MAKING IT in Film Production
December 2, 2008 3 Comments
Do you, or do you want to, work on film productions? If you want to expand in your career in film, this article will help you make it!
BECOMING A PRODUCER
Why aren’t there more Props Masters, Sound Mixers, Costume Supervisors, Key Grips, etc. becoming Line Producers, Producers-For-Hire or UPM’s? Why aren’t more crew reaching the level of Department Head? Why aren’t more film school students finding work? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but take a quiet moment to really look. Let’s see…. It’s not competence – most crew disappear pretty quickly if they’re slow witted and incompetent. Film students who graduate have shown they’re smart and creative. It’s not a lack of drive – again, for the same reasons. Wouldn’t you agree that the biggest hurdle is getting the opportunity? Well, that’s true and not true. The biggest hurdle is MAKING the opportunity.
How do you increase the odds of landing a contract as a Line Producer, a Department Head (if you’re not one already), or even a UPM on a small independent production? Lots of film school graduates are ready to burst with ideas to get their scripts into production; how do they get to produce their scripts?
First you need to get the confidence of the person in front of you. That single person in front of you needs to believe that you can control your sphere of work so effectively that he/she can get on with creating their vision.
If you’re already a working professional in film, you can easily convince someone that you can control the heck out of your area of expertise. But, if you want to upgrade, what do you know about the relationship of your department to all other facets of film production? You need to be able to convince others that you understand the common denominator of all filmmaking. Nobody denies that you need to have a creative bent in film productions. But let’s lay it on the table:
THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND FILM PRODUCTION IS MAKING A PROFIT!
By the time we, as working crew, start working on a film production, our creative bent is totally bent by the amount of MONEY available to us. We want to get the best product we can out of every buck. Like it or not, your performance in film production is measured, to some degree, by how well you control the money. It’s like ‘Directing’, only you’re ‘Directing the Money’.
THE LANGUAGE OF DEALMAKING
Do you want to get that upgrade? Then, learn the language of DEALMAKING – or, more loosely interpreted as, learn the language of ‘Directing the Money in Film and TV Production’. To my way of thinking, that’s the only way to be taken seriously.
Here’s the deal – you need to show them, with attitude, that you will provide them with a controlled environment from which they can create their vision. The only way I know of to do that is to graduate to a ‘Director of Money’. From that position you can be the go-to Line Producer, Producer-For-Hire, Department Head, UPM, etc.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve met a hot new Director, Actor or Executive Producer, etc. with a script. Whoever you meet, they’ll be very excited to talk with you about it. After the first ½ hour or less, how do you segue into being their Line Producer, Producer or UPM?
Here’s some real questions that would knock their socks off and show that you’re the one to ‘Direct the Money’ while they get on with creating their vision:
1. Do you need help with the budget? (Don’t agree to build it from scratch – but know someone who can; find out what you can about the script breakdown)
2. Do you have an idea of the Above-The-Line costs budgeted? (Cast, Director, Writers, Producers)
3. What kind of bottom line do you have in mind for the final budget?
4. Who needs to approve the budget? Will it be an independent film or studio driven? (If it’s studio funded, you’ll need all of his/her backup, and if it’s an independent production, find out which bonding company is involved.)
5. If union crew are planned for, find out how many shooting hours a day are planned for? (Insist on at least 13 worked hours per day, as well as a storyboard artist)
You get the idea. You need to know the ‘lingo’ of budgets and you need to understand that those budgeted numbers need to be directed. You’ll also need to inspire confidence in the Financiers, or the Bonding Company, that you know what the weekly financial report card is all about (that is, the universally standard Weekly Cost Report).
Most of those questions, with a little imagination, can also apply to anyone who wants to upgrade to a Department Head. A Production Manager would be completely blown away!
SO HOW DO YOU BECOME A DEALMAKER?
So how does a crew member get familiar with the language of Budgets and Cost Reports? I’ve been a Production Auditor for more than 20 years and I’ve NEVER shown a crewmember a Final Budget or a Weekly Cost Report (the universally standard financial report card issued to the Financiers and Producers every week) in that entire time. They are considered sacrosanct by Studio Executives, Financiers and Bonding Companies everywhere.
Well, I’m about to tease you with some relevant articles that will open the door enough to let you walk through. They’re written for the complete novice, so be patient if you’ve already been exposed to budgets and cost reports. You can find them on my web site at http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmarticles.htm , or sign-up, FREE, for 7 weeks of articles at firstname.lastname@example.org . Remember, the articles are techniques on being FAMILIAR enough with budgets and cost reports to be able to ‘Direct the Money’.
Written by John Gaskin – With 20 years experience in the Film Industry as a Production Auditor, John has managed over 40 major films all over the world. John has worked with some of the industries top professionals including academy award winning producer Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Joel Silvers, etc…See more “About the Author” at www.talkfilm.biz .