Office hours: By appointment.
Cassie Cassino: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cassie #: 310-849-2685
Course Description: Defines and examines the role of the Executive/Feature Producer through preproduction, production, and post-production phases.
The class provides a comprehensive overview of the opportunities and challenges in producing. The emphasis will be on feature and television productions – but we will also discuss series, documentaries, webisodes and other forms of new media including streaming networks like Hulu and Netflix.
In terms of process, we will explore strategies for creating, researching, developing, pitching, executing and selling ideas. We will also focus on the creative and collaborative aspects of producing as well as the importance of the entrepreneurial and business side. There will also be an ongoing discussion about the managerial and problem-solving skills necessary to succeed.
The course will be a combination of lectures, case studies, guest speakers and open discussions. Guest speakers will include professional producers and other experts in the feature film, television, and new media – writers, directors, financiers, agents, managers, casting directors, executives, marketers, distributors, etc., who will discuss their working relationships with producers.
The goals of this course are:
To help you focus on what projects and ideas are worthy of development and why.
To help you communicate your ideas and projects in a cogent and compelling manner that will help you sell them to writers, directors, talent and financiers.
To convey, through the guest speakers, real world advice for getting your projects going and the appropriate outlets for them.
To help you navigate the different aspects of being a producer and the many hats that must be worn.
To enable you to problem solve at the different stages of your projects – and give examples of how to navigate difficult scenarios on and off a set.
To leave you with a working presentation to sell your project and a sense of what kind of producer you want to be.
Suggested Reading and Supplementary Materials: Kosberg, Robert, with Mim Eichler. How to Sell Your Idea to Hollywood. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Lazarus, Paul. The Film Producer, 2nd edition. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
Turman, Lawrence, So You Want to Be a Producer. Three Rivers Press, 2005.
Vachon, Christine. A Killer Life. New York, NY: Limelight Editions, 2007.
Vogler, Chris: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007
Goldman, William: Adventures in the Screen Trade, Grand Central Publishing, 2012
You will be required to complete several short assignments over the course of the semester that will be part of a larger final assignment at the end of the semester. At times, you will be expected to read screenplays/teleplays and other materials and view movies to prepare for a particular class.
You are also expected to research the guests ahead of time and prepare questions for them. It is a basic courtesy to demonstrate knowledge of the guests’ accomplishments and it is also essential to maintain the highest level of discourse.
Grading Criteria: Attendance: 10%
In Class Participation: 30%
Class Assignments: 40%
Final Assignment: 20%
Class participation is particularly important to the success of this class, in order to stimulate dynamic discussions amongst the students and with the guest speakers so regular attendance is required. Attendance will be taken for each class and tardiness or absence will have a significant affect on your grade. We expect you to complete your assignments on time and be prepared for class. If you have issues with the deadline, please speak to us at least a week in advance of it.
*NOTE RE: ASSIGNMENTS: You will not be graded on whether you are right or wrong, you will be graded on the quality of the work and your ability to meet deadlines. Please be clear, thorough and use facts to support your position. Two unexcused absences will result in your grade being lowered by one full level. (eg., “A” to a “B”). A third unexcused absence will result in our grade being lowered another full level (eg., “B” to a “C”). your grade will be lowered by one level for every absence after. Two late arrivals equates to one full absence. If you have an emergency and must miss class please contact Jane and Susan prior to class – preferably in the morning before class.
Class discussion is strictly confidential and cannot be recorded. It should also not be repeated without the guest’s permission. Also, it is not appropriate for any student to solicit employment by or submissions to guest speakers. GUEST SPEAKERS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.
Statement on Academic Conduct and Support Systems
Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words – is a serious academic offense with serious consequences. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Section 11, Behavior Violating University Standardshttps://scampus.usc.edu/1100-behavior-violating-university-standards-and-appropriate-sanctions/. Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable. See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct, http://policy.usc.edu/scientific-misconduct/.
Discrimination, sexual assault, and harassment are not tolerated by the university. You are encouraged to report any incidents to the Office of Equity and Diversity http://equity.usc.edu/ or to the Department of Public Safety http://capsnet.usc.edu/department/department-public-safety/online-forms/contact-us. This is important for the safety whole USC community. Another member of the university community – such as a friend, classmate, advisor, or faculty member – can help initiate the report, or can initiate the report on behalf of another person. The Center for Women and Men http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/cwm/ provides 24/7 confidential support, and the sexual assault resource center webpage email@example.com describes reporting options and other resources.
A number of USC’s schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing. Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more. Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute http://dornsife.usc.edu/ali, which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students. The Office of Disability Services and Programs http://sait.usc.edu/academicsupport/centerprograms/dsp/home_index.htmlprovides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations. If an officially declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Information http://emergency.usc.edu/will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.
ALL STUDENTS ARE EXPECTED TO UNDERSTAND AND ABIDE BY THE USC SCHOOL OF CINEMATIC ARTS SAFETY GUIDELINES. VIOLATIONS OF ANY OF THE SAFETY GUIDELINES MAY RESULT IN DISCIPLINARY ACTION RANGING FROM CONFISCATION OF FOOTAGE TO EXPULSION FROM THE UNIVERSITY.
COURSE SCHEDULE: Week 1, January 15, 2015: Meet Your Instructors, Meet Each Other as Professionals, and Think About What Ideas Move You
Introductions. Questions. Survey of class expectations. Discuss all assignments.
Discussion re: the role of the Producer. What do he/she do? What makes a good/bad producer? What do the titles mean (Executive, Producer, Line Producer, Co-Producer, Associate Producer)? What is the difference between the titles in television and film? Who are the “buyers” for projects and what are they looking for and how do they work with the different kinds of producers? What are mandatory skills for different kinds of producers (creative, line, financial, consulting, parasitic in features; writing producers in TV). Discussion of the collaborative process and what it really means for producers and the importance of
Overview of pitching:
Different types of pitches: TV and film and how they differ
The advent of the sizzle reel
What to do before, during and after a pitch
What are the important elements to a pitch?
How long should pitches be?
What should I leave, if anything, behind in a pitch meeting?
What are the memorable elements of the successful and unsuccessful pitches?
What do I do if they “pass”? How to accept and give criticism.
Discussion of Final Assignment: “Package” a film to sell for a financier. You should be working on this throughout the semester. Must include: Script (please choose an existing piece of material/not one that’s been sold), one page Synopsis, Executive Summary (must include logline, genre, suggested budget, when and where you might shoot) a potential writers list (top five names), directors list, cast list for at least 3 roles, a list of “buyers” you intend to go to (including specific executives at the company), a visual component, and a one-page marketing/ distribution plan (including who you think the market is and how best to reach them). Must be presented in a professional and coherent format. You only have one shot to sell your project.
Handouts: PGA Code of Credits. How to prepare for speaker discussions. Bio samples. Executive Summary sample. How to pitch and TV pitch templates. Sign up for individual meetings.
In-class Participation: Sign-up weekly role playing. At the beginning of each class, there will be time spent on role-playing exercises where students will act out possible scenarios pertaining to the class’s subject.
Assignment #1: Due Jan. 22nd. In class, students will pitch 2 ideas/2 minutes per idea.
Week 2, January 22nd: Where Do Ideas Come From And Finding The Right Medium
Previous speakers included: Gaye Hirsch (Co-head of Development @ CW), Stacey Sher (PULP FICTION, DJANGO UNCHAINED) We will look at the genesis of some popular films, discuss how and where great ideas come from, how you know it’s a good idea, and how to find and decide the right medium for an idea. In class you will pitch your ideas – 2 minutes per idea, 2 ideas per student. We will discuss potential mediums for the student’s best or favorite if the two ideas and why that medium.
Handouts: “Hints on Photoplay Writing” by James Peacock. “AFM’s Tips for Pitching” by Stephanie Palmer.
Assignment #2: Students will prepare a more detailed pitch of their chosen idea. Pitch cannot be more than 5 minutes. You must specify what the pitch is for: Phone; formal meeting; or, cocktail party/elevator. Is the pitch for TV or Film. What’s the difference?
Week 3, January 29th: Pitching Your Idea
Previous speakers included: Lauren Kislevsky (Disney Channel), Todd Black (THE EQUALIZER, THE GREAT DEBATERS) Students will pitch an original idea or adaptation and get a critique from instructors and guest speaker. Pitches should be no more than 5 minutes to allow for discussion.
Assignment #3: Write your own Bio that describes who you are for the market, employers and publicity. No more than one page. This will be included in your Final Assignment. Hand in February 5th.
Week 4, February 5th, 2015: Acquiring and Presenting Your Idea
Previous speakers included: Stephen Moore (Agt/Kohner Agency) and Amy Shiffman (Agt/IPG) The Idea/ Source Material/ Treatments
Rights: Getting rights to articles, books, people.
I have a good idea, how do I find a writer?
How do I convey my idea to the writer?
Can I protect my idea? How do I keep it from being stolen?
How long should a treatment be?
Handouts: Sample template for shopping agreement; excerpt from “Adventures in the Screen Trade”; Log-line and synopsis links; Excerpt from “Save The Cat;” “The Kinetic Log-Line” by Bill Boyle.
Assignment #4: Students will be asked to watch or read the most recent film of guest lecturers for Week 5.
Week 5, February 12th, 2015: The Writing and Development Process Previous guests included: Ron Nyswaner (PHILADELPHIA, RAY DONOVAN); Billy Ray (CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, THE HUNGER GAME)
What kind of scripts should I be looking for?
Where do I find them?
What are the important elements in script?
How long should it take a writer to do a 1) first draft 2) revision 3) polish
What do I do if they are taking too long?
Is it customary to see pages?
What if the script is not what I wanted?
Development and Story Notes
Written vs. verbal “notes”, which are better?
What is a “beat sheet” and how do you get the writer to do one?
What is “development hell” and how do I get out of it?
What do I do when I disagree with financier’s/studio’s notes?
How different should a rewrite be from the original?
What do I do if the script doesn’t seem to be getting better?
What if the writer won’t take my notes?
What if I/ my financier want to replace the writer?
Handouts: Sample writers list, development notes and script coverage template.
Assignment #5: Script coverage of a choice of one of two different scripts handed out.
To be handed in on February 26th at individual meetings. Prepare writers list to be handed in February 19th.
Week 6, February 19th, 2015: Packaging your script Previous guests included: Marcia Ross(indie casting director, former head of casting Disney Studios), Daisy Wu (Gersh Talent Agent), Frank Wuliger (Agt/Gersh), Jennifer Levine (Mgr/Untitled)
Attaching High Profile Directors, Writers and Actors:
Who should I call: agents and managers, what’s the difference?
How do I get a writer to spec an idea or adaptation?
How do I get my script to a big “name” actor or director?
How do I get a director or talent attached without financing?
What are they looking for?
If I meet with them, what do I say/do?
If I run into talent socially, can I give them my script?
Stunt Casting: My financier wants me to cast a music star/athlete/celeb who is not an actor, what should I do? Does it make sense?
Ensemble casting: the total effect is greater than the sum of its parts. How to create the appearance of having a star by casting alchemy.
Casting Unknown Actors:
Should I fight for a non-“name” actor who is perfect for the part?
How does foreign financing affect casting decisions?
Handouts:Sample Casting lists
Assignment #6: Prep for individual discussion of final projects.
Week 7, February 26th, 2015: INDIVIDUAL MEETINGS. NO CLASS MEETING Jane and Susan will hold individual meetings with each student and discuss their final projects, goals and progress. Students should know what script or idea they want to package and be prepared to discuss their choice with Jane and Susan.
Week 8, March 5th, 2015: Digital Media Opportunities for Producers Previous speakers included: Robert Speiser (EVP Way to Blue; former head of Global Digital Marketing/CBS Films); Concepcion Lara (founded HBO Ole, HBO Latino, Fox Latin America Channel); Lynn Hirschfield; Kim Evey
Discussion about web-based entertainment and digital marketing and media. What are the different kinds of shows that are being developed for the web and providers.
Handouts: PGA Article on Kim Evey.
Assignment #7: Executive Summary -- Prepare an overview of your Final Assignment project that will be incorporated into your final document. Due on March 12th. Watch films of speaker(s) for class on March 12th.
Week 9, March 12th, 2015: Working With The Director
Previous Guests include: Daniel Barnes (BEASTLY, CAKE), BILLY RAY (SHATTERED GLASS, BREACH) Working with the Director:
How to support his/her creative process - working with a writer
Working with a writer-director
How to the serve the needs of the financier/distributor together.
Final work on script—adjustments for budget, location, cast, and acts of God
Scouting, working with departments
On-set relationship and relationship and process in post production
How the director and producer deal with multiple agendas from financiers, distributors and other producers
Handouts: Buyers List, “How To Do Coverage”
Assignment #8: Coverage or synopsis of final project. Due March 26th.
MARCH 19 – SPRING BREAK Week 10, March 26th, 2015: Studio and Indie Financing
Previous Guest Speakers included: Maria Faillace (CBS Films) and Julie Lynn (Producer, LOOK OF LOVE, ALBERT NOBBS) Getting In the Door
What does it take for a studio to actually look at a script/meet with a producer?
Does anybody accept blind submissions or do I just have to know somebody?
Is it better to make my film independently or at a studio?
Getting the Green Light:
What does it mean to get a green light?
What do I need to do to get a green light? Money? Stars? Budget?
Since they are paying, do I have to do exactly what my financier/studio wants?
The importance of independent & self-finance for producers – How to cultivate it, how to make it work for you in deal making, on set, in post production, and in distribution. What about crowd sourcing?
Handouts: Possible Role-playing scenarios for Week 11
Assignment #9: Review role-playing options and think about how you would handle different scenarios.
Week 11, April 2nd, 2015: Handling On-set Problems/Role Playing
Previous Guest Speakers Included: Sarah Green (THE TREE OF LIFE) and/or Kim Cooper (Senior VP Fox Physical Production) and/or Chrisann Verges (ENOUGH SAID, CYRUS)
Special guest judge(s) will help guide and determine various reactions to on-set troubles. Some of these may include: arguments over key hires; disagreements over script revisions; interpersonal problems; handling conflicting notes from producers and financiers; on-set squabbles; sudden changes that require
shifts in locations; sudden reductions in financing; etc.
Handout: Sample budget and schedule
Assignment #10: Watch TV show in preparation for next week’s guest and/or set visit.
Week 12, April 9th, 2015: Set Visit -- The Challenges of TV Production
Previous Guests: Jason Katims (PARENTHOOD), Betsy Beers (SHONDALAND Partner)
Pitching a TV show
Developing a TV show
Casting a TV show
Dealing with network executives and studio executives
Choosing a show runner
Staffing a show
The process on a pilot - choosing the director
The writers room – what is it and how does it work
What are the jobs on a TV show and what is the best way for someone new to get a foot in the door as a writer and/or producer?
Handout: Visual Marketing examples including sizzle reel and one-sheet art.
Assignment #11: Create a visual marketing tool to help sell your final project/assignment (prop, giveaway, sizzle reel, web page, one-sheet, etc.). Due April 23rd.
Week 13, April 16th, 2015: Traditional and Non-Traditional Distribution and Film Festivals
Previous Guest Speakers included: Ernie Foronda (FAST & FURIOUS, SUNSET STORIES), Ron Yerxa (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, NEBRASKA), Stephanie Allain (Director of LA Film Festival, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, HUSTLE & FLOW) Festivals/Screening for Distributors
What are the major festivals and what type of films are they looking for?
How do I decide which festival is right for my film?
What are the key factors distributors are looking for when they acquire films from festivals?
How do I submit a film to a festival?
When should I submit the film?
Is there a downside to submitting to as many festivals as possible?
What kind of publicity, if any, should I do at festivals for distributors?
Distribution/Finding a Home/Not Finding a Home/Marketing and Publicity
What should I look for in a distributor? When should I get a sales agent?
What is the importance of “rights” (domestic, foreign, video, etc)?
If my film is picked up, do I need a lawyer to negotiate the terms of the contract?
What are my other options if I cannot find distribution?
How do I market my film on my own?
How can I help market my film?
Handout: List of Top Film Festivals
Assignment #12: Visual material for Final Assignment due on April 18th as well as work to date on Final Assignment which be discussed in individual meetings.
Week 14, April 23rd, 2015: New Media & Traditional Marketing
Former Guest Speakers included: Tony Sella (Fox), Valerie Van Galder (Sony/Tri Star), Peter Adee (former head of marketing for Relativity Media) Publicity and Marketing:
What are the important elements to be aware of during a publicity and marketing campaign?
What do I do if my cast doesn’t want to do press?
What do I do if the press doesn’t want my cast?
What is tracking? What does it mean?
What if I want to suggest ideas for the marketing campaign?
What if they don’t listen to me?
Who decides the one-sheet and trailer?
What if I feel they aren’t spending enough?
Who decides if it is wide or limited release?
Who decides how many theatres/ screens?
What if I think they are wrong, can I fight for a different approach?
When is the right time to ask about a different approach?
New Media and On-line Partnerships: How to get a running start using new media to publicize and potentially distribute your movie and how to keep it going. What are the types of New Media available for features and TV. What can a producer do to maximize the use of New Media – what kind of materials should a producer be providing to increase their project’s profile.
Handout: Sample Market Research Report
*** FINAL ASSIGNMENT Due Date TBD ***
Week 15, April 30th, 2015: Catch All Recap & Individual Meetings Following a final recap, instructors will hold individual meetings to follow up with each student on their projects and goals, and discuss the final assignment. Meaningful progress must be made by this time.