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March 10, 2009


Studios -- development

At every studio, there are those that have the power of the purse strings, the princes and princesses of major projects that have the ability to anoint an endeavor as being 'green light' (a go-ahead for financing and execution). They meet with production company executives, writers, directors, make sure that the slate of endeavors for a given year are balanced, address multiple agendas and have an action plan to deliver dollars to the studios. They are responsible for a complete roster -- big releases, indies, potential Oscar winners and star vehicles. Assembling this roster is often a delicate balancing act. To get a start to appear in a potential blockbuster, a studio, for instance, may need to guarantee funding for a star's pet project.

Development executives also ensure distribution, work on the scripts of movies they ultimately produce, purchase new scripts, and shepherd movies and TV shows through the production cycle. All in all, this is a fun and envy-inducing job if you can land one -- it is after all, making movies. The downside is dealing with the lack of job security and the competitive nature of the business.


Production companies fuel the creative juices in Hollywood. They solicit scripts, pay money for them, gather talent to execute them, and essentially bring entertainment to life and life to entertainment. Once a personality has made a name for himself/herself either as an actor, director, writer or producer, he/she will often cut deals (the oft-heard 'three-picture deals') where a studio guarantees that it gets first dibs on the person's next project in exchange for providing that person with an office, a staff and discretionary funds to allocate to their very own production company. This is essentially Hollywood's modern day equivalent of locking in creative talent. In the old days, studios would have exclusive deals with certain actors and actresses, who would then get relatively little (compared to today) for their performances. Many of the prominent actors, actresses and directors (Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan, etc.), as well as countless others who believe they are prominent, have their own production companies.

Many production companies are located on the lots of the major film studios and have small staffs of about a dozen people supporting them, mainly a combination of development executives and assistants. They meet daily with writers and directors, read countless movie scripts from aspiring and established writers (called 'spec scripts'), read books by new authors, distribute suggestions ('notes') on improving scripts to writers, and look for projects to get off the ground. Often the types of projects that get off the ground are those that are the pet projects of the head of the production company (say, someone wants to do a military drama, or a teen comedy) but occasionally some are creative projects that are able to rise above the clutter purely on their own merits. Independent production companies (those not affiliated with a studio) are often very good at looking for content that stands on its own.

Once a potential project is spotted, it is a development executive's job to then solicit a complete package -- a camera-ready script that has been polished by a prominent script doctor (usually an already established Hollywood screenwriter), a director, and other actors. Rewrites, by the way, form the bulk of income for A-list writers.) Only when a movie has star power 'attached' to it will it stand a chance of being funded by the studio. The personal networks of those at production companies are therefore perhaps the biggest assets that studios pay for, because they are the ones that can assure that a film gets made. While on its face, it is a glamorous job, it is also tough because it is hard to penetrate, jobs are scarce, success rates are low, and there is plenty of pressure because hits are harder to generate than it seems. "I don't know that I'll ever make a hit," lamented one D-girl, the notorious nickname for the numerous youngish females in the development world. The upside is that once a movie actually gets a green light, there's usually no turning back, especially once filming has commenced. And if a film ultimately is released, there is the glory that comes with one of the numerous producer credits that come at the beginning of the movie and poise a person for his/her next project. Of course, the really, really big upside if you are extraordinarily lucky is to stand on stage and accept a Best Picture Oscar. The challenge is that most films, even after overcoming the hurdles of being produced, are not even good enough to perform well at the box office.

Compared to movie studios, jobs are a bit easier to come by at any of the numerous production companies than at movie studios, but they are by no means easy to get.

Studios -- marketing

Once filming on a movie has wrapped, the post-production machine starts.t This includes all the editing, special effects, music, sound and finishing touches that complete the picture. During this time, the marketing machine for movies also starts. There are several different components of film marketing. The first is the creative -- the ads and posters that publicize a movie. Film ads are usually called trailers, with excerpts from the movies and often with testimonials from viewers or reviewers. Posters are called one-sheets and are quick eye-catching visual images with one-liners that tease audiences and tell them the big names involved in a film.

On the creative side, trailers and one-sheets (posters) are rarely executed by individuals within the studio. Trailers are handed over to freelancers at independent post-production companies called trailer houses though on occasion they are controlled by the director or producer of the movie. One-sheets are typically the product of freelancers from ad agencies who have been closely directed by a movie director, a studio executive and sometimes a movie marketer.

Film marketing typically involves two key tasks: determining a media budget and the allocation of placement in TV, print, and radio through media agencies like Western, and conducting research and tracking studies to understand who sees different movies, how they test before sample audiences and how people respond to different movies. More recently, movie marketers have taken on the role of salesmen, similar to the licensing division of consumer products, where they seek complimentary partners to promote a film and defray costs of promotion (e.g. BMW with MGM's James Bond franchise, McDonald's with any Disney animated release). Movie marketers also create web sites that support the launch of a film.

Movie marketing is an interesting career path for anyone interested in combining classical marketing training with the entertainment industry. Additionally, there are the requisite perks that accompany the job -- early viewings of upcoming movies, occasional tickets to film premieres, etc.


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