How does a movie get made?

I was watching “Battlefield Earth” (yes everything you heard about it is true… and then some) for the first time on cable the other night and this thought meandered through my head, and I realized how little I really knew about the whole process other than consuming the end product.

How do you get to the point you’re shelling out 7 to 10 dollars a pop to see someone’s artistic vision? Does it start with a script looking to be filmed or a concept looking for a script? Since so many movies bomb how the hell do the get the funding for them in the first place? Do directors choose films? Do producers choose directors?

How does the whole business sort itself out?

As no one has answered this yet, I’ll take a general stab at it. There are books on this subject and I’m sure there are websites, too, but I’m not that motivated to look them up! :smiley:

It’s not an “only one way to do it” type of process. the answers to all your questions are “yes.”

The bottom line is that it takes a lot of money to make a film and distribute it: it costs money for the film (or video) to shoot the film, for the equipment, including cameras, film, lights, power, sets, costumes, food, locations, rights, etc. etc. etc.

The most common way movies get made is through the movie studios. They have a lot of money. They can pay big bucks for the rights to works of literature or comic books that they think will make a popular movie. They can pay big bucks for writers to write and rewrite the scripts. They can pay producers to put together the project, casting agents to contact famous actors and producers to make the movie, and pay the millions to process the film, distribute it, advertise it, etc.

That being said, it is not the only way. Some production companies are successful enough that they can shell out the required money to get a movie made, and then sell the distribution rights to a studio. Sometimes a director or an actor will want to make a certain movie, and since they are successful enough that production companies or studios think that their involvement will lead to a money-making movie, the production companies or studios will fund their project.

Sometimes people involved in the industry will come across what they think is a good script, and then try to get it made. One way to do this is to show it to successfull actors or directors, and if they get them interested enough to “attach” themselves to the project, then they could maybe get production companies or studios to shell out the bucks.

At the other end of the spectrum, some would-be producers or directors just pull together all the money they can beg, borrow or steal and make a movie themselves on the cheap. Examples of this would be Robert Townsend using his credit cards to make his first movie, or Robert Rodriguez making his first film in Mxico for very little money. Once a showable final project is made, they can then bring it to film festivals or show it directly to production companies or distributors to try to get them to buy the distribution rights and pay the money to get it distributed and seen.

This is a very general answer to a very broad question, and it’s all the time I have for now. Maybe some others would like to chime in with more details.

Thanks for the info!

I’ve been wondering about that.

Just what do producers do, anyway?

Depends on the type of producer. In film, the producer is the one responsible for lining up the money and hiring the talent (director and star). Other producers handle the various management tasks (down to day-to-day management like hiring a caterer).

In TV, the executive producer takes on the role of the movie producer.

Here’s a good site to check:

Contains several articles on the “industry” from an insider’s perspective, including one (“Building The Bomb”) that details the process of Hollywood turning a good idea into crap. :slight_smile:

Remember that even when a movie flops, it isn’t a complete loss. The director, actors, and the hundreds of assorted crew still get paid for their months of work. Sometimes, even the producer can shirk the loss. Ultimately the ones that lose are the investors, who likely have enough money not to worry about it and have only themselves to blame for making such a bad investment. Even bad movies enrich the industry as a whole.

One reason many people do not know what a producer’s job entails is because it is the only credited position in a film (I believe) that does not have some sort of a union contract specifying what it is.

No one can claim credit on a film for being a director, writer, actor, grip, etc. without doing the specific job defined by the various union contracts for that position (legally, that is). Producers have no such union or guild, so in effect, anyone can call themselves a “producer.”

RealityChuck gives what probably is a pretty good definition of the normal role of a producer. That being said, a producer, or executive producer or associate producer, etc. can be anyone who earns or buys or is given a credit in a film that cannot be covered by the other “legitamite” credits.

In some cases, people who give significant money for the film but have nothing whatsoever to do with making it (except provide funds, which some may consider the most important job of all) get a producer credit (this may normally be what an “executive producer” credit usually means, but I’m not sure about that). Some people who are attached to a movie (perhaps as a director or writer or something) but during the long process of getting the movie made which may involve different production companies or different creative personelle at different times, end up no longer being attached to the movie may contractually still require a credit, which would be a producing credit of some sort.

There are many different senarios possible.

There are lots of great movies about making movies.

Swimming with Sharks

American Movie

Hearts of Darkness (the making of Apocolypse Now)
Just to name a few.

If we are recommending movies about movie making I simply must point you to Truffaut’s Day for Night (French title: Nuit Americaine). I saw it last year in the theatre and it was great. It gave a realistic looking impression of the process of making a movie, and was highly enjoyable to watch too. Problem is that I find it hard to get a video of it. :frowning:

Others in which the movie-making is more peripheral, but are nice watching all the same:

  • Fellini’s Otto e mezzo. Typical Fellini, so if you don’t like him, skip it.
  • Godard’s Le Mépris.

There have been a couple of TV-series about moviemaking:

  • Action, which I found hilarious,
  • Beggars and Choosers which in fact is more about television, but there is a lot of overlap.

Another good movie about how a movie is made is “Burden of Dreams”.

Wag the Dog has a semi-serious look at the world of the film producer. Dustin Hoffman’s character even rants about how nobody knows what they do.

Great link, KGS.