Priya Sharma Shaikh
Demystifying Careers: Film Production
You’ve seen them on stage at the Oscars or BAFTA or Filmfare or IIFA or any of the hundreds of film award ceremonies around the world receiving the award for Best Film at the end of the award ceremony. Or you’ve seen them on the red carpet at premiere film festivals around the world like Cannes, Venice or Sundance, walking hand in hand with your favourite stars. They are the most vital cog in the film industry and are responsible for bringing together the writers, the director, the actors and everyone else, handholding them throughout the journey of making the film and then ensuring that the film gets seen by the world at large. They are often the first people to join the project and when everyone has long moved on, they are the ones still taking care of the film.
Despite this, not many people know film producers by name. Yes, people do know the names of production companies behind the film, say Paramount or Fox Studios or Disney in Hollywood or Yash Raj or Dharma or Phantom in Bollywood, but the names of individual producers are rarely known. These are the people who work in the shadow of the big names that are synonymous with their production companies. This image off the internet can't have depicted it better :)
What is film production?
Putting a film together is what it is. Everyone assumes that the director does everything but that’s not true. Yes, films are a directors’ medium but the producer is as important to the success of any good film, if not more. Here’s some great advice famous directors have to share about the job.
Many-a-times, people confuse financing a film with producing it. While financing is indeed a very important part of the job, film production goes much beyond that.
Film production involves all of the below:
Scouting for ideas, stories or scripts to be turned into films. Often the producer hires a screenwriter to develop ideas and concepts into scripts.
Budgeting and scheduling the film once the script is done – this involves breaking down the script to estimate the cost of production and create a business plan based on that
Securing funding for the film – pitching the film to financiers and investors and based on the business plan get money into the film.
Putting together a creative team of talented specialists – this includes getting a director attached to the film, hiring the actors, cinematographers, editors, sound designers, production designer, art director, costume designer and other key roles.
Finding and hiring locations and post-production studios is also a key part of their job
Ensuring the smooth functioning of the film set such that the crew is enabled and sticks to the decided schedule is an important part of the production process
Find avenues for distribution – to ensure that the film is screened as widely as possible and justice is done to the investment made in the film.
As should be obvious by now, film production isn’t an easy job. But a cursory glance at the list of names on IMDB for any film under the head ‘Producer’ will tell you that rarely does a single person do all the above jobs. But independent film producers and producers of short films are often known to do all this and more.
What does a film producer do?
A film producer is responsible for getting the film made. It could involve doing all the jobs mentioned above or some parts of it. Usually there’s a team of producers working on any project. The chief producer or the producer who gets the project started is usually the guy taking decisions on what story to go with, hiring the key team and setting the ball rolling. This person is also usually the one who brings in the money, either his/her own or by getting investors interested in the film.
Executive producers then take it ahead and steer the film till it gets made. It is the executive producer who hires the crew and cast as well as the studios and facilities for the shoot and post-production. She’s the one who usually creates a budget in consultation with the director and once the money is assigned, she ensures that the team sticks to it. She’s the one who signs off on all major creative calls that have any budgetary impact.
The executive producers bring their expertise to the table and are often people who’ve spent years making films and being around film sets and studios.
Executive producers usually have one or more line producers working under them. Line producers are the people who get things done. Whether it’s finding locations, making payments, arranging food, travel and accommodation for the crew and cast or ensuring the safety of the team, it is the line producer whose job is on the line. Any problem on set is a line producer’s problem. Anything goes wrong on the set it is the line producer’s job to make it right.
There are often people who get the producer’s credit for bringing in specific skill sets. Like getting a large investor on board, or working the film circuit and helping the film get screened at a prestigious festival, or getting a film international distribution. A lot of times the director might also be a producer on the film if he/ she does any of the jobs listed in the section above.
But you will likely start as a production assistant on the set and it’s important you know what that job entails. Here’s a great video that gives an insight into that job.
What skills does a film producer need?
It would probably be easier to ask what skill does a film producer not need. No, I am not being flippant here. Look again at the list of jobs in the first section and decide for yourself. So, here’s a small list of the skills a producer needs;
Have a creative vision – understand the craft and process of filmmaking. Know what everybody does
Willingness to learn and experiment
Aware of the industry and trends in vogue
Understand numbers – be business savvy
Be a team leader – should be able to motivate people
Excellent communication skills - Good listening skills is a big part of this
Have great negotiation skills
Be a good networker – the bigger the network the better it is
Understand law and be able to create and read legal documents
Be good at problem solving and decision making, especially under pressure
The most important skill a film producer needs to have is the last one. You need to be able to solve problems and take decisions if you are to do this job. The problems will range from the very trivial to the really life-threatening ones. They’ll keep coming one after the other and you’ll have no respite. If that excites you, then welcome to the jungle.
Career progression for film producers
There’s no definite career path to becoming a film producer. Although there are courses (few and far between) for learning film production, very few successful producers come that way.
There are two broad career paths to becoming a film producer. There are people who’ve spent years in the industry, either writing or directing or doing some other job and have acquired an understanding of the space, who then decide to produce a film they get excited about. That sets their journey up.
Then there are others who start with interning on film crews or producing short films for their friends and get hooked on to it. They gradually move up the ranks and go from smaller films to bigger ones.
Designations don’t matter as much as your ability to strike friendships and get the job done.
Most successful directors work with the same people again and again. No one wants to let go of a good producer. So once you’ve created a name for yourself by your hard work, you don’t have to worry about career progression. It will take care of itself.
Where can you find work?
India has multiple film industries spread across the country unlike the rest of the world, which means that you can find work as a producer in any of these places. Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata and Delhi are some of the biggest centers of film production in the country and that’s where you will eventually make your way as you hit the big league. Getting a job at one of the established production companies is what most people aim for.
Film crews are always on the lookout for fresh energetic youngsters to intern with them. But you need to know who to go to and be really persistent about it.
If you studied media or event management in college, you might have an edge, but like I mentioned above, degrees are really immaterial when it comes to this job.
Those recruiting might however want to know what you bring to the table to be considered from amongst a pool of applicants. Have you worked on a short film? Do you write or edit? Have you organized a film festival in your college? Or maybe you were a part of the organizing committee for your college’s annual fest? Or maybe you are social media savvy and know a thing or two about internet marketing or have friends in PR and media? Or a mix of some of these? Anything that can help you give a leg-up over the rest.
If you do a good job as an intern, it’s likely that they’ll hire you eventually. Even if they don’t, someone else might. But there’s a good chance it won’t happen too. The pool of companies is really small and the number of jobs going around are therefore, restricted. Unless you’ve got a dazzling resume – or you know someone important – it might be difficult to get in. The best thing to do is of course, throw yourself at whatever comes across, do some quality work and then let work gravitate towards you.
The great thing about being a producer is that there’s a real dearth of good producers. So, if you can execute projects and are a joy to work with, then you are more likely to succeed.
If you can find and collaborate with young, talented people like you, create a good portfolio of content – short films or ads or whatever other work you can get your hands on – and let your work speak for you, sooner or later people will notice your work and offers will come in.
The money you make is directly proportional to the scale of your project. But the real money is in getting equity on films. If you manage to do that and your film makes money you make money.