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Finding a Producer

Contributed By Glen Berry

There are many hurdles to overcome for the first-time director, not the least of which is finding a knowledgeable producer to work with. The search can be a frustrating one, and for good reason. Many of the people that claim the title of producer are line producers and cannot help with the fund raising efforts. Obviously, a beginning writer/director is in need of a producer to help find financing, either through independent investors or smaller production companies. But where do you find such a person, and then convince them to help?

This is a difficult one, even for experienced directors. If it is any consolation (and it might very well not be), even experienced directors with have the same difficulty.

Line producers are plentiful because it is a job that people get paid for on a per-day or per-week basis. Producers get a percentage of the budget in fees on the front end and a percentage of the gross on the backend so their jobs are much more speculative. Anyone that has done a modicum of speculation quickly realizes that betting on anything but a sure thing is, more often than not, a waste of time and money. Film is high risk and even professional independent productions are only expected to yield a 1-in-7 success rate by most investors.

Producers will sometimes take a chance on an unknown director, but usually the only way directors can negotiate themselves into that position is by being the rights holder (writer) of the script.

Finding a producer willing to take a chance on you is difficult. Finding an experienced producer is even more difficult. Most directors find producers by networking and getting them to look at their scripts, which most producers don't really want to look at anyway. Another tactic often used is to go to film festivals (and not just Sundance, any film market or festivals) with your short film in hand. Then attend every screening of your film and everyone else's film. Mailing off your project and application into the void and not going to the festival is a complete waste of a great networking opportunity. You WILL meet producers and have one-on-one conversations with them if you attend the festival and get out in the street (or in the hotel) and talk to people.

That being said, you probably want to find someone right now and don't want to rethink your strategy. However, be aware that you’re putting yourself in a frustrating chicken-and-the-egg situation. Directors often have zero success with even the first funding because they don’t have the sales and negotiation skill sets of a producer. Most producers don’t want to get involved until there is at least partial financing in place. However, in order to get partial financing in place, you need to have a producer on the project. In order to get full financing in place, you need to have partial financing..etc, etc, etc.

So what it comes down to is if you're willing to knuckle down and learn the business side of filmmaking in addition to the creative. It's nasty but there it is. You will most likely have to get the ball rolling on the business side, put together a business plan and have all your ducks in a row before a producer will come on the project. Essentially, you, as the writer/director, will be doing all of his/her initial groundwork for him/her and handing them the project in a neat little package so you can focus on directing. Hardly fair, but it's a tough business.

At this point, I'll segue into a few articles I wrote on this very topic that you might want to take a look at:

The Role of the Producer

Finding an Investor

Key Art as the Face of Your Film
The key art is the most important part of your independent film's marketing campaign. It is absolutely critical that you this right or your project is going nowhere.
Premise and Treatment
Creating the premise/logline and treatment is an important step to building a business plan. Potential partners will want to get the idea of your story without reading an entire script.
The Business Plan
Building your strategic plan into a form that makes sense to you and will guide you through the production. Taking the plan for your movie and putting it into concrete form.
Production Contracts
The essential documents that form the bulk of your paper armor against a lawsuit. Deal memos, Work-for-hire agreements, Location Releases and Music Rights.
Produce Your Own Film
Another enterprising way to break into the film industry is to produce your own film. It is not a simple task like getting a job as a PA and working your way up. It is quite a burden to take on such a project. The blessing is that once your film is done,