4 Well-Worn Paths to Becoming a Film Producer

By : Categories : career advice,producer Comment: 14 Comments

Agent to Manager to Producer

Time Frame: 10 – 12 years

Degree of Difficulty: 5

Who is this person? Someone who went to law school or business school and is seriously in love with the art of the deal.

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How did they make the leap? They built relationships with talent (actors, directors, writers) and helped set up projects, ultimately with themselves attached as producer.

Words to the wise: This is actually a pretty straight path. There is a preferred educational background involved (though not required) and having great relationships and top-level deal-making experience is perfect for a producer.

Line Producer to Associate Producer to Producer

Time Frame: 10 – 15 years

Degree of Difficulty: 7

Who is this person? A combination of a drill sergeant and a politician, someone who can move mountains on a tight budget and short notice.

How did they make the leap? They became the can-do person for a certain director, developed a reputation for getting a certain high-degree-of-difficulty movie done, and/or positioned themselves as integral to getting projects done, the only person who could do it right (applying the political skills), thus becoming the first one the studio or high-level creative producer calls when starting their next project.

Words to the wise: If you can’t handle 20 hour work days, traveling wherever the work takes you, untangling logistical puzzles, and dealing with sometimes very delicate egos, this option is not for you.

Development Executive to Production Executive to Producer

Time Frame: 10 to 15 years

Degree of Difficulty: 8

Who is this person? An extremely adept social creature with adaptive skills, great radar, and story sense and recall that allows them to pitch any project on command even in their sleep (after staying up all night reading 20 scripts, for instance).

How did they make the leap? After surviving the rigors of climbing the executive ladder at a studio or production company, they reached a point where they had enough high-level relationships and built a good-enough reputation to go out on their own.

Word to the wise: This path definitely involves some degree of luck. If you get under the wing of a rising executive above you and he makes it to the top of the studio or production company heap, you get a big advantage on your path to producer. If, on the other hand, you manage to alienate him/her (by giving him too much credit for a bomb or not enough credit for a hit, for instance) or, if your mentor gets ousted and replaced by someone you don’t mesh with, you can be set back several steps.

“Nobody” With a Great Script and a Dream to Producer

Time Frame: 5 to 50 years

Degree of difficulty: 10

Who is this person? Someone who is bold enough to embark on one of the toughest journeys there is in Hollywood, becaused on a combination of passion, drive, and ignorance.

How did they make the leap? They kept calling and calling and calling and eventually someone answered the phone. They did this 1000 times, ignored all naysayers, had the luck to run into a number of people who knew more than they did. They refused to hear no.

Word to the wise: This is harder than even I make it sound and, of course, very rewarding if it works out. You definitely have an advantage if you have a big pile of money when you set out on this adventure or a generous benefactor. So be a dot com billionaire first, if you can. It helps.

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About JennyYM

Jenny Yerrick Martin is a veteran entertainment hiring executive with 20+ years in film, television, and music. She created yourindustryinsider.com to give students, recent grads and others a true picture of the layout of the industry, and how to break in, transition to a new area, or achieve more success on their current path.

Comment

  • Julia

    November 19, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Great article! I fall into the last category and while I have worked in the biz for 20 years and am just starting on this new path this year, I have great connections and people to turn to, but it’s going to be 10 on the difficulty scale. Glutton for passionate punishment! Wait, that came out sort of wrong…
    .-= Julia´s last blog ..SGF Second Anniversary Month! Giveaway! =-.

  • Lost

    January 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I can’t decide that after reading this article i have lost hope or gotten motivated.

    • JennyYM

      January 29, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Well I hope the latter. It doesn’t happen overnight but it can happen. Takes lots of perseverence though!

  • Chip

    March 23, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Can or has anyone come from the distribution side? If no, care to offer a hypothesis?

    • JennyYM

      March 25, 2013 at 7:12 am

      Yes, absolutely. While not as common as the backgrounds listed here, the ability to presell the foreign rights to a movie in order to finance the production is certainly a plus for a producer. While he did work in production early in his career, including producing & direction a few small films, Patrick Wachsberger (Summit Entertainment) headed a foreign sales company for several years before he got into mainstream producing through facilitating foreign presales.

  • megan

    November 24, 2013 at 5:23 am

    i am quite young but have wanted to work in the film industry since i was 9. i have made many home movies since the age of nine and hope one day that i can produce a film that many people can watch and enjoy. i have put some of my latest films on youtube.these films include me and my brother trying to recreate some of the charlie chaplin black and white movies from years ago.

    • JennyYM

      November 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      That is awesome Megan. Many famous movie directors started out making home movies as kids. If you want to share a link to one of your movies, that would be great!

  • megan

    November 25, 2013 at 3:24 am

    thank you :-)
    here is a link to one of my black and white movies on youtube
    my movies arent very popular but it would be great if you could check them out. :-)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leQSHiqvW74&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    • JennyYM

      November 25, 2013 at 6:20 am

      I checked it out. It’s great. Keep it up!

  • megan

    November 25, 2013 at 7:03 am

    thank you :-)

  • Brooke

    December 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    What if you start out as a PA, then become something like a script supervisor and eventually take on different roles one movie at a time..such as film editor, screenwriter or cinematographer? Sorry if this makes zero sense, I wasn’t quite sure how to word this question haha.

    • JennyYM

      January 7, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      So you’re asking if learning all of the ropes of movie making is a good path to becoming a producer? I would say going that route is better training for being a director. Aspiring producers should focus on logistics and business on the crew side or within an agency OR the creative process from a studio/production company/management company POV. Directors often work in the areas you mentioned, though.

  • Avi

    February 14, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I found that building your network helps A LOT to becomes a producer, hence made a lot of sense going to film school were you can affiliate yourself with young directors and writers that you can plan working in the future. That’s what AFI Conservatory did for me at least.

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