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How to Get Into Producing

Lesson 5 from: Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Michael Gottwald

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Lesson Info

5. How to Get Into Producing

Lesson Info

How to Get Into Producing

So how do you get into producing um why are you interested in it could be a start um I'll start with talking about you know, at school I'll talk about my unique you know my experience cause that's the only one I can speak to but I didn't go to a college that had a pre professional track for for, you know, nuts and bolts in the making of films I went to a small liberal arts college called wesleyan university in middletown, connecticut, but thank you god that I did because a lot of the people that I work with to this day it was a small abroad college and as I said, you know, a small community khun create really um ahh key relationships so if you have a bunch of creative people like there are only thirty five I was a film studies major and that major was more about watching and talking and theorizing about films than it was about making films but there were only thirty five people or so in our major and for you know, even though it was primarily a studies based major for thesis for thie s...

ees people tended to make films which is a little strange if you think about it it's sort of like if a bunch of people studied art history and then your thesis was too make a painting you know it does it doesn't quite make sense but um but I'm glad that I did because it gave people gave me and other people in my major the first experience some of their first experiences on set um and because you're working an insular community and you talk about movies a whole lot you you come to form really strong relationships and so ben zeitlin who directed beasts of the southern wild I first met at wesleyan because he was two years above me and he needed an assistant director for his thesis film and we got to know each other and worked on that together and that was a total mess but that's a different story and then one of my producing partners to this day and also in beast of the southern wild is um uh dan a friend that I met at wesleyan as well and who also worked on that thesis project with ben so all in all actually it's weird but of the ninety people that were on set at nbc of the southern while thirty of them had gone to my college which is weird but it sort of speaks to how you know they're there came to be word about this film and then that circle kind of the circle of people who knew about the film overlapped with some other circles overlapped with some others and eventually became sort of a thing that people are following other people down to do it became a thing that everybody wanted to do as as sweaty and mosquito bitten as it was a lot of people wanted to get involved in this because not only was it strange and interesting but also like their friends were doing it for lack of a better word um and so yes so like my college though it didn't exactly prepare me for the nuts and bolts of making films it introduced me into a creative community trial by fire and that community is still very very important to me so you know people say how do I get into it and it's like if you can't if you're not if you're not going to a school where you have a creative community around you put yourself in a creative community is as much as you can you know as soon a soon as you can introduce yourself into circles where people want to be making things and are trading ideas about stories that's the most stories and making them and that's the most important thing to do I think quick question here that ties into that and we had eleven people vote on this so a lot of people are curious just to get a little bit more insight but the question is about collaboration and finding those networks that you mentioned your college environment being one of those but we had a question from lynn who originally posted who want to know any suggestions on lists or websites or other avenues to enable enable these like minded people to find each other and collaborate on projects. I'm sure sure well, that that sort of leads to, you know, beyond let's talk about beyond school what you can do. I mean, every place that you're in or state at least the urine should have a film office, you know, as part of either as part of their tourism board, but like a film commissioner, state officer, whatever, they should always know, the film productions that are going on in the state or in town, and so that's a really source of information, and you should go there and find out what's going on and who the contacts are usually it's the production office coordinator or it's, the line producer, producer or something? And you can email them and say, what's going on, I'd love to just come to set I'm willing to, you know, like volunteer my time just to see what's going on, and at least you get to meet people like that that's one way of getting to, um, getting immersed and finding those people, you know, we we used to have ah website in new orleans called solomon street, which was just every single person in every department who was working in film. I mean it was like an amazing resource I don't know why it's not there anymore but it there was caterers there were casting directors there were you know and so basically could start there and say all right what part of film their film production by interested in I just call them up and see see what's going on um you know otherwise it's like beyond school it's like you know I don't know I feel very fortunate because I had this experience and I can't speak to it but I imagine just any could be something like a book club or ah you know like you know using meetup dot com and see or it could be film film society's or film study film society's or film groups people that go out to films regularly there's got to be some people in there who are interested in actually making films and just all love of films is where I come from so starting there and see where that takes you I think is a good starting point right yes I mean this is why I do it but also you know, that's a fortunate thing to be able to say um producing as a career you know, it's trickier I mean if you're I just think that in certain in certain don't put this in certain situations um people can be more if you have the ability to be more picky producing can be a riel khun really take up a lot of time and energy and so you want to be careful where you for your mental well being and you want to be careful where you put your time and energy there's other things you can do to ford you're I don't want a career that's not really the right word but you know to make money if it's a passion project it's a passion project and treat it like that don't treat it lightly um so yes so I went into this a little bit this is that's wesleyan shield right there um and as I said with glory etc ah I was essentially okay so graduated from wesleyan gloria see happened within six months of me graduating from wellesley and I came down I went to new orleans I saw ben he talked to me about what he was trying to do. Um and like I said, I was sort of essentially a p day just gathering what we needed to make the short film um and then coming down when when I could when we were in the middle of production but you know, it was very hard from distance toe like a lend my time and energy to it because I had this whole other life in d c that was more about politics a time um but after glory it see you know and after the obama campaign gloria c and short short films in general can really serve is great calling cards for, uh for making a feature right? And so um after gloria c was done, we had the ability to make a feature because of like I said, senator reach these amazing partners came up to ben after a festival and said we love this short we wanted to do whatever we can to work with you on on your feature, right? And also just to reiterate sort of what happened after that is like ok, so it's then and he knew that he wanted to work with a couple people from the short film the two producers dan and josh and then myself who um it was more of an executive producer but I was down there so this is how beasts of the southern wild started. It was just that stand josh and ben in a room in new orleans that's it um there was a script lucy alabbar who wrote a play called juicy and delicious that ben wanted to adapt and so that's a key person as well. And at this point ben is probably struggling with his first adaptation of that script of that play into a feature film script I'm super curious while you guys while while I was in the origin stage of four guys in a room, how are you guys earning income we weren't I think this is the biggest the biggest paycheck biggest paycheck I had that year was working for a few days on a levi's commercial and that you know, that was actually pretty lucrative and I know you in places like new orleans could live cheaply you can live very cheaply was not the bywater where was that? Yeah that's in the marigny marry nasal now a little bit there's been a minority in the bywater both very more expensive than they were in that picture but um blood yeah, you can live pretty cheaply and a lot of people are down there and, uh yeah, you know, we would there there's a lot of films that would come through new orleans or commercials or whatever and so you can do stuff like that. Um but really we were we were all living together in the same place on top of each other. It was it was a very particular time and place for guys picked to live in a house exactly making my way back I know what happened, right? So everyone was when we did the most part savings it's maybe a gig here in there on a production that came into town yeah, ok, yeah, this is the I mean that's that's helpful to people, not just me we can have a whole separate discussion about independent film and how uh how privileged plays of serious role in the ability to work an independent film I'm especially what you're talking about right now is actually development and and like development it's so hard to get funding for development but it's one of the most crucial parts of the process especially for producers if you're trying to give your time and energy to a film you know, even if the director's been paid to write that script there's not necessarily fund set aside to everybody else who's doing work to help the creative vision come toe life I was just keeping my receipts for gas but I was using to go out and audition kids in the hopes that later they could it could be reimbursed once we once we actually got if not development money than then preproduction money and you know fortunately that did happen so good so this probably is a silly question if you are in the development stage and you are more or less and nobody in the field are you considered soliciting if you go to businesses to ask for support for development of your production what depends on what kind of business you know I mean if you were to go to a catering a company or um like a enterprise or some place and if you would just say this is the film this is who I am this is the crew would you be interested in going into the backing that just a development process of that is that frowned upon? Is it's frowned upon? Well, I don't know I don't know if businesses like that would be the ones that you would want to go to and I'd say has been developed in terms of development I'd say like for example, I could go when I was auditioning I could go to a community center so we don't have any money can you lend us your space so that we can actually rehearse or dio do an audition I'd say in terms of actually getting fiscal money you probably want to talk to the same we'll get into this a little bit because some grants actually provide development funding which is amazing and I'm glad that mohr doing it these days but you could go to a financial financier somebody who was you work maybe going to go after for the actual funding of the production and say I'd love to get some development money right now and that could eventually equate to a new investment in the film later you know? I mean I'll give you ten thousand dollars which later translates to x amount of interest in the film later so it's basically just saying like I was going toe talk to you about this later when we're about to set up but we're not going to get to that point unless I have some funding to get by right now. Yeah, yeah. Um oh, yes. So anyway, so I didn't really know it just to reiterate because I think this is a important point. I didn't know, you know what there was no, it sounds like there are some class I heard from somebody online that they were taking a producing class there's some classes out there about producing and I'm glad I still I think when I was in college and even for a second after college didn't really know what a producer wass, right, but the way that I got involved in glory, etc and beast was just that I was enthusiastic, and I wanted to do whatever needed doing to make the movie happen and that's sort of at the very bare essentials that is what a producer is like. You're just that person next to the director that saying, like whatever you need, I'll get it for you like let's do this like, let's make it happen? Um and so the sustained enthusiasm, you know, started with gloria c and then I wanted to be a part of it and beasts, and I said, you know, whatever whatever needs doing let's make this a reality. And so I think that's just a point to say that you don't even have to know if you've tried different creative fields like I think they were probably points, and when I was younger, I was thinking about being a director being and being an editor of being a writer andan you come out of college and you think none of those really seem like it makes sense or I'm not getting kind of a wall or it's not really for me, there is a role for you if you're excited and enthusiastic about other people stuff it's called being a producer as long as that enthusiasm israel, then it's very valuable because because the director does not like to be just by themselves out there in the open, they need somebody to to tether them to the ground so, um and help them make their thing become a reality. So I'm just sort of you're saying that I, you know, I didn't know that until I got out of college, and then I realized, oh, that could be of value, so I sort of accidentally got into producing is I guess what? After I said, um, you know beyond experience at school or my experience after school out in the world, there are said that there's not really a career track, but if you do find yourself being a getting onto a set or being a production assistant there is sort of a track that you can you can try and follow a cz muchas you can keep getting these jobs you know a production this is well gettinto rolls and everything but a production assistant if you I think the most valuable thing is just hustle and good instincts you know if somebody is really energetic and can make something happen but they I don't know where the post offices and they have to ask or something you know that's you got to just have some basic basic good instincts I think if you really really good in a report being a production assistant and you know foster relationships with the people that you work who are working with you above you and you know the more jobs you get like that the more that somebody might trust you to be a key p a who can be kind of the in charge of the p a s and also sort of the person that can sometimes be dealing with talent you know, escorting them to set making sure they're taken care of um you can even call them a talent pia if you want but that's because that's a little bit of a precious situation that's something that usually you trust the key p es with because you want to be fragile around the people the talent on said um that naturally leads if you do it a couple times and you're pretty good at it towards being a second assistant director now the second assistant director why? Because second assistant director is in charge of taking care of the talent, I don't mean escorting them to set and I don't mean like actually being there in their dressing room and making sure that there they have the proper snacks which or whatever, which is more of sort of province of epa, but the second assistant director is the one interfacing with all the talent top calling them, making sure they know they're called time second assistant director is creating a call sheet that has when everybody is expected to set at any given point. They're working with the transportation coordinator if there is one to make sure that everybody's getting to set on time and on properly, they're communicating with the key p a to say, can you have so and so can you take them out of the trailer now and bring them over to set exeter exeter second eighty is also talking all the time with the first eighty who's well, the second eighty is probably in holding or, you know, an area where people are getting into hair makeup wardrobe um the first a d is very much on set and they're they're dealing with executing the plan of the day um and they're talking to the second idea all the time because of the first eighty knows well we're going along on this day so I know that our call time shouldn't be until x tomorrow love us they communicate that these people are sort of partners in crime although in different areas of the um in the first eighty because you're dealing with the practicality of actually running a set can lead if you wanted to towards being a unit production manager or line producer so if you stop you're really good at scheduling you're really good at kind of operate you know, planning around what's happening in the present tense and you should be able to be good at um dealing with the practical reality of the financial operation of the film maybe maybe that's not your skill set maybe that's not something you're interested in but he knows I know a lot of eighties that have gone into becoming line producers and then if you're line producer you've man you've and you do that enough you've managed to um own really key part of producing and then you can sort of in that towards just being a producer producer so anyway there is a track if you can get these jobs and meet the right people and work with them properly, there is sort of attract that you can really use through just immersion now are you going to feel great or like you love the material of all the productions that you're that you're on over the course of this no but that's not the point the point is to get it experience and and make people want to work with you on the next thing because it can lead to when maybe when by the time you get to a producer, you have the luxury and by the way, this is a thing that can take ten, fifteen, twenty years but maybe by the time you get to a producer and you've earned enough for whatever you can be a little choosier about what what projects you want to actually take on um all right, we only have a couple minutes, but I just wanted to say, uh ah, a prompt for people back home are there people in in your community right now or creative communities whose work excites you? You know, is there are there people you know, in your proximity that maybe they have a film idea? Maybe they have something that they want to work with? Like what? What way of approaching producing makes the most sense to you and your situation? Um what's the best way to put yourself currently into creative community whose whose work you could herald if you liked it same thing for you guys here is there any people are there any organizations or things that you're thinking about currently is a talk about this that make a lot of sense and you're saying yourself, oh, maybe I should check in with them or go to a meeting of those people and see what's going on way got mikes down there, we can pass them along. Well, one would of course be creative life, but, uh, you know, ted, hope is his around here and he's he's been a big proponent and kind of, you know, idol in terms of indie film production and, um, just kind of finding, you know, I'm kind of new to the area I've only been out here for about a year and a half, and I've been doing a lot of commercial work, whether it's peeing or coordinating things like that, but just forming to get into more like the narrative stuff out here, and I've found a little bit of difficulty, maybe just because I've been focusing on earning an income and that's what I've been doing the commercial stuff, but finding those creative narrative communities out here that wanted produce shorts that want to work on their own individual and the feature films on dh that's been something that I've kind of struggled to learn and which excites me about the film classes that are going to be happening here, but I don't know if anyone else can speak to that or how they've gotten into that orasure ways they've been able to find people. I was just wondering if it's appropriate to plug this look you just gave me was, like did so I run their community called scary cow, which is based on just anybody who has any interest in making film annie genre any role, any level of experience, this is totally what we're all about, and I run it because it's something I care about so, like the whole like passion over career is totally that's that's my song so that's absolutely there there are communities um and I think that creative live is such a fabulous addition you cannot learn here and actually make in groups like scary cow in, like, forty out of forty eight our film festival and film race and things like that were very good one, forty eight hours from right now imagine imagine forty eight hour film festival happening all the time we're done that scary co another good one for you to check out his like community colleges, I know, like dabble valley college in pleasant hill, they have a film club, um they'll put all of their casting notices on to their facebook page and then some pretty good talents come out of that school like richard valencia he's been and he's been hustling and grinding for the past two years and he's he's come a long ways and it goes on for two years saying about community groups at schools save work together they grow together and they move on together so um toe out on that I go to san francisco state university I'm a film major and um I think like I'm just really interested in, um we have a cinema collective and we get to work on like a lot of hands on stuff and I'm just a freshman so it's, like I have a lot to learn, so I don't know it's a little overwhelming all of it, but I mean, I have a lot of ideas and I'm like looking forward to just add onto since we're kind of passing like, no, I think that I've got to talk to you a little bit earlier and then you said that you're making your own film and I think that a huge way of involving people is finding a project, whether it be your own or somebody else's and just getting and talking about it coming to something like this or even when you're out at a bar driving a car and just being it like this telling people what your passion is. It's. Amazing to me. What doors then open from there? Agreed that's. Something that we learned on the obama campaign. A lot is sharing your story, being an essential part of finding common interests.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 1.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 2.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 3.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 4.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Call Sheet - Filled Out.xls
Michael Gottwald - Sample Low Budget Documentary Excel Budget Total Budget.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Sample Low Budget Documentary Excel Budget.xls

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine

Student Work