film producer

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What is a Film Producer?

The film producer, of which there could be several, has many functions that typically begin with the producer finding a story or subject. The inspiration might come from a book, play, artwork, or even a song, although the latter is rare. The hugely successful 1968 song (six million sold), Harper Valley P.T.A. inspired both a 1978 film and a 1981 television series, both starring Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie-fame). The movie, Gladiator, resulted from Ridley Scott seeing a painting from the late 1800s of the Roman Coliseum with gladiators visible.

Once producers find suitable material, they may have to negotiate with the novelist, playwright, painter, or songwriter to secure the rights to make a movie based on their work. Therefore, finances are part of their responsibilities as they assemble the creative team that includes screenwriters, production personnel, and film crews. All the parties involved in the film need to have contracts stipulating their duties and compensation.

During filming, the producers’ roles can become highly stressful dealing with location changes, assisting the director, managing business arrangements, approving changes, and troubleshooting. Hence the producer wears many hats throughout the process, from its inception, marketing, securing financing, hiring actors, and attending its premiere. When applicable, producers will be present at award ceremonies and promotional events.

Film credits always include several executive producers, who supervise producers and perform many of the same functions as the film producers. These executives may also manage budgets, hire the best talent, schedule, and handle legal issues.

What is a TV Producer?

In television, the producer may wield more authority than the film producer. Some of the duties for the TV producer are:

  • Write the script for the shows or an episode
  • Raise necessary funding for the show’s production, including actors’ pay, film crew, and other expenses involved in a weekly program.
  • Make casting decisions and secure guest appearances and extras.
  • Act as assistant for the executive producers – usually more than one.
  • Liaise with unions and maintain adherence to union regulations
  • Ensure that each episode has character development and a storyline that will attract viewers consistently

tv producer

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Education

Having spotlighted some of the film and television producers’ responsibilities, what is the educational path to these professions?

Associate Degree

If desired, this can be a starting point that you can use to advance into an undergraduate program. An Associate’s degree in film and video provides training in both the production process and the technical aspects of filmmaking. Students learn to create multiple types of films, such as educational videos, short films, commercials, and documentaries. You also gain hands-on training with filming equipment, such as cameras and lighting.

There are Fine Arts programs at this level in filmmaking. A degree of this type covers all aspects of film, including directing, lighting, writing, editing, and production. During the production phase of the curriculum, you direct your own movie and crews on your classmates’ films. The purpose of the two-year program is to learn by doing as you master the art and craft of directing, cinematography, editing, writing, and producing. A residency program should provide access to a screening room, film and recording studios, sound design suites, visual effects labs, and more.

Here are some random examples of associate programs.

An Associate of Arts in Film can lead to a four-year program; you may find the degree available at a local community college. For example, Central New Mexico Community College offers an A.A. that includes classes in cinematography, film on-set, film locations, composition, and a fine arts requirement. Students can complete the degree in 5 terms.

The Los Angeles Film School has a 60-credit Associate of Science in Film from which students could graduate within 18 months. Each class takes four weeks that allows students to focus on one subject at a time. The courses include cinematography, digital editing, screenwriting, production design, film production, directing, and post-production. Students may find other programs that study grip and rigging, lighting, electrical, set construction, scenic painting, and on-set film production.

Students attending the LA Film School learn hands-on in an actual studio setting with multiple soundstages, Dolby-approved dubbing stage, editing lab, and 300-seat movie theater. As a bonus, students receive a retina-display MacBook laptop loaded with professional software:  Avid Media Composer, Adobe Creative Cloud, Movie Magic Budgeting, and Final Draft.

Bachelor’s Degree

Students who want to become producers have the option to enroll in a related bachelor’s degree program, such as a Bachelor of Applied Science in Film, Television, and Digital Production program. This curriculum will cover all areas of film and TV production. Students take camera operation, cinematography, screenwriting, lighting, sound, and editing courses.

One consideration is a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Film with an emphasis in Production, which explores the technical and aesthetic aspects of small digital productions and the basic principles for major motion pictures. You evaluate the integral components of production, including financing, budgeting, and distribution. Coursework in this type of film production program may offer a practicum, where you can demonstrate your mastery of filmmaking and production in an applied project.

Some colleges/universities offer a concentration in Production through their Department of Cinema. The production major focuses strictly on motion pictures, as opposed to television. As with similar programs, the coursework covers all phases, from screenwriting to directing to production. For example, in a cinematography course, you will learn about camera work, lighting, and grip equipment. In addition, producing two short digital documentaries could be a curriculum requirement.

A bachelor’s degree devoted to television production will guide you through all phases of TV production, such as planning, budgeting, techniques, production design, and more. A foundation of planning, scripting, directing, and producing television and video programs builds these skills.

An important consideration for a degree in this field at the bachelor’s level is the school’s production facilities. Does the program have a studio to simulate film/TV filming and production? As a television and digital media production student, is there an opportunity to attend an internship?  A 6-month internship off-campus affords experience in a real-world setting, working full-time with industry professionals.

You also can choose a program that combines film and TV production in a Fine Arts program, for example. This degree provides the advanced production and post-production skills and the knowledge to prepare for a career in the filmmaking industry. Again, does the program have access to the industry-standard equipment needed to bring the medium to life? You may want to focus on schools that offer a wide array of camera equipment. Does it include grip and electric tools for the perfect lighting, audio equipment for high-quality sound, and the post-production software to bring the production altogether? A hands-on approach to your major can be invaluable for a career in production or a related field.

The following provides insight into some of the coursework.

LA Film also has a 120-credit Bachelor of Science in Film Production that takes 36 months to complete. Some of the courses are the same as their associate degree; for example, screenwriting, production design, directing, sound production, cinematography, and production design. Others include advanced creative writing, advanced grip & electric, documentaries production, transmedia design, and creative presentation.

The College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University in Chicago has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television. Named a top film school by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety magazine, it has a 32,000 square foot production facility at Cinespace. It is next door to the production setting for television series such as Chicago PD and Empire. The school’s Visiting Artists Series lets students meet industry leaders in on-stage conversations and establish contacts.

DePaul’s film and television program offer a choice of eleven concentrations; some of these are:

  • Cinematography
  • Creative Producing
  • Production Design
  • Screenwriting
  • Documentary
  • Showrunner (focuses on the television production landscape)

Another consideration is the bachelor’s degree in digital film production at Grand Canyon University’s (GCU) College of Fine Arts and Production. Students study cinematography, film production, audio production for film and television, and nonlinear editing. There is film production equipment for on-campus students to receive hands-on experience with lighting, audio, and camera (Canon cameras and Sennheiser mics).

Nonlinear editing at GCU covers theory and software used in film editing. The cinematography class teaches optics, lighting units, exposure, lighting control, camera movement, and video formats.

Television producers, above all, want to have a show that captures a high percentage of viewers to ensure its success. As ratings decline, the network or cable channel will cancel the show. However, not all productions will have the longevity of The Simpsons (30+ years), Law and Order SVU (20+), Big Bang Theory (12 seasons), or Grey’s Anatomy (15+). Some shows terminate as an executive decision by the producers. Most fall into the low viewership category, which signals their demise.

In addition, to a bachelor’s degree, there are other options, which we present in this article.

Master’s Degree

The next level is a graduate program; for example, a Master of Arts in Film and Media Production at American University in Washington, D.C. The two-year 36-credit program doesn’t require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in film or a related discipline. Some of the 27 hours required courses are:

  • Developing Fiction Productions
  • Nonfiction Productions
  • Business of Television
  • Writing for Visual Media

There is also a three-credit-hour Portfolio Capstone or project, which takes the place of a thesis.

MovieMaker Magazine, which covers the art and business of filmmaking, honored Full Sail University as one of the Best Film Schools in the United States and Canada. The twelve-month on-campus Master of Fine Arts in Film Production gives each student a Project LaunchBox that contains a MacBook Pro and all the necessary software for editing, scripting, and budgeting. Students cover four main concepts:

  1. Dramatic Storytelling Elements: The craft of scriptwriting to develop characters, themes, and tension
  2. Director’s Responsibilities: The operational and creative phases of being a film director
  3. Experimental Filmmaking: Learn non-traditional methods in visual storytelling
  4. Business of Film: Covers a range of topics, including sales agents. Negotiating, networking, marketing, and finance

The Seattle Film Institute (SFI) offers a Master of Fine Arts in Filmmaking and Producing that attests to being the only school that blends creativity with business skills. Graduates of the two-year degree will have the knowledge and confidence to pursue a production career in television, film, or digital content.

Some of the creative subjects at SFI are film acting, film writing, cinematography, animation, game design, audio, and sound design. Students develop business acumen by taking courses in legal issues, budgeting, fundraising, marketing, distribution, and forming a business plan.

Employment

The first career step for producers is to obtain related employment, such as working as a production assistant. The responsibilities may be more akin to a gopher than a production assistant. The duties for production assistants also vary widely and may not always involve direct work on a production. However, experience is the key, as it is paramount to build an impressive resume to apply for more responsibility and authority jobs. To create your portfolio, look for opportunities to produce in smaller markets or lower-budget productions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median salary for producers and directors at $76,400 in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree. They expect the job growth to be 24% over ten years or through 2030 or a job change of 31,600 positions in this occupation group. (The job growth in 2017 was only 12%)

Reviewing employment opportunities is an effective way to determine the preferred degree and see what entry-level jobs are available. Indeed, an employment site lists over two thousand jobs in film production and related fields. These positions involve associate producers, executive producers, event producers, script consultants, video producers, podcast producers, and many more. Companies and organizations with openings also run the gambit; examples are Apple, Adobe, Roku, Amazon, Dr. Pepper, Microsoft, Planned Parenthood, and large churches.

Most of the job descriptions emphasize expertise handling production equipment and software, along with business and communication skills. And most stipulate that a bachelor’s degree is adequate. Therefore, the experience might be more beneficial than spending two extra years earning a master’s degree.

Related Resources:

The 10 Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees In Videography and Video Production

Can I Get an MFA in Two Areas at the Same Time?

Do I Need to Take the GRE to Get Into an MFA Program?

Will an MFA Help Me Get Jobs, Or Is My Portfolio More Important?

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Lighting Designer?

For Further Reading: 

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