One of the key players for a producer to be successful is the agent. In the motion picture industry there are very few pictures that have been put together without an agent being involved. Some of the major talent agencies today are International Creative Management (ICM), the William Morris Agency, TRIAD and Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Due to the close relationships they have with both studio executives and independent producers, the head of the motion picture department of these agencies are one of the greatest forces to getting pictures made today.
Agencies generally commission a maximum of 10% of their client's gross income, which they justify for work done on behalf of the client. These agencies are licensed (by the state) and are franchised by various professional guilds including the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
Agents are considered the middlemen between those trying to sell their material and those trying to buy it. Although they are not necessary in making any particular deal they are almost always involved. To find out who is represented by whom in the business, SAG offers a service that will furnish the names and telephone numbers of agents of its members. This service can prove very useful to a producer because much of the time an actor will only be able to be reached through their representative agent.
For any producer attempting to get their project off the ground, the enthusiasm of an agent can be of great assistance. If the agent feels good about the project they are more apt to suggest it to their clients. The problem is, sometimes just getting an agent to listen to you is difficult. For the new producer or someone whose name is unknown in the industry, an agent may not even take the time to answer your phone call. The key to this problem is persistence.
Agents are very busy people and do not have the time to listen to everyone, but if you keep pursuing them they may eventually listen. Because agencies are made up of many individuals, it is best for a producer to establish relationships with at least one agent from every agency they can. That way, there is more than one outlet that a producer has to choose from when trying to make a film. It is not necessary for a producer to have an agent of their own to make a film, but agents are needed to gain access to individuals that the producers need to make the film.
Packaging means the combining of two or more elements, such as a writer, actor, or director into a single project, which is then presented to prospective financiers. When a package is brought in front of a prospective financier, it has a better chance of approval. This is because when a buyer is offered a script along with an actor and a director they can more easily make an intelligent decision on the creative and financial aspects of the film. A package deal can relieve some of the stress that stems from unknown aspects of the project.
Motion picture studios are the principal source today for obtaining the funds needed by a producer to produce and distribute their films. Unfortunately for a new producer finding backing by a motion picture studio is very difficult. In the past few years there has been a great deal of films that have been made independently, and this is due in great part to the fact that a producer had the inability to sell their project to a studio. Some of the major studios today are Warner Brothers, Fox, MGM, Paramount, and DreamWorks.
There are also many so-called "mini-majors" which are companies that finance films but then distribute those films through other companies. Examples of these mini-majors are Castle Rock and Interscope.
There is a tall ladder that must be climbed in order for a producer to gain financial backing from a studio. The first step is the reader. Production executives normally give the material they receive to readers to look over and make comments on. The reader gives a synopsis of the script, describing the plot and the characters in brief detail. The reader also will state their opinion on whether they think the script will make a worthwhile movie or not. If the reader gives the script a negative report, there is a good chance that the script will be rejected and will not even be seen by anyone else. Above the reader on the ladder is the story editor. The editor generally supervises the readers and gives some suggestions on scripts and writers. The editor is considered a great and valuable ally for the producer because production executives will normally listen to the editor's suggestions. The next step up on the ladder is the production executives and or vice presidents. These positions are generally to draw in "good" material to the studios and to supervise it while it is being developed and while it is in production and postproduction. For a producer to deal with someone that will actually be receptive to their ideas, they would generally start at the production executive level. The senior production executive is considered the head of production. They decide upon which projects are to be produced and when, so that the studio will have pictures on the market all year round.
Unfortunately for a producer, once the script is given to the studio and it begins the process of hierarchy, there is no way of knowing what is to come of it. Even when it seems as if everything is going as planned, determining a development deal and a commitment for the picture may become a detriment of which the producer has little if any control. There have been many cases where a script was well accepted and then management was changed, other projects interfered or financial shortcomings occurred and the script subsequently foundered. By the time the producer hears a response from the studio a script that was a go at first may be filed away in the end, and the reason is never fully explained. Screenwriter William Goldman writes a perfect example of this in his book "Which Lie did I tell." William talks about an occasion in which he had written a screenplay for Universal studios, which the producer loved. The producer then presented it to the powers that be where it was rejected. The producer later left Universal and wanted to buy the screenplay from them and they refused to sell it. So much occurs behind closed doors that result in movie rejections. In this case both Goldman (the writer) and that particular producer felt they had a script that would make a good movie, but for one reason or another the studio denies the proposal and the script becomes just another file in the cabinet.
"The Green light" versus "The Turnaround"
Once a project finally becomes a development deal, the next task is to make the material as perfect as possible in order to get the picture made. Hopefully it is possible for the producer to work closely with the production executive responsible for their particular project. It is important to be aggressive and push your film. Together with the production executive, the hope is that the studio will give the picture a "go" or "the green light." Often, studios have numerous projects in the works and without the constant efforts of the producer to keep the project moving it may never get made.
The goal of selling a script to a studio is of course, to get a project made (the green light). Once the script is purchased, the studio will usually insist that the producer signs over all rights they have for the screenplay. At this point, the producer usually has the option to take the money and hit the road, although they almost always take credit in the final project. A producer could also decide to remain working on the film and therefore become involved in the daily process of film production on the script.
The amount of money a producer makes on a film varies greatly depending on their level of experience and amount of active participation in the film. A first time producer who does not become actively involved in the production of a film can generally walk away with between $10,000-$30,000. This is sometimes called a finder's fee, and the producer will rarely receive any profit participation in the film.
For a producer that is more experienced and remains actively involved in the film, there is generally a development fee obtained. This fee is usually compensation for the producer's input while the studio finds a writer (or writers) and decides whether or not to give the green light to the project. In this case, the producer can make anywhere from $15,000-$60,000. If a project does get the green light, the producer can then receive an additional profit ranging from $100-$400,000 or more with a participation in the profits from the film.
There is always the chance at this stage of development that the picture will be given the "turnaround." This means that the studio abandons their support of the project and therefore the transition from development to production is never achieved. At this point the producer will be given the chance to take the project to another studio, and once the project is resold the original financier will be reimbursed.
There are many reasons why a project is given the "turnaround." One of these reasons may be due to a lack of a screenplay that seems viably profitable. Another reason may be due to a change in management, which in turn creates a change in studio interest in the project.
A lack of enthusiasm may also be a cause for turnaround of a project. In any case, a producer will still have the chance to bring their project into production, but with a different studio. Once a project finally passes through all the stages of development and is given the green light by the studio, the producer's next step is to begin a further inspection into the budget and the casting of the film.
If a producer finds it unlikely or even impossible to gain support in their project from a studio but still feels as if their project is worthwhile, finding alternate sources of financing is essential. Because the average cost of a film produced by a studio exceeds $30 million, studios are not really attracted to films that will only bring in $1-$2 million profit. In the past few years there has been an extreme increase in what is known as independent production. The term independent can have various meanings in the production industry. Usually, the term independent is applied to any production company that is not directly affiliated with a major film corporation. Independent can also be used to define a small studio or an individual producer, as is the case here. An independent producer is someone who works outside of the studio system and collects funding from private investors. The money invested can be obtained from such places as banks, business owners, wealthy friends and even relatives. The downside of this is that many of these people willing to finance films are doing it for the wrong reasons. For instance, a lot of people are looking for the glamour and fame of the movie business. Being independent could also mean that although the producer is receiving money from a studio, they still retain control over the project. When a project is truly independently financed, the producer can keep more control over the project and possibly sell off the rights separately to various companies or organizations. A producer who has retained the rights to project can make separate deals for distribution of the film to various theaters as well. When these distribution rights are kept, the producer will then receive more of the profits that are brought in by the film. Working outside of a studio will also bring a producer the benefit of saving a great deal of money in the production of the movie. The producer will be able to form his own opinions and make his own decisions concerning the film, without the constant pressure of a studio leaning over his shoulder. If a studio were involved, the producer would be in constant watch of the studio; every monetary decision the producer makes would have to receive the studios ok. The independent producer will know exactly how much money he can spend because he makes his own budget depending on how much money he has received from investors. For a picture to reach a level where bet profits finally come into play, it must earn back the cost of production, prints and advertising and any fees that a studio may add along the way. For a studio picture, the earnings must be anywhere from 3-7 times the initial cost of the film before a profit is established. On the other hand, an independently financed film could reap the benefits of a "gross deal." The producer establishes this type of deal with a distributor in which the producer receives their profit directly from the amount of revenue brought in by the film. In the later case, the success of the film will be much more profitable for the producer.
Films that are considered low budget or theater turned motion picture scripts are generally released as independent films. Studios are always looking for sure-fire hits; the ones that are going to be major blockbusters. For those who feel that making a film without the support of a major studio is a lost cause, take a look at the success of such films as The Blair Witch Project or Boys Don't Cry.
The former was independently produced and was screened at the Sundance film festival where it received rave reviews as a very original film. To date, the film has grossed over $100 Million Dollars. The later film, Boys Don't Cry, did not bring in high grossing profits, but it was critically acclaimed and received several Oscar nominations in the year 2000, along with an award for Best Actress presented to lead actress Hilary Swank. As proven by these two very different films, whether it is high grossing profits or eye opening, thought provoking realism that speaks to the soul; if the producer believes in the film there is a way to get it made without the support of a studio.
For the independent film, it is obvious that word of mouth is essential for the success of the film. Because the budget of the film is a major factor in production, it is safe to assume that the millions of dollars a studio may spend to promote their feature will not be available for independently produced films. The Blair Witch Project was a very successful film at the Sundance film festival where the word spread like wildfire. It was considered one of the scariest and most original film to be released in recent years.
Due to this praise and the creative Internet marketing by the production team, the film was sold and when it hit theaters the success was overwhelming. As for Boys Don't Cry, the film was not released into that many theaters and did not bring in that much money from the box office. After receiving several Oscar nominations and an award, the shelf life and gross profits the movie will obtain from rentals should prove much more lucrative.
Paul Lazarus, a long time Hollywood producer states, "Everything begins with the written word. An idea may spring up in a number of ways, but a movie begins to take shape when words are put on paper." Keeping this in mind, it is not a hard realization that one of the most significant responsibilities that a producer has is selecting a screenwriter for their film. To find out what writers have written which projects in the past, such organizations as the Writers Guild of America, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences have current listings of writing credits that they all publish annually. Of course more popular writers require a larger fee, and therefore if the producer is independently financed they will have to narrow their search in terms of affordability.
Much of the time, a writer will be hired by a producer because that particular producer is familiar with their work. In any case, once a writer is chosen and all deals are set, the writing of the script can finally begin. First and foremost, the fundamental parameters must be clearly understood by both the writer and the producer so as not to create problems later on in the project. Next, it is important for the writer to be given the freedom to explore various options that may arise within the script that concern both the plot and the characters. The producer must of course remain involved in this process, but the level of involvement must be decided upon mutually between the writer and the producer.
Normally the first draft of the script will be completed approximately 16 weeks after the writer begins. Once the first draft is completed, it is then handed over to the producer for review. The task of the producer is to read the script and make suggestions on how to improve the story. In addition to making suggestions about the plot or characters, it is the producer's job to be the financial supervisor of the script. It may be necessary for the producer to make suggestions to the writer on how to trim down certain scenes in order to reduce the expenses that the script will incur. After the completion of the final draft of the script, most writers will move on to another project. There have been many exceptions of course, especially when the screenplay is an original work. There may also be cases where the director asks for continued collaboration with the writer. This can prove to be either beneficial or disastrous depending on the persons involved.
Preproduction may just be the most important period resulting in the success of a film. At this time, a producer will perform a wide variety of managerial responsibilities Preproduction is the precursor for production of a film, and lays the foundation for both the creative and financial aspects of the film. During this period of preproduction it is also crucial for the producer to maintain a high moral and a happy working environment for all crewmembers.
It is wise for the producer to come up with some sort of production strategy for the film. This strategy should consist of at least (but not limited to) three steps. The first is defining the goals and objectives of the project. It is important to specify the goals and objectives of the project during preproduction to ensure that all members of the production team agree on the purpose of the project. The second step is assessing the potential of the audience. Although audience appeal will be discussed in more detail later, it is important to note that estimating the size and demographics of the potential audience may be very helpful in determining the financial outcome of the film. These estimations can be quite complicated and are never completely foolproof, estimations can help to determine the best format for conveying information to reach target audiences and assuring program effectiveness. Another step in production strategies is researching the topic. As stated by Gorham Kindem, careful research can make the difference between promoting and exploiting misinformation versus carefully examining the key issues and stimulating a reasonable debate.
Some producers have had experience in production management and are known as "Line Producers." These producers are generally interested in daily operations rather than putting the projects together. Line producers are responsible for such tasks as making sure things are built on time, making sure all the costumes are made, etc. Studios generally hire them and independent producers to run things to make sure daily processes are on time and within budget. The production manager will break down the script and lay out the blueprint for the film on a production board. Scenes in a movie are rarely shot in sequence, but rather are shot in an order that will be the most cost efficient. Determining this sequence is a job of both the production manager and the producer himself. Upon completion of the production board, the producer will be able to determine when each actor will be working during the course of the filming. Because there is such a wide range of prices asked for by different actors in today's film industry, the casting of the film is a great factor in determining a films budget and visa versa. In an ideal situation, a producer and director will pick the best actor for the part.