Getting Started

Every movie begins with an individual sitting in front of a computer or a legal pad, pouring out their heart and soul and wit, if they possess any, into their work.

But from the written word to the making of a movie is a long and varied road.

It usually begins with the involvement of a producer. While there are a wide range of types of producers, in this context we are referring to the producer whose role begins with finding the right piece of literary material, bringing it to the attention of other individuals and raising the money to make the film. The extent of other duties often depends on the individual and type of producer (creative producer, executive producer, line producer, producer, associate producers). Regardless, after the writer, the producer is often the starting point.

In This Course

This course will take you through the intricacies of film development, production, postproduction, distribution and marketing via the role of the producer. In general, the more we understand the full spectrum of the film business, the more empowered, the more prepared and the more confident we will be.

This course also gives insight into the world of writers. As a film commissioner, you are likely to have interactions with local writers who ask for your support. For most of us, it is not possible (or ethical) to broker a deal for a writer with a producer or director, but we may find that it is appropriate to assist a local writer with the many obstacles he or she will inevitably face. To whatever degree possible, success on a local level is extremely important and supporting your local/indigenous film community is an essential, valuable part of a film commissioner’s job.

Producers are often derided for their undue attention to the budget and their pathetic groveling before their studio or financier overlords. There are more bad producer jokes than those devoted to any other film craft position. But there is historical precedence for serious producers. Irving Thalberg is remembered as the producer and executive who brought class to motion pictures in the 1920s as the Boy Genius at Metro Goldwyn Mayer. He was succeeded by the infamous David O. Selznick, who risked his entire career on the gamble of Gone with the Wind, and saw it pay off handsomely.

Selznick never stopped writing people lengthy memos about his omniscience, leading to another stereotype about producers, which is that they feel they know everything about anything to do with moviemaking. In part, this is why directors, actors and writers want to produce their own movies, so they too can be the expert in everything. And more importantly, be in the ultimate position of power. They also want to make the money they think producers make. Once in this position, however, actually producing a movie proves to be a difficult role fraught with continual problems, challenges and high expectations.

Jerry Bruckheimer is an interesting example of a present day producer. He has displayed the admirable ability to spot high-concept, mass audience appeal ideas, have them translated into filmable screenplays that attract big movie stars, and make them to a high standard of technical accomplishment by hiring the right director, cinematographer, editor and visual effects specialists.

He also understands the mass media sales approach necessary to stand out in today’s cluttered entertainment marketplace, and to skew his films’ box office performance to the first crucial weekend’s performance. Bruckheimer has accomplished a consistently savvy manipulation of the after-markets of video on demand, DVD rental and sales marketing and distribution in worldwide markets, and television, from pay cable to local TV syndication, sales in those same markets. And finally, he takes these successful properties, and sequel-izes them again and again.

It’s important to note that there are differing definitions of success in the film world. While investors will inevitably define success by the box office and after-market numbers and ultimately their profit margin, critical acclaim and public recognition are also valid and admirable forms of success. This often comes down to the split between the creative and the financial aspects of the moviemaking process and another reason that directors, writers and actors are vying for the power to produce. A movie that is a creative AND financial success is the ultimate success story.