Is Producing a Sustainable Career?

A survey by Dear Producer shines a light on what it is like to be a film producer in today’s world (pre-and mid-COVID) — and the outcomes are surprising. 

Perhaps Hollywood is to blame? The image of a producer being photographed on the red carpet, schmoozing with celebrities and sitting behind a big desk in a fancy office, is a persistent one. Yet, the reality for most producers falls far from that image. Dear Producer’s new survey provides a realistic look into what film producing is today — and why the producer as an essential part of filmmaking needs to be heard. 

“There is an assumption that producers breeze in and out of films, making big paychecks and cashing in on lucrative backend deals,” said Rebecca Green, founder and editor in chief of Dear Producer, a digital platform that connects and amplifies the voices of producers. “That may have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but it is not reflective of the industry today. The reality is that producers rarely make a living wage. We work for years to bring movies to life — which may or may not happen — without compensation, and in fact, we are often spending upwards of $5,000 of our own money to even get a project started.” 

About the Survey

The survey consisted of 75 questions and was open only to those who have a producer or produced by credit on at least one commercially released, feature-length film in the past 10 years. More than 550 respondents began the survey, and 474 completed it. More than half who completed it were women. 

The questions were split into five categories related to producing life: demographics to understand who makes up the film producing community; financial sustainability to explore income from producing, fees, points and deferrals, as well as investment required; producing profile to gauge what respondents work on; access to benefits, exploring topics like health insurance; and mental health and sentiment to focus on how respondents feel about the work they do. 

“I was surprised and not surprised by the results — the fact that people can’t make a living solely from producing is a common story in the producing community,” said Green. “What is surprising is the number of people who are considered full-time producers making less than $25K from producing in a year, both in 2020 and also pre-pandemic in 2019. And these are seasoned producers we’re talking about. The vast majority have 6 to 15 years of experience with multiple, successful movies made in the past 10 years, with an average age of 43.6 years.” 

Key Insights

  • While a concentration of producers are based in LA and NYC, the majority of respondents — nearly 2/3rds — lived outside those areas in 2020.
  • In 2019, 64% of producers said they earned their primary income through producing. In 2020, the proportion dropped to 56%. 
  • In 2019, 30% of respondents reported an income of $50K or less from all sources, including producing. In 2020, nearly 42% reported an income of $50K or less.
  • In 2019, 41% of respondents earned $25K or less exclusively from producing. In 2020, income from producing dropped significantly, with 56% of respondents earning $25K or less. 
  • More than a quarter of respondents earned less than $2,500 from producing in 2020.
  • More than 80% of respondents have had to defer their producing fee on at least one project, with nearly 50% deferring their fee on multiple projects.
  • For those who need to supplement producing income, most do so by working another job in the film industry, relying on a spouse or partner, or teaching film. 
  • In 2020, there was a big increase in producers relying on personal savings and government assistance to survive the pandemic shut down. 
  • Only 33% of respondents said they feel optimistic about the future of film right now, but 77% feel good about the work that they do. 
  • Overwhelmingly, producers enjoy their work: 39% said they enjoy it “a good amount,” while more than 50% said they love it.
  • A lack of access to financing, and having to work another job were the top two barriers to entering or progressing in producing as a career. 
  • When asked what would make them leave or consider leaving producing as a career, the number one consideration by far is the lack of money or financial concerns. 
  • When asked what keeps them going, producers said ‘a love of the work’ and ‘a drive to inject more original voices into film and storytelling’ are the top two reasons. 

“While there are some bright spots throughout the results, most of the data is not encouraging and exposes the vulnerabilities in our industry,” said Green. “There are no standards when it comes to wages, work conditions — even responsibilities — in producing. The survey results show that having minimums and standards is not just something that ‘would be nice,’ but is critical in moving the field of producing forward. Without a major overhaul, producing as a career may not exist in the future — and the film and television industry will be worse off for it.”

Part of the problem, according to producers, is the mystery surrounding “producer” as a job title, and others in the industry not recognizing or fully understanding the value that producers provide. 

“People often underplay the role that producers fulfill in finding and championing talent in the film industry,” said Green. “Producers are crucial in not just bringing the right people together, but also in our skill and talent for discovery. Producers are usually the first people to take a chance on a filmmaker or script — to recognize and nurture talent, to polish the rough gem of a story. We are the ones who fight for new perspectives. We nurture talent in directors, writers, and others who are then moved up the ranks to bigger budget movies, while we’re left behind being asked to waive our fees and wondering how we might pay rent next month.”