How to Become a Successful Film Producer in Today’s Industry

How To Become a Successful Film Producer
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A film producer oversees all aspects of film production on a motion picture, TV show, commercial, or other media production.  Film producers work in every area of the entertainment industry.

While some producers work on high-profile feature films, many more work on projects ranging from short films and independent films to producing and directing their own projects.  Some have their own production company to bring a film idea to the screen.

What they all have in common as successful producers is they are well-versed in every aspect of the filmmaking process.

Do You Need a Bachelor's Degree to Be a Successful Film Producer?

While a degree from a film school may be helpful, most of the producers I’ve worked with learned the producer’s job as they worked their way up the career ladder.  Most had education beyond high school, although not all had a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

However, in today’s industry, having a bachelor’s degree in a subject with skills transferable to film production is definitely recommended for entry-level positions.

Film studies and fine arts degrees don’t always reflect the reality of working in the industry.  It may be more helpful to have a college degree in another field, such as business, finance, or marketing, as a producer needs knowledge in those areas to succeed as a producer.

Film school does have its advantages in some ways, though.

One benefit of attending film school is that you’ll make useful contacts that will be beneficial to you as you build your career.  Another is that the professors may have contacts that can help you get an internship or entry-level job in the industry.

I’ve worked with several production assistants in my career who got their first industry jobs this way.

If you choose to go to film school, pick one where the focus is on making films rather than on film history and theory.  Those topics are of little use for working on set or as a producer.

Whether or not you decide to go to film school, you’ll still need plenty of experience working in the industry to thoroughly grasp all aspects of production.

Successful producers have strong leadership skills and understand their role as part of a creative team, whether they work on large-budget films or smaller projects.

First Step to Becoming a Film Producer

A common first step to producing is to start as a production assistant to gain experience on set and learn what crew members in each department do.  Some producers started in entry-level positions at a major studio, but not all producers started their careers in Los Angeles or New York.

Many successful film producers, especially independent producers, live and work in places other than Hollywood or New York City.  New Mexico and Georgia are two other places with bustling film industries, thanks to generous tax incentives.

Some producers I know were assistant directors before they made the leap to producing.  Some moved up to producing from being production coordinators.

There’s no one best way to become a producer but be prepared for hard work, whichever path you choose, and learn every production phase.  Building a successful career as a producer takes years, not months.

Skills That Make a Successful Film Producer

Developing the following skills will help you as a film producer:

  • Strong communication skills

Every job on a film set involves communicating with other departments and a producer needs to communicate with all departments.

Producers need to be able to communicate effectively with a wide variety of people by phone, in person, and online.  As a producer, the stronger your communication skills are, the better.

  • Business, financial, and management skills

A producer has to do more than have creative ideas about a script and make creative decisions.

A movie producer needs a thorough grasp of budgeting, film financing, and managing people and operations.  It also helps to have a good understanding of marketing, as producers are often responsible for marketing their independent film projects.

As a producer, you’ll also need to understand if a shooting schedule is realistic for the project, especially if the project is a low-budget film.  An unrealistic budget for a complex film can be problematic and dangerous, as we saw with the film Rust. 

A passion project still needs a budget that’s adequate to safely shoot the film, which is where a thorough grasp of financing and budgeting comes in for a producer.  It takes creativity, skill, and experience to figure out how to make the best use of a limited budget, as this can determine whether or not the film is a success, or even if it gets completed.

A producer needs to be able to guide a project from the idea stage to the final product, especially an independent producer, and effectively managing the budget is crucial.

  • Leadership skills

To be an effective producer, you need to understand what every department on set does and be able to provide a safe, productive work environment and lead a diverse crew.

A producer also needs to oversee the post-production process, so learning as much as possible about it to guide the post and visual effects crews is essential.  A producer is also involved in the editing and scoring of a film.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more than one producer fall short with their lack of leadership skills.  Leadership should be a skill you make an effort to cultivate, not an afterthought.

An unhappy, poorly led team will never do its best work.

Poor leadership has tanked more than one project and it’s an unfortunate reason for a project to fail.

  • Strong networking and relationship-building skills

You may have every other skill required to excel at producing, but if you fall short on networking and building relationships, you’ll never have great success in the movie industry.

The film industry is an industry built on relationships, and you can never let up on your networking.  Keeping up with contacts and making new ones is the lifeblood of the industry and any producer who wants to be successful needs to master this skill.

A producer needs people to help with every area of film financing, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution.  It’s a lengthy process that no producer can navigate alone.

If you’re in film school or at the beginning of your career, start building the relationships you’ll need as a producer now.

Relationship building never stops and is an ongoing process that will continue throughout your entire career.

  • Negotiation skills

Are you a good negotiator?  Some people are naturally strong negotiators and for others, negotiation is a struggle.

Producers need to be strong negotiators, as they negotiate salaries and make deals with vendors for equipment, and need to accomplish as much as possible with whatever budget they have to work with.

If you’ve ever seen a great negotiator in action, you know what a valuable skill it is and why it’s worth cultivating.

Understand that there’s a difference between negotiation and confrontation and don’t be timid about building your negotiation skills.

You’ll be glad you took the time to work on this skill once you’re a producer.

  • Understand every aspect of film production

You can’t learn everything you’ll need to know as a film producer in film school, although a top-notch film program may give you a head start.

Take the time to learn everything you can about film production and the industry.  Ask questions, learn from people who are doing various jobs on set, and network with other producers.

If you’re working as a production assistant, use this time as a paid learning experience, because it is.  You may not realize how much you’ve learned in your current job until you move up to the next level.

There’s no substitute for the experience of working in the industry if you want to be a successful producer.

And finally, I believe a good producer needs genuine respect for and appreciation of the filmmaking process.  No one who sees producing as just another job will ever be successful at it.

It's a High-Pressure, High-Stress Industry

Anyone who works in the film industry knows the workdays are long, sometimes brutally long.  There’s usually location work, which can include local and distant locations.  You can be gone for months at a time, which can be difficult for those with families with young children.

Producers constantly have deadlines to meet and it’s a stressful, high-pressure business.  Those who want a calm, predictable work environment probably aren’t well-suited for the erratic world of film production.

Aspiring producers should be well aware of the downsides of the job as well as the upsides.

Types of Film Producers

Below are some of the different types of producers.

Executive Producer

The functions performed by an executive producer vary, depending on whether the project is a feature film, a tv show, or a commercial.

For a feature film, the executive producer often finds the script to produce, lines up the financing, and works with the studio to bring the project to life.

On a television show, the extensive executive producer credits you see on screen often refer to writer-producers who have creative script input but do little hands-on producing work.

The showrunner executive producer is usually the creator of the show, leads the writing team, and has the final say on most decisions.  Sometimes they may have several shows running at once.

In the world of commercials, the executive producer generally bids on the job for the production company and oversees the budget.  They often serve as the production manager, too.

Line Producer

The line producer is generally responsible for every line item in the budget and oversees the daily producing duties, such as making vendor deals and crew decisions.  They’re responsible for keeping the show on budget.


A co-producer is usually responsible for overseeing one specific aspect of the production.

Visual effects producer

The visual effects producer oversees the visual effects on the project.  They often oversee a team whose size varies depending on the visual effects involved.

It’s common today to see directors, writers, and actors getting producer credits.  Often this is so they have some level of control or creative input in a project, but they often have few producing responsibilities.

Career Outlook for Film Producers

If you’re wondering about the job prospects for producers, the outlook for job growth is very good.  However, compensation deals aren’t improving for many producers, especially in feature films.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for producers and directors in May 2021 was $79,000.  Employment is expected to grow 24% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Film production has expanded greatly in the past few years due to the increase in streaming, which is good news for anyone wanting a career in the industry, as well as for aspiring producers.

Streaming services have their downside though, especially in terms of producer compensation.

However, the film industry always seems to have more people wanting jobs than there are jobs to fill, and that’s true of producing jobs.

I believe those who have the most success getting producing jobs will be those who have not only extensive knowledge of production but who have the strongest networks within the industry.

Issues Facing Film Producers Today

The biggest problem facing producers today is that many producers see their income eroding because of the decline of backend compensation and requests to defer fees on projects they produce.

The job of a film producer can involve developing a film, hiring the director, writers, and other producers, securing financing, managing all costs, and delivering a final product to distributors.

Yet producers are frequently being asked to defer fees and less than half see backend compensation today.

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) is a trade organization that advocates for producers, but it’s not a collective bargaining entity.  So producers have no collective bargaining unit, like actors, writers, directors, and crews do through their unions to advocate on their behalf.

Film Producers Are Trying to Form a Union

There’s currently a movement underway to unionize producers.

In the past, the PGA’s attempts to unionize producers and have the union recognized as a bargaining unit by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have failed, as producers were considered employer-producers, not employees.

Several producers are now forming a supervisory union that relies on employers, not the NLRB, to recognize them and they have the support of more than one hundred producers who voted to ratify their constitution.

Producers have been asked to waive fees and defer compensation, which hasn’t worked successfully with streaming platforms.  Studio consolidation has further eroded compensation deals for producers and their fees must often be shared with many other people who get producer credits but have no producing responsibilities.

As backend compensation fails to materialize, producers claim the way they’re being compensated isn’t sustainable.  Producers often receive little upfront compensation and spend thousands of dollars out of pocket to get projects made.

Producers also lack the employer healthcare and pension contributions, guaranteed pay, and protections that most other unionized film workers receive.  Combine that with sketchy compensation, and it becomes clear why producers are pushing for a  producers union to fight on their behalf.

While the PGA has expressed support for the producers union, as of this writing, the success of the unionization effort on behalf of producers remains to be seen.


There are a variety of options available for anyone wanting to get started on their way to becoming a successful film producer.  However, there’s no easy or predictable route to success as a producer.

The film industry is rapidly evolving with streaming, technology, and studio consolidation all affecting how producers work and are compensated.

Producers can and often do spend years bringing a project they’re passionate about to the screen.  It requires an unwavering commitment on the producer’s part, and there are often many obstacles to overcome from the idea phase to guiding the project to a finished product.

Producing is a marathon, not a sprint.  When producers take on a project, they’re in it for the long haul and they may have several projects in different stages of production at any one time.

Producers have to be terrific problem solvers and tough-skinned enough not to take the ‘no’s’ they receive along the way personally.  The film industry is a business and rejection isn’t personal.

The good news for aspiring producers is that advanced technology allows anyone to produce their own films with a minuscule budget.  Producing your own low-budget projects is an effective way to learn every aspect of pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution.

Aspiring producers can also start their careers by working or interning for established producers.  Many successful producers started this way and it’s a great way to learn the details of what goes into producing a project, as well as make useful contacts.

The main thing an aspiring producer needs to do is to choose a path and get started.







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