How Movie Producers Work

Training for Movie Producers

Legendary producer David O. Selznick started his career as a script reader.
© Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Technically, a movie producer doesn't need any training. But movie producers, other than Howard Hughes, rarely start at the top. As with any other business, if you're going to run it, you need to understand it. To meet producer responsibilities, you have to be familiar with all aspects of movie production and quite skilled at some of those aspects. And your contacts -- who you know -- can be important, too.

Plenty of film producers have honed their skills in acting, writing, directing or some other area of filmmaking before moving up to become a movie producer.


Here's how some famous film producers broke into the business:

  • Mac Sennett started as a theater actor before becoming an actor, script writer and director before starting the Keystone Company.
  • Irving Thalberg started as secretary to Universal Pictures' president. He moved up to studio manager before becoming head of production for MGM.
  • David O. Selznick learned first from his father, a silent film producer. He moved to Hollywood and worked his way up from script reader and assistant story editor to producer at MGM, Paramount and RKO.
  • Darryl Zanuck sold a film scenario to Irving Thalberg in 1923, joined Warner Bros. in 1924 as a writer for the "Rin Tin Tin" movies and, within three years, moved up to executive producer.
  • Walt Disney started studying cartooning before high school. He worked as a draftsman and inker in commercial art studios and made short animated advertising films with a partner before starting the Walt Disney Company and producing animated films.
  • Hal Wallis managed a movie theater before joining the publicity staff at Warner Bros. He moved to publicity, then chief of production and then executive producer for the studio before becoming an independent producer.
  • Steven Spielberg produced and directed short films in college that attracted the attention of Universal Pictures. He directed episodes for television shows and made-for-TV movies before directing movies and becoming an independent producer.
  • Spike Lee directed films and met his future co-producer, Monty Ross, at Morehouse College. He won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' student award with the master's thesis film he completed at New York University.

If you want to become a movie producer, you may want to start small like these experts did. Get some training in writing, editing, cinematography, animation or another area of movie making. Make your own amateur films. Produce something that showcases your skills, and then find a starter job in the industry.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics describes formal training as a great asset for anyone going into movie production and notes that colleges, technical schools and independent centers like the American Film Institute offer training programs for various areas of filmmaking. Some colleges and universities offer degrees with an emphasis on production management.

Here are the most important attributes for movie producers, according to the bureau:

  • Talent
  • Experience
  • Business acumen
  • Ability to deal with many different kinds of people under stress

Besides feature films, the motion picture industry produces films for specialized audiences such as documentaries and educational, business, industrial and government films. In addition, many businesses provide services to the industry, including editing, titling, computer graphics, animation and special effects. Working in any of these areas may be the start of a career as a movie producer [source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics].

Not all movie producers have exactly the same jobs. Go to the next page to learn more about some of these jobs.