Foolproof Filmmaking: Make a Movie That Makes a Profit

Foolproof Filmmaking: Make a Movie That Makes a Profit

by Andrew Stevens

Paperback(New Edition)



In Foolproof Filmmaking: Make a Movie That Makes a Profit, Stevens provides real-world examples and his own proven techniques for success that can turn passion into profit. He reveals and explains industry secrets no other book or film school does. The principles outlined in this book aren’t just theory, but practical application that filmmakers of all levels can use to succeed in today’s ever-changing marketplace. You will learn how to develop, negotiate, sell, finance, produce, distribute, cast and market a film that can make a profit, not a mistake. Stevens gets right to the point and cuts out all the filler. He details his proven TAP™ system of success (Trend + Analysis = Profit). This book contains numerous examples from Stevens’ previous films, including budget, schedule and pertinent contracts. Learn from a professional, not just a professor. This is the definitive book every filmmaker must have.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781935212270
Publisher: Easton Studio Press, LLC
Publication date: 04/29/2014
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Named “one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood” by the
Hollywood Reporter, Andrew Stevens has produced and financed over 175 motion pictures, from microbudgeted independents to megabudgeted studio theatrical releases, from the hit comedy film “The Whole Nine Yards” to the cult classic “The Boondock Saints.” His films have spanned numerous genres and have featured such stars as Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Willis, Kevin Spacey, Wesley Snipes, Gene Hackman, Kurt Russell, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Matthew Perry, Samuel L. Jackson, Cameron Diaz, John Travolta, Michael Douglas, Ryan Reynolds, Antonio Banderas, Forest Whitaker, Danny DeVito, Alec Baldwin, Kiefer Sutherland, Glenn Close, James Franco, Steven Seagal, Jim Caviezel and Terrence Howard.

Stevens’ films have generated over $1 billion in worldwide revenues. He has functioned in almost every facet of the entertainment business, from creative development of motion pictures and screenplays to foreign sales, financing, production, post-production, distribution, publicity and marketing of his vast catalog of films. Stevens is also an accomplished screenwriter and director, and prior to his career behind the camera, was a successful Golden Globe–nominated actor.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1:
What Is a Producer?

If you ask twenty different people in the entertainment industry, you might get twenty variations of an answer. In feature films, the producer, in the mainstream traditional sense, is a creative and business-minded general who interfaces with agents, attorneys, managers, financiers, and distributors on the administrative side, and then with writers, directors, actors, and technical crew on the creative and physical production side.

Essential Responsibilities

Here is what a producer should do, though only a handful possesses the knowledge and applicable skill sets:

The producer generally helps to procure the financing and distribution for the motion picture. He or she hires the director and the writer and oversees the casting. The producer is the “last man standing” when wrap is called at the end of production and all other itinerant employees go on to their next job. The director then goes into the editing room and does his or her cut, but unless that director is a very prominent, established, “star” director, he or she will not have final cut. The producer then does the final cut in accordance with the expectations of the distributors, buyers, or financiers. Sometimes the producer and director are a unified front and collaborate through the final cut, and sometimes the director has a personal agenda that is in conflict with the producer’s delivery obligations, in which case the producer steps in to recut the film accordingly.

A true producer should be a good communicator, charismatic leader, and confident decision maker on all fronts. A producer should understand story and structure and be able to give astute and insightful creative notes on a story, treatment, or screenplay. A producer must also suggest or dictate and implement script changes and revisions, in order to solve not only creative issues but the limitations of the budget and physical production of the picture as well. A
producer should understand camera, shots, angles, coverage, special effects, actors’ performance, as well as all facets of post-production. A producer should be well-versed in the vernacular of the director, so that he or she can effectively communicate with the director and his or her crew. In cases where the producer must make an overriding decision, he or she must understand what shots or scenes are absolutely necessary to complete or tell the story cinematically, and what shots and/or scenes might be eliminated in order to meet the exigencies of production and the constraints of time, budget, and schedule. In post-production, a producer must understand and speak the technical language of labs; editors; film terminology, if applicable; video and digital terminology; music; special visual effects; and sound processes.
Look at it this way: each film has a finite box (i.e., the budget and schedule), within which it must operate in order to be successfully completed. A producer must be able to multitask and make immediate, spontaneous decisions when necessary, and stick to them and see them through, based on his or her global knowledge of what will ultimately best serve the film; but at the same time, stay within the box he or she has created or been given. A producer must be versatile and innovative when dealing with crises as they arise. A producer must possess tremendous financial knowledge in terms of budgeting and finance, negotiating skills (to save money), and the malleability to borrow from one category in order to have additional money to spend in another, without compromising the ultimate quality of the picture. An independent producer should have knowledge of non-union crews and talent, as well as all applicable union and guild contracts and collective bargaining agreements and levels or tiers for each. (In the chapter on unions and guilds, I will go into more detail on lower-budget union tiers, which allow union pictures to be produced more cost effectively.)

A good producer should have a strong editorial sense and knowledge. Unless a director has final cut, the producer follows the director into the editing room to execute the producer’s cut or the cut on behalf of the company or the studio. The producer should be skilled and able to concisely communicate, using the language of film editing, and have a working knowledge of how to dynamically cut a motion picture. A producer should understand creative editorial techniques, such as transposing the order of scenes, using flashbacks or flash-forwards, intercutting, creating moments by double-cuts, changing frame rate, and a myriad of other effective editorial devices. A producer should have a strong knowledge of music, as well as special effects. A musical score is critical to any film. Music underscores, supports, and enhances emotion and adds subliminal depth to an audience’s perceptions, as well as to actors’ performances. Often the internal pace or sustained tension of a picture is created, dictated, or greatly enhanced by music. Judiciously knowing when a scene might play better or more effectively without music is valuable as well.
Special effects have evolved quickly, particularly over the last ten years, and a producer should stay abreast of current technologies and computer-generated imagery (CGI) techniques, as well as all new and emerging technologies. On the technical side, a producer should also be knowledgeable of all film and video elements (although shooting on film has rapidly declined and is almost obsolete), as well as High Definition, 3D, and all new, constantly emerging digital formats.

A producer should also be knowledgeable of all sound and music elements and formats created throughout the post-production process through to the complete delivery of the picture. (The foregoing knowledge is essential for every picture that is produced).

A producer should have good relationships with at least one insurance company that provides production, negative, and errors and omissions (E&O) insurance for films, and stay currently aware of the best prevailing rates. A producer should have at least a cursory legal knowledge and must be able to read and understand contracts, as well as nuances to which a producer, production company, distributor, or studio might ultimately be legally bound. A good producer must be able to hold firm in such knowledge when negotiating with agents, managers, or attorneys who may represent talent, as well as during negotiations with crew, vendors, and unions.

Explaining the Producer’s Role to Laymen

How does one explain job descriptions in moviemaking to people not in the film business? I have often likened making a film to building a house. The architectural plans are the screenplay. The builder is the producer. The foreman overseeing the job and instructing the subcontractors is the director (admittedly not the best analogy for a director, but one that a non-entertainment person understands). The budget for building a home is very similar to a motion picture budget. Both contain bids, estimates, and prices from vendors, crews, and subcontractors on material, equipment, and other components, which are put as line items in a budget. Both builders and producers move money around within their respective budgets; i.e., costs that might be less than originally estimated in certain categories might be used to cover costs that may be higher than originally estimated in others. Hopefully the global costs balance out in the end, and the film (or house) is finished on budget, on time, and on schedule.

For the producer and home builder, there are always occurrences beyond their control that affect time, schedule, and budget. This is why all industry-standard film budgets include a contingency, which in most cases is 10 percent. Both film projects and real estate projects should have insurance policies for protection in the event of accident or disaster, and in the case of a motion picture, there is often reinsurance, in the form of a completion bond, which guarantees completion of the film if the producer or director should fail. Building a film, like building a house, requires a strong, definitive leader with a vision and the ability to get it done on time and on budget. A good producer must be adept at maintaining the vision and aesthetics of the director and screenwriter, just as a good builder adheres to the aesthetics and materials required to carry out an architect’s plans and vision.

What I’m going to teach you is how to do the cursory due diligence; how to tap into the marketplace to be able to get your film made and distributed and make a profit. I categorize producers in three ways: “wannabes,” employees, and independent entrepreneurs.


Just as there are countless men and women of all ages running around Hollywood and New York (and anywhere else that has an entertainment hub) claiming to be actors and actresses, there are proportionate numbers of those who also run around claiming to be producers. Some people try their entire life to get a script made into a movie and never succeed. As with any business opportunity, often one must adhere to what I call the three Rs; being at the Right place, at the Right time, and Ready. If you happen to be at the right place at the right time and you are not ready to assume all the responsibilities required of a producer, and you do not possess the underlying knowledge to do so, an opportunity may be squandered and never come again.

I categorize a wannabe producer as one of the multitude of people running around with a script but without the knowledge or expertise of how to get a movie made. Wannabes are often quiet naive and unrealistic as to what constitutes a commercial and salable film in the foreign and domestic marketplaces and are generally unaware of current market values. Most often, wannabes have never produced a film, or they have attached themselves to a creative person’s coattails. Many, in their naiveté, put together voluminous lists of attachments, such as directors, line producers, co-producers, directors of photography, art directors, composers, and others, which I usually consider to be encumbrances. I don’t want any attachments. Why? I want to hire my own people with whom I have relationships and whom I trust. With rare exception, in the independent film world, I personally don’t trust anyone’s taste or experience other than my own. Most often, wannabes’ salary expectations are also out of line and unrealistic. Anyone who comes to me with a “packaged” picture, with predetermined department (other than possibly a director), is an immediate turnoff. I generally won’t even look at the material. If a director is attached, I make sure that his or her expectations and capabilities are realistic and sound and that we share the same vision.

Budgets prepared by wannabes are almost uniformly completely unrealistic. Those with no experience or expertise have no clue as to what can actually be done and for what price. They have usually paid someone equally uninformed to create a budget for them based on very little, if any, realistic knowledge, and they almost always err vastly, either on the high or low side. Also, in many cases, essential line items have been eliminated and essential elements necessary to complete delivery of a film are nowhere to be found. I trust only my budgets, my expertise, and my knowledge of vendor deals, rates, and prices, based on my experience and knowledge. Never trust someone else’s “budget.” Do your own.

The same can be said for wannabes’ schedules, which almost uniformly are pie-in-the-sky schedules with an unrealistic number of shooting days (usually high). There is an art to creating a schedule, based on consolidating and possibly “cheating” certain locations in order to group blocks of scenes together and reduce company moves, as well as shortening actors’ and stunt players’ schedules and manipulating their days worked, wherever possible, into a more cost-effective shooting plan.

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