Series - The Internet Movie Business
What Does a Movie Producer Do?
Maybe you are a screenwriter or director or professor or a producer making shorts, with a hot screenplay, and you think, "I could make this movie. I could make the decisions and do a better job of it." Maybe so. But if you really think you can, read on to see if the job actually fits you.
It's easy to criticize the producer. Universally 75% of employees, according to surveys, think management has no idea what they are doing, and conversely, 75% of management think employees have no idea what they are doing. It's easy to criticize.
A producer isn't just "the money guy."
She isn't just the pain in the arse that shows up just to ask questions, like she actually knows anything.
He isn't just the person who you complain to when people go wrong.
She isn't "just the manager."
The producer is the beginning, middle, and end of a movie production.
He is the person who finds a market winning (key word: market winning) screenplay and cast. He has to have a good eye for what will work in the market. He might have others develop a screenplay around a key idea, or write it himself. Or some agent or director or actor or trusted screenwriter might bring the screenplay to his attention.
He then does a number of things. He talks to prospective directors, lead actors, and financiers to see if he can put a project together with tentative commitments. The idea of certainty and contractual commitments is completely lacking until he creates a project and then everyone signs. Financiers won't sign without a winning team and screenplay, and budget. Key people are hesitant to sign without a financing agreement and knowing who they are going to work with. That's your first Catch 22 - negotiating - getting from "I will do it if you get..." to getting a signature on paper. If you don't get it on paper, you have nothing, and it can fall apart at any moment, even in the middle of the production.
The producer then takes his key people and starts pre-production. They go over the screenplay, add things they think will make it better, like settings, and an improved lead role and obstacles, and a satisfying resolution. They make a shooting script and they make a shooting schedule - you have to be a master at scheduling and making backup schedules for rainy days and other disasters.
They have to make their screenplay alterations fit the budget. Financiers aren't very receptive when people come back and say, "Oops." It smacks of incompetence. "You sold me on a market winning screenplay, now you need...!?" So you can see, people on set will hate you because you require signed commitments, and the budget doesn't let them change something, but unless you have built in some budget flexibity, that's it.
Part of pre-production is lining up all of the people and equipment and then settings that it takes to do a production. Some permits can take weeks to months to get. Oops! Some key people might not be available for another week or month. Frustration headache!
Often the directors and crew have people they like to work with, and will make recommendations to the producer. Others will know of completely inexperienced people like themselves, and will vouch for an inflated resume to get them into the business - the producer has to be able to sort out the skilled from the unskilled.
At some point the producer "green lights" the project. Everything is lined up and ready to go, including the mistakes, the forgotten, and the accidents.
On an independent, low-budget production, there is often only one producer, and he knows every bit of the process. He may even be the director. He may be the person who spends months after prouction promoting the movie. But his biggest responsibility is resolving a steady drizzle of problems, which seem to fall from the sky. When the craft services guy puts a laxative in the director's special latte because he is such an arse - although he is a great director he has horrible people skills so you hired him anyway - the producer and AD may have to fill in for the day.
Why? Because on a production, it may be costing $6000.00 to 1,000,000.00 a day for every scheduled day whether you actually shoot or not... Why ? Because the budget runs out with the clock, and your lead actor may have a contractual commitment the day after production is scheduled to end. So you don't stop production unless you want to be known for a train wreck.
When the AD falls over a microphone cable because she was looking at the script while walking - that's the same cable that the sound guy thought he didn't need to cover because "Only an idiot would fall over that - cables are everywhere on set" and she falls into a camera, knocks it off, and breaks a $100,000.00 camera, you may get to fill in for the injured AD, plus you get to convince the sound guy of the need to cover cables in main walkways because it means not only his job, you will deduct the $5000.00 a day production costs from his paycheck.
Then you may get to fill in for the sound guy if you weren't nice enough and he leaves in tears, and you will probably have to talk to the union, which will let you know in no uncertain terms that this is not coming from his paycheck and that is no way to treat him. Then you have to apologize to the really religious person on set for losing control and swearing a lightning and thunder storm like Hell had just arrived on set, because this was the only permit day for the shoot and you have to shoot exactly at sunset, and she has everyone on the set upset about you being such an arse about the entire thing.
After soothing everyone's feelings, and having to schedule less important parts of the shoot for the next day because of the time it all took, you remember, you have to order a new camera, and your supplier has none in stock, and by the way, you didn't prepare for broken cameras because you made a budget substitution, so it is your fault. Then the line producer loudly informs you that the budget was just "shot to hell" because of this, and she isn't to blame.
The producer has "responsibility." Responsibility is a foreign word to many people who simply prefer to point to someone else. But the producer is responsible for everything. If anything goes wrong, he gets the blame. If things go right, he gives the credit to others. For the six weeks or so of a shoot, he gets on set before everyone, he wrestles daily with the numerous problems that develop to keep the production going, and he is usually reviewing rushes with the director until late at night. And she keeps every bit of this in her head at all times and makes decisions taking into account the effect of everything on everything, while always keeping in mind her next project and watching for talent for it.
For doing all of this he may get richly rewarded with... next to nothing. If the movie loses money, he probably gets nothing for up to a year of work, and maybe gets to keep his apartment. If six other people associated with the movie demand to get producer credits and share in the prosperity, his share may be divided by 7. But if he did well, several talented people will want to work with him again.
As with any management leadership position, the more the producer knows about the process and his people, the more successful he is likely to be. The less you know, the more likely they are to rob you blind and dance on your grave. A producer needs a great understanding of the viewing market, the business, budgeting, scheduling, promoting the movie, and production. He needs to know how to pick the right people and how to delegate responsibility. His people skills have to be great. He needs a great sense of humor to survive it all. He needs a very strong physical and mental constitution to survive it and accomplish it well.
Who in the world would want to be a movie producer?
Are you organized - can you create a schedule and stick to it, and get all of the people and equipment to the sets on time? Do you have good people skills for assessing skill and talent, for delegating, for getting along, for resolving conflicts, and for getting the best out of people? Do you love resolving problems under high pressure? Can you come up with an accurate budget and stick to it? Can you organize and work with a team, or are you a lone star tour de force? You seriously have to ask yourself if this is your forte and if you will enjoy the challenge before getting into producing.