CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a producer.
Is becoming a producer right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Many high schools offer media classes which focus on the process of shooting and editing video footage. These classes allow students considering a career in production to gain some basic skills and lay a foundation for post-secondary studies in the field.
Aspiring producers can gain further experience by volunteering with community film and theater projects. Production assistant roles are ideal opportunities, but any exposure to the industry is a worthwhile addition to a student’s resume.
Another way to begin developing related skills is to independently produce a short video. These early projects do not need to be anything extensive or elaborate. The objective is simply to start building a portfolio and get a feel for what a producer does, if only on a small scale. Short videos of ten minutes or less can be uploaded to the internet fairly easily. With some luck and the right audience, these amateur productions can go viral. However, even with minimal exposure, the process provides an introduction to both the shooting and distribution sides of production.
Though not a formal requirement to enter the industry, a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is typical among working producers. Common degree programs include theater arts, arts management, acting, or communications.
Many students opt for A Bachelor of Applied Science in Film, Television and Digital Production. This curriculum covers areas of film and TV production, camera operation, cinematography, screenwriting, lighting, and sound and editing. It also includes coursework in budgeting, fundraising, and the process of auditioning actors.
Several related degree programs provide students with the opportunity to produce a short film. This experience gives them the chance to write and direct, as well as work as part of the crew on other students’ projects. The intended objective is preparation for production assistant jobs upon graduation.
Master’s programs teach both the creative and business aspects of production, including decision-making, effective pitching, and project development. Individuals who earn a graduate degree may have the edge in the job market, especially if their ultimate objective is an executive position.
During post-secondary studies, it is recommended that future producers participate in a production internship. Securing an internship at a major studio while still in university is not likely, but opportunities tend to exist with smaller studios, local television networks, local radio stations, and community theater groups. Even experience with college or high-school drama departments offer some exposure to how the industry operates.
While most internships are unpaid, many count towards university credit. They certainly provide invaluable experience, enhance a student’s resume, and can help establish the beginnings of a professional network.
Most entry-level positions related to film, television, or theater production will not pay much, nor will they come with much power or control. These positions, though, are essential steps to climb the career ladder.
Among the most common jobs at the early stages of working in the field are production assistant (PA), story editor, or segment producer. Responsibilities in these roles are limited, but the exposure to the industry allows upcoming talent to observe established professionals and gradually gain both experience and perspective. PAs, for example, may be responsible for getting coffee, making script copies, or shuttling crew and equipment around town. However, with proven keenness, dedication, and increased experience will come greater responsibility.
Chances of finding work in this field may improve in geographic areas with typically more available opportunities, such as Los Angeles and New York. Of course, competition in these major markets will also be fiercer.
A word of advice: Remember that breaking into this profession is difficult. Patience and acceptance of a gradual career climb will go a long way in helping to keep aspiring producers on track.
Producers produce. Therefore, it is vital to produce as much quality work as possible. Consider these sub-steps of the portfolio development step:
Look for opportunities in smaller markets or with lower budget productions to build your portfolio.
Archive your finished work. Keep it organized and presentable in clip form to show to prospective employers.
Find a longer project of your own. It does not need to be a feature-length piece, but it should be longer and more involved than the projects worked on during your college years. Secure needed funds and resources.
Determine whether you will write your own script, hire a writer, or purchase an author’s already completed literary work.
Consider doing what might be regarded as less glamorous work. For example, producing educational films for a school may not be on par with collaborating with a Hollywood studio, but the potential learning experience should not be ignored.
Submit your own projects to student or small independent film festivals. These may not be major events, but individuals committed to the industry – including some big names – do pay attention to them. Making a mark at this level could ultimately impress the right people and lead to greater opportunities.
Take note that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that growth in demand for programming content will be strongest for subscription and cable TV broadcasting and in online, mobile, and interactive media.
Ongoing Learning & Networking
Innovation is a cornerstone of successful movie, television, and theater production. The most successful producers keep up-to-date with emerging technologies and advances in production. They pay attention to what their fellow producers and competitors are doing. They constantly network and hone their craft via industry events, workshops, seminars, and independent study. Reading scripts is a way of life for the prolific producer, who is always looking for the next project and hopefully for the next big hit.
How to become a Producer
There is no one way to become a producer.
Few formal training programs exist for individuals wishing to enter this field. Most aspiring producers, however, earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in fine arts. Typical majors include writing, journalism, acting, communications, or theater arts. In the United States there are more than one hundred fifty accredited theater arts programs that include coursework in playwriting, set design, directing, and film editing. Considering the commercial aspect of producing, some students opt for a degree in arts management or business.
While an appropriate degree is a solid foundation for working in production, most television and movie producers climb the career ladder by learning through job experience. Many begin as set assistants, writers, choreographers, film editors; or even as actors. Some bring a legal or business background to a potential production venture. Documentary producers often come from a political science or social justice environment.
Simply stated, there are no standard or universal requirements to become a producer, but the people who flourish in the business generally have:
experience in both the creative and business sides of making films and television programs an in-depth understanding of the production process a network of contacts in the industry
Anyone pursuing a career as a producer must be prepared to face intense job competition. The fact is that the potential workforce is invariably larger than the open job market. Prospective producers are more likely to succeed if they gradually gain experience in and understanding of multiple facets of the industry.
The only real exception to this progressive track to becoming a producer is to become a producer in name only; a producer who is essentially an investor. The path to that role is simple: write a check.