One of the vaguest titles in Hollywood, aproducer can be a writer, an investor, an idea man, a manager or all of the above. In film, the head producer is called the executive producer and is responsible for each and every phase of filmmaking: pre-production, production and post-production.
In pre-production, the producer reads scripts and hears ideas from writers, directors and agents. After choosing an idea, the producer has to raise money to fund the project. One route is to get the backing of a major movie studio. Another is to go independent and seek funding from individual investors.
Now the producer has to hire a screenwriter, a director, production staff, casting directors, art directors, camera and lighting crews and editors.
It’s the producer’s job to make sure that the project stays within budget throughout production and post-production. A good producer not only makes good films, but makes money for the investors.
Like most jobs in the film industry, producers work their way up. You might start as a production assistant or a script reader, learning how to spot a good idea and how to bring it to fruition. Or you can just leap right in and learn by trial and error, making small, low-budget films and working up to bigger ones.
According to 2010 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a film producer is $109,860. For the 15,430 producers and directors working in the Los Angeles area, that number jumps to $138,640 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Remember, though, that producers seldom work on salary. Most take a cut of the film’s earnings at the domestic and foreign box office, DVD sales, streaming video contracts, and more. And those earnings move quickly into the millions.
Directors oversee the artistic vision of a film. Directors aren’t usually involved in the financial side of filmmaking, unless they’re wearing multiple hats as a producer-director.
In pre-production, the director works closely with the screenwriter and the producer to figure out the best way to visually represent the script and its themes. An experienced director will have a preferred list of cinematographers, art directors, cameramen, casting directors and even actors. Even if the producer does much of the actual hiring and location scouting, it’s the director who has the final say.
During filming, the director coaches actors on the best way to read their lines and express emotions. He or she works with the cinematographer to make sure that the action is being faithfully and artistically recorded. And the director decides how many takes are necessary before the crew can move on to the next shot.
In post-production, the director sits with the editor to assemble the finished film. He or she works with a composer and music director to create a score and soundtrack that supports the story. And finally, after months or years of work, the director has a finished film.
To succeed as a director requires a persistence of vision and the ability to collaborate with an extensive team to bring that vision to life. They also need to have a deep understanding of film history and technique. Directors usually start with small, independent projects, sometimes as part of film school programs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps producers and directors together, so the average annual salary of film directors in 2010 was also $109,860 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Like producers, directors often negotiate for a cut of the film’s earnings, so the top salaries can be considerably higher.
There are several different ways for ascreenwriter to get involved with a film project. One way is to write a full script on spec. The idea is to write the script first and then shop it around to agents or producers who might hire you or buy the script for later development.
Experienced screenwriters don’t even have to write the script. Through their agent, they can get appointments with producers to pitch an idea for a script. The producer can then decide whether to just buy the idea or to hire the screenwriter to write a full script or a shorter treatment.
Some screenwriters are hired later in the process, after a producer or director has developed an idea. The screenwriter might be asked to write an adaptation of an existing work, like a novel or a play, or even punch up another screenwriter’s script by adding more jokes or more realistic dialogue. On large studio films, it’s not uncommon for several screenwriters to get credit for the same script.
Some screenwriters start as playwrights, journalists, novelists or other professional writers, while others go directly into writing for film and television. It’s a notoriously hard industry to break into, so it helps if you have connections.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average salary of a writer in the motion picture and video industry at $78,860, but it’s not uncommon for a top-tier screenwriter to receive hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars for a single script.
FILM AND VIDEO EDITORS
Editors perform one of the most important — but least glamorous — jobs in Hollywood. It’s not uncommon for a director to shoot hundreds of hours of footage that needs to be whittled down to a tight, 90-minute film. A skilled editor will select the scenes and individual shots that best tell the story according to the director‘s specific vision.
Editors spend their days (and some late nights) in front of a console of computer monitors, shaving seconds off of shots and painstakingly editing audio. Larger film projects employ many different editors, each with a specific task (rough cut editor, dialogue audio editor, special effects audio editor and more). They don’t get paid that much for all those late nights, either: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in 2010 for a film editor was $74,200.
Actors form the link between the director‘s vision, the screenwriter‘s words and the audience. Being an actor requires an awareness and control of one’s movements and expressions that can take years of formal training. The most successful actors, however, look like they’re not acting at all. They inhabit the minds and bodies of their characters completely.
Unfortunately, most actors can’t earn a living through their acting work alone. The average member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) makes only $5,000 a year. A lot of actors take restaurant jobs that allow them to work at night and be available during the day for auditions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage of a film actor is $10.69. The minimum wage for a SAG actor with a speaking part is $782 a day or $2,713 for a five-day week [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Of course, the top handful of actors can command salaries as high as $20 million for a single film. But only about 50 of the nearly 100,000 SAG members would qualify as stars.
The art director works with the director and the producers to sketch out a detailed vision of the sets, locations and surroundings for the film. Then it’s the art designer’s responsibility to bring that vision to the screen. The art director manages a huge team of draftsmen, set designers, set decorators, prop masters and set construction managers to create a fully realized world for the actors to inhabit.
Art directors have to be both effective managers and creative artists, bringing a fictional world to life within the constraints of the film’s budget. Because the job requires such highly specialized skills, there are only 1,870 art directors working in the entire film and video industry. But since quality art directors are in such high demand, they command a mean annual salary of $125,010 [source:Bureau of Labor Statistics].
Shooting a big-budget movie is like building an entire world from the ground up. Inside massive studio soundstages, teams of set builders, carpenters, riggers, plasterers, painters, and even plumbers work long hours to construct exteriors and interiors of buildings and homes [source:SkillSet.org]. They also build the stages and structures needed for special effects shots involving live actors. Overseeing this huge crew ofunionized labor is the construction manager.
Construction managers report directly to the art director and work closely with the production designers and set designers to recreate the director’s vision with wood, nails, plaster and paint. The construction manager needs to have the technical prowess to get the job done and the management skills to keep a large team of workers on time and on budget.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean salary for a specialty trade contractor in construction management was
Cinematographer and Director of Photography
A film could have the most talented screenwriter in Hollywood, the most visionary director and the hottest actors, but what ultimately matters is the image on the screen. If all of that genius doesn’t get captured faithfully on film, then the project is a bust. That’s why the best filmmakers invest in a top-tier cinematographer.
The role of the cinematographer is to translate the director’s vision and the screenwriter’s story onto film or video. A cinematographer must have a keen artistic eye and a mastery of the technology and technique of camerawork. The cinematographer and director of photography (DP) are not always the same person. On bigger films, the cinematographer is solely responsible for shot composition and planning, while the DP manages the camera and lighting crews. The DP is responsible for choosing the camera, lenses, booms and other equipment necessary to get the shot.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t break down salaries for members of the filming crew, but it lists the annual mean wage for film and video camera operators as $52,380 in 2010, but the top-level cinematographers and directors of photography can earn much more [source:Bureau of Labor Statistics].
Multimedia Artists and Animators
Take a quick look at the five highest-grossing movies of all time:
- Avatar (2009) – $2.8 billion
- Titanic (1997) – $1.8 billion
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011) – $1.3 billion
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) – $1.1 billion
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – $1.1 billion [source:BoxOfficeMojo]
What do they have in common? Starting with Titanic in 1997, the most successful films in the world are all shot in digitally enhanced,computer-animated worlds. Animation and digital effects studios like Disney-owned Pixar and George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) hire teams of talented artists and animators to create fully realized characters and elaborate settings from scratch.
Artists and animators are employed throughout the pre-production and production process. Traditional artists and cartoonists are often hired to sketch out initial ideas for the look of different characters and settings. Sculptors are also brought in to create the first 3D clay models of the characters, which can then be scanned into digital form for the animators. Computer animators are the virtual puppeteers who painstakingly bring a character’s emotions and dialogue to life frame by meticulous frame.
The annual mean salary for multimedia artists and animators in the film and video industry was $72,380 in 2010 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].
You’ll never see a talent agent on the cover of Vanity Fair or Forbes, but these behind-the-scenes dealmakers are some of the best-paid professionals in the film industry.
The role of a talent agent is all-encompassing. Agents find scripts for their actor or director clients to read. They shop around their clients’ headshots, film reels, and original scripts to studios and independent production companies across the country. They negotiate salaries and complicated profit-sharing deals with movie studios and distribution companies. They find extra promotional and sponsorship opportunities for their clients, whether it’s putting their face on a perfume campaign or shooting commercials for a Japanese soft drink. They make sure their clients are booked in the right hotel rooms, the right airplane flights and have all of their favorite food and music and clothes when they arrive.
Talent agents for the top actors, directors and producers in Hollywood are concentrated at a handful of agencies like CAA, United Artists and ICM [source: Gimbel]. Talent agents typically receive 10 percent of their client’s earnings under a specific contract for a film project. If your client pulls in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year, then you’re sitting pretty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the annual mean salary for a talent agent was $178,340 — more than the mean annual salary for any other film industry job in 2010 [source:Bureau of Labor Statistics].