So you’ve finally written that screenplay, TV script, theater piece, or creative treatment. Now you need to know how to find a movie, TV, theater, or digital content producer for the passion project you’re ready to bring to fruition.
- What is a producer?
- Types of producers
- Producer vs. production company
- Producing in film vs. TV vs. theater
- What to ask when looking for a producer
- How to get a producer for your film, TV, or theater project
- How to get producers to read your script
- How to pitch a script to a producer
- How to determine how many producers your project needs
- How to negotiate a producer’s involvement in your creative vision
- What the filmmaking process will look like alongside your producer
- How to cultivate lasting relationships with producers
A producer oversees a project from start to finish to ensure that all the various parts work together as a whole for the overall success of the piece. The specific tasks a producer handles can vary based on the medium of the project, as well as the size (and therefore budget) of the piece. Producers also often play a role in securing financing for a project.
Because the title of “producer” can mean many different things, we’ll define what different producing titles mean and what type of tasks they typically involve:
- Lead producer: This is often a theater-specific term for someone who guides a project from inception to the end of a show. It is pretty synonymous with the general term of “producer.”
- Showrunner: This term is specific to television. The showrunner is a leading executive producer who has the overall creative authority (the show’s vision is theirs) and management responsibility for a TV show.
- Creative producer: This is someone who handles the artistic side of a project including hiring, rewrites, director notes, serving as a liaison between departments, etc.
- Line producer: This type of producer makes sure everyone stays on budget, keeps everything running smoothly throughout the different departments, and ensures proper lines of communication are in place. This person has to stick around after the project ends to make sure that all of the financial ends are properly wrapped up.
- Executive producer: These producers usually have a personal financial interest in the film, or they helped to gather money for it. They can have similar day-to-day duties as the line producer.
- Co-producer: This type of producer differs between theater and film and TV. For theater, this is often someone who helps with fundraising but is billed below the lead producer. For film and TV, this person is often brought on to work on a specific area of production (e.g., a visual effects producer for a film is a type of co-producer). A co-producer may be assisted by an “in association with” producer or an associate producer.
A single producer will likely be more hands-on than a production company through every step of the process, as they will help with all the various aspects of producing as a whole. (This is not necessarily the case with single producers who are solely billed for their financial contributions to the project.)
Meanwhile, a production company is a full business in and of itself that produces entertainment. Usually, production companies are formed by a group of producers, along with others on the business side of film and TV, because they pay less tax as a company than as individuals. This normally results in different departments in charge of each of the various aspects of producing. Production companies will search for investors to fund their work and for talent to carry it out. You could either be hired by a production company to work directly on its projects, or you might sell a script of yours to the company to produce as it sees fit. An example of a production company is Lucasfilm, which is behind the “Star Wars” movies.
- Film producer: On any large film set, there is a line producer or executive producer who specifically oversees the budget. There is also a creative producer, who, as you likely guessed, handles some of the artistic decisions in the creation of the film. The director is the ultimate boss on a film set and usually has final say calling the creative shots—but if they run into trouble, the creative producer can always help them out. On large films, there can also be producers for specific jobs or parts of the set known as co-producers.
- TV producer: A TV show will also have a line producer to oversee the budget. However, a producer who handles the creative side of the show is known as a showrunner on a television set. The showrunner can sometimes (but not always) be the individual who created the show (often the writer), and they take on responsibilities such as what the script is for each day, the location, which scenes are shot, and who is acting for that day. If an artistic problem arises on a TV set, the showrunner can often “write their way out of it,” so to speak, by altering the script as needed, in a way that a creative producer on a film cannot necessarily. When needed, this can help to solve problems both on set and in postproduction.
- Theater producer: Like film, there are financial producers (someone who receives a producer billing for investing their own funds into a show) and creative producers (someone who finds the material and essentially orchestrates the show’s evolution) for a theater production. However, in the theater, someone who helps to manage the budget works under the title of production manager instead of line producer.
Do your values align? Perhaps the most important question you should ask yourself when looking for a producer is what values are important to you. As Mary Murfitt, creator and star of the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical “Cowgirls,” told us, “Finding a producer is almost like getting married. You have to find somebody who has the same values. But it’s always the creative and the business; there’s always this weird balance you have to find. So you need to find people you can trust, which almost seems like an oxymoron.”
Finding a producer means more than just finding financial backing for your project, too. You are entrusting your name, brand, livelihood, and all of the hard work and passion you put into your project with this person or production company, so do not necessarily jump at the first offer that comes along.
What are you willing to compromise on? You should know what about the project you are willing to artistically compromise on and what you are not. If it is a theater piece and the producer wants you to agree to cast it (or recast it) with their choices, are you willing to do that? If it is a film and all of a sudden the producer wants you to cut it by 30 minutes, are you OK with that? These types of conversations will come up during negotiations, so be prepared ahead of time.
What financial agreement are you comfortable with? Be sure to keep in mind what sort of financial agreement you are willing to come to. Know how much equity you are willing to give over to the producer for their original investment or, relatedly, how you will be affected in the billing of the piece.
What kind of producer do you want? Be knowledgeable about the type of producer you are looking for. Are you hoping to find a young and hungry producer to get you noticed at a small festival? Or does your past experience and the quality of this particular project allow you to look for a well-known producer to pitch your project to for Broadway, network TV, or a major motion picture? It can be hard to find a producer if you cannot realistically look at your project and know who would be a good match.
1. Research. The first step to finding a producer is to do your homework. Look into possible producers, and get your project—or your pitch for your project—in the best shape possible.
2. Create a list. Make a list of producers who have worked on projects in similar genres and within your target budget. You can get this type of information from sources like Backstage’s Call Sheet or IMDb. Don’t waste your time contacting producers who may no longer be in the business.
3. Be realistic. Don’t expect a producer who works on films with multimillion-dollar budgets to run to a microbudget project, or a producer who is working full-time for a studio to be able to work on a project outside of the studio.
4. Perfect your project and pitch. As for your project, be confident that it is in the best possible shape before trying to contact producers. If it is a script you have written, do multiple rewrites and get feedback from trusted members in the industry before shopping it around. If you are trying to pitch a project that isn’t an original work—say, a play that is already written that you are passionate about producing and have a unique take on—make sure that your pitch is thorough and thoughtful, highlighting why you want to do this project now and how it will be different from what else is out there.
5. Connect. Once you have done your producer research and made sure that your project and pitch are in tiptop shape, it is then a matter of trying to get connected with a producer. Personal connections, word of mouth, and attending film festivals are good ways to do this.
Like most of the entertainment business, getting a producer to read your script is all about who you know.
1. Reach out to personal connections. First, start by asking anyone with whom you might personally have a connection—perhaps you’ve worked together on a project in a different capacity before or are both alumni of the same school.
2. Try social capital. If your own circle is limited in terms of producers, ask family, friends, and colleagues if they wouldn’t mind vouching for you to any of their connections.
3. Use social media. Zhuzh up your social media profiles so that they paint a picture of you and your professional goals. Join and follow relevant groups, pages, and accounts. Connect with producers and production companies as well as like-minded aspiring creators, because it only takes one repost seen by the right eyes to jump-start a career. Curate content showcasing your best work and post away. You can even tease your project with hashtags such as #indiefilm, #filmmaking, #TVscript, #projectpitch, and #producerneeded. Be on the lookout for virtual film festivals, writing competitions, and pitch-a-thons.
4. Network. If these options don’t pan out, you’ll have to try to find producers through old-fashioned networking. Try finding “speed dating” events with directors and producers in your city. The Independent Filmmaker Project’s Project Forum is the oldest and largest forum in the U.S. for discovering new projects in development in the independent movie scene. It is a meetings-focused forum connecting filmmakers with a variety of people in the film industry including producers, funders, agents, broadcasters, and festival programmers.
5. Join the PGA. Lori McCreary, co-founder and CEO at Revelations Entertainment, recommends another networking idea: Join the Producers Guild of America. “Almost half of its 8,000 members are women, and they share their mistakes and advice to help other members advance in their own careers,” she says.
6. Use your agent. Additionally, if you have a literary agent, try to get recommendations from them. Keep in mind that some producers won’t even consider an original project without an agent attached.
7. Meet in person. Lastly, the good old-fashioned method of going to film festivals and meeting people face-to-face to have a better understanding of the industry can never hurt.
With the amount of people pitching projects, it is vital that your pitch be professional, creative, and thoughtful in order to be noticed.
Compose a strong email. If you are doing an email pitch, keep the cover letter portion simple, short, and sweet. Always try to individualize it in some manner to show that you have done your research on the producer, even if you do not have a personal connection (e.g., complimenting them on other projects they’ve worked on that you like). Then, attach or provide links to your other materials. This may seem obvious, but always check that all attachments and links are correct and working before pressing send. You’d be surprised by how often they are not, and this does not bode well for showing your attention to detail!
Another small but important tip is to make sure that any file you send is not too large. It is best if everything can be viewed through a link or in preview mode in an email, as people often don’t like to download submission attachments to their computer desktop. It is OK to send a follow-up email after a couple of weeks if you do not hear back, but again, be sure to keep it simple and professional.
Compile the pitch packet. In terms of the materials needed for a pitch, it depends on what the project is (film, TV show, or play) and whether you are planning to do something that is original or reinvent something that has already been written. Typical pitch packets include items such as reels (a director’s reel, a reel of past projects, a pitch trailer, or mood reel), a lookbook or mood board, director statement, brief biography of yourself or history of your company, and a synopsis of what your project is and what type of producer you need. (For example: “We are looking to hire a line producer to manage the finances of the film from start to finish.”) Be aware that you usually do not send the script for the pitch unless it is requested after they have reviewed your submission.
- Director’s reel: For films or TV shows, a link to a director’s reel (either your own if you are planning on directing or that of the director you are planning to use) is always a good idea. Just be sure the director’s reel is of very good quality. For a play, a director may have a reel, but this is not necessary as it is less common. Perhaps a synopsis of the director’s other major credits would help in this case.
- Pitch trailer: For a pitch trailer, it can be a snippet of scenes from the script done on a lower budget with the actors you are planning to use for the film. However, a mood reel can also be sent. This is a reel that is used to evoke the visual of the film you intend to create, but is not about filming scenes from the actual movie. A reel of past projects can also be helpful if it is a theater company pitching to a specific theater, producer, or company. Additionally, clips from a specific show could be useful if you are trying to shop one particular piece around to perform elsewhere.
- Lookbook: A lookbook or mood board is a collage of original photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, and archival photos meant to evoke the settings, characters, and even colors of the piece.
- Vision statement: A short statement from the director about their vision is helpful. This can also be included as part of the cover letter, however.
- Bio: A brief biography of the writer and director, or history of the company you are part of, is helpful to vouch for your experience and expertise as to why you should be trusted and given a chance.
- Goals: Provide a clear explanation of what your goals are and what you are looking for in a producer—but be realistic. Yes, we would all like $10 million to finance our latest project, but focusing on that instead of what we can actually obtain distracts us from the task at hand.
- Warrant: Be sure that you can explain how your project is different from what else is out there or what came before, or how it connects to the real world or current events. You should always be able to answer the questions: Why this piece? Why now?
How many producers you require completely depends on your project. If your project is smaller, you may just need one go-to person who believes in you and shares your vision to help find backing and facilitate the logistics of the project from start to finish. Or perhaps your project finds itself in need of multiple types of producers—someone to serve as more of a line producer to ensure your finances are in check and others to help in the creative sense. For example, Broadway shows or large films often have a team of producers who are specialized in the type of work they do.
Alternatively, you may end up working with a production company that already has its own departments and way of doing things. These companies are considered full-service and employ different producers so you don’t have to hire each of the producers individually.
There is one thing you need to know about negotiating involvement and responsibilities: Sign a contract beforehand. Even if the producer you are trying to work with is your best friend, or if you’ve worked with them in the past, a verbal agreement will not cut it. This is a business transaction, after all, and it must be treated as such.
In addition to protecting yourself legally and financially, a contract can also help to sort out who is in charge of which parts of the creative process. This can be of use down the line to prevent artistic disagreements if you have an already executed contract to refer to.
The actual process alongside a producer is dependent on how big the project is, what type of producer you’ve hired, and how many producers you have. For instance, if you just have a line producer or project manager to help with financial decisions, they won’t be involved with the creative portion of the project. A general producer handling all aspects of the project might be more involved from start to finish.
The general filmmaking process follows certain steps, and you can expect producers to help with each of these along the way:
- Preproduction: This includes but is not limited to casting, hiring, union paperwork, location scouting, obtaining rehearsal space, licensing, setting up payroll, scheduling, logistics, marketing, and contract negotiation.
- Production (filming or rehearsal/run of the show): This is when the actual project is being made or rehearsed. A producer needs to ensure each department has everything it needs to run smoothly. This often requires a lot of troubleshooting.
- Postproduction: For film or TV specifically, this means the actual editing together of the project. But for all mediums, it includes a lot of financial, logistical, and paperwork wrap-up—ensuring everyone is properly paid, having everything that was rented returned on time and in the right condition, making sure all reports (for unions, box office, licensing, investors, etc.) are delivered, and checking that all the bookkeeping is finalized. Additionally, for film and TV, the edited project needs to be distributed or submitted to festivals.
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This goes back to the notion of finding a producer with shared values. As Hayden Field wrote, “Producing can be difficult, so it’s best to work with people you actually like.” Field went on to talk about advice from producer and actor Ron Simons.
“Simons doesn’t feel the pressure to sell his vision to people anymore. He simply shares what he’s doing, and if they like it enough to come aboard, they’re welcome to. Another pro? If you meet someone you connect with enough to start a legitimate friendship, even if they can’t help with your project, they might be able to help one of your friends. Connecting the dots is vital to building your network, since it makes for a more positive industry and your contacts could connect you with relevant people they meet, as well.”
Taking your project to the next level by finding a producer that is the correct fit can be difficult. Give yourself a leg up by doing your research, treating everyone well, and sticking to your gut. Seeing your passion project come to life will be well worth it.