film producers

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.

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.