Job · January 21, 2023

How To Get A Job On A Film Crew

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There are many demands on a producer. And just as no single day presents the same challenges, there is no single path to becoming a producer.

How To Get A Job On A Film Crew

How To Get A Job On A Film Crew

Growing up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Siena Oberman thought she might want to be a doctor. Then she took a high school elective that allowed her to go off campus.

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Instead, she fell in love. The class was in filmmaking, and Oberman started making movies with her friends using a Flip camera. Oberman doesn’t have a beach bum, but actually an overachiever. Route One Entertainment, an independent film company; Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company; Paramount Pictures; United Talent Agency.

In her second year at Loyola Marymount University, she had a meeting with a senior executive at Warner Bros. “He told me if I wanted to be successful, I had to get really good at one thing,” she recalls. That one thing was making movies happen – production.

Oberman transferred to USC and began taking her small movies to film festivals — from Outfest to Cannes — going “to every networking event I could,” she says. “I realized that if you can bring an actor or money or a big director, if you can make certain connections, then you can get involved in projects by bringing value to them.”

By the age of 26, Oberman had 13 producing credits to her name, including four as executive producer. When I watched her in 2019 on the set of the fourth, “The Birthday Cake,” an indie mobile picture set in Brooklyn that was released this month, she was nimbly juggling a dozen tasks at once, including a difficult financier in South America; a set overflowing with hangers-on and Val Kilmer’s personal documentary crew; an unexpected delay in Paul Sorvino’s arrival; disturbed Wi-Fi; and a crew member who was not up to the job. I asked her if it was a typical day on set. She said there was no typical day. “For me, the priority is: What is the biggest emergency?”

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The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from stream wars to production – and what it all means for the future.

Just as there is no typical day in the life of a producer, there is no typical path to becoming one. It’s not something kids tend to dream about when they grow up, in part because it’s hard for even many adults to get a handle on what it is.

“It’s the only title that anyone can just decide to join,” says Lynda Obst, a producer and the author of the industry memoir “Hello, He Lied.” “But some of us have to stay and make the movie.”

How To Get A Job On A Film Crew

Many credited producers are simply financiers. Others may not have paid money, but made a connection or performed a crucial favor. Or they might be an actor who got a credit (and some backroom money) in exchange for a pay cut.

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Look closer, though, and you’ll see a little “(p.g.a.)” at the end of two or three names. These are the “creative producers”, certified by the Producers Guild of America (under a rule introduced in 2012) that they were involved in the project from start to finish. They supervised or handled every step: finding a script and polishing it; woo financiers to support it; getting distributors to guarantee sales or a studio to bankroll them; setting up an on-set team; to free the real actors; put out fires on set; test marketing and finalizing the modification; negotiating the right release date and fine-tuning the marketing.

Join Times reporters Anousha Sakoui and Wendy Lee, as well as Bree Frank, vice president of physical production for unscripted TV at Hello Sunshine, and Phillip Sun, the president and co-founder of management company M88, for a virtual webinar on careers in the entertainment industry. We’ll discuss the state of jobs in Hollywood, how aspiring entertainers can get a foot in the door, and answer your questions.

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An organizer: Anne Lai, who spent years directing the Sundance Institute’s Production Labs before becoming executive director of the San Francisco Film Festival, says that “if there are common themes” among those pursuing production , “is it like, ‘I was the person who puts parties together. Or when the kids played kickball on the block, I organized it.’ That’s someone who knows how to build teams.”

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A left-brain/right-brain thinker: In most of the stories that producers tell about their origins, there comes a point where the artistic impulse merges with an analytical mindset. Even while on set, Oberman spent as much time studying numbers—forms for tax breaks, financing contracts, cash flow calendars—as she did making sure the cinematographer got enough wide shots to give them options in the editing room.

Producers are just as likely to come from majors such as economics as from English departments; some are transitioning from careers in finance or law. Even the most artistic indie producers have to deal with spreadsheets.

Christine Vachon, legendary for producing some of the most daring films of the late ’90s and early aughts (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Far From Heaven,” “Velvet Goldmine”), has written an indie-making bible , “Shoot to Kill,” which included plenty of wild anecdotes and aesthetic mantras, but also a detailed 30-page production budget.

How To Get A Job On A Film Crew

A groomer: Jordan Horowitz, one of the producers of “La La Land,” recalls trying a new tactic once while preparing for industry meetings.

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“I remember making a chart of what everyone’s priorities were,” he says. “Actor, executive, whoever. To see how my priority can intersect with everyone else’s.” An actor wanted the best part; a manager a safe bet; a director the fulfillment of a perfect vision. “And it was so interesting to see that for the producer it was the project. The project was never anyone else’s first priority.”

This article is adapted from “Becoming a Film Producer.” Copyright © 2021 by Boris Kachka. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

Unlike such specific pursuits as acting or costume design, production has relatively few academic tracks (although there are production programs) or entry-level prerequisites. That said, many growers share the same path as others in the industry – starting at the bottom, as an assistant, and making connections on the way up.

Film school: An obvious first step, with USC as the gold standard – although it’s worth remembering that Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC, went to Cal State Long Beach and did well. Film school is a natural hub for the brightest and most passionate budding filmmakers—in other words, a great place to meet your future collaborators.

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Operations Assistant Jobs: Hollywood uses assistants, and the next generation of power brokers are getting their training in these trenches. The most common is a position in one of the major talent agencies that dominate Hollywood: United Talent Agency, Creative Artists Agency, ICM Partners and William Morris Endeavour.

It’s the easiest place to get your foot in the door; there is a lot of turnover and demand. Variously called “boot camp” or “grad school” by insiders, it’s both a grueling gantlet (subjected, as recently documented, to low pay and sometimes abusive behavior) and a huge learning experience.

Agencies are factories of information, and assistants learn everything, in part because their job is to listen to every call. They hear how everyone works – agents, producers, managers, directors and actors – and can figure out pretty quickly which one of those corners of the industry they want to work in.

How To Get A Job On A Film Crew

Production office jobs: For aspiring producers, there are also lower-level jobs in production companies. You could be a production assistant (P.A.) helping out on set before moving on to the next stage – perhaps “development”, meeting with agents and searching for scripts and writers. An assistant can eventually get an associate producer credit. From there, you might become a production manager (keeping the office running) before becoming a partner or striking out on your own.

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Lai remembers sitting in a movie when an actor walked by and asked what she had been doing all day. A co-producer chimed in: “It’s like we’re pilots. We all have to get on the plane. We need to get everyone off the ground safely. We need to reach 20,000 feet. And our job is basically not to crash while you’re doing the job.”

There are two ways to get the plane off the ground – essentially two ways to be a producer:

Studio-Backed Films: In the old days, most producers worked for studios, which took care of financing and expenses. These days there are still manufacturers “on the lot” – like Obst at Sony – but they are semi-autonomous

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