So what is a producer, actually? This title can be the most confusing of all titles in the entertainment industry. One can be a producer for financing a film, attaching an actor or director to a film, for laying the groundwork for a film, or in a minority of cases, even for banging the right person on a film (if we’re going to be really honest). Producer is the most tossed around, coveted, and gilded title going in Hollywood, but generally, a Producer is responsible for guiding the film through its life cycle, from concept development all the way through production and through distribution.
It’s like what parents do for their children: the Producer is the Papa or the Mama, and he must make sure that the film develops into a kick-ass contribution to society… and commercially, it must be a contribution to its investors’ pockets. There are different kinds of Producers, though, and while they share the same title, they perform a variety of different functions, mainly:
1. Funding a film or securing funding for a film. (Usually given the title of Producer).
2. Attaching elements such as a well-known director, actors, and/or funding to a film. They also hire the creative and technical team. (Usually given the title of Producer or Co-Producer.)
3. Taking care of the nuts and bolts of a film, such as handling the budget, wrangling the crew and cast, scheduling the production and the shoot, getting locations, renting equipment, finding craft services, and much more (Usually given the title of Line Producer or even Unit Production Manager (UPM). Line Producers are integral to a film’s success, but are not the same as a “full” Producer.
4. Doing everything it takes to bring a script through each stage of development and get it from script to screen. This first involves finding a great script, and then doing tasks #1, #2, and #3 listed above. THEN, these Producers oversee the editing and the post-production process and budgets. They then ensure the final deliverables are delivered & confirm distribution into theaters. (These folks are usually given the title of Producer, Co-Producer, Creative Producer, Executive Producer, or, the Ultimate Bad Ass. Just sayin’.).
As a Producer, you can take on one of these roles or even all four, depending on how big your budget or crew is. The bottom line is that if you have a worthy script in your hands and you get that script from the page to the screen, you are definitely a Producer!
What It Takes to Be a Producer
The Producer is a powerful entity in the film, tv, and indie worlds, but the title is really only as powerful as the person is. If you have passion for the project you’re working on, the ability to network and forge good relationships, if you’re resourceful, and if you can be aggressive in moving your film project forward, then you have the basic ingredients it takes to be a great Producer.
Passion for the project is key. If you’re in love with the script and you genuinely want your project to hit the screen, you will do literally whatever it takes to get that piece of work out there. Passion, in my opinion, is the element that will allow even the gentlest Producers to become sharks in low waters and survivors during the fast.
This doesn’t mean you have to be cutthroat and bite heads off, though. I think that one can be passionate and aggressive without stabbing people in the back or being a jerk on set. Aggressive merely means that you take the initiative, you work hard, and you have your eye set on a goal. You are determined, dogged, and grim enough to achieve what you set out to do, even if it means overcoming your fears and others’ skepticism. It means that you keep a cool head when shit hits the fan, and that you’re a great problem solver. You know how to speak the language of the industry without being condescending or rude. You create your own opportunities, and you know how to run a room, or a set, or an office meeting. You know how to be firm without being an asshole. And so on.
Remember, you’re making drama, not starring in one! And sharks only feed when they’re hungry. So don’t mistake being a good Producer with being a jerk; good Producers are measured in the quality and marketability of the films they produce and in the numbers of people who are dying to work with them.
How to Become a Producer
This answer to this is going to sound a little asinine, but if you want to become a Producer, you’ve got to produce! Get your hands on a kick-ass script (or write your own kick-ass script) and bring it from the page to the screen. Produce different KINDS of film too. Making a sci-fi horror film is going to require many different things than making a rom-com. The only way you’re going to learn anything about what it takes to make a film is to actually make one. If you’re a little timid about jumping into the waters head first, though, you can always attach yourself to someone else’s film project (indie or mainstream) as a Production Assistant (PA). Carole Kirschner calls Indie Producing and PAing the “Free Hollywood Graduate School”.
Free Hollywood Graduate School: Being a PA, especially if you are able to rotate departments, is going to show you exactly what each department does, in how much time, on a daily basis, and with how much money. It’ll also introduce you to the key roles, responsibilities, and challenges faced by each department. And it will also allow you to build relationships with each department. This technical and social knowledge, in addition to creating sound relationships with other people in the industry, is vital to becoming a more efficient and effective Producer. This goes double if you’re producing independently. Get on a film, any film, and be a superstar assistant. It’s good for your knowledge, for your social networks, and for your reputation.
Free Hollywood Graduate School, Part II: READ. My God, READ. Don’t underestimate the power of a book written by someone who knows way more than you. Real-life experience is always amazing, but you can always supplement your knowledge with reading. Here are some books that I personally recommend:
- Hollywood Game Plan by Carole Kirschner
- So You Want to Be a Producer? by Lawrence Turman
- The Independent Film Producer’s Survival Guide by Gunner Erickson, et al
- The Complete Film Production Handbook by Eve Light Honthamer (If God ever created the ultimate handbook for the all-around Producer, THIS was certainly it. BUY it. And no, I’m not an affiliate. The book is just that damned good.)
Free Hollywood Graduate School, Part III: Take free classes! Find out what skills you need for being a Producer (see above), and then take a free class for it. If you’re weak on fundraising, find a free class on film fundraising! You have no clue how to schedule a film? There’s a free class on that too. Just use Google to find them in your local area or university. TRUST ME, there will be at least one around your way. Usually these kinds of free classes are hosted by production houses, software producers, or other vendors who are trying to get you to buy their stuff and who want to draw you in with an intro seminar.
Free Hollywood Graduate School, Part IV: APPLY TO PRODUCER TRAINING PROGRAMS. You’d plotz to know how many people simply don’t even consider this idea. Places like the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) have trainee programs in place specifically for training aspiring folks like you. (By the way, training as an Assistant Director is also great prep for producing.) These trainee programs also place you on big budget films with the possibility of scoring not only a job, but a membership with their Guild as well, which is GOLDEN.
Paid Hollywood Graduate School, The Last Resort: The last option I think anyone should take is the paid route by enrolling in a film school. Now, don’t get me wrong: if you can attend a film school on scholarship or for a very nominal fee (or if you can take classes that work around your schedule and pay for upfront), then DO IT. Getting formal training at a prestigious film school will give you a great foundation in terms of film history, technical skills, and most important, good relationships and contacts. You’ll also have access to fellowships, internships, and a built in mentoring network and support system. But if you are going to go into debt because of film school, I’d encourage you to entertain Free Hollywood Grad School instead!
Again, all of this is just from my experiences with producing on different fronts. I’m happy to announce that as of today, I’ve officially produced and line produced four different projects, in different genres and formats, that will all be released in the coming months! And I’m not stopping there, either! I’ll have more projects under my belt before the year closes out, that’s for sure. The best part: these projects have prepared me to begin producing my own work (under Rebel Ragdoll) next year! More on that in the up and coming post: “Merging the Writer and the Producer”. But of course in the meantime, keep it indie and keep aspiring to be great! 😉
Dolls set the trend,