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How to Become a Movie Producer. There are many kinds of movie producers, including executive producers, producers, co-producers, associate producers and hyphenates, like writer-producers. Because they are in a supervisory capacity, there is no specific union or guild governing exactly what they do.
Usually, a producer would be the first person on a project, choosing the material to produce, finding the financing, overseeing the contracts with actors, talent, the director and crew, insuring that deadlines are met and budgets are kept.
One way to begin is by optioning a literary property. An option is a contract that gives a producer the exclusive right to ultimately purchase material after funding for the project is found. Source material can be a script, book, magazine article, play or short story.
When I was in college, I met Alan Pakula, best known as a director of movies like "Klute" and "All the President's Men." Pakula began as a producer. With his friend Robert Mulligan he became very impressed with the book, To Kill a Mockingbird. They took the time to visit the author, Harper Lee, and convince her that they could make a film that would remain true to her vision. They had to come up with cash to bind her to a contract, but it was minimal because Lee was impressed by the two young men before her. The two then shopped the project around Hollywood and obtained the financing to make the film. Harper Lee's faith was rewarded when Pakula and Mulligan produced and directed what is now a classic motion picture starring Gregory Peck.
Pay for a film out of pocket. That's what Phillip Anschutz did. His dad gave birth to the family fortune as a land investor who eventually went into the oil drilling business. Phillip was bitten by the filmmaking bug back in 1967 when Universal Studios needed to shoot an oil fire. For $100,000 Anschutz allowed the studio to shoot real fire fighters putting out a genuine blaze on one of his wells. The footage was used in the 1968 John Wayne film Hellfighters.
Anschutz became a billionaire by finding oil on a Utah farm. He invested his money in Regal Entertainment, the nation's largest theater chain; the Los Angeles Lakers which he co-owns; and the Staples Center which is all his. Seven years ago Anschutz started making movies. He had the money to keep going despite a string of disappointments. Finally, in 2005 he had his first hit, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," co-produced with Disney, which grossed more than $290 million in U.S. box office receipts. By paying for his movies out of pocket, Anschutz has remained uncompromising, staying faithful to his Christian, conservative values.
Today with digital video lowering the financial threshold you can start to produce your own films by simply paying to have them made.
Become an agent. One of the biggest movie producers of all time, the former chairman of Universal Studios, Lou Wasserman began as an agent. He used to represent Hollywood heavyweights like Jimmy Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock and Ronald Reagan. Major agencies today, like International Creative Management (ICM) and the William Morris Agency are the middlemen between those trying to sell their material and those buying. Working as an agent is a great way to learn the ropes. There is no school for agents. Even the brightest usually start in the mail room or as agents' assistants where they are all expected to work their way up.
Begin in development. Studios like Universal, Paramount, Disney and Warner Brothers are the major funding sources for motion pictures. The development department is where projects frequently begin. To work in development, you would start as a story analyst where you would read scripts, synopsizing them and commenting on them. When I worked as a reader, I was paid only $30 a script, but found it to be a great scriptwriting education.
The next step up the ladder is working as a story editor, who supervises the readers and gives recommended scripts a reread with further comments.
Further up the food chain are the production executives and vice presidents, who are in a position to further refine material. In many respect these people are the in house counterparts of producers. These executives commonly become independent producers if there is a change in studio politics or if they find a good opportunity to do so.