Producing

4 Things Students Should Know About the Movie Production Industry

1. Successful people never make it alone.

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How many times have we heard ad nauseam that it’s all about who you know? Those who are at the top now, likely didn’t get there working in a vacuum. They rose through the ranks with others they trusted to collaborate with in reaching their goals. They have a team.

Start by engaging with others not just at school but at workshops, festivals, and seminars. Like-minded people will gravitate towards each other. Folks in the industry often work together and respect one another enough to keep building a professional relationship for their mutual benefit. If you are a writer, find a producer who is willing to work hard with you, and the same goes for directors and actors. Build your team, knowing that these people will fill the critical roles needed to make your films a success.

2. You are the director of your career.

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You’ve heard that opportunity strikes when luck meets preparation. This increasingly digital industry, where we now have access to a plethora of media platforms for storytelling, is primed for you to create your own content.

Gone are the days where filmmakers could rely on studios to greenlight their projects and get the whole team on board. In the age of social media and reality television, an artist often has to have a certain level of presence to even be considered. Create a strong body of work so you can attract an audience and position yourself to be able to make better career making decisions. Become a content creator, and you can become the director of your own career.  

3. Learn the secrets of outsourcing.

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A common misconception of a director or showrunner is that they are the “boss,” when in reality there should always be 4 or 5 trusted people who provide critique or are better skilled in one area or another. Whatever your position, know when to seek the expertise of others who will only make your project better. You’ll always have a blind spot, and your own talent and skill will have a chance to serve the project best when you are successfully collaborating with the talents and skills of the others on your team. Outsourcing for different aspects of your filmmaking process, whether it is for budgeting, animation, or coaching your actors, is one of the tried and true secrets to successful production.  Mentors, film networks, and other resources can fill in these gaps for you.

4. Know the basics of storytelling.

While we can all agree that the fundamentals of storytelling are important to being a filmmaker, just as critical is knowing where you fit in the story that is actually taking place on set. Oftentimes, graduating from film school will leave you chomping at the bit to be hired as producer, director, or any other position of leadership. The truth is, your professional journey has only just begun. You are more than likely going to take on a PA role before doing anything else. How you handle what may feel like a lowly position is training ground for your future. Whatever your role is on set, it’s a critical one — or you wouldn’t be there. Every step of the way, you are paying dues—and all of it is a part of your story. Exhaust all of your opportunities to do what is expected, do it well, and always go the extra mile. Create your own track record, and be the hero in your story, where the only way to go is up.

Learn more about producing for film, television, and new media at the New York Film Academy.

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What Does a TV Producer Do?

Do you have excellent organizational skills and a head for numbers? Are you also creative and able to see projects through from the planning stages to the very end? Well, you might have the makings of a TV producer.

Television producers coordinate and supervise all aspects of a production, from the creative to the administrative. TV producers also make the financial decisions and handle contracts, talent and bargaining agreements, and other administrative details. While producers get to be in on the fun of planning and executing a production, they also deal with troubles during production and keep everything within budget.

Some, but not all, of the producer’s duties include:

  • Fundraising and networking
  • Working with financial backers
  • Seeking scripts and project ideas
  • Assessing proposed projects
  • Securing rights to books or other creative works
  • Commissioning writers

  • For news and sitcoms, producers are often part of the writing team
  • Hiring a director, crew, and actors
  • Organizing shooting and production schedules
  • Ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations during production
  • Supervising the entire project from beginning to post-production
  • Holding regular meetings with director to discuss progress
  • Ensuring the project is done on time and within the budget

There are several different types of producers and each one has different levels of responsibility on a production. The Producers Guild of America has a good overview of the different producer titles and responsibilities on their website.

Producers handle the business side of a production from finances to contracts and do a lot of trouble-shooting every day, so the job can be stressful. The fast-pace and working with other creative people can also be very rewarding. In an interview with Produced By, Marta Kauffman (“Friends,” “Grace and Frankie”) describes her typical day and how working on a series for Netflix is different from a network TV series.

Breaking into the field can be tough, but getting experience as a runner or a production assistant is often the first step. NYFA’s Cheryl Bedford describes her career path and offers encouraging advice to students in this interview.

Embark on your production career path at NYFA’s Producing School. We provide aspiring producers with the knowledge, tools, and learning experiences to pursue their dreams of a production career.

 

 

 

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How to Produce a Super Soundtrack for Your Low-Budget Film

The soundtrack sets the tone of your film, and connects with your viewers on an emotional, if often unconscious, level. But if getting the rights to use a hit song by a major recording artist is beyond your budget — and let’s face it, most independent films don’t have the kind of money necessary to do that — then these tips for creating a super soundtrack for a low-budget film are for you.

Using Covers to Your Advantage

Gaining rights to music has two associated licenses: The Synchronization (sync) License (held by the songwriter or publisher, who may be contacted through the performing rights societies ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) and the Master License (the entity that owns the recording, typically the record company or the (unsigned) artist or production company).

In order to mitigate the high cost associated with master licenses by major recording artists, consider finding a cover of the song recorded by a lessor (or unknown) band. You might also call upon your buddy with a uke to record it.

Find a Rising Star With a Hit in the Making

SoundCloud is an invaluable resource for up-and-coming bands and musicians, and a goldmine for filmmakers with limited budgets. If you are willing to take the time to search and trust your musical judgement, you can use SoundCloud to put you in touch with some talented unsigned musicians with whom you might be able to negotiate directly.

Finding and Licensing the Sound You Want

Sites such as The Orchard, Jingle Punks, and Pump Audio (Getty Image’s music division) exist to connect musicians with filmmakers. As this helpful IFP article suggests, the loose rule of thumb is to allot 10-15 percent of your overall budget for music, and suggests making sure you have a professional on your side. Music licensing is complicated and you don’t want to be hit with a lawsuit just when your film is taking off.

Do It Yourself

If you have some musical talent and/or ideas for a minimal sound, you should consider creating your own soundtrack. As this article points out, it’s easier than ever for those willing to spend a little time learning the software to create professional-sounding musical scores:

Apple’s $199 Logic Pro X is a great value considering what you get: over 10G of MIDI sounds, samples and loops (all free and clear), as well as the ability to record your own music using an audio interface, or sample and manipulate any sound you want. Plus, you can score your film from within the program, watching the picture as you work.”  

Get Scrappy

As with all aspects of low-budget filmmaking, creative thinking and adaptability are necessary to do things without breaking your film’s piggy bank on the one hand or feeling disappointed and giving up on the other. Look at the artists around you and reach out. You might find you have a lifelong artistic relationship waiting to happen!

Ready to learn more about film production? Check out the New York Film Academy’s producing programs to get started.

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4 Lessons to Learn from Major Film Producers

A producer is the person most involved in any given project, all the way from pre-production to post-production, whether it’s a film, new media, or television show. The duties of the producer range from the development of the material to hiring writers, and locating buyers and financiers. They oversee the development of the script, they’re involved with the hiring of the cast and crew for the project, and they even look at locations for the project.

Producers are involved with every creative, technical, and financial aspect of each project. In short, the producer commands the show.

At the New York Film Academy, you will begin your first day of class as a producer, not as a student. You will be treated as a professional and right out of the gate, you will learn how to manage multiple productions while learning the ins and outs of the industry. NYFA offers BFA, MFA and AFA degree programs, a one-year intensive certificate program, and in-depth four- and 12-week producing workshops.

While we give our students the opportunity for hands-on experiences as producers, there are always more lessons to be learned and more inspiration to be drawn from real-world examples. Check out our lessons learned below from major film producers.

Simon Kinberg

Simon Kinberg, a London native, was the writer and producer for “X-Men: Apocalypse,” part of FOX’s mutant-minded franchise. The latest movie in the series was not well received by critics when it was released last year. In an interview with IGN, Kinberg stated that “Apocalypse” was supposed to be about “a family splitting apart and coming back together.” Kinberg also said somewhere in the process of creating “Apocalypse,” the message ended up getting buried and the message on the surface focused on a guy trying to destroy the world.

The end result of the movie was that “Apocalypse” was about global stakes. Kinberg said that he learned “that human and personal stakes always trump global stakes.” According to Kinberg, Brian Singer’s “X-Men,” the first movie in the franchise, was a good example because it was balanced: Magento had world-sized ambitions but the movie was really about saving Rogue.

Lesson: “Human and personal stakes always trump global stakes.”

Sarah Winshall

Sarah Winshall produced “Affections,” a film that premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and was directed by Bridey Elliott. In an article with Filmmaker Magazine, Winshall discussed her prior experience as an assistant to producers and she outlined some of the things that she learned while she was producing “Affections.” One of Winshall’s tips involved creating a comprehensive script breakdown — or a spreadsheet outlining everything that will be needed for each scene.

Winshall admitted during the interview that the comprehensive script breakdown allowed her to really wrap her head around the scope of the project. After that, it became easier because everything was right there on the page in front of her — production costs, special effects, costumes, locations, and crew members.

Lesson: Be organized! Try Winshall’s method of creating a spreadsheet that comprehensively outlines everything that will be needed for each scene in production.

Adam Leipzig

Adam Leipzig is not new to the Hollywood scene: He supervised films such as “Dead Poets Society” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” and produced “Titus” and “The Way Back.” He is also the CEO of Entertainment Media Partners and is the publisher of the online arts magazine Cultural Weekly.

In a blog post published on CEO.com, Leipzig analyzes the importance of producers and how they are expected to lead. Leipzig wrote that through previous experience, he learned that producers may not have a lot of power but they lead in any project — no matter how big or small.

One of the biggest things he’s learned over the years? Toss the ego out of the window. “Replace the word ‘I’ with ‘we.’ As a corollary, don’t get worried when other people claim credit for your successes. That’s immaterial,” Leipzig wrote. If you remove your ego off the table, other people will too and it will make collaboration so much easier.

Lesson: Be a leader. Remove your ego.

Nina Jacobson

Everyone knows the line, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Producer Nina Jacobson bought the three-book series “The Hunger Games” to the silver screen and gave author Suzanne Collins a promise of staying true to the war scenes in the book. Jacobson was able to deliver a franchise that made Collins and “The Hunger Games” fan base proud of the film adaptations. She was also able to show Hollywood that money can be made on female leads.

Jacobson landed four blockbuster films with release dates spanning four years. In an interview with SyfyWire, Jacobson talked about the importance of the actors you select during casting playing a critical part in accomplishing tight deadlines. Part of achieving success lies in the people you select, because they are a huge part of the project.

“It was greatly affirmed to make the decision to pay attention to who these people are as human beings and to know it would make an enormous difference in getting through something like this,” Jacobson said during the interview.

Jacobson also admitted that it was at times difficult to juggle projects — making movies while others were in post-production was sometimes stressful. The process of it all proved to have its challenges. But according to Jacobson, Collins was a great monitor and guide, and she made a huge difference being involved with the films.

Lesson: The people involved in a project can make all the difference. Choose your team wisely.

As a producer, what are some lessons that you have learned? Sound off below! And, if you want to learn more about production, check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy. <

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Pilot Season 2017 Part 2: Here's What's Coming Your Way

Pilot season is a secret peek into TV’s future, when broadcast network execs decide which pilots go to series and which get scrapped. That trend may be changing with Amazon asking viewers to vote on their choices. Four Amazon shows already have the green light, but for the others, we’ll have to wait and see.

What follows are some trends in pilot season and some examples of shows that may be coming your way in the 2017-2018 season.

Enter Pilot Season Politics

Family dramas, comedies and police procedurals are joined this year by what the Hollywood Reporter calls the broadcast networks’ “efforts to appeal to Trump America.” NBC’s offering is a military hero drama ”For God and Country,” and CBS picked up a Navy SEALs drama, which, according to Variety’s Development Scorecard, “Follows the lives of the elite Navy SEALs as they train, plan, and execute the most dangerous, high stakes missions our country can ask.”

On the other hand, ABC’s “Red Blooded,” starring Reba McEntire as a “Red State” sheriff, will have her views challenged by a Muslim FBI agent. Speaking of ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, CBS has “Perfect Citizen,” about an Edward Snowden-like character. If you prefer your politics wrapped in allegory, ABC”s “The Crossing,” where the ill-fated refugees are Americans, is for you.

Seeking Out New Stories in New Frontiers

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Another trend moves us off this troubled planet with CBS’s astronaut drama called “Mission Control,” and NBC’s comedy “Spaced Out.”

Netflix and Amazon are also in the space-race, with the reboot of beloved ’60s sci-fi classic “Lost in Space” and futuristic “Oasis,” which Rolling Stone calls a “space-madness headscratcher.”

FOX has Orville, a comedy drama set 300 years in the future, as well as the apocalyptic “Passage,” based on Justin Cronin’s best-selling mixed-genre trilogy.

Marvel Comics teamed up with FOX to create the latest from the X-Men universe. The logline for “Gifted” runs: “After discovering their children possess mutant powers, two ordinary parents and their kids are forced to go on the run from a hostile government, eventually joining up with an underground network of mutants.”

Under the Influence

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CBS picked up the idea for “Living Biblically,” about a middle-aged man who decides to follow the Bible to the letter with hilarious results, from a book by AJ Jacobs.

Fox has loosely based its office comedy “Type A” on “*ssholes: A Theory” by Aaron James.

In Netflix’s “Disjointed,” Kathy Bates heads up a ragtag and mostly stoned bunch in the legal cannabis business.

Amazon is also into the pot game with “Budding Prospects,” a show about marijuana farmers in 1980s California. That show, along with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” about a perfect wife turned queen of comedy in 1950s New York, were given the green light to go to series by Amazon viewers.

What new shows are you watching this season? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re ready to learn more about film and television production, check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy!

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10 Great Pieces of Advice for Beginner Producers from Filmmaking Veterans

Low budget to blockbuster, getting a film produced is a huge endeavor. As PTA says, “It’s a miracle every time a film gets made.” Whether you are a self producer or are looking to produce the work of others, NYFA has pulled together these 10 great pieces of advice that can help you to become the best producer you can be.

1. Paul Thomas Anderson advises you to beware of fear.

In this great interview, Anderson speaks to the difficulties of getting started with great fear that the opinions of others, especially those in positions of power, are right or worth more than yours. He concludes, “There just should be no fear.”

2. Martin Scorsese tells you to “make your own industry.”

3. Disappointment can fuel you.

And, while addressing a graduating class at his alma mater, Scorsese reflected on two big disappointments early in his career that might have crushed him, but instead made him better and more resilient. “There’s a way that the force of disappointment can be alchemized into something that can paradoxically renew you.”

4. The market is global, you should be too.

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As we discussed in this NYFA article, there are experiences that can only be gained by studying abroad. We mentioned the importance of growing your network internationally, and this piece of Filmmaker Magazine advice, culled from a panel discussion at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, concurs: “Form an international collective.”

5. Producing is a group effort.

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The same Filmmaker Magazine article also offers this very important and basic piece of advice for producers: “Learn how to collaborate.”

Werner Herzog has at least 24 pieces of filmmaking (and life) advice. Here are a couple of our favorites:

6. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.

7. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.

8. Read broadly. Be culturally well-informed.

The below video, featuring advice from filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Fellini, makes it clear that in order to make great films that are not simply imitations of what you admire, it is important to read, listen to, and look at great works from the past as well as the present. As Herzog puts it, “Read! Read! Read…”

9. Passion is all you need.

As Tarantino puts it in the above video, “If you truly love cinema, with all your heart, and with enough passion, you can’t help but make a good movie.” Similar advice comes from “Dallas Buyers Club” producer Rachel Winter at the 2014 Producers Guild Awards: “Follow your passion. You can’t make anything and you can’t sell anything if you’re not fully, fully committed. If you give it all, other people will give it their all and follow your example.”

10. Just do it!

Though this advice from director Stephanie Joalland is from an Indiewire article about women filmmakers, it works for everyone just starting out: “Don’t listen to the naysayers who say you’re a woman you can’t do it, I think there is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. I hear so many women saying ‘I couldn’t make it because I’m a woman,’ There is no excuse, get a RED camera, get a 5G, and make a movie, find actors. Just do it.”

“Just do it” is perhaps the overarching message from famous and successful producers: Don’t talk about being a filmmaker or producer, just get out there and involve yourself in as many projects as possible. This alone will make you better in your own eyes and prove yourself to others.

Our 1-Year Conservatory Producing program lets you embrace this ‘just do it’ attitude and will provide you with the skills and experiences to turn your production career dreams into reality.

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A Q&amp;A With NYC- based Independent Producer Jane Applegate

There’s more than one way to break into the film industry. We’re curious about how other people are making it work, and eager to gain insight and inspiration from interesting success stories. We sat down with independent producer Jane Applegate. Jane Applegate is the founder of The Applegate Group, creators of The Applegate Network. Here, she sheds some light on her own career trajectory and what it’s like to work as an independent producer on her own terms.

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Photo provided by Jane Applegate.

NYFA: Hi, Jane, thanks for sharing some of your story with our student community! Can you tell us how long have you been an independent producer?  

Jane Applegate: I made a transition from writing and producing business news shows and cable documentaries to working on independent films in 2004. In 2006, I produced a short documentary about a theater program in Bosnia run by a professor at Dartmouth College. That project, “Much Ado About Mostar,” launched my independent film career.

NYFA What did you do prior to starting your own company? For how long?

JA: I started my career as a journalist, writing for the San Diego State University Aztec, an alternative weekly newspaper called the Reader, and then several newspapers and magazines in San Diego — including the San Diego Union. I joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times in 1983 as an investigative reporter specializing in white-collar crime. It was a challenging and rewarding job, but after a few years and winning some major awards, I decided I didn’t want to glorify criminals. I was offered a chance to revive a weekly small business column in the late ‘80s, when millions of people had lost their jobs and were trying to start their own businesses. My “Succeeding in Small Business” column was a big hit and went into syndication. The popularity of my practical, how-to column lead me to writing books, hosting a radio show for CBS, and speaking all over the world. I quit my job to start The Applegate Group Inc. in 1991.

NYFA: Can you talk about your transition from working for a corporation to working independently?

JA: I loved working in the newsroom and feeling the excitement of covering the news, but I wasn’t a very good employee. I questioned my bosses and was considered a bit of a troublemaker. I decided to start my own multimedia communications company because the LA Times wouldn’t let business reporters accept speaking fees and I needed to make more money.

Our company was the first to produce multimedia content about small business owners for bigger news outlets. We started a streaming video website — Small Business TV — with help from CNN, and produced web, video, print and live events for big corporations including Sprint, American Express, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Cox and Bloomberg. The biggest challenge was leaving behind my well-paying corporate clients and a job as a vice president of production for a big company to break into the indie world. I had to start out as a producer’s assistant for $100 a week. Starting at the bottom was the only way to break into the independent film world when I didn’t have the money to produce my own films. I was passing out carrots at craft services and handing out meal money — very humbling — on my first film, but I learned that my production skills were totally transferrable from TV to film.

NYFA: Do you think there is a unique experience to being a woman producer?

JA: I think women must work harder and be smarter than men to get ahead in the entertainment business. People in the TV and film world tend to hire their friends, their college buddies and people they know socially. Women have a tougher time getting jobs, but once they get a foot in the door things are easier and you can move up the ladder.

NYFA: What types of projects do you produce? Are there criteria that you use to decide which projects you’ll take on?

JA: I’ve produced a variety of projects from music videos to short films to independent features. I’m now producing a TV pilot for a Caribbean cable network. The writer-director, Mariette Monpierre, won a pitch contest and needed to attach a New York City-based producer with experience to secure the funding for a pilot. We’re deep into pre-production and will be shooting “Caribbean Girl NYC” in May for Flow, which is based in Barbados. I’m at a point in my career where I can be very picky and only work with creative, lovely people who I respect and admire.

NYFA: In your opinion, what makes a good producer? Is there a certain skill set that you think up-and-coming producers should focus on developing in order become successful?

JA: Producers must be able to multitask — kind of like a plate spinner at the circus. There are always plates falling and crashing, so you also need to have steady nerves and a great sense of humor. When things are going wrong on set, I always remind people that we are not curing cancer — we are making a film or show, and it is supposed to be fun. Good communication skills are also important. Being a careful listener is critical. Just letting people vent when they are upset or angry can diffuse most combustible situations. I always have a clip board or a notebook to take notes during a shoot. Leaving a notebook on the craft services table is also a good idea for producers. Encourage people to write down their problems and then review and prioritize what needs to be done at the end of the day.  Knowing how to use production software programs is also a good hard skill. I’m learning how to use Movie Magic Scheduling very late in my career.

NYFA: How can students make the best of their NYFA film school experience? How would you suggest they go about building their producing career?

JA: I didn’t go to film school, but my daughter, who is now an accomplished film editor, did. I think school teaches you how to work on a team and how to delegate responsibilities. Production is a team sport. Studying film theory is great, but it won’t help you get a job. I think everyone in school should get as much real world experience as possible. Volunteer to work on set with directors you admire. Work on as many films as you can, especially short films, which are quicker to produce. If you are not in film school, work on as many different projects as you can. I recommend setting up a profile and using Staffmeup.com to find production work. You can make it through one day and move on.

NYFA: How valuable is networking and can you offer any tips to students?

JA: Most of my jobs and opportunities have come through networking. I’m a member of the Producers Guild of America and New York Women in Film and Television. I attend as many mixers and workshops as possible. I also teach workshops on creative financing, marketing and best production practices. My network of business friends is growing all the time. People know that I’m always open to making introductions and connections. When you connect two people and something great comes of it, they both remember and are usually happy help you connect with someone you need to meet.

NYFA: Is your career progressing as you had hoped it would?

JA: I have been very fortunate to work on a variety of wonderful projects from music videos to live corporate events. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to take big creative and financial risks. Some have paid off, others not, but it’s been a wonderful ride.

NYFA: And lastly, what are some of your hopes for the future?

JA: I would love our Caribbean pilot to be a hit and lead to a full series. Future episodes would take us to shoot on the four islands where the principal characters are from and I’d love to visit more Caribbean islands. I’m also working with friends on two feature projects, one based on a best-seller by a Greek author and the other about Sylvia Beach, the American bookseller who published James Joyce’s controversial and banned book “Ulysses.”

Many thanks to Jane for sharing a bit about her producing career with the NYFA community! To learn more about Jane and to follow her work, visit her websites www.theapplegatenetwork.com and www.theapplegategroup.com. Ready to launch your own journey into the world of film producing? Check out NYFA’s Producing School.

 

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A Q&amp;A With NYFA Producing Alumna Yuxiao Wang

New York Film Academy Alumna Yuxiao Wang had a long road to get to NYFA. After three countries, two degrees, and a ton of work, she’s well on her way to becoming an outstanding producer. Wang spent some time speaking to NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith about her amazing journey.

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Photo provided by Yuxiao Wang.

Joelle Smith: Can you tell me a little about the project you’re working on and your role within the project?

Yuxiao Wang: I just finished producing a 75-minute web feature five days ago. I have two more features coming up in November, where I am both the line producer and associate producer. Two of these three films will be distributed online and the other is seeking theater distribution.

JS: Can you give me a little more detail about your journey from China, to Japan, to the U.S.?

YW: I learned Japanese literature in China and exchanged to Japan for a year in 2013. While there I majored in animation. I always wanted to learn film or work in the film industry, but during that time I didn’t have any knowledge about film. Then my parents agreed to support me while I worked on my master’s degree in America. I chose NYFA because it focuses on hands-on practice, and the producing program will cover a lot of secrets of how to make a film. Soon I was working as a producer in LA.

JS: What were some of the challenges you faced?

YW: The biggest challenge for me is language. As a foreigner, I am not able to read the scripts as quickly as native speakers do, and because of this reason, I think I missed a lot of job opportunities. I am very confident with my skills but when I submit my resume I know they’re often looking to hire fluent speakers.

The other challenge is my visa. I am currently at my OPT and not a lot of companies want to sponsor a foreign student for a work visa. That’s why it is hard for us to find a job here. So, I am working freelance now.

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Photo provided by Yuxiao Wang.

JS: What were some of the greatest joys you experienced throughout your journey?

YW: I am really happy I finally choose to work in the film industry even though it is very hard. In my country if you choose to learn acting, directing, or producing as your major in your college, not a lot of parents will support you because they think this industry is very dangerous. I finally got a chance to learn my major and started my career as a producer. I met a lot of cool people here, and they are very creative, passionate and trying to make something to change the world. I don’t like a boring life of sitting in the office. That’s why even though this job is very hard, I still keep doing it, because every second I am working on the things I am interested in, I feel like I am alive.

JS: What do you like best about attending the New York Film Academy?

YW: They are very friendly to all the students from all over the world and won’t force you to have a film related major in your undergraduate — which is very important to me, as my major was Japanese education. I think that was the initial attraction.

JS: What did you learn here that’s helped you the most in your latest filmmaking project?

YW: I think entertainment law is very important. We learned to go over all the paperwork, including documents and contracts, to make sure everything goes well. We were trained in our class to pay attention to details and developed great knowledge of the possible disputes and infringements during a production. The last feature I worked on had a 50-person crew and around 100 actors. We shot for 24 days and on 30 locations, but using the knowledge I learned, we didn’t have any problems.

7

Photo provided by Yuxiao Wang.

JS: What projects are you working on now and where can people interested in your work find you?

YW: I am in the distribution stage of a feature I produced called “Talentik.” It will be released in Chinese major streaming media platform “Sohu Video” on February 24.

And I am also shooting a major Chinese TV show in Hawaii now, starring A-list stars, and it will be on the major network and TV. This is the second series of this show, and the first series was the highest-rated drama of 2016 with an average national viewership rating of 2.63 percent. It had a 5.47 billion hit amount online and 379,000 related comments, and also aired on a major TV network, Hunan TV, in China.

I have two additional features I’m currently working on. One is romantic, and the other is a drama we’re developing and will be shot on the West Coast this year.

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ms. Wang for taking the time to share her story. You can find more of Yuxiao Wang’s work by clicking here. Interested in learning more about film production? Check out New York Film Academy’s Producing School!

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Projects That Made the Most of Their Monstrous Production Budget

The amount of new movies hitting the market continues to grow every day, and each new film uses more exotic filming locations, special effects and well-known actors and actresses. Blockbuster movies make use of their big production budgets in hopes of creating successful and unforgettable entertainment. While many aspiring filmmakers yearn for larger budgets, wisely allocating and managing a large film budget is an artform in and of itself. Below, we have compiled a list of movies from the last two decades with monstrous production budgets that were, arguably, used to great effect.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Andrew Garfield took to the building tops of New York City in 2014 once again as Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” A reported $500 million was spent to reboot the classic superhero series, which only featured two movies. The sequel to “The Amazing Spider-Man” was shot exclusively on 35mm film and entirely in New York.

The production budget for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was an estimated $255 million and performed well in the box office. However, Sony Pictures decided to cancel the series and has partnered with Marvel Studios to include Spider-Man in upcoming films. Tom Holland portrayed Spider-Man in the newest Captain America movie.

“Avatar”

James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which hit the big screens in 2009, was at the forefront of film technology and motion capture animation. It took Cameron’s team over a year to develop new technology and software for the film’s motion capture. He also employed over 900 people at Weta Digital to work on digital after effects.

Reports speculated that the budget for “Avatar” had cost $280 to $500 million due to all of the visuals. However, Fox officially released production cost and the movie’s budget was only $237 million. Cameron’s “Avatar” was the first film to make more than $200 billion worldwide and remains one of the highest grossing films.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” is the follow-up movie to his first successful “Avengers” movie. The second blockbuster featured big-name actors and actresses including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Evans. The film was shot in multiple locations such as England, Bangladesh, Italy, New York City, and South Korea. In addition to a large cast and multiple filming locations, post-production special effects made the move’ budget quite high. The tax rebate from the United Kingdom confirmed the cost of the film was $330.6 million.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” made $1.403 billion worldwide in the box office, making the movie the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time. The sequel though, did not out-perform “Avengers” in the box office. There is a rumor that the third film in the series, “Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 1,” and the fourth, “Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 2” will be even more expensive.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

Harry Potter has been a cultural phenomenon that has dominated the last two decades. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment of the series, had the largest production budget out of all the movies, which was an estimated $250 million.

The seventh and eighth installment of the movie series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” had a budget similar to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” but because the movie was filmed simultaneously, production costs were cut in half. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” brought in $934.4 billion worldwide.   

The Hobbit: “An Unexpected Journey,” “Desolation of Smaug,” and “The Battle of Five Armies”

The three-part installment of “The Hobbit” had a whopping production budget of $745 million. It is hard to determine the budget for each individual film due to the fact that the three films were created simultaneously. Even if the films’ budget could be divided, the films would still be one of the most expensive – both films were filmed in 3D and in 45 frames per second.

The budget for the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was $281 million and made $2.917 billion worldwide. The monstrous budget for “The Hobbit” trilogy paid off because the trilogy made $2.932 billion worldwide.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” and “On Stranger Tides”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were filmed simultaneously, so it’s hard to determine the exact cost for each film. However, the cost for Disney to film both movies in tandem was an estimated $500 million. A-list actors such as Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly coupled with exotic filming locations and special effects led to the increase in productions costs.    

The fourth movie of the installment, “On Stranger Tides,” is the first movie in the series to cost more than $400 million. The production team used 1,200 generated sequences, similar to the 3D technology that was used in “Avatar,” for special effects. It was confirmed that the total for the production’s budget was $410.6 million.    

“Spider-Man 3”

“Spider-Man 3,” not to be confused with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” featured Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging hero of New York City. In the third installment of the series, Spider-Man faces three villains: Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osborne, also known as New Goblin. The movie was filmed in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and New York City. Multiple filming locations could have attributed to a higher budget.  

Sony Productions confirmed that the movie’s production budget was $258 million, and the movie grossed $890.9, leading “Spider-Man 3” to be the most successful movie out of the three-movie installment from a financial standpoint. But Sony Pictures and the movie’s director, Sam Raimi, had a falling out and Sony cut ties. The falling out with Raimi led Sony to reboot the series five years later using Andrew Garfield as the leading man.

“Tangled”

Who doesn’t love a good animated film? Disney’s 2010 musical comedy featured the first princess to be rendered in 3D, not 2D (Rapunzel). It is estimated that the movie production budget was around $260 million, making “Tangled” one of the most expensive animated films to date.

Two reasons as to why the budget was so high: 1) the movie was in production for six years, and 2) the production team developed a state-of-the-art program to code how Rapunzel’s hair should move and behave in water.

The animated film made $591.8 million worldwide; it was also nominated for two Golden Globes, an Oscar and won a Grammy for “I See the Light.”

What are your favorite monster-budget blockbuster films? Let us know in the comments below! And apply to NYFA’s producing programs to learn more about how to maximize a production budget.

 

 

 

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Celebrating Women Film Producers

With this year’s Best Picture going to producer Dede Gardner for “Moonlight” and the top-grossing “Rogue One” produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, you’d think the “celluloid ceiling” had been thoroughly busted — but sadly, the numbers tell another story. For Women’s History Month, we at NYFA think it’s important to honor the milestones in pursuing gender equality, while being realistic about the continuing, painful disparities.

According to research reported at The Center for The Study of Women in Television and Film, the numbers for women behind the scenes actually dropped last year: “In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.” According to the study women accounted for 17 percent of executive producers and 24 percent of producers.

At NYFA, we encourage women to make careers for themselves in the biz not only in front of the camera but also behind the scenes, where diverse perspectives have the power to shake the industry. This is only one of the reasons why, for five years, our producing programs have attracted a majority-female student community.

Finding Academy Award-winning Adventures

This year Dede Gardner took home a Best Picture Oscar for the (surprise) winner “Moonlight.” She and Jeremy Kleiner head up Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which has become a reliable source for quality films — for example, the 2012 Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave.” Regarding their process at Plan B, Gardner, quoted in an IndieWire article said, “We spend a lot of time reading, a lot of time watching movies in small corners of libraries and hotel rooms. It’s probably our favorite thing to do. We fall in love with a movie and we reach out. We ask to meet, see more work and listen to what they’re interested in, what world they want to live in, what stories they want to tell. Time and time again, those conversations can result in movies. They just need to be had in an honest space. The only intentions will ever be to continue the conversation, and not think about these things as products, but adventures that we might embark on together.”

What many people may not know, however, is that Plan B was not the only (or the first) productive force behind “Moonlight.” Adele Romanski was one of three Florida State University friends who brought the project to life long before Plan B entered the picture. Romanski set up weekly Google chats to help motivate her friend, writer/director Barry Jenkins, to start another feature film project after an eight-year hiatus. As Romanski explained to Vulture last December: “… I came to the realization that I wanted to work with good people who I knew, who I could trust or who I did trust, and [do] good work together. And so the top of the list obviously was going to be Barry. And there was a lot of noise, it was becoming sort of a louder and louder conversation about where’s Barry’s next movie? Why hasn’t Barry made a movie? We would be at festivals or other industry functions, and people were coming up to us like, Why hasn’t Barry made a movie? And I would say, I don’t know, why don’t you ask him? But also, like, why are you asking me? You’re coming to me? So anyway, I just called him and said, You’ve got to make a movie. I’m gonna make you, I’m gonna help you, we’re gonna make it, make you make a movie.” And she did — a movie that went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, Romanski said: “And I think, I hope even more than that it’s inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists held by this amazing talent, Barry Jenkins, accepting this top honor. Thank you.”

From Secretary to President

Kathleen Kennedy started out as Steven Spielberg’s secretary, but quickly proved herself. An Entertainment weekly article celebrating women producers describes her early rise: “Spielberg tells EW that her ‘creative intuition’ while working as his assistant on 1981’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ especially ‘in the crowded streets in Kairouan, Tunisia…gaining the cooperation and participation of the people living there,’ inspired him to hire her as a producer on “E.T.” Now Kennedy heads Lucasfilm and is responsible for the Star Wars franchise, whose last two releases, “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” were the box office winners of 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Taking Control Behind the Scenes

Kathryn Bigelow was the first (and still the only) woman to ever win Best Director for “The Hurt Locker,” for which she, as producer, also won for Best Picture. Bigelow started her career as a painter and then went to film school. She has made a name for herself directing action and thriller films that belie any notions about typical female-run projects, such as “Strange Days” and “Point Break.” A Guardian article quotes her as saying, “I suppose I like to think of myself as a filmmaker” (not a female filmmaker). In other words, she seems to attach less significance to her gender than the media and the industry does.

Fun fact: NYFA New York Producing Chair Neal Weisman worked with Kathryn Bigelow on her film “Blue Steel,” starring Jamie Curtis during his time as vice president of Edward Pressman Film Corporation.

Telling Untold Stories

The producing team of Amanda Posey and Finola Dwyer, do tend towards stories that feature female perspectives, such as “An Education” and “Brooklyn,” both of which were nominated for Best Picture. In a Guardian article Posey was quoted as saying, “We are always looking to tell something from a fresh perspective and with a fresh insight and it just so happens that, because of the way history is told, a lot of the untold stories are female. We are drawn to it from a storytelling point of view rather than specifically because it is based around women.”

Happy Women’s History Month! Do you have a favorite female producer? Or do you aspire to be the next female powerhouse behind the scenes? Let us know in the comments below, and check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy.

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The Biggest Writers Guild of America Award Winners

February is an exciting time to be a fan of film and television. The BAFTAs arrive early in the month to honor the top British and international contributions to the industry. At the end of the month we of course have arguably the biggest film celebration of them all — the Academy Awards.

But right in between those two red carpet events, we get to recognize the best writing achievements of the past year. Below are some of the most notable winners from the 69th Writers Guild of America Awards, which took place Sunday Feb. 19, 2017.

“Moonlight” Takes Home Best Original Screenplay

The award for best original screenplay has always served as one of the top honors of the awards show, and this year it went to “Moonlight.” This coming-of-age story by an independent team has been racking up an impressive collection of trophies and is nominated for eight awards at the Oscars next week.

Winning this award meant defeating many other films that have been earning their own trove of awards this season, including big favorite “La La Land” as well as “Loving,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Hell or High Water.”

“Arrival” Bounces Back from Golden Globes

Fans of the sci-fi movie were no doubt bummed by the results at the Golden Globes. “Arrival” was nominated for best performance by an actress (Amy Adams) along with best original score, but won neither. But at the WGAs, “Arrival” earned one of the biggest awards of the night: best adapted screenplay.

Things could get even better, as “Arrival” enters the Academy Awards with eight different nominations. Among those categories include best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, and best cinematography.

The Best in Interactive Storytelling

No one can deny the growth and influence of video games in the last few decades. As computer technology advances at a quick pace, so too does the ability for games to absorb us into virtual worlds. Now, video games are considered one of the best forms of storytelling since only they can offer choices, nonlinear narratives, and more.

The big winner at the WGAs was Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, an action-adventure game that follows a treasure hunter named Nathan Drake around the world. To many of us this win is no surprise, considering Naughty Dog’s reputation for providing some of the best story-driven games of all time. Other nominees were MR. ROBOT 1.51exfiltratiOn, Far Cry Primal, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

FX Goes Home Happy

The 21st Century Fox channel has once again proven itself one of the best producers of excellent TV shows. Three of their latest series left the WGAs with some of the best awards the night has to offer.

While “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” took home the adapted long form award, “Atlanta” won both best new series and best new comedy. “The Americans” also beat strong contenders like “Game of Thrones,” “Stranger Things,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Westworld” to win best drama series.

What did you think of this year’s WGA winners? Let us know in the comments below! Interested in screenwriting? Learn more about the craft at NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

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4 Films That Won Both The PGA and The Oscar

It’s mid-January and the award-season excitement is palpable. Which is exactly why you must tune in to your television on Saturday Jan. 28 to watch the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards. Not only do these awards accurately predict the Oscars much of the time, but every film that has won a PGA has also received a Best Picture nomination for the Academy Award.

Here we’ve rounded up a few films that have won both the awards, for your re-viewing pleasure. What better way to get you started in the award season mood?

1. “Birdman” (2014)

 Also known as “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” this is a black-comedy drama film that appears to have been filmed in one long single shot. The story focuses on Riggan Thomson, a fading actor who was once a huge name for playing the Birdman superhero and is now trying to reinvent himself as well as his career by directing and acting in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story that eerily reflects his dysfunctional life and relationships as well. With elements of meta-narrative and magic realism blended in, this makes for an intoxicating watch.

2. “Frozen” (2013)

A musical fantasy animated film, this Disney delight blends the old Snow Queen tale in a beautiful story about sibling bonding. Princess Ella has always suppressed her magic after a childhood accident with her sister Anna until the day of her coronation, when she sets off her powers before everyone, without meaning to. Ashamed and fearful of herself, she flees the castle to live a solitary life in an ice palace hidden deep in the mountainous woods. Anna takes it upon herself to rescue her estranged sister. This film also won an Academy Award for the Best Original Song “Let It Go.”

3. “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)

A drama film set in India, this movie has an extremely interesting plot. Slum-dweller and Muslim, Jamal Malik is a quiz show contestant who is detained and tortured by the sceptical police who refuse to believe how an impoverished boy knew so much to get a place in the show. In a series of flashbacks, each linked to a question that Jamal correctly answers, we come to know the heartbreaking story of his life.

4. “Up” (2009)

A beautiful animated family film, “Up” centres on the adventures of the ageing widower Carl and a young adventurer Russell who set out to explore the wilderness of South America. Using helium balloons, Carl manages to levitate his house and turn it into an airship and meets a variety of creatures that help him along the way and join in their adventures. Packed with humour and warmth, this is one delightful film that is also the second animated film in history to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination (after “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991).

Which is your favourite film to win both the coveted awards? Which films are you rooting for, this time? Let us know in the comments below!

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5 Brilliant Screenplays That Were Rejected … Repeatedly

In an industry dominated with rejection, sometimes a single “yes” is all it takes to change the face of cinema forever. Here are five truly groundbreaking movies that, for some studios, were a little too groundbreaking…

1. “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Despite being a quickly rising star in Hollywood at the time, Quentin Tarrantino had a lengthy battle in trying to get any studio interested in his follow up to “Reservoir Dogs.”

Why “Pulp Fiction” was Rejected: According to Columbia TriStar executive Mike Medavoy, the script was “too demented.” TriStar initially optioned the film and was even in talks to produce it, but then did a 180 by declaring, “This is the worst thing ever written. It makes no sense. Someone’s dead and then they’re alive. It’s too long, violent, and unfilmable.”

Very few studios were willing to touch a movie featuring heavy heroin use, and the search for a new backer was extensive before Miramax picked it up.

2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Initially dubbed “The Adventures of Indiana Smith,” even the attachment of industry superstars George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wasn’t enough to garner significant studio interest.

Why Indiana Jones was Rejected: It wasn’t actually Lucas’ screenplay that lead to it being rejected by every single studio in Hollywood, but more the fact that he was asking $20 million to make it. Paramount ended up footing the bill and Lucas shrewdly negotiated a five-film contract; it ended up grossing nearly $400 million at gross and is frequently heralded as the best action-adventure movie of all time.

3. “Back to the Future” (1985)

Another ‘80s classic that nearly got passed up entirely (incidentally, “Back to the Future” ended up sharing the same budget and box office gross as “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).

Why “Back to the Future” was Rejected: It was either too family-friendly or not family-friendly enough, depending on who you asked. Pretty much every major studio rejected the screenplay, with Disney advising that a film alluding to mother-son incest was not “appropriate under the Disney banner,” while Columbia thought it was a “really nice, cute, warm film, but not sexual enough.”

The great Steven Spielberg always loved the script, however, and committed it to Amblin Entertainment as soon as he was able. The rest, as they say, is history — but it nearly got titled “Spaceman from Pluto.”

Naturally, Spielberg replied to the memo and told Sid Sheinberg that he had to be joking. The suggestion was never mentioned again.

4. “The Usual Suspects” (1995)

Now listed by the Writer’s Guild of America as the 35th greatest screenplay of all time, the ultimate mystery crime thriller nearly became as elusive as Keyser Söze.

Why “The Usual Suspects” was Rejected: Much like “Pulp Fiction,” the non-linear plotline of this screenplay completely baffled studios. After numerous rejections (and nine different drafts), the only company who would touch it was a European financing company. Somewhat surprisingly, director Bryan Singer managed to make the movie a masterpiece despite only having a $6 million budget.

5. “Casablanca” (1943)

The curious case of “Casablanca”: a screenplay rejected by numerous agencies 30 years after it had already become one of the world’s finest movies.

Why “Casablanca” was Rejected: It wasn’t rejected the first time around. But in 1982, freelance writer Chuck Ross wanted to see whether movie agents would recognize the screenplay if he sent it out again … and if not, would they recognize its greatness?

It was a clever experiment. Ross retitled the script “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” (the title of the original play on which “Casablanca” was based) and sent it out to 217 different Hollywood agencies.

The results?

  • 90 returned the screenplay because they weren’t looking for submissions.
  • 33 agents recognized the script immediately.
  • 8 spotted a similarity with the 1943 classic, but didn’t spot that it was exactly the same.

However, 38 of the 217 read and rejected the classic script. Among the feedback Ross received, agents claimed there was “too much dialogue” and that the storyline was “too weak.” One even suggested it needed “a professional polish.”

But funnier still is that three agencies loved it and wanted to turn it into a movie.

It just goes to show: even the best screenplays on the planet get rejected. All it takes is just one “yes.”

Do you have an interesting experience of taking a project through many rejections to find success? Let us know in the comments below!

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5 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers

Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality during her Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year; Emma Watson being appointed by the UN as a Goodwilll Ambassador, heading the gender equality initiative, He For She; Amy Schumer being the first female comedian to headline a show at Madison Square Garden (scheduled for 2016)… with all of these women making big moves on an international stage, it seems feminism in the entertainment industry is well and truly alive. That said, it’s not news to say that women have been long overshadowed by their male counterparts in show-business. I mean, when considering nearly 70% of characters in speaking roles were male among the top 100 films between 2007 and 2014, it’s safe to say the industry hasn’t quite overcome gender imbalance as yet.

Nevertheless, females are taking a stance and continue to make headway, particularly behind the camera—a place where the imbalance is most evident. With women being so grossly underrepresented, it’s no wonder many actresses are making the transition and taking part in the production of their creative platforms. Here are a few of the women who have dared to challenge the status quo and transitioned from acting in front of the camera, to producing behind it.

Drew Barrymore

Quite literally growing up in the public eye after she shot to stardom with her adorable, blonde pigtails and lisp in Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) at the age of six, Barrymore famously experienced a tumultuous adolescence and early adulthood but came out on-top with a prosperous acting career. What is lesser known about the talented actress is her extremely successful career as a producer and founder of her own production company Flower Films in 1995. Knowing longevity wasn’t always synonymous with a woman’s career in Hollywood, she embarked on the project with long-time friend, Nancy Juvonen. “Doesn’t matter how far or high I go; if I can keep working, that is the most profound amount of success I in my personal life can ever find,” says Barrymore. Her self-initiated enterprise earned her the role of Executive Producer for the company’s debut film, Never Been Kissed in 1999. Since then, she’s consistently produced big, money-making films that have received several accolades and critical acclaim—many of which she also starred in. Along with the Charlie’s Angels films (2000, 2003) and the TV show in 2011, she’s also produced instant cult classics like Donnie Darko (2001) and Whip It (2009), followed by a string of romantic comedies like 50 First Dates (2004), Fever Pitch (2005), and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009).

Reese Witherspoon

Beginning her acting career from the age of fourteen in The Man in the Moon (1991), Witherspoon’s resume went from strength to strength, starring in classic hits like Election (1999), Cruel Intentions (1999), and box-office successes, Legally Blonde (2001) and Legally Blonde 2 (2003)—the latter which she produced and from which she earned $15 million, fifteen-times the amount she got for the original. Becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of lead female roles and the majority of scripts sharing the common theme of women needing to be saved by men, she decided to establish her own production company. “I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” she said, “and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’” Using much of her own funds, she launched Pacific Standard with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea in 2012. The production company released its first two films just weeks within each other—the first was an adaptation of the blockbuster novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, and the second was based on the bestselling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, Wild. Both films were a huge success and the latter earned Witherspoon nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards for her part as Cheryl.

Elizabeth Banks

Having taken on 70 roles in front of the camera so far, including those in major hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Spider-Man 2 and 3 (2004, 2007), and The Hunger Games franchise, Banks has certainly accrued some Hollywood brownie points through the years. Using those points and knowing the difficulties faced by actresses in Hollywood after a certain age, Banks took a pragmatic turn to production in 2009, creating Brownstone Productions with husband, Max Handelman. “There was a group of us girls coming up … a lot of us surviving, some of us not,” recalling her days at auditions with Tara Reid, “We’re not all still here.” The company earned Universal $113 million at the box office on a $17 million budget, and another $103 million in home video sales for its surprising hit Pitch Perfect in 2012, which she also starred in. She also jumped into the director’s chair for the sequel Pitch Perfect 2, released this year in May, which snagged a $69 million debut weekend.

Sandra Bullock

Boasting an illustrious acting career that began with the motion picture Hangman in 1987, Bullock has continued to capture audience’s hearts with her girl-next-door persona. Her big breakthrough came when she starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the famous thriller, Speed (1994), shortly followed by romantic comedy, While You Were Sleeping (1996), which earned her a nomination for a Golden Globe. It was in this genre she really soared, founding the production company Fortis Films in 1998, which went on to produce a string of well-received romantic comedies and dramas she also starred in. Some of them include Hope Floats (1998), Miss Congeniality 1 and 2 (2000, 2005), Two Weeks Notice (2002) and The Proposal (2009).

Margot Robbie

A newcomer to the producing scene, this 25 year-old Australian is trying out her hand at the creative process behind the camera, after bursting onto the Hollywood scene two years ago with her life-changing role in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Since her big break, the young actress has scored major roles beside Will Smith in Focus (2015) and again (alongside many other big names) in DC Comics’ antihero film, Suicide Squad—due for release in August next year. Robbie recently revealed that she’s been working on two projects that she’s producing, focusing mainly on one called Terminal in London, a “thriller-noir flick” comparable to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) and Sin City (2005). Admitting that she’s really enjoying being behind the lens, the young star says her focus for the next year will solely be on producing, despite the media frenzy that’s likely to follow the Suicide Squad release. “The experience has really opened my eyes to the world of indie film producing,” she said. “It’s such a hustle—extremely difficult but very rewarding.”

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Producing at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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How To Option The Film Rights For A Book

Spotted a great book which hasn’t been made into a film yet, but really needs to be? Are you the filmmaker or producer for the job who can adapt it into a killer screenplay and execute it well?

If so, today we’re going to discuss a little bit about the process of optioning—i.e. acquiring an exclusive agreement for the potential to buy the film rights—and how to get through the process with the right way and with as little fuss as possible.

But first, a very common question regarding film rights themselves:

Do I Need To Obtain Rights if the Film is Not For Profit?

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Even if you’re making your film solely ‘for the love’—and really, there’s no better reason! – you’ll still be on the wrong side of copyright law regardless of whether or not you make a single dime off your work, or don’t even sell it in the first place. Consider buying a novel, scanning it page by page, and uploading it to a publicly-viewable blog: even if you gain no revenue from doing so, it’s still damaging to the original writer and a poor idea all round.

This all said, you’re extremely unlikely to receive letters from a lawyer if it’s a very low-key film to be seen only by your close circle of friends or peers at filmmaking school, but the risk is still there nonetheless – nine times out of ten, if you politely explain the nature of the project to the rights holder, given that they’re content creators themselves they are likely to freely give you the green light (and peace of mind!)

For anything intended for broadcast from beyond closed doors, here’s how you go about optioning the film rights for a book.

Figuring Out Who Owns the Rights You Want to Option

This is naturally the first step in optioning film rights, and is usually very simple: film and TV rights are nearly always reserved by the author themselves and not the publisher, as is commonly believed (except in very rare cases). As such, a quick call to either the author or their agent will put you on the right path.

Before you reach out to them, however, search the U.S. Copyright Office to verify that the copyright for the book itself is in the system and that the rights you’re looking to obtain haven’t been assigned to someone else already.

If you do happen to find any conflicting entries, that’s sadly the end of the line (short of waiting for the option period to lapse and hoping the holder doesn’t exercise them in the mean time).

But if you’re looking good, it’s time to take things forward!

Approaching the Agent/Author

The first thing you’ll verify here is that A) Yes, you are speaking to the rights holder or an authorized agent on the rights holder’s behalf (never just assume), and that B) The rights you’re after are indeed available.

From that point, it’s up to you to pitch a proposal to them—we’ll get on to price in just a moment, but firstly (and sometimes more importantly) you’ll need to consider how long you’d like the option period to last.

One year is rarely long enough to get your production team and screenplay together and ready to go, so try to organize at least one if not two extension periods of the same length of the original at around the same price as the original…

… and speaking of which:

Setting the Price

The onus will be on you to make them an offer they can’t refuse without breaking the bank.

So, what’s a fair price? Unfortunately, there’s no blanket answer to this.

If you’re after the film rights to J.K Rowling’s next book, you’ll have to have very deep pockets (and great connections) indeed….

But if the book is by a talented yet relatively unknown author, you may be surprised to find that the price tag is $0.

Remember that you’re only paying for the exclusive option to buy the film rights at this point, not buying the rights themselves (that’s another story altogether). As a result of this it may be the case that the author is keen to hitch their cart to your wagon in the hopes that you come through with the cash and hit movie at a later date, though naturally a little bit of money involved is their way of giving you the financial incentive to not let the option period lapse!

Do also bear in mind that the cost of optioning is nearly always deducting from the final rights purchase (though extension payments probably won’t be).

And Once You’ve Got the Option in the Bag…

Congratulations on your new opportunity. It’s now time for the real work to begin.

Do check out the rest of our tutorials and how-to’s over on the main student resources hub if you need any pointers on a particular aspect of the production, but above all, don’t rest on your laurels…

… the clock is ticking, and you’ve got a great movie to make!

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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Producing Movies in 2015: Subcultures and Niches

As mentioned the last time we covered the role of the producer, it’s a very fluid role that is extremely hard to sum up with a two-line job description. Throw into the mix that the industry is evolving at a rapid pace—forcing the role itself to change with it—and it’s little wonder that so many people are struggling to find their feet.

Producing school will naturally put you way ahead of the game, but the question of what to produce lies squarely with you. One thing to consider as you traverse this exciting terrain is how subcultures and crowdfunding can provide a tried-and-tested path to fund and produce a great work of passion, and it’s that which we’ll be discussing today.

Crowdfunding: More Than Just The Cash

It won’t have escaped the notice of anyone reading this that crowdfunding has, at long last, come to be taken seriously as a means for funding productions (and at a scale which has really silenced the naysayers.)

Obviously, raising enough capital to do justice to your vision is a very important concern for any producer. But it has to be said that, as many have before you have found out the hard way, crowdfunding is not a big pile of cash that anyone can dip into at will.

If you look at just about any successful crowdfunding project—even outside of the realm of filmmaking—you’re likely to notice a common thread running through them: they identify a very specific demographic, then figure out how to best serve the people within it.

Movie production is no exception. Free from some of the restrictions of traditional, big studio-fuelled productions, a filmmaker in 2015 no longer has to try and appeal to the largest swathe of potential moviegoers and can instead hone in on very niche subjects.

Consider the likes of Indie Game: The Movie, which pulled in over $70,000 in crowdfunding and went on to huge critical acclaim, or the Bronies documentary which smashed its $60,000 target and ended up raising over $320,000. The success of both lies with excellent marketing to an extremely passionate (and pre-existing) audience who were happy to pay to see a film that wasn’t even released yet.

But this brings us onto the golden rule of producing a movie for a specific subculture:

You Can’t Fake Passion.

Circling back to the aforementioned message about crowdfunding not being a method of making a quick buck, trying to take advantage of a subculture you’ve got no interest in is a very quick route to failure. A producer with no passion or reverence for the subject matter will not be able to create a quality film that does it justice, and those who are passionate within the subculture can spot a fake from a thousand miles away.

And anyway, you probably already learned very early on into your career that there is barely enough time to do justice to the interests you are passionate about, never mind the ones you aren’t.

In short, pick a niche that really interests you. It’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll find a group of like-minded individuals who will happily invest in what you have to say on the topic via the medium of film.

The Importance of Branding and Subculture in Production

To further demonstrate the efficacy of keeping the potential audience in mind first and foremost when scouting for a potential production, let’s examine the trend for marketing to pre-existing audiences on a huge scale.

Studios are increasingly turning to—and snapping up—intellectual properties that come with their own inbuilt audiences. If we look at the top grossing movies of 2015 so far, you’ll notice a common theme:

1. Jurassic Worl($1.6bn)
2. Furious 7 ($1.5bn)
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.4bn)
4. Minions ($1bn)
5. Inside Out ($734m)
6. Fifty Shades of Grey ($569m)
7. Cinderella ($542m)
8. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ($509m)
9. San Andreas ($469m)
10. Terminator Genisys ($435m)

By and large, the above entries already come from strongly-established franchises or had a huge amount of anticipation and almost guaranteed audience attendance before release (such as Pixar’s Inside Out and Fifty Shades of Grey). The same went for 2014, a top-grossing list made up almost completely of sequels, reboots, and comic book movies with already eager audiences (namely Guardians of the Galaxy.) The only anomaly this year was San Andreas, and the only brand new intellectual property last year was Interstellar

… and obviously, directly following the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, it wouldn’t exactly be a risky gamble to predict the success of any Christopher Nolan release.

Even  this year’s Pixels movie—which performed poorly from a critical perspective—has doubled its budget at the box office, likely owing to its tapping of a strong and rising crowd of indie game enthusiasts.

The Takeaway for Indie Producers

Of course, this is all a very scaled-up example from the very top of the box office for demonstration purposes. You don’t have to compete at this scale and nor should it be deemed a failure if you don’t make millions or double your budget—remember, it’s all about making serving a subculture or niche with a strongly branded work that you can be proud of, and the principles behind this work at any level.

Go find your niche. Discover the audience that is already out there and waiting, then make sure you create something that truly speaks to them. 

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Micro-Budget Filmmaking: Are You Making These 5 Mistakes?

A little while back, we covered some of the finest indie movies ever to be produced on a tiny budget—superb features like The Castle and Primer which managed to push boundaries despite not having cash on their side (and you wouldn’t know it to look at them.)

But even still, some of those movies had budgets that, while miniscule by industry standards, had a couple of million to play with. We’re guessing you don’t have that luxury, so today we’ll be looking at:

Super Micro-Budget Filmmaking: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Scheduling Properly

It goes without saying that on every production, no matter how small, scheduling is absolutely paramount… but probably not for the reason you think.

If you’re on a micro-budget, chances are that you and the team are making the film purely for the artistic endeavor. But artistic endeavor doesn’t pay the rent, and everyone involved is probably working jobs on the side in order to get by.

You don’t necessarily have to demand their time, but if you ever want to get the film in the can, it’ll behoove everyone to have a shared spreadsheet where they can list the hours they’ll be free to work on the project… and you can spot those golden windows where all the stars align.

2. Picking a Great – but Impractical – Script

Found an amazing screenplay that will blow everyone’s minds?

Awesome!

Does it feature an outer space sequence that’ll change the face of sci-fi cinema forever, or a prison break scene that’ll have the viewer right on the edge of their seats?

Skip it. Your budget does not allow for such special effects or exotic shot locations; sounds obvious, but a surprising amount of low-budget filmmakers adopt a “we’ll cross that bridge later” attitude and invariably come unstuck halfway through the production.

3. Not Using All Resources Available

Budget filmmaking is two parts talent and one part ingenuity (and maybe even the other way around.) Spotting problems to solve in the first place is a good skill to hone, and the same goes for the financial aspect—if you’re not looking for ways to increase your budget and use it well, you’re selling yourself short.

Seek out every avenue for grants, tax breaks, and subsidies (even if filling out endless applications is a dull task.) Call in every favor you’ve garnered over the course of your entire life. And always see if there’s a way to use equipment for free (or at least cheap) rather than having to purchase it with your limited cash—if you’re in filmmaking school, use the equipment that’s freely available; if you’re in a big city, put a call out on Craigslist asking if anyone can loan you equipment for a small daily fee.

The opportunities are endless once you start looking for them.

4. Putting All Focus on Video Quality

All of the aforementioned examples of micro-budget filmmaking have one thing in common: they’re not stellar by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to video quality, but none of them cut corners when it comes to audio.

As covered in our earlier guide to production essentials, audio quality is the most common thing that amateurs seem to scrimp on… and the one thing that, in turn, is the mark of an amateur.

5. Forgetting to Budget for Marketing


We know. Marketing is the not-so-fun part of filmmaking and can be just as expensive as the production itself, so it can be difficult to reserve cash for the job… but if you don’t, all your hard work will be for naught. After all, there’s no point busting a gut to make a micro-budget movie only to have nobody see it.

And don’t just make the common mistake of plucking a figure out of the air; carefully detail all entry fees for contests and festivals you’ll want to apply for ahead of time, as well as the costs of getting it listed on streaming services.

Got any of your own stories from the field or budgeting warnings to other filmmakers? Share with the group down in the comments below!

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How To Get Your Movie Soundtrack Onto iTunes/Spotify

If you’ve got a soundtrack for your movie, chances are you’re looking to distribute it as a separate entity from the film itself.

Even if you’re not expecting to make oodles of extra cash from music sales (and let’s be honest, with Spotify, you won’t) it is still a very worthwhile thing to do from a movie marketing perspective…

… but at the same time, getting your movie soundtrack onto iTunes or Spotify (or both) can be a real head scratcher and has left a fair number of even seasoned producers walking away from the task in frustration.

Let’s demystify the process and explore the steps behind:

How to Upload a Movie Soundtrack to iTunes & Spotify

Now, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to go ahead and assume you own the rights to the music you want to put out there. For more info on producing and publishing your own film music, check out this earlier post which delves into the finer details.

Firstly, let’s start off with:

Uploading to Spotify

The question most people start off wondering is if you need to be signed or get a record label in order to get music onto Spotify. If you’re a movie producer who happens to have ties in this area, you’ll be able to arrange this with a single phone call. But the good news is, you don’t necessarily need a label.

The bad news is there’s no way of uploading music directly.

What you’ll need instead is what is known as an ‘aggregator’—sites that handle all of the revenue, royalties, licensing and distribution; it’s the latter that’ll get you picked up by Spotify itself.

The streaming service has put out a small list of such sites that it works with, but they do all come with fees and/or percentage cuts in exchange for getting you onto Spotify:

Tunecore – $30 per album for a year, then $50 per year thereafter (and you get to keep 100% of the royalty and sales revenues.) Alternatively, you can pay a one-off fee of $75 for unlimited uploads but you only get 90% of the royalties.

CDBaby – A little more pricey than the above at between $59 to $89 per album, but it does not charge annual fees.

EMU Bands – $84.95 per album (of up to 20 tracks.) You keep 100% of the royalties, and there are no annual fees.

Record Union – Between $16 to $25 per album, per year. Packages are customizable depending on which platforms you’d like to upload your movie soundtrack to.

You’ll want to check out the fine print and pricing variations of each of the above to decide what’s right for you, since the range of services—and platforms they upload to—all vary. 

Speaking of which, the above fees usually include not just aggregation to Spotify but also to iTunes (and a whole host of other outlets), so the initial fee might be worth it just to get the entire job done in just a few clicks.

Speaking of which, let’s move on to:

How to Upload Music to iTunes Directly

By this, we’ll assume you’re looking to work directly with Apple in order to get your movie soundtrack onto the iTunes store… but you’ll have to submit an application first and there are quite a few boxes to tick before you’ll be able to do that.

In short, you must have at least 20 albums to your name and own ISRCs (International Standard Recording Codes) for every single track you’re looking to have listed on the iTunes store. If you’re in film producing school or even if you have a few features under your belt, you’re not likely to fit this criteria.

This leaves you with only one option: yep, you guessed it. We’re back to aggregators.

Unlike Spotify, Apple has a massive list of approved aggregators that can get your movie soundtrack up there and the variance of services—as well as prices—is severe, so there’s no blanket answer as to which aggregator is the best.

In summary, if you want to get your movie soundtrack on streaming services and digital stores, your only option is pretty much to sign up with an aggregator. Luckily, it’s a very easy and reasonably inexpensive process… the harder part is trying to spread the word and making people aware of the soundtrack’s existence, but that’s a post for another day.

Had any experiences, good or bad, with a particular aggregation service? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and share with the group!

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Top Emerging Screenwriters Of 2015

Even some of the most talented screenwriters making great strides in the industry get very little credit or recognition for their work—in fact, notoriously so.

Today, let’s buck that trend by paying homage to some of the hottest new talent to ever emerge from screenwriting school and who look set for great things in 2015 and beyond.

Top New Emerging Screenwriters: 2015 Edition

1. Justin Simien

After a series of highly-acclaimed shorts between 2006 and 2009, Simien put out a conceptual trailer for a movie back in 2012, hoping to raise enough money to turn it into a feature via crowdfunding.The campaign was a phenomenal success, with Simien nearly doubling his target asking amount.

That trailer went on to become Dear White People, a breakout hit that not only grossed $344,000 despite being screened in only 11 theatres (on hell of an achievement) but also won the Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at last year’s Sundance.

With the movie sitting at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, we’re all eagerly awaiting Justin Simien’s next career move.

2. Lucinda Coxon

Lucinda Coxon is fairly new to writing for the big screen, but by no means is she a novice writer.

Having enjoyed award-winning success as a playwright for over two decades—predominantly between England and Scotland — her prolific work in theatre eventually saw her cross over to film with 2003’s The Heart of Me. With a long stretch of time lying between the period drama and her other forays into feature film writing, it looks like 2015 is going to be her year; this November will see the release of The Danish Girl, an adaptation of the fantastic novel of the same name by David Ebershoff.

3. Tess Morris

Another British luminary whose success has been written in the stars for quite some time.

Way back in the late 90s, Morris won a prestigious short film challenge for her original screenplay and went on to work as a script editor and writer on two high-profile TV series (Hollyoaks and My Family). Jumping back over to the big screen in 2011, her romcom screenplay Man Up garnered significant interest and was eventually released this year with Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in the leading roles.

Given the success of her first feature and the background from which she comes, it’s little wonder that we’re all looking forward to seeing Morris’ next screenplay.

4. Oren Uziel

Uziel formed one third of the screenwriting team behind 2014’s 22 Jump Street, and as his debut work, it’s fair to say that he came out of the gate running.

22 was far funnier and far more tightly written than any sequel based on a movie based on a TV show should be, and it’s for this reason alone that Uziel is worthy of putting on the ‘one to watch’ list. If he can work this kind of magic and collaborate this well on a franchise title, it’ll be fascinating to see his work on original intellectual properties. We won’t have to wait long—his first solo feature, Kitchen Sink, will be out in September…

… and that’s only one of many upcoming, high-profile Uziel projects in the works, including a rumored Men In Black 4. Expect huge things.

5. Dan Sterling

Dan Sterling has long been a powerhouse comedy writer, having contributed to such national TV hits as The Sarah Silverman Program, The Office, King of the Hill, and The Daily Show.

After proving his chops as both a comedic writer and producer over the course of the last two decades, it was of little surprise that Sony Pictures entrusted him to write what was to become one of the most controversial comedy features in recent memory—The Interview.

How he’ll top that is anyone’s guess, but we’re definitely keen to find out.

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So What Exactly IS A Film Producer?

Of all the jobs in film that we’ve covered so far, there’s one in particular that seems to cause a lot of confusion. Namely, we’re talking about film producers.

And it’s not hard to see why the job title causes so much confusion. Such is vagueness of the term ‘producer’ that we’ve even met film producers who have struggled themselves to describe the job in a few concise sentences.

So as much as trying to define the term ‘film producer’ is akin to successfully nailing jelly to a wall, today we’re going to do just that and definitively explore:

What Exactly IS a Producer?

From the start, we can state that a producer wears many different hats during the course of a movie’s completion, , such as choosing the right script and coordinating the moving parts of making a film such as writing, directing, and editing. Overall, film producing can be two essential duties by the producer: Development and Financing.

Development: Long before pre-production can start, there naturally needs to be something to produce! It’s up to the producer to find and discover a story worth committing to celluloid—a property that they own—whether it comes in the form of an original screenplay, a novel that’s ripe for adaptation, or even the life story or personal tale from an interesting subject.

Of course, it’s not as easy as just reading a book, thinking “that’d make a good film,” then assembling the crew. A film producer must initiate and enter into negotiations with whoever’s responsible for the source material, with the ultimate aim being to acquire the rights on their terms.

Financing: Once the film rights have been bought, the monetary fun doesn’t stop there. Producers are the ones who pitch the movie to studios (or their employer) in the hopes of securing financing, and thereafter managing said finances throughout the life of the production to make sure everything is delivered on time and on budget.

Even once the movie is in the can, the financing duties still aren’t over. Distribution of the final product also needs to be sorted out, and that’s squarely in the remit of the producer.

So A Producer Handles the Cash, Basically?

Not quite! It’s a large part of the job of being a film producer, but depending on personal style, he or she may get personally involved with a number of tasks.

The hiring of the director and screenwriting staff is nearly always handled by the producer, but from here things vary by the individual. Depending on the scale of the project, the producer may wish to get involved with hand-selecting any or all members of team.

Sometimes, however, that is left in the care of the director. On multi-million dollar productions, practicality may dictate that a hierarchy of producers are required that the executive producer can delegate to. From top to bottom, the chain of command runs:

  • Executive Producer
  • Co-executive Producer
  • Line Producer
  • Supervising Producer
  • Producer
  • Co-producer
  • Coordinating Producer
  • Consulting Producer
  • Associate Producer
  • Segment Producer
  • Field Producer
  • Edit Producer
  • Post Producer

How much the executive producer passes down the chain varies from movie to movie, but to make matters more complicated, the individual producer titles listed above also come with separate duties—for instance, a coordinating producer will organize scheduling and the division of labor, while a supervising producer may have a big hand in script rewrites and the edit producer will oversee post-production.

So Production Staff are Like Management?

It’s not quite as simple as that. While producers generally have the final say on anything they decide to get involved in, more often than not a good producer delegates by hiring professionals that can do their respective jobs without supervision, allowing them to focus on the bigger picture.

But as we all know, the creation process behind filmmaking is a very fluid one and subject to change at any given moment.

Sometimes, you’ve got to put the finance book down, roll your sleeves up, and get your hands dirty.

NYFA’s Producing School provides its students with opportunities to prepare themselves with the dynamic responsibilities that accompany a career in production.

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