What does it take to become a film director or producer?

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You too can be a film director or producer! First, produce or direct your film! It’s that easy!

Okay, so maybe it isn’t quite that easy, but depending on your resources, experience, and desire there’s nothing to keep you from  just doing it!

Let’s start with what it takes to be a producer. To do that you need to understand what a producer actually does, and that’s particularly difficult to define.

There may be many different producers on a movie, Executive Producers, Co-Executive Producers, Creative Producers, Co-Producers, Line Producers, Associate Producers.

Often, the Executive Producer is either an investor OR a conduit to financing and/or other essential elements of the production.

The Creative Producer (Producer) is a hands-on above the line crew member who helps oversee many of the creative decisions on the film. The Producer works closely with the director on casting, script notes, the hiring of key crew personnel.

Co-Producers and Associate producers may also be involved in helping to finance or attract high profile cast.

The Line Producer is perhaps the hardest working, least recognized member of the producing team. They are in charge of the production logistics, crew, making deals for equipment, and making sure that the director has the resources available on the set.

So, if you have enough money, you can instantly become a producer, but that won’t give you knowledge of how to make a film.

To learn how to produce you have two main paths - study producing at a film school - AFI, USC, NYU. The other path, dive into production at whatever level you can find. Start by producing short films and making yourself available for films shooting in your area. Observe, ask questions, watch movies, read trade publications Filmmaker Magazine, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, etc.

Get a general education on as many different departments as you can - take an acting class, study cameras, lighting, set design, editing, makeup, wardrobe, FX, sound, etc.

And that leads us to directing. Everything you want to know about film in order to be an effective producer, you want to know as a director - plus you want to know HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH ACTORS, how to choreograph/block a scene. You want to know about screenwriting, understand story and character arc, how to use symbolism, and develop a visual style.

The path for directing is similar to that of a producer. You can take classes, study, learn the craft in a safe (and expensive) environment OR you can find a script, get a camera, a crew, hire some actors, and shoot.

You can begin with web content, do cinematic shorts and work your way up to a feature, or if you’re not risk averse tackle a low budget feature. Heck, if you’re not risk averse AND you’re rich you can produce AND direct a film of whatever budget you can personally afford (please note: I do NOT recommend this course of action).

Bottom line, you have to decide how much time and energy you want to expend to learn the craft and what your ultimate goal is. It’s one thing if you want to shoot something to see if you can do it, and something completely different if you want to take money from someone else. In the latter case you have an obligation to your investor and that’s regardless if that investor is a relative, or a studio.

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Where does the profit from a movie go?

First, you have to understand that what a film makes in box office receipts does not equal profit.

That being said, the profits are split between the investors and the filmmakers.

The normal formula goes something like this.

For every dollar that the box office takes in 50% goes to the theater.

The distributor takes around 30% plus expenses.

If there’s a bank or debt they then get their money…

Any deferrals to talent is then paid.

Whatever is left is split between the film makers and investors. For simplicity assume you have one investor who put up all the money. If there are no deferrals and no debt financing, then approximately 20% of box office would go to the film for disbursement.

Usually, the investor recoups his money (in the case of Get Out $5 Million PLUS 15–20% ROI - so they would receive the first $6 million or so out of profits)

So, out of every dollar the investor would realize $0.10 cents, and the filmmaker would get $0.10. Out of the filmmakers $0.10 the director, stars, and writer often have profit participation. If they receive 2% of the profits then the producers now have approximately $.08 on the dollar.

If after expenses (prints and advertising) there was $100,000,000 left then the producers would see approximately $20 million, but remember six of that goes to the investor before the disbursement of profits. That leaves $14 million to split.

The investor gets an additional $7 mil, and the filmmakers get theirs - minus the percentages promised to talent, which brings you down to about $5.95 million for the filmmakers. Not a bad day's work, but not the $150 million that was taken in at the box office.

Of course, there are “ancillary” incomes not accounted for in pure theatrical box office numbers, but the waterfall is similar, and keep in mind that all deals are negotiable. The box office may take less, the distributors may take less, there may be a bigger P&A fund, and there may be banks or other debt financing involved.

But that gives you a broad stroke overview.

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Written by Brian Herskowitz 

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How can I sell my script to a producer?

First, find a producer who is willing to review your script (or have a reader who works for him read your script), then when he says he loves it and must have it, sell it to him.

The process of selling a script to a producer is easy, IF the producer wants the material. The hard part is writing a script that will appeal to a producer, and then getting access to the right people.

That’s why agents exist. Literary agents know the producers who are actively looking for material. They know what kind of material they are looking for, and (perhaps most importantly) they have access.

The best way to get a producer to buy your script is to have a great agent.

But how do you get an agent, and what if you can’t?

Let’s start with how you get an agent. I will presume that you are not someone who has relatives and friends in the film industry (but if you did, I would encourage you to use those connections). Since we’re going on the premise that you currently don’t have access there are a few options open to you.

By the way, everything I mention here is dependent upon you having superior material - a great idea, brilliantly executed.

Okay, back to our journey. Depending on where you live you can contact your local film commission, and see if they have any knowledge of local film producers looking for material. You can enter your screenplay into a script competition - the Nichols Fellowship, Sundance, SXSW all have strong reputations. If you win (or in the case of the Nichols, get to the quarterfinals) you may find that the doors to Hollywood have opened for you.

You can attend film conventions/networking events. Nashville Film Com is a good example of a well attended event outside of Hollywood. Sundance is another place where you can mingle with producers.

Another event where you can find producers from all over the world is the American Film Market (AFM) that’s held in Santa Monica California each fall. If you have the time and money you could go to Cannes as well and network.

There are also conventions and events that are specifically designed to give writers access to producers. The Great American Pitch-Fest, Virtual Pitch Fest are two, and there are dozens of others. The caveat here is that they are expensive and only occasionally result in success.

Then there are services that allow you to reach out to producers and producers to find you. Amazon Studios is open for freelance submissions, but other services like The Blacklist and Ink Tip allow you (for a fee) to post loglines and submit for open assignments. Again, they cost money and not everyone has their projects purchased through the site.

There are writing groups, and networking groups that can help you as well, and lastly, there are companies devoted to “consulting” with you to help you find representation. These groups have a wide range of services, and they generally won’t guarantee that they can find representation for you.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy, quick, and painless answer. Although, you never know… you might get into an elevator with Steven Spielberg, and after hearing your pitch he just might right a check on the spot.

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Is it really possible to make a film for $1,000?

Nothing is entirely impossible, but it is very, very difficult. And while you may be able to shoot a film for $1000, you’d need access to crew, and (perhaps more importantly) equipment. Do you already own a camera? A video editing system (software)? Do you own good sound equipment? Do you have lights?

What’s your goal? Are you going to try and market your movie? Sell it on Ebay? What will make people want to watch it? Do you have a compelling story in mind?

What about actors? Can you get your locations for free? How long will you shoot for? What about food for the crew and cast?

In order to make a film for $1000 you need to:

  1. Have a script that can be shot in relatively few locations (1 if possible), and have a limited number of speaking roles.
  2. Have access to or own your own equipment, including a camera (4K cinema if possible), sound recording equipment (boom, and digital recorder), lights and grip equipment.
  3. Have access to a professional , or at least capable, crew that’s willing to work for nothing, or close to nothing.
  4. Have access to an ENTERTAINMENT Attorney who will work for little or no money. They will review contracts with crew, talent, and make sure you are protected.
  5. Have a location that you can use for free or close to free.
  6. Find a local restaurant or business that will donate food for the shoot for free (or utilize a chunk of your $1000 for food on the set). This includes meals and craft services (that’s the snack table - a film crew, like an army does well on a full stomach).
  7. Get your props and set decorations donated for free or close to it.
  8. Have a cast that’s willing to rehearse for free.
  9. Have the patience to prepare FULLY before attempting to shoot a frame of picture.
  10. Have a clear plan for POST PRODUCTION. Who will edit, who will sound design, who will color correct the finished product, and how will you pay for your deliverables.
  11. Marketing and distribution plan. You MAY find a distributor who will take your film on. If they like it enough they may even offer you a small advance, but you don’t want to count on that. You need to think about how the film will be seen, and by whom. Is it going direct to streaming? Will you try monetizing on Youtube? Or do you have higher ambitions? If you were going to market it yourself, who would you target as your audience? Families? Children? Millennials? Baby Boomers? What about your film will appeal to them?
  12. The fewer days you shoot the less money you spend. Taking time in prep, and rehearsal can save your bacon when you shoot. (For comparison Paranormal Activity was shot - not posted, but shot - for $15,000 on a 5 day schedule - BUT Oren Peli WORKED FOR MONTHS on the shots, and with the actors before shooting virtually around the clock for 5 days). Dov Simens talks about the “no budget” shoot in his 2 day film school and suggests that you basically shoot something a kin to a play where you do master shot, over and an occasional close up, but shoot it all in one or two days.

If you don’t have the ability to do all of the above within your budget, then you would in all likelihood fail. Making a film, under the best of circumstances with all the funds you need can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned professional.

The fact that you have never attempted anything like this doesn’t mean you can’t, but I suspect that there’s more to it than you fully understand. If you decide to do it, be prepared for it to be $1000 lesson, and not as an investment. If it does find an audience let that be a very pleasant upside.

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Where can I submit my storyline that I want to make into a film?

If you’re not represented by an agent the options are somewhat limited.

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Have you already written a screenplay, or are you looking to find a company that would buy the idea and then hire a writer?

If you haven’t written the script then you have even less paths you can utilize. Here are a few:

  • You can seek representation from an agent and/or literary manager. This can prove extremely difficult unless there’s a compelling reason for them to consider your material. Chief among these would be a direct referral. Did another client, producer, director recommend you to them?
  • Do you have IP (intellectual property) that has a profound history? For example: Do you own the rights to a best selling novel or the life rights to a story that’s made headlines in the news?
  • If you cannot find representation to try to sell your story then the next thing would be to try festivals and pitch events. This would require that you have a finished screenplay. If you’ve completed your script you can submit it to the Academy’s Nichols Fellowship (Academy Nicholl Fellowships), Sundance Screenwriting Lab (Sundance). Here’s one article that lists some of the most significant competitions (Best Screenwriting Contests to Enter in 2017).
  • If you win or even place high enough in a major screenwriting competition, you may find representation, or (less likely) a producer who will take the project on.
  • In addition, depending on where you live, you may be able attend a pitch event like “The Great American Pitch Festival”(Homepage - ScriptFest) where you can meet Agents, Managers, and Producers all looking for writers and/or screenplays. In the southeast there the Nashville Film Com (https://filmnashville.org/)
  • If all else fails there are several websites that allow you to pitch your ideas… Amazon Studios (Submission Guidelines) has a crowd-sourcing element, then there’s the Blacklist (Where filmmakers & writers meet), and Inktip (INKTIP).

There are many questions that you leave unanswered. How far into the process of creating a viable project are you? Do you have a script? What access do you have to agents, managers, filmmakers, writers? What do you envision your role would be if you don’t want to write the script? Are you a producer? Do you want to control the story or simply sell it?

Define what your goal is, then act accordingly, and do all you can to maximize the potential for a positive outcome.

Follow me on Quora or read the full post here! If you enjoyed this post, head on over to the Horror Equity Fund Company Page and follow our company page for more updates and articles on the entertainment business!

Written by: Brian Herskowitz