#1 of 7: MAKING the Opportunity

While I have some time on my hands during hiatus I thought I’d been review my various articles and blogs around the net. It was with surprise that I noticed over 18,000 hits on a series of articles that I published in early 2009.  This is a pretty good stat for me, so I decided to re-publish them here. The design of the articles is for entry level Line Producers/Production Managers, even for film directors; however, those interested in film accounting will find them a great way to bolster your knowledge in that area as well.

#1 of 7: MAKING the Opportunity

Do you, or do you want to, work in feature films, or any film & video project in the film industry? Whether you want to become a film director, or already work in some capacity in film production of any kind, this article will help you make it!

Why aren’t more film school students finding work in production? Why aren’t there more crew working their way up to Line Producer or Unit Production Manager? 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 pretty smart. 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 film job out of film school? What about getting a contract as a Line Producer, a Department Head (if you’re not one already), or even a UPM (Unit Production Manager) 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.

You need to be able to convince others that you understand the underlying, common denominator of all filmmaking. Some people feel that a creative mind is all that’s needed. 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 MONEY.

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’.

Do you want to be the best? Do you want to get that upgrade? You can! Learn the language of those who ‘Direct the Money’. 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 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 in love with their script and they’ll be very excited to talk with you about it. They want someone interested in their baby and they want someone to contribute to its success in any way. 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 do it while they get on with creating their vision (if you you’re foggy on some of these terms, be patient, you’ll be very familiar with them after a little reading):

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? (This is important for your chances – 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. What locations are in the script? (Suggest using the services of various Film Commissions to scout for cost efficient locations compatible their vision)

6. How many days of shooting are planned? (If no script breakdowns are completed, recommend somebody you know to do it)

7. 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. Take my word for it; a Production Manager would be completely blown away if a novice started showing an informed understanding of how budgets and costs were so important.

So how do you get familiar with Budgets and Cost Reports? I’ve been a Production Accountant for over 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, get a good book, that’s easy to read, that lays it out for you. As of July 27/08 both the University of Southern California Masters of Fine Arts (Peter Stark Program) and the University of Tampa Film Program have ordered my book, “Walk The Talk” as required reading for their students.

Let’s better define the end result of a quick study of “Walk The Talk”:

Budgets: The reader will be able to make comments about budgets with the confidence that financiers and producers, not just in Hollywood, but also throughout the world, universally accept the words and topics. You will also be able to read and follow the style and format of the industry leader of budgeting software, Movie Magic Budgeting©. It won’t make you into a master, but it will certainly give you the confidence to upgrade at your next opportunity. If at any time you need help, you can always blog (https://filmproduction.wordpress.com ) or email me (johngaskin@talkfilm.biz ). My web site is www.talkfilm.biz . I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

Weekly Cost Reports: The Cost Report at first glance looks incredibly detailed, and to some, even complex. After a quick study of my book the reader will be able to understand the layout of Cost Reports (remember they’re the same the world over), and be able to make comments about them intelligently. You’ll have the confidence that you’ll be using the same terms, and are looking at the same topics, as the pros. You won’t become a production accountant, but you’ll get the drift, and with experience it will become second nature. There are several more examples and charts in my book, Walk The Talk, which will expand on your familiarity with Cost Reports.

They’re available in my book – see my web site here “Walk The Talk”. All of them are simple but effective.


Visit my web site at www.talkfilm.biz.

John Gaskin’s Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/johngaskin

Email: johngaskin@talkfilm.biz

You may use this article for your ezine, or on your site, as long as the article and links remain the same.


About filmproduction
I have worked in the film production industry since 1985, working on over 50 different productions of every size in 6 different countries. My self-published book, "Walk The Talk" is written in an easy to read manner for film students and working professionals who haven't had the chance to learn how to 'Direct the Money'.

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