Your Career
by James Jaeger

Producer-Director-Filmmakers In-training

The below goals and targets comprise steps which you, as an independent producer, director or filmmaker, may very well take in accomplishing successively more ambitions motion picture productions. After learning the basic crafts of writing, cinematography, acting and editing, possibly in film school, you can use these steps to move through various productions in order to arrive at the ability to produce at feature levels more easily.

Initially, you may have to hold all the posts of filmmaking and do a sort of one-man juggling act until you want to increase both the size, and quality of your productions. Thus, whether or not you like it, you are a producer. In order to divest yourself of the one-man juggling act, you must systematically delegate the various jobs or "hats" -- as described in Movie Job Descriptions -- to production specialists who will get all the jobs done. Whether or not you like it, you are still a producer. Even though you may prefer to hide under the job description of "director" or "filmmaker," nothing gets done until and unless there is an overt or covert producer always present and operating. Only at later dates of success can you as a director walk onto other producers' sets and just direct as an employed artist or filmmaker who wants to no longer get his or her hands dirty with money.

Major Goal

Thus your Major Goal is to arrive at a point whereby, eventually, you direct (with or without yourself producing) or produce (with or without yourself directing) viable multi-million dollar features of the highest quality and distribute them to the international market in exchange for maximum dollars from audiences who love the pictures. This might take thirty years. In doing this you will, and should, provide useful and productive jobs and expansion for many other filmmakers.

The major goal is not to make money. The major goal is to make movies that people love and enjoy -- then that will automatically bring money (to continue more of the same). You only use money to accomplish these ends for if you only focus on the money, your product will probably be boring.

Production Targets

To attain the Major Goal, it is necessary to break the challenge down into its constituent sub-challenges and target each one in sequence in accordance with the following factors:

o Screen Duration (in minutes)
o Shooting Duration (cost in days)
o Personnel Responsibility (cost in people)
o Energy Responsibility (cost in dollars)

All the above factors are directly related to each other. A change in one affects all the others. The challenge is to quickly move through the Production Targets, learning to handle these factors, and arrive at each Major Target.

The length of the film (Screen Duration) is the first criterion to be used in establishing the sequence of Production Targets - a 90 minute duration is the first major thing the audience, and/or distributors, want in a feature. Therefore, you need to get to a point of strength whereby you can create a 90- minute narrative motion picture of any quality. Once done, more energy will be needed to increase the quality of your 90-minute film or tape. Then viability will automatically follow when you are in the 35mm universe with a great story, good performances excellent direction and top-notch photography.

In the interim, if anyone ever negatively criticizes your 5-, 30- or 90-minute film or video, ask to see theirs. They probably won't have one.

Major Targets

Along the way, in meeting Production Targets, there are a set of milestones called Major Targets. These are the reasons they are milestones:

Since a story is told with scenes, the successful production of a Scene is the first major building block in the creation of more complex motion picture projects. The building blocks of the scene are Set-Ups and the building blocks of the set-ups are Takes. Handling these building blocks deftly in a one-day shoot, is the First Major Target, a 5-minute film. A director could practice shooting single scenes in tape forever to improve skill at handling actors, continuity and rhythm and it would not be a waste of time.

The Second Major Target, a 30-minute film, is an elaboration of the first Major Target in that many scenes are built together into a story encompassing more than what can be shot on a single day by a small crew. Thus, the second major target requires a greatly expanded, professionally configured crew shooting over a moderately expanded schedule of several days to produce a 30-minute show.

If you have more crew, you might be able to get more done in fewer days and if you have more days you might be able to get more done with fewer crew. I say "might" because if it isn't well organized it becomes chaotic and less is done in more days with more crew. Every producer and director has to determine his or her optimum balance, and of course, this is modified by the financing available for production. These considerations give birth to the formulation of organizing charts, crew configurations and staffing sequences. The keys are training and hatting, efficient utilization of personnel and accurate communication in the production unit and company.

The details of beginning to put one's film school education to work in actually building the skills necessary to direcing and producing features are detailed in The Mini Mogul Manual

The Third Major Target is the accomplishment of a feature length production of 85-90 minutes duration using a professionally configured crew. Accent is placed on duration, getting 85-90 minutes of finished product in any format, i.e., video, 16mm or 35mm. This involves several new factors - for instance the drastic increase in the number of shooting days means that you cannot just pull all your friends away from their jobs to work free - thus money enters into the equation. Being able to support an entire, professionally configured, crew for a month or so (with 18 or more specific working days), and ending up with an 85- to 90-minute viewable and somewhat entertaining product, is an accomplishment of the necessary duration to enter the feature realm. Of course, high quality and viability will most likely not be present in your first project - but that is not the point - duration is the point, the target - and the FACT that you got it DONE. You are now distinguished from millions of other filmmakers and even deserve to be a little cocky.

The Fourth Major Target is the production of an actual Low- Budget Feature (at any budget) shot on film stock (as opposed to tape) that is a minor hit, a success, whichever word you like - (given the circumstances) and makes its money back, plus some. Reaching this target depends on reaching the previous major targets, plus the ability to raise money and expend it wisely to get a desirable product. Raising money is the sole problem for the producer who ignores all of the earlier Major Targets and this will be the sole problem forever - or until some investor gets suckered into throwing away money on the production - and looses it because the producer never really made the earlier Major Targets with certainty and viability.

The Fifth Major Target is to have a 90- to 100-minute major hit feature - one that makes a lot of money because audiences go crazy over it. Usually a successful lower budget feature will justify a million-plus budget. The budget can easily jump to the million-plus range when union crews and guild personnel are used but remember - there can be as much talent in non-union as union personnel, but it is unwise to abandon the personnel and talent you used in your last feature - whether they are union or non-union. You can always pay them more as a reward, or enlist them in the union. Plus it is especially unwise to abandon them if your last picture was successful. More money to work with may bring very qualified personnel if you switch over - but it also brings orders of magnitude more pressure. Movies made under excessive pressure look strained and often don't have the same spirit of the earlier ones. So take it on a gradient you always feel good about and each project will be a finer extension of the last.

The Sixth Major Target is to extend the success with a 110- to 120-minute film, and gentle, ongoing long-term expansion. From the Last Major Target on, each feature should expand, as indicated, recoup its investment in 6 to 9 months, earn at least 2 to 3 times the prime + inflation rate thereafter and garner widespread critical acclaim with the public until at least one wins "Best Picture" and other awards. This could include producing a series of pictures that improve our civilization by educating through entertainment and consistently earning over $400,000,000 gross on each.

So here is a summary of your long-term Production Targets:


Miner Targets:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
5-minute Film 1 Day $200 3
5-minute Film 1/2 Day $400 3

First Major Targets:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
5-minute Film 1 Day $400 8
10-minute Film 2 Days $1,500 14
15-minute Film 3 Days $4,500 16

Second Major Target:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
30-minute Film 6 Days $12,000 30

Third Major Target:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
90-minute Film 18 Days $50,000 40

Fourth Major Targets:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
85-minute Film 18 Days $175,000 50
90-minute Film 23 Days $450,000 53
90-minute Film 27 Days $700,000 70

Fifth Major Targets:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
90-minute Film 36 Days $1,200,000 80
100-minute Film 48 Days $2,500,000 90
100-minute Film 65 Days $5,000,000 125

Sixth Major Targets:

Screen Duration Shooting Duration Cash Budget Crew/Staff
110-minute Film 85 Days $10,000,000 150
120-minute Film 115 Days $30,000,000 175
120-minute Film 145+ Days $60,000,000 200+

Achieving this sequence of targets will most likely take fifteen years but it can be accomplished in ten or less. Each step may have to be repeated several times before going onto the next. No more than one step should ever be skipped no matter how many people are egging you to skip gradients.

I am NOT suggesting one seek only higher budget films as a career goal. I am suggesting that if one requires greater sums of money to make their pictures, they work through the above suggested ability levels to enable themselves to handle the energy/money/power necessary.

One of the major reasons "it's so hard for filmmakers to raise money " -- why financial entities (producers/studios/etc.) don't hand out the significant sums of money required to make pictures -- is because most film students, and unproven, new filmmakers have not, or are not willing to go through the necessary steps to being able to comfortably handle the power required to make movies.

Skipping steps is setting yourself up for loosing control of those factors that are causing you to be successful.

And why make a picture just because someone offers you a bigger budget to have a bigger set or bigger star in the picture when a less expensive (and possibly equally good) talent, eager get recognition, is begging to be employed? If you make good pictures that have more and more entertaining stories and carefully build your production values in steps, you will not set yourself up for a loss by jumping into too large a production too fast, not making it, and then losing all or some of your momentum.


Many times mediocre talent attempts to camouflage itself with big budgets and production wow. Don't get caught in this - just develop SKILL by being efficient and ingenious with less.

Quality Films

The audience does not care how much money you make, how much you spend, how many people were on the crew or the duration of your principal photography. Only you, the producer, care about these things (hopefully). All the Audience cares about is seeing and hearing something entertaining on the screen for their time and money.

This Audience, affectionately called the "Market," will dictate the quality it wants, so you will always have to cut back the quantity of your productions in order to keep the quality high enough to sell them. Shorter running times, fewer special effects, less locations, smaller cast, tighter shooting ratio can also accomplish this.

In some cases you can increase the quality of your pictures by throwing money at them, but an enthusiastic group of well-organized filmmakers are more able to get the same quality per dollar. So quality is directly and highly proportionate to the talent (in the script, acting and directing) modified by the actual amount of money that is thoughtfully allocated to the production and "put on the screen." Quality is also inversely proportionate to the amount of dis-organization in the production. In other words, the more disorganization the lower the quality.

Thus, the quality you can get to satisfy the Market will be dependent on your handling and balancing three major factors: cost of production, personnel and shooting duration. Your successful and careful application of the The Movie Mogul Manual will also be a major factor.

As mentioned above, the more people working on the production, the less days of shooting might be necessary - however each day of production will cost more unless there is a higher degree of organizational efficiency. But this will create a higher quality finished picture and so it will justify itself by making more at the box office - offsetting the higher personnel expenses in the first place.

The talent factor (which is a quantity to the second power), can rocket the production up or down depending on the story and the management of the production. Buy the same token a whole lot of very talented people, unorganized will likely go no place (rocketed by the second power of the talent factor).

Commercial Value

Most likely, none of your narrative dramatic films below 90 minutes long will have mainstream commercial value, especially if shot on tape or in super 8. Their value will be to you in terms of learning, experience and credibility. Making them will toughen you up enough to survive the production of longer length shows necessary to be a viable producer or movie mogul so don't hesitate to make them. Plus, the world is becoming more and more interested in independent films - films that could do anything and go anywhere without regard to "political correctness" or mainstream morals and ethics. Every CULTure started out as a CULT!

Nevertheless, the better the script and the more organized the production, the more likely higher quality people will want to work with you and even be willing to defer all or part of their regular pay.

Once you can cause a 90-minute show (even on video tape) to come into existence, from the ground up, you are a producer in the fullest sense of the word.

When you are producing three or more 90-minute, 35mm shows a year - you are a Mini Mogul to reckon with, especially if you are making each major target of your career quickly.

Your Career is an excerpt from The Independent Producer's Manual

NOTE: Permission is granted by the copyright owner to disseminate this article in whole or in part provided credit is given to the author (with a link to the article's source URL)
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