Despite their flashy reputation of wielding the money behind the movies, film producers often can’t sustain a career in the profession, a new study concludes.
56% percent of the 474 respondents said they earned $25,000 or less — and more than a quarter earned less than $2,500 from producing in 2020.
Almost two-thirds of participating producers said they earned their primary income through producing in 2019, while that share dropped to 56% last year.
Rebecca Green, the founder of Dear Producer whose credits include “It Follows” and “See You in My Dreams,” told TheWrap that a lack of education about what producing means has led to a false perception that producers benefit more than the rest of the creative team from their work on a film.
“Even for me, it’s not sustainable — I always work another job,” she said, noting that she still struggles after her 2014 indie horror hit “It Follows” grossed $23.3 million worldwide. “Everybody must think: ‘She’s good now. It must have made her financially solvent.’ But it didn’t at all.”
Rebecca Green, Courtesy of Rebecca Green
Green acknowledged that the income drop year-over-year was strongly influenced by the pandemic, but she also pointed out that producers had fewer options to pivot to other moneymaking activities than writers and other members of the creative community.
The Producers Guild of America was not immediately available for comment on the report.
About a third of respondents reported a total annual income of $50,000 or less from all sources, including producing, in 2019. That jumped to nearly 42% in 2020. For those who need to supplement their producing income, most do so by working another job in the film industry, relying on a spouse or partner, or teaching film.
“During 2020, we saw a lot of trade announcements about projects in development and many writers were able to sustain themselves by getting new projects set up,” Green said. “But it is extremely rare for a producer to get a development fee, even from big streamers or in television, regardless of how many hours are being put into a project during the development stage.”
With little to no production able to happen in 2020, many producers had no source of producing income, she added. “We don’t get paid until we are in official preproduction, which means boots on the ground,” she said. “And as we all know, there was little to no production in 2020, so producers had no source of producing income.”
The report stated that there was an large increase in producers relying on savings and government assistance to survive the pandemic shutdown. Green said that even during non-pandemic times, producers have fewer options for career advancement or even parallel moves than writers or directors. Directors are frequently hired to direct individual TV episodes, but that’s not an option for film producers.
“To use a sports analogy, we’re like scouts,” Green said. “We’re scouting the minor leagues to bring these people to the majors, but we’re stuck at a lower level.”
She also said that many involved with a film production are receiving “producer” credits without doing work traditionally associated with the role. “The credit has really been cannibalized over the years,” Green said. “In terms of who is a producer, I don’t think anyone really knows anymore.” The study, she added, was intended to shed light on “how do we get people to understand what we’re coming from, and what we do.”