with a major studio with an established distribution channel both in North America and overseas. In some cases, producers will find independent distribution companies. This step may be done at any point during production, but is mandatory to getting a film released. No distribution, in essence, means no movie.
- Marketing and promotion of the film: A producer often workd with a studio or distributor on how to best promote and market a film. This includes everything from the posters found in a movie theater lobby to commercials to a film’s website. The producer gives input to all these facets of making sure audiences know about the film and want to go see it.
Phew! We’re tired just typing that, let alone doing it ;). When you imagine that some movie producers can have as many as three or four movies in different stages of production at any given time, it makes you appreciate how busy these professionals really are. It obviously takes a lot of smarts, moxie and energy to juggle that amount of responsibility. But for many producers who love movies as much as anyone in the world, there’s no other life they can imagine.
Another common question regarding movie producers is what all the different producers listed on a film actually do. For example, what’ the difference between the executive producer and producer? What does a line producer do? It seems for every movie there’s one director and a list of three to ten producers, so here’s what it all means.
As explained above, there’s about 100 hours of work for a producer to squeeze into a 24 hour day. It only makes sense the labor gets divided in order to make sure the work gets done. For the most part, the credits for producers follow the amount of responsibility each producer carries on the production. Take a look below for our explanation:
- Producer – Oversees all financial, legal and scheduling of a film production from development through filming to release and marketing. Producers command the primary credit for any theatrical release.
- Executive Producer – Often tied specifically to the financial negotiations on a film. According to professional guidelines through trade associations, executive producers typically secure a significant portion of the finances (over 25 percent) for a production or aided in obtaining the material the movies is based on, whether script or literary.
- Associate Producer – A title appointed by the Producer for anyone heavily involved in the execution of the producers duties. This is often how people in the industry rise to producers as assistants, by taking on responsibilities during production and getting the credits to match.
- Line Producer – Not normally considered part of the creative team, line producers specifically manage the concerns of the film during the shoot. Field producers negotiate all the nitty gritty of making a film production run, including craft services, rentals, locations, equipment, transportation, etc. These are people you don’t want to upset during a tight production schedule
- Co-Producer – A credit often given to line producers who cross over to taking care of creative production. This typically marks a transition point for line producers who are entering the development side of the business.
A great place to start in an education in any field is through the texts written by the leaders of the industry. Below are a selection of some of the books that can guide the aspiring producer through the different facets of the career, including the financial, legal and creative portions of the producing job – or a combination of the three. Each book is written by a recognized leader in the industry with current and relevant experience on how movies are assembled in either through modern production companies, studios or independent means. While all of these books are available through the major online bookstores, we encourage all our readers to seek them out through a library to get a free jump start on their road to movie producing stardom. Happy reading!
So You Want to be a Producer? by Lawrence Turman – Written by the director of the famed Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California, this primer outlines the basics of what a film producer does ranging from gathering finances, to selecting a script to getting a film distributed and marketed. With personal experience as a film producer stretching from the Academy Award nominated film The Graduate through American History X, Turman brings not only a top-flight academic background to his book, but also real experience at the highest levels in making films for major studios.
The Independent Film Producer’s Survival Guide: A Business and Legal Sourcebook by Gunnar Erickson, Harris Tulchin and Mark Halloran – A basic primer for all the independent filmmakers looking to take an idea from the ground floor through production and out to market, this book written by a trio of veteran entertainment lawyers can serve as a valuable resource for any producer (independent or not) looking to make a movie happen. The sourcebook contains info on how indie filmmakers can seek financing, hire the creative team, negotiate deals for production and distribution, acquire music for a soundtrack, calculate profits from a production and distribute a movie into theaters or online. Recently updated in a second edition.
The Indie Producer’s Creative Handbook: Creative Producing from A to Z by Myrl A. Schreibman – Written by the Director of Entrepreneurial Activities for the renowned School of Theater, Film and Television at the University of California at Los Angeles, this guide again outlines the many jobs a producer needs to fill in order to create a successful film. Described as a no-nonsense guide to producing, Schreibman is an expert on making films efficiently and hi book should give a leg up to producers looking to strike out on very low budgets.
The Biz: The Basic Business, Legal and Financial Aspects of the Film Industry by Schuyler M. Moore – Written by another faculty member from UCLA – this time from the school’s vaunted entertainment law program – this book delves deeply into the legal and financial aspects of motion picture production. For the producer looking for an education on the complex financial arrangements that surround films, this text breaks down subjects in easy to understand terms at a quick pace. Some of the subjects include financing; business structuring; securities laws; budgeting essentials; dealing with the guilds; loans; completion guarantees; the legal and financial ramifications of distribution deals; calculating net profits; film-industry accounting practices and contingent payments; copyright, publicity, and trademark laws; screen credits; talent demands; litigation problems; bankruptcy; taxation of film companies and, the Internet distribution of film.
The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood by Edward Jay Epstein – Written by noted investigative reporter Edward Epstein, this book reveals some of the most murky details into the structuring of deals that can baffle most outsiders to the movie industry. Aspiring producers can get a look into the larger issues behind finance and how movies account for financial success outside of the limited scope of gross revenue (ticket sales worldwide) in comparison to the production budget.
The team at TomCruise.com talked about these publications in previous posts on directing, screenwriting and acting, but they all bear mentioning again. These valuable sources of industry information – whether online or in print – provide the aspiring producer with insight to the not only the latest news, but also the tenor and language of the industry. With regular reading, the aspiring producer will quickly learn the major names behind the scenes of the film industry – including the creative partnerships and camps from the entire ecosystem of production companies and major studios. These are the companies and people the aspiring producer should desire to one day be colleagues with.
Variety – The oldest entertainment industry trade publication, Variety publishes both a daily and weekly edition, breaking news on the business for over 100 years. Consistent reading of the newspaper and it’s related blogs will quickly educate an aspiring producer to the state of the industry, along with the major players in it. However, you may need a moment to get used to the special jargon particular to Variety, especially in headlines where the editors may shorten terms into slang found nowhere else.
The Hollywood Reporter – The direct competitor to Variety founded in 1930, The Hollywood Reporter actually overtook the lead in daily circulation in 2007. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the paper maintains an extensive online presence that includes both hard news reporting about the financial and legal sides of the entertainment industry, as well as sharp-tongued blogs dishing out observations about industry stars.
BackStage – An actor’s resource for casting the team at TomCruise.com wrote about in our actor’s guide, BackStage is also of huge benefit for producers looking for post casting and audition calls for their productions. In the case of the emerging producer, the job of casting a production may fall upon you and the director with no casting agents in sight. In this case, BackStage puts the best available actors in touch with your production.
While becoming a movie producer requires immersion in so many fields of knowledge, thankfully there are industry groups looking to train the next generation of film producers in the difficult task of getting a film off the ground. Check it out below:
Director’s Guild of America & AMPTP: Producer Training Plan – Through a partnership between the DGA and the Alliance of Motion PIcture & Television Producers, the aspiring film producer is given the opportunity to learn directly on the job, putting their hands directly on a project from the get go! All students to the program are given titles on the productions they’re assigned to as either Unit Production Managers or Assistant Directors. The goal of the program is to launch the careers for all those looking to excel in the process of filmmaking.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, a college education isn’t required for entry in the film industry, but it surely doesn’t hurt. In fact, the most recent examples of quick success as a producer typically come from exceptionally educated people with diverse background in fields like law and finance. As such, many of the newest producers bring with them a law or business degree. With the business of making movies growing to include complex business relationships spanning the globe, being a producer has quickly become a game filled with very smart players.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for more! As anyone in the industry will tell you, if you have the right story it will very nearly sell itself. In that spirit, many of the colleges listed below not only school prospective producers on the numbers and rules of the business, but also the art.
University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts – Home to the famed Peter Stark Producing MFA Program, USC has cranked out not only some of the most successful directors in Hollywood, but also their producer counterparts. The most renowned combination has to be Tom Cruise collaborators, producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard – founders of the wildly successful Imagine Entertainment. The Stark program was founded in 1981, and has since graduated many producers directly into the business. Take a look at their introductory video below for more info:
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Theater, Film and Television – The crosstown rivalry between UCLA and USC extends easily from sports to their respective schools for film. AS such, the Producer’s Program MFA course at UCLA offers an excellent education in the many disciplines needed for a career as a film producer, along with loads of industry clout and access to the best recruiting opportunities.
New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts/Stern School of Business – A power on the East Coast in filmmaking, NYU offers a great Joint MBA/MFA Producers Program to guide producers through the labyrinth of modern film finance to become experts in getting and keeping the money to make films to screens. The university leans not only on the strength of it’s famed film program through the Tisch School, but also it’s Stern School of Business and it’s location in the financial heart of the country: New York.
Chapman University – An up-and-coming program from a school dedicated to filmmaking, Chapman offers one of the few Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with a concentration in film producing. For the graduate programs, the school takes their dedication to specific training a step further, offering both Joint MBA/MFA and JD/MFA programs for the aspiring producer! That gives graduate from the program the background in law or business to quickly move up the industry ladder.
Joint film producer degrees in the graduate school with MBA and JD
Producers, like actors, directors and writers, also have professional organizations they join to help establish business relationships and negotiate contracts for employment, providing health benefits, enforcing workplace labor laws, creating fair and impartial standards for awarding producers credits, and advocating for the profession. The two major associations are listed below:
Producers Guild of America – Founded in 1950 as the Screen Producers Guild, the PGA has gone on to offer health benefits to members, protect working conditions and generally look after the welfare of all different producers’ welfare in the workplace. In 2005 the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences instituted the PGA’s arbitration process and standards for credits to those producers eligible for the Best Picture Oscar.
Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – A trade group made of several studios and production companies, as well as independent film producers, the AMPTP is essentially the entertainment industry’s collective bargaining representative. This association negotiates the contracts between studios and producers with every other guild and union. This includes well-known unions such as the American Federation of Musicians (AFM); American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA); Directors Guild of America (DGA); International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); Laborers Local 724; Screen Actors Guild (SAG); Teamsters Local 399, and Writers Guild of America (WGA).
For our aspiring film producers, that’s a wrap! The team at TomCruise.com feels we’ve put together a sturdy primer to get you marching toward your destination as a movie producer. With a passion for movies, a drive to learn as much as you can about the entertainment industry and the tenacity to face adversity, we’re positive you’ll make it!
Anyone with a link to share or a story to tell about their own experience as a producer, feel free to share in the comments section below! The team loves to hear from you and would be happy to add your contribution to the post.
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