I've produced theatre, film for myself and others. So I have a head-full of knowledge that I'd love to share. Everything I learned about producing film, I learned by working for peanuts for saavy producers. The result is four Sundance films, a Tony-winning Broadway musical, tours and workshops of my own plays in which I also act. I've screwed up plenty, collected unemployment to make it through post-production and maxed out credit cards to meet a Sundance deadline. But each time, the film, play was a success and I now I make a living at it and can even stay home and let other people do my work and collect a check. Not bad. Not easily done, but totally doable. Now I have a mission to make work and help create the next generation of storytellers who also happen to be producers.
So use my brain. Ask me what you will...let's start with the most obvious.
From Jonathan: What does a producer do and how do they make money?
A producer does whatever is necessary to get a project on it's feet and put on stage or network TV or film. Producers' jobs range from raising money, to hiring creative team (director, writer, actors) to finding locations for a tour or movie theatres, picking up actors and getting them to set. Or some producers work for hire. Say, you'd like to produce your own webseries, but you need hard cash. You could hire a producer to raise the money and pay them by giving them a small percentage of whatever they raise. That way, it's less work for you, and if they raise no money, you're not out of pocket paying their salaries. A producer can simply attach their name to a project to help the artist raise money, without actually giving money to the project. Often times in broadway, this is called an Angel producer. Someone famous, says, sure, use my name as Executive Producer and if they are famous enough, other folks will automatically give money to the project because they are involved. That's why you see so many famous peoples' names attached to projects that they had little parts in or no parts at all. They've allowed the creators of the work to use their name to raise money. For example, Brad Pitt lent his starpower to "12 Years a Slave," not for the big role, but to make it easier for Steve McQueen to raise money for the film and to get it sold. Hence, using Brad Pitt's face on the poster was a super smart business decision. It meant people all over the world who would not normally see a film about African American slaves, would go if Brad Pitt's name and image were attached. No Black film has ever been bought by distributors in Europe the way "12 Years a Slave" was. It's an opportunity to put more butts in seats and get the story out there to a wider audience. Or Will Smith has a long line of producer credits for films he didn't appear in: Saving Face (lovely little Asian American indie film), The Secret Life of Bees, The Human Contract, etc.
Producers also do things like write grants to raise money, do research on a project. Look for scripts for an artist to star in and develop. Line producers create budgets for indie films and then pass the budget on to the other producers who are primarily involved with raising the money or getting actors attached. In short, if you help put a project on it's feet, you're a producer. Own it, live it and you are it.
Producers make money all kinds of creative ways. As I mentioned before, there are producers who work for a percentage of whatever they raise. There are producers who will write grants for you and write their grant-writing salary into the grant. There are producers who do lots of leg work on a project in return for a producing credit. Producers will work on a fundraising campaign (like a Kickstarter and their salary is either written into the budget, or they take a percentage of what is raised.) Producers who also happen to be actors, will often work for producer points on the back end (if it's a film, meaning once the film is sold and starts making money, they get residual checks each time the film makes money) or they will do legg work on the project in return for a part in the film and a producer credit. Those are just a few of the ways, folks make money as a producer. If you're self-producing, always, always, put your salary into the fundraising budget. If you don't, you won't be able to focus on putting the project on it's feet, because you'll be too busy working 3 other jobs to keep your head above water. It's tough,but rewarding work and totally beats auditioning ad nauseum for the rest of your life with no guarantees of work. When you produce, you make your own opportunities.
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April Yvette Thompson