The Hustle: 5 Questions Every Aspiring Producer Should Ask Themselves
Hello, it’s Maya here, your friendly neighborhood producer! My US company, MHK Productions, is dedicated to uncovering stories that highlight political issues by giving a voice to minority cultures. Producing is my passion, I tried on many different entertainment industry roles and always ended up helping organise the production. Getting creative made is my happy place!
To date, I have produced films in Beijing, New York, Mexico City, Los Angeles and London. My most recent credits include Deathcember’s A Christmas Miracle (2019) by Vivienne Vaughn and Tribeca Untold Stories Grant winner Lucky Grandma. Today I’m breaking down the ingredients needed in order to become an independent producer. This is completely subjective and may be different depending on what kind of producer you are (be it commercials, films, TV etc) but hopefully it clears some of the mystery if you’ve thought: ‘I want to be a Producer, what does that take?’ Enjoy!
1. Are you a people person?
Producing means being able to manage a lot of moving parts. You need to culture the germ of an idea into something that has a team of people creating it from pre production, production, to post! But being a producer doesn’t end there -- don’t forget about leading your team through the journey of festivals and distribution platforms. I saw a quotation recently with producer Mary Ann Marino (who’s developed projects with Jane Campion & Innaritu among others) that said: what a producer actually does-
“Functions as the train’s engine. Puts together the whole package. Keeps the fire burning” (source)
Of course the team will be supporting you too, so it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Every role on set is important from the director right down to the PA (assistant). You must be a team player and keep everything in check! If someone has bad energy or isn’t functioning in their role properly, actions on set can take longer and thus place a strain on resources. The environment on set directly affects the production. With irritable crew on set- that’s when mistakes happen and people get hurt.
On top of this, entertainment is a business of relationships- from putting a fab set together who work harmoniously to create the content, to someone you interned with 5 years ago giving you an amazing job break. It pays to be a nice generous person and the Universe will give back to you!
2. Are you organized and how do you organize?
Organization is key to a producer’s role. Whether it’s securing locations, approving clothing, or any and every task in between that can come up in a producer- producers have to be ready with answers, updates, and information.
I find that formatting folders on google drive for the different processes of a film’s production process to be a very helpful organizing tactic. It also helps with transparency as you can share access with your team. Companies I’ve worked at have worked in similar ways with Dropbox or a Box Drive- it’s less about the specific software and more about keeping track of a lot of people, logistics and paperwork. I find writing things down under a date and lists help me remember what I need to do better than a digital calendar can so I keep my leather moleskin close by.
Most of a lead producer’s organizing comes before and after the shoot so a lot are not on set full time during production. When it comes to on set assistance, depending on the size of the project, the line producer in charge or your AD (Assistant Director) will take on some of those responsibilities.
3. Can you figure out money issues when they arise?
Truthfully, finances are one of the hardest parts of being a producer. And more often than not, if you’re an independent producer funding will often be from yourself and the director (again, relationships!) through savings or making a crowdfunding campaign. Having thick skin, confidence and a bit of an imagination will get you a long way. For example, if you want to shoot at a hotel, see if you can trade production time for some custom promotional footage for their brand. Maybe see if the AD on your project will work at a more affordable rate if you agree to produce their next piece. Again, producing relies on relationships so do anything to keep the costs down!
Once you’ve made your first project, you’ll be able to breathe a little better. With a project under your belt, funding for your next creation will get even easier!
4. Are you a problem solver?
Chances are something’s going to go wrong on your set. Whether it’s the food never arriving, a piece of equipment breaking, or an actor oversleeping- prepare for everything. If you’re the kind of can-do person who keeps their head in minor crisis and sorts it out fast, this is the career for you.
5. What kind of producer are you?
I did my MFA at Columbia University in Creative Producing. The program was so dynamic. At any given moment I was shaping the scripts of others with my notes (development), creating my own ideas, and assembling the right teams to make each project a reality. There are many different kinds of producers, some love logistics and have a vested interest in putting the set together (line producers), others rather focus more on writing and head the writers room (TV Showrunners), some are more interested in how do finance the picture. Ultimately, if you’re passionate about it, you can find the right producing role for you and partners to compliment your work style.
Hope this was helpful
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