How Does a Producer Get Paid?

The film industry is brimming with roles that contribute to the creation of fun, unforgettable experiences. While a typical moviegoer is well aware of what writers, actors, and directors do, if there’s one position that often gets overlooked, it’s that of producer.

Producers are there from start to finish, overseeing the film’s production while usually filling a number of roles. From budgets and schedules to helping to cast the right actors, they are expected to make big decisions during every stage of filmmaking. Producers are also one of the main creative forces in production, often seeing their own vision and ideas come to life on the big screen for many to view.

But with a complex role comes a variety of compensation options that aren’t always as straightforward or risk-free as other jobs in the industry:

Development Fee

A development fee is what a producer might get paid for their pitch and thoughts during the time that the studio is filling other key roles, such as screenwriters, and figuring out if the project is worth greenlighting at all. As mentioned, many
project pitches are abandoned by studios before they can move from development to production, which means producers will need to take their project elsewhere.

Development fees are up to the studio and vary. Where one producer is getting $15,000 for their input during development, another may receive up to $60,000 or more. At the end of the day, the amount of cash a producer makes across an entire film production — starting with this development fee — relies heavily on both the producer’s participation and previous experience.

Production Fee

If a studio does decide to move forward with a film, producers can expect to receive a guaranteed fee. This payment is also up to the studio and thus can also range widely — a normal estimate is somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000. The power a producer has when it comes to negotiating their production fee relies on a number of factors, but perhaps the most important is how impressive their resume is.

The more box office hits and critically acclaimed films a producer has been a part of, the more leverage she or he has for getting a good deal. Also important is how involved the producer plans to be during productions — performing more services means you should get more money. This payment is also not usually given all at once and is instead divided throughout a film’s production. For example, a producer may receive 20% of the total production fee before principal photography, 50% during photography, and then the rest after.

Film Profits

Most producers are also promised a cut of the film’s profits. Again, how high of a percent you get usually depends on your reputation and level of success. The truth is, the average producer doesn’t expect to make a lot of money from profits considering how much of it gets divided up among other players who were involved in the process.

For example, movie theaters usually get to keep about fifty percent of gross revenues. What’s left is often used to repay the costs of making the film in the first place, including added interest since the money was likely borrowed years ago. In short, producers may obtain back-end points (i.e. percentage on profits) on net profits, at the most. However, some post-release profits to look forward to — if the producer has a share in the copyright of the film —  are things like DVD and rights to streaming services like Netflix.

Bridge Between Art & Business

A common misconception in the film industry is seeing producers as these high-stakes gamblers who often bet all their chips on ideas, either earning nothing or become millionaires. The truth is, being a producer is all about using your knowledge and experience to minimize risk and maximize opportunity. As the bridge that connects the artistic vision with the business goals of the film, it’s on you to help foster creativity and build relationships while making sure the project stays on a promising financial course.

If you want a role that requires both imagination and strategic thinking while letting you work closely with people trying to impact audience’s lives with memorable films, look no further. It also doesn’t hurt that you’ll likely make very good money if you know what you’re doing.

Interested in taking classes at the producing school at New York Film Academy? Check out more information here.

A Q&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.


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 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 and Ready to launch your own journey into the world of film producing? Check out NYFA’s Producing School.


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.

Becoming a Producer – Tried and Tested Career Paths

In previous posts, we’ve discussed the nature of what a movie production—specifically, how to become a movie producer, which continues to be a difficult role to surmise in just a few lines.

Having explored the job in greater depth, today we’re going to move onto a natural follow-on question:

What’s The Best Career Path to Become a Film Producer?

As with many jobs in film, there’s a degree of interchangeability within the industry—training in one field can often be carried over into different roles, and freelancers who have built up a network of contacts can sometimes find themselves filling in for other members of a production team.

That said, there are some very definite career paths that are well-trodden for those who are looking to become producers (despite the job itself being a mish-mash of responsibilities.) Here’s a break down of some of the best starting points:

Have Money

Okay, this is admittedly a little flippant, but there is a real message here: producing movies is all about cold, hard cash. If you’ve got a lot of it yourself, you can instantly become a film producer the second you commit some of it to your first project.

But this leads onto the main point about producing; assuming you’re not a multi-millionaire with some spare cash lying around, you’ll instead need to convince others that they should give you money and that it’ll be safe in your hands.

For that, you’ll want the most direct career path into film producing, which would be:

Producing School

Formal training at a top producing school is the most efficient way of letting potential investors know that you’re not a rookie, and not as much of a big gamble when it comes to laying down money.

When you come out of producing school, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with intimate knowledge of the business side of filmmaking (as well as key skills such as how to construct and manage a budget, putting together a crew, and negotiating contacts.) It’ll also give you a broader understanding of the industry as a whole—meaning you’re equally as adept at doing work on a TV documentary series as a big feature film—being able to prove you’ve got the chops for it is usually the deciding factor when it comes to landing your first producing job and snowballing your career.

Business School

There’s a reason why movie producers are often referred to as “suits.”

Since film production is remarkably similar to running a business, a slightly less direct career path—but one that is no less effective—is to get a degree in business management or similar before networking your way into the film industry from the outside. A minor in marketing or PR can also help in this regard, both in terms of being able to market your own skills and also to successfully promote any movie you’re in charge of.

Junior Production Positions

Between formal education and on-the-job training, one of the most tried and tested methods of making it in film production is to start off in a junior role and work up.

Seek out work as either an associate or segment producer to get yourself started; the former involves handling day-to-day duties during principal photography, while the latter has a great degree of autonomy over a single part of the script. Both are fairly junior roles and the job market is reasonably open to beginners who have qualifications under their belt, so it’s a good place to start climbing the career ladder and working your way up to more senior positions within a production team.

Jumping From Sideline Post-Production Jobs

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, a lot of skills you’ll learn in the film industry are interchangeable; as such, there are plenty of opportunities to jump across professions.

One career path that can lead you quickly to the lower rungs of the production ladder can be found in post-production. For instance, associate and executive producers are always on the lookout for those who have strong video editing skills or the ability to coordinate a team of sound mixers, so it always pays to network well, develop numerous skills, and think outside the box as to how you can apply them in a production role.

While there are always multiple ways to skin a cat when it comes to advancing in Hollywood, the above should give you some idea of how fluid career progression—particularly in film production—can be. However you achieve your success, we here at the NYFA producing school wish you the very best of luck in what is a tremendously rewarding (in all senses of the word) job in the film industry.