Writing for the Green Light – Putting Your Line-Producer “Blinders” On

There’s lots of producers on a movie. . . . There’s the producer-producers (the ones who carry the project from beginning to end, who hustle and grind, hire and fire, and manage the project from concept to completion), there’s executive producers (who effectively represent the money or the financial interests behind the film, or are sometimes directly financing it themselves, either out-of-pocket or through their company), and there are associate producers (individuals who contribute something relatively small in scale yet absolutely vital to the overall production; they might work for one day, or sometimes make one phone call, but that one action connects the production with the people who can finance it or otherwise saves the day).

But there’s a producer out there who rarely gets the credit they deserve: The line producer. They’re hired on productions, sometimes very early on, and their job is to (1) review the script and come up with a real-world budget, then (2) manage the money throughout the production process (including pre- and post-) to ensure that budget is properly followed.

A line producer generally doesn’t care about the content of the script; they principally read it for informational purposes only. They get the name “line” producer because they skim every single page of the written script (line-byline) and look for indications of cost and expenses. They are keeping track of things like: how many characters are in the script, how many locations, what props are used in this scene, how many extras are in that scene, does a particular sequence take place at night (if so, will it require additional lighting or a generator), how involved is that fight scene and will it require a stunt double or additional trainer on set.

They also map out matrixes of information like which characters are in which scenes and which scenes can be shot in the same location (meaning are there characters that need to be at a location for an entire day or for only one or two shots). They also calculate details like the age of certain actors, if there are there minors on set (and if so, how many hours they’re working, which can require an on-set educator to be present).

It’s an extremely meticulous job, one that you can never fully appreciate until you’ve actually stood in their shoes (and I can safely tell you from afar I have zero interest in trying those shoes on!).

However, bringing that mindset to your now polished and revised reader-ready spec script is a very useful way to get your work market-ready.

This process not only makes it much easier on the readers (round number one), when it gets to the hands of development execs (who use a methodical thinking style similar to that line producers use), they will take note of your carefully structured script, it’s attention to clear detail, and its logical breakdown of locations and chronology of events.

Every word you write costs money. That’s fine, the project is going to have a budget and investments will be made to produce it. . . . But the more money conscious you can be during your rewrites, the better. Not only does taking two characters and combining them into one reduce your cast (which saves money), you also need to think this way regarding props, locations, sequences, and actions.

I have a challenge for you: Hop on Google and search for production software or film scheduling breakdowns. . . . Get a real-world sense of how scripts are actually broken down into day-by-day shooting schedules. Give it a try; actually schedule your script as a legit production. Number the scenes, enter the data of each scene (location, time of day, props, cast, etc.), and actually start thinking about how you would structure a shooting schedule. Assume you have an eighteen-day shoot, how would you arrange locations? How many (and which) characters need to be on set each day (and do they all need to be there for the whole day)? How many props are needed and can they be cut down?

You will see your script in a completely different way! If your script has a scene with two characters speaking while cruising together in a car, this comes across as extremely time consuming and difficult to shoot. Now you need car mounts, possible street permits, and so on. Can that conversation happen elsewhere? Could you even take the “new” location and combine it with another scene?

As your spec script is passed around a production company, these are the kinds of questions and concerns that working development executives voice when reading your work. . . . Scheduling out your own spec script will truly open your eyes to how much more complex seemingly easy ideas can become for a production crew to break down.

Fix those mistakes and rework your script with your line producer blinders on. It is tedious and frustrating, but it will have a huge payoff when readers and development executives can see the ease of shooting it (which will show them you are a writer who gets how difficult their jobs are).

Image by o5com via Flickr

Excerpt from Writing for the Green Light: How to Make Your Script the One Hollywood Notices by Scott Kirkpatrick, © 2015. Taylor & Francis Goup, LLC. All rights reserved.

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