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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

Financial Architecture
The producer as financial architect, drawing parameters and a framework around the entire production.
Media Kits and Marketing Materials
Why the moviemaker should care about marketing, the presentation of the movie to the world as an extension of the creative process as well as the contents of the media kit.
Introduction to Distribution
The importance of distribution, the cyclical nature of development and distribution and why the producer should develop a strategic plan and be ready to pitch the next project.
Development Scenarios
A description of the various scenarios where an idea is developed into a script, and how that script comes into the hands of the producer.
Finding the Right Producer
Once you've written your query letter (see previous column), where do you send it? There are two ways to approach an answer to this question, and I recommend both. First, do some research to find producers who have shown an interest in material similar t