How to Become a Movie Producer
Learning how to produce a film can be a tricky proposition, and entire books have been filled with tips and techniques. This article is designed to provide the most basic of information, starting with the development phase and ending with you selling your product to a studio. Along the way, we’ll also cover elements such as finding investors, renting equipment, hiring a director, and tracking down the next Oscar-winning script. While producing a feature film isn’t easy, it’s a rewarding process that allows you to interact with a wide array of individuals and possibly even increase the size of your bank account.
What is a Producer?
Before you learn how to produce a film, it helps to know exactly what a producer does. There are actually a number of different kinds of producers, and this section will take a look at each.
Producer – The film producer, also known as a movie producer, begins the process of making a film. They raise funds for the movie, select the script, hire the cast and crew, and generally manage the overall process. From development to post-production, the producer is involved in the filmmaking process. While the director may have creative control in some cases, the producer often wields equal or greater power (especially in the case of the major studios). The producer can usually fire the director if problems arise.
Executive Producer – This title is normally given to a producer with a financial interest in a film.
Line Producer – A member of a film’s production team, the line producer manages the day to day aspects of a production. They are always present on the set, and they keep track of the film’s budget. They make also arrange deals with vendors and hire members of the crew.
Do Your Homework
While you’ll no doubt learn valuable lessons about how to produce a film along the way, it never hurts to do a little (or a lot) research before you begin. While reading books on the subject might not be a bad idea, it’s even better to attend film seminars and film production classes. Websites and trade publications on the subject are also helpful, and never be afraid to try to network and get advice from those with experience in the field. Another option involves watching the production process unfold, which is where a series like the HBO/Bravo Project Greenlight comes in.
Producing a Movie – Four Phases of Production
Now that you know what a producer does and you’ve put in some time doing research, it’s time to learn the nuts and bolts of how to produce a film. To do so, we’ll walk through the four phases of production step by step.
Development – The first thing you’ll want to do is secure the services of a decent entertainment attorney. Making a movie does a legal side to it, and things can get pretty hairy if you don’t have some manner of representation. In a perfect world, you’ll find someone who’s knowledgeable about entertainment law but still new enough not to charge
rates that are through the roof.
Learn this word and learn it well: deferment. This means a payment that occurs once the film is sold. If you can get a deferment on the salary of the cast or crew, then you won’t have to pay them until the film is sold. This allows you to keep the budget as low as possible, and, if the movie doesn’t sell, you’ll never have to pay off the deferment. This won’t always be an option, but it’s certainly one that’s worth looking into.
Now that you’ve secured the services of an attorney and learned a trick for keeping expenditures to a minimum, it’s time to go out and find yourself a script. Assuming you’re looking to produce a low-budget independent film, you’ll want to seek out scripts that allow you to save money. I’m talking films with plenty of dialogue and a minimum of locations. It’s unwise to attempt to make the next great Biblical epic on a limited budget.
To locate a quality script, spend some time browsing spec script websites, and place ads in industry publications. There are plenty of writers looking to break into the business, so you should have plenty of screenplays to choose from. This trick is finding one that’s actually of a high quality. Optioning a script will grant you exclusive rights for a period of time, usually 18 months. You’ll normally pay a fee to option the script, then another fee if the film goes into production. For writers with no previous experience, you can often buy the script for just a few thousand dollars. If they’re a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, however, expect to shell out a considerably higher amount (although the quality of work is often greater).
Try to avoid scripts that include animals, children, and lots of explosions. The latter requires and expert to handle such things, otherwise you could wind up with serious injuries on the set. Children and animals are notoriously difficult to deal with, so try to bypass them if at all possible. Also stay away from scenes that require shooting on the water (how do you think the Waterworld production went so over budget?).
While the producer keeps everything moving in the right direction, you’re also going to need a director to handle the creative side of things. You’ll need someone who can stay on schedule, work well with actors, and generally has their act together. You can always search through Internet films to find potential directors, as well as attending festivals devoted to short films and student films. Plenty of directors are looking to break into the industry, so the biggest challenge is simply finding one with real talent. If you’re willing to spend a little more money on a director, you can also consult the membership of the Director’s Guild of America.
Unless you have piles of extra money sitting in the bank, you’ll also need to find investors to fund the film. Friends and family can always be approached, but the serious money may need to come from an outside source. Keep your ears open for local businessmen and wealthy types who are looking to invest in a project. You’ll need to make a professional presentation to sell them on the project, and you’ll also need to illustrate how they’re going to make a profit. Most investors aren’t keen on just throwing money away. In most cases, the investor will be the first person to receive money if the film sells. The remaining money will then be split between the producer and the investor, with any deferments coming out of the producer’s cut.
When searching for investors, make sure to deal with reputable individuals who can afford to absorb a loss. This way, you don’t have to worry about threatening phone calls or physical confrontations if the film fails to get sold. Also be aware that some investors may make certain demands before they commit, such as changing a scene or having a spouse or relative cast. Before you accept such demands, make sure you and the director will be able to live with them in the long run.
Pre-production – Now that you’ve got a budget, director and script, you need to hire your crew. Make sure you hire people who will take the shooting process seriously and work hard. Professionals with limited experience are always a good option, as are film students (the latter will work for far less money).
If you’re really ambitious, you can hire a Unit Production Manager to keep track of the budget and hire crew members, or you can save money by doing this yourself. An Assistant Director will go over the script and develop a shooting schedule. A Director of Photography will operate the camera and give the film it’s visual look, although the director may serve in this capacity for a low-budget production. You may also consider people to build a set or handle lighting, although money can be saved by getting other crew members (non union) to wear multiple hats.
Equipment will need to be rented, and this includes cameras and lights. You can shoot in 35mm or 16mm, but film is very expensive to wok with. To save money, you may want to shoot with digital video instead. Such a camera can be purchased for the cost of renting a film camera for just a week. DV has become an acceptable format, so this is the way to go for a low-budget production.
Once you know where you want to shoot, you’ll need to make sure that the owners sign a location release contract (your lawyer will be able to help draw up such agreements). Unless you’re just dying to shoot at a particular location, avoid paying to do so. To save money, you can always offer the property owners a small role in the film.
Actors are also a must, unless you plan for your film to simply consist of buildings and plants. It’s important to get the highest-quality actors available, and theatrical performers will often work for low wages in order to add a film credit to their resume. Members of the Screen Actors Guild will demand higher wages (a minimum of $100 per day up to thee days, and $75 per day after that), but their talents are often superior (although not always).
Ultimately, you want performers who embody the roles they’re playing, regardless of their level of experience. You and the director can conduct the casting process yourself in order to save money, and it’s always a good idea to let the director in on the process, since he or she will be the one working with the performers on a daily basis. Amateur actors will often work for peanuts, while performers with representation will have their agent conduct the negotiations for salary.
Production – Now it’s time to shoot the film. The director will largely take over at this point, although you’ll need to make sure that he and the crew stay on schedule and under budget. Feed your cast and crew regularly, and try to give them at least 10 hours between shooting days.
Making a film can be an arduous process, so you want to ensure that everyone is fed and as rested as possible. When production is completed, make sure to throw a wrap party for the cast and crew. It’s a great way for everyone to unwind.
Post-production – Once shooting is completed, it’s a good idea to take a little time off to recuperate from the stress and strain. A few days are an appropriate length of time, and no longer than a week is suggested.
Now it’s time to begin the editing process, which will mainly be conducted by the editor and the director. The same process will also be done with the music and sound, and the producer should oversee each phase to make sure things are going according to plan (and schedule).
Film Festivals – Selling You Film
Once your film is completed, you’ll need to sell it to a distributor. This is where film festivals come in. These events are held annually all over the world, and they allow filmmakers and distributors to come together to do business.
Filmmakers normally pay an entry fee to have their works considered, although this isn’t always the case. If your film is accepted, it will be seen by members of the public, as well as representatives of various studios. If any of the latter individuals are interested, they’ll approach you about the possibility of purchasing your movie. While getting money up front is the best possible option, many distributors prefer to offer residuals based on how well the movie does. Other options include self-distributing your film on the Internet.
- Sundance Film Festival – The largest independent film festival in North America.
- Cannes Film Festival – Founded in 1946 and held in Cannes, France, this is the most famous film festival in the world and one of the most prestigious.
- Tribeca Film Festival – Held annually since 2002 in New York City.
- Berlin International Film Festival – Founded in 1951, this is the largest publicly-attended festival in the world. Held at the same time as the European Film Market, an annual film trade fair.
- South by Southwest – Annual film festival held in Austin, Texas. Created in 1987, the festival focuses on new directing talent and is frequented by names such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
- Ann Arbor Film Festival – Started in 1963, it’s the oldest experimental film festival in North America.
- San Francisco International Film Festival – The oldest continuously running film festival in North America.
- Toronto International Film Festival – Second only to Cannes in terms of prestigious film festivals.
- Cartagena Film Festival – The oldest film festival in Latin America, focusing on Latin American television, video, and film.
- Raindance Film Festival – The largest independent film festival in the United Kingdom.
- Venice Film Festival – The oldest film festival on the planet, it has been held annually on the island of Lido, Venice, Italy since 1932.
- Telluride Film Festival – Founded in 1974, the Telluride Film Festival is one of the more expensive and exclusive festivals in the world.
- After Dark Horrorfest – An annual horror film festival featuring eight indie horror flicks and a handful of unannounced movies. Movies shown are later released on DVD as “8 Films to Die For.”
Now that you have an idea of how to produce a film, get out there and start putting together the next surprise indie hit. The entire process is a demanding one, but attending film festivals, rubbing elbows with celebrities, and making a potential profit all make it worthwhile.
See also: How to Direct a Film