How to break into a career as a movie producer
So you want to be a movie producer – good for you! It might be a less glamorous avenue than the acting or directing route, but it sure does pay off and is arguably the perfect all-rounder for anyone with an interest in the big screen. The job description involves everything from shaping an idea into a viable film, raising the money, hiring the director, choosing the cast, overseeing production and postproduction, masterminding the marketing, and negotiating the worldwide rights.
The job itself has certainly changed over the years. Previously there were no straightforward approaches to making it as a movie producer, with many of the big names simply pestering the smaller companies to give them an entry position before working their way up the ladder. However, now there are a number of ways to learn how to become an effective and potentially successful film producer. We’ve whittled it down to three – the cheap approach, the expensive approach, and the traditional approach.
The cheap approach
The cheap method involves taking full advantage of the internet’s democratization of filmmaking. Just start producing online content. The advantage: There’s no cost of entry, no dues to pay, and no gatekeepers to bribe.
The all-digital, first-time producer is a pioneer. She’s a trailblazer, a social-entrepreneur. She’s a SnapTweeting, in your Facebook, Insta-video, YouTube dragon slayer poised to finally fill the gaping, breathless vacuum between feature filmmaking and 60-second video distribution.
Of course, breaking through all the babbling noise on social media platforms is damn near impossible. Even though digital dollars may not be as accessible as they once were, financial adversity is inspirational jet fuel for the best producers. Ultra-creative entrepreneurs love to find ways to make money. The internet is a refreshingly subjective medium with a hyper-focused objective marketplace. Great content attracts viewers & followers and viewers & followers attract dollars & cents.
The expensive approach
The expensive path to producing requires a $150,000 investment in a joint masters degree program at a legit film school. NYU’s MFA/MBA program is a great example. There’s no doubt that an NYU dual degree graduate will know how to make a movie, read a P&L statement, and land one of the few paying, producer’s internships in the New York or Los Angeles film communities. On the other hand, unless independently wealthy, the same graduate really can’t afford to fail. A six to eight percent interest rate compounds quickly on one hundred and fifty thousand clams.
The nepotistic film industry still values nostalgic school spirit and collegiate affiliation. Talented, skillful NYU and USC graduates are far more likely to be crossfed into the community by well established, alumni networks. Violets and Trojans certainly trump lesser known institutional symbols.
The traditional approach
The traditional road to a producer’s career often requires an undergraduate film school degree followed immediately by a gratuitous, possibly soul-sucking internship. Twelve months of indentured servitude usually guarantees the veteran intern several more years of unpaid or marginally compensated employment.
Most would-be producers find creative ways to eat and sleep during the early years. Those who consistently work on TV & film sets can literally live off the craft services table.
Eventually the free work will be replaced by paid, reasonable, sustenance level, project-oriented gigs. Short term underemployment occasionally has an upside and a terrible job with an A-List producer can lead to a game-changing career boost.