For those of you who want to be producers and don't want to start in a typical entry-level position, for those who have been in the business for a while and want to move into producing, and for those who have an alternate source of income to see yourself through until your first sale is made—this is a good way to go:
First and foremost, you need to have found and secured some good material. Next, you have to know the market: who the buyers are, what they're looking for, how to reach them, what's selling and what's doing well at the box office. You've got to have the ability to recognize what constitutes a good and commercial property, know as much about packaging as you can and how to pitch. And don't forget to network, network, network! Get to know as many development types, producers and writers as you can, and give them the opportunity to get to know you.
Next, come up with a name for your new production company. Research the name to make sure no one else has it, and file for a DBA (doing business as). All this can be done on the web (see
Chapter 8 under Shameless Self-Promotion); and at this point, you don't have to incorporate. For a more professional-looking address, think about renting a small mailbox on a major street. Also, make sure you have access to a capable entertainment attorney.
Once you have your DBA, have some high-quality business cards made with the name of your new company (and a logo designed if you can) and list yourself as "Producer" or "President" of the company. Now, make up some letterhead and envelopes with your company name and logo, and, while you're at it, some small note cards you can use for thank you notes.
Once you have product to sell, all your ducks are in a row, you have legal representation and some amount of credibility (because you're attached to a production entity now, albeit a new one)—you're ready to get out there and hustle.
Also consider this: several independent producers, knowing that agents and managers don't have enough hours in the day to shop everything their clients generate, will contact the agents and managers they have relationships with and offer to shop some of their projects around for them, which again, upon a sale, would make that producer part of the package. If you don't know any agents or managers, figure out who it is you'd like to meet, and set up some general information meetings. And of course, it's much easier to connect with an agent after you've gained some credibility by selling your first project.
Selling a script will get you a producer's fee. Selling a script that gets produced will earn you a larger fee and a screen credit. Learning how to truly produce a film, however—that takes experience. My advice: learn from others who have been doing it for a while, and if you're in a position to do any of the hiring, hire the most competent people you can find. Build a great team and learn from everyone around you. The stronger the team, the smoother your film will run and the more you'll shine.
If you've been around this business for a while, you've walked into studio, production company or agency offices and witnessed the stacks of scripts on top of desks, shelves, file cabinets and creden-zas and piled up on the floor, sometimes waist high—lining entire walls and hallways. The Writers Guild of America registers over 40,000 pieces of material per year. And while they can't give us the exact percentage of screenplays, treatments, synopses and outlines that represent film- and television-related submissions, it's safe to say we're talking about tens of thousands each year. Those are the same tens of thousands mentioned earlier in Chapter 4 (in covering the function of a creative team) that studios and production companies (as well as agencies and management firms) collectively receive each year in the form of screenplays, treatments, books and pitches.
If you can get past that first hurdle, and an agent, manager, producer, production company or studio accepts your screenplay submission, whoever is assigned your project will generally only read the first 30 pages. If he likes what he's reading and it's holding his attention, he may continue. If he's not interested, he'll stop right there. Sometimes, it takes only the first ten pages for a script to end up in the discard pile. Furthermore, I've been told that it often takes reading 100 to 150 scripts until one is determined to be worth optioning or buying.
Once a property is optioned or purchased, there is no guarantee it will be produced. Talking before a Film Industry Network group recently, a development executive from one of the smaller studios reported that they buy approximately 10 scripts for every one project that gets made, and the other (larger) studios will buy up to 25 for every one made. The ones that don't get made get lost in what some refer to as "development hell." They get hung up on script changes, casting issues, landing the right director—or someone at the studio decides it's just not that commercial after all.
The last statistic I have to offer is one from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), which reported that in the year 2003, a grand total of 473 films were released in the United States. You don't have to be a mathematician to understand that the odds of selling a project that gets made and released is minuscule compared to the many thousands that are shopped around each year. That's why your best ally in this quest is to understand the rules of the game, know what the buyers want, have a fabulous project you're passionate about selling and be able to deliver one hell of a pitch.
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