So, You Want to Be a Film Producer? Here’s How to Get Your Edge

There’s money to be made in film production.

Don’t believe it? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2017 median pay for “producers and directors” was $71,620 per year, significantly higher than the U.S. median income.

film producer

Better yet, budding film producers don’t need years of specialized education. Per the BLS, “producers and directors” can get a foothold in the industry with little more than a bachelor’s degree and a few years of on-the-job experience. Many self-taught moviemaking professionals have no formal post-secondary education at all.

That’s not to say you don’t have to work hard to make your way in the cutthroat film industry. This is no business for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

Here’s what you need to do to gain an edge and make a name for yourself as a film producer.

Burnish Your Managerial Chops Wherever You Can

First, take care of the basics. As a film producer, you’ll have multiple people working under you; on larger projects, likely multiple layers of subordinates. Whatever you’re doing now, make sure you’re in a position to get comfortable running the show. Management expert Dan McCarthy recommends volunteering to lead projects at your current job and (publicly) mentoring less experienced colleagues.

Target Well-Known Legacy Properties (If You Can Secure the Rights)

As you move into the industry, look to get your feet wet on projects with ready-made buzz. Often, these are remakes or reimaginings of well-known legacy properties. Watson and Holmes, the 2018 blockbuster co-financed by David Mimran and Jordan Schur, is a great example. When you’re in charge, you’ll have to worry about securing the rights yourself; as an assistant or associate producer, you just need to show up and do your job.

Don’t Sleep on Your Prereqs…

Film production might not require years of post-graduate education, but some educational prerequisites are in order. In particular, you’ll want to complete significant coursework — and perhaps major or minor in — domains like business administration and finance.

…But Know That Experience Matters More Than Education (Usually)

Don’t overemphasize educational prerequisites at the expense of real-world experience. Your path to a position of significant on-set responsibility is likely to run through a combination of entry-level “grunt work” roles and internships; in Hollywood (or any other film industry), aspiring producers pay their dues.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No,” Even When the Whole World Wants You to Say “Yes”

Yes, you need real-world production experience. But that doesn’t mean you have to jump at the first opportunity, every time. Pick your projects and get comfortable saying “no” — that’s the only surefire way to have capacity to get to “yes” on an opportunity that you don’t want to pass up.

You Need a Five-Year Plan

In the old days, “five-year plan” meant something very different than modern usage would have it. Today, you don’t need to polish your economic literacy to craft a workable five-year plan to make it as a film producer — you just need a long-term vision and the determination necessary to turn it into reality.

The good news is, the industry will probably wait for you. The BLS expects film production employment to increase by 12% between 2016 and 2026, nearly double the pace of overall job expansion during that time. If current trends hold up, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to seize when the time comes.

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