Week 1

posted Apr 25, 2012, 7:00 PM by Priya Nayar
  • Course Overview

    Being a producer requires broad but not necessarily deep expertise in a wide range of disciplines. A producer should know enough to know when to consult with an expert, know which expert to consult, and be able to intelligently vet the expert’s advice.

    In this course, we will deal with the responsibilities of the producer as we see them: developing ideas and concepts, the scriptwriting process, determining production requirements, scheduling, budgeting, managing shoots and post-production, dealing with personnel, clients, funders, or sponsors, determining distribution venues, and pitching the project to potential funders. As we proceed through these steps, we will touch on some of the many areas of knowledge with which the producer must be familiar – production technologies, deal points, copyright law, distribution options, and business structures.

    That is a pretty tall order for a relatively short course. The best way to learn about producing is not to read about it, or listen to lectures but to do it -- with guidance, of course. Think of this course as a kind of “producing laboratory.” You’re not actually going to create a finished program. Instead, we’re going to look at what a producer must do prior to actually going into production. At the end of the course, you will have a complete production package ready to go.

    Our producing laboratory is multi-track. Your assignments will be keyed to three different, but parallel, long-term projects:

    1.  Individual Project Development

    Over the course of the semester, each student will create a number of documents that culminate in a funding and pre-prodiction package for a specific production of their own selection. Be real, though! This is not the place for pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Your project should probably not be the multi-million dollar, effects-laden, 3D sci-fi galactic adventure you’ve been daydreaming about since you were in high school. Rather, you should select a project that could be reasonably undertaken by the proposal’s creator/producer – you – in some reasonable time frame. You needn’t think small, just realistically. There is no reason on earth that anyone in this class could not walk out at the end of the semester and raise the money for their first feature, but the likelihood is considerably less if it’s on the scale of “Avatar.”

    The Production Package project will consist of specific assignments that represent a sustained, 15 week development thrust. Your final proposal should be a highly polished, professional level document that you would be proud to present to a potential funding source.

    All of the following assignments are designed to help you achieve this outcome. Some of these steps may be combined or telescoped into each other, but each of them will have been completed if you follow the sequence. Further details on the project will be forthcoming throughout the semester.

    The first set of assignments will be focused on developing your idea and writing it down. While it is not essential for a producer to be an accomplished screenwriter, it is important to be able to organize your ideas and express them sufficiently clearly and in enough detail to proceed with the rest of the pre-production process. Everything depends on the script or, for a documentary or non-fiction project, the outline. You must have a clear idea of the project before you can develop schedules or budgets. Hence, our initial emphasis is on conceptualization and writing.  The assignments that you will undertake for this stage of the project include:

    • Develop 3 Ideas for a pitch to the class
    • The Project Brief (formal assessment via template)
    • Beat Outline/Treatment
    • Scripting & Researching
    • Final Script or Documentary outline/detailed treatment

    The next set of assignments will involve analyzing your script/outline/ treatment to determine what will be necessary to make it happen. You will review the script/outline, break it down, determine the number of shoot days that will be needed, what crew and/or talent will be required, what additional materials like stock footage or historical material is needed, how long it will take to edit, whether special or visual effects are required, equipment, costumes, props, travel, etc. The assignments that you will undertake for this stage of the project include:

    • Script/Outline breakdown
    • Build Schedule
    • Intellectual Property/Release checklist
    • Creative Team
    • Budget Estimate

    The last set of assignments will be dedicated to creating your final production package. For these assignments, you will use the information you have developed during the earlier assignments to create a set of documents which will present your project to potential funders. This is, in a sense, the culmination of your work in the course. In this stage, you may also develop an informal business plan. The assignments that you will undertake for this stage of the project include:

    • Final Proposal (should be aimed at specific finding target)
    • Deliverable/Format
    • Title
    • Log Line
    • Description/Summary  (Concepts, Themes
    • Audience
    • Competitive Landscape
    • Creative Team
    • Key Talent
    • Production Plan (in general)
    • Roll-out, Distribution & Marketing
    • Contact Info
    • Production Package
    • Script
    • Production Schedule
    • Budget(s)
    • Staffing: key job definitions including yourself
    • Funding Strategy
    • IP Checklist
    • Resumes for Creative Team
    • Deal Points (optional)
    • Project Pitches 

    Because coursework centers so deeply on individual projects, it is critically important to have a script draft or a very detailed beat outline/treatment completed no later than week #7 in the semester. This sustained assignment will involve periodic presentations, assignments keyed to specific milestones, and a formal pitch at the semester’s end.

    2.  Industry Dossiers

    An industry dossier is a detailed report about one domain within the mediascape. It can be about a production genre like independent feature films or long form documentaries, or music videos, an industry segment like cable, or emerging new media technologies.

    Now, production is rarely completed by an individual, but is usually the product of teams of people with different skills. So, think of the dossier project as a “production,” especially since you will be posting your finished project on the web for others to use.

    This project will be completed entirely in an online environment. Students will self-select into teams that will build detailed documents about selected domains within the media landscape. For example, teams could research independent features, cable programming, children’s media, TV branding/identity, news casting, advertising, internet learning, reality TV, sit-coms, etc. Findings will be uploaded into a collaborative, online space where all class members can track and contribute to work of other teams. The cumulative database should provide valuable resource for career development over the next 12 to 18 months.

    The online collaborative environment that will be used to create the dossiers will be a wiki or any other collaborative workspace that the students may choose (with my approval, of course),.

    How many of you are familiar with “wikis?”  A wiki is a web-based tool that allows multiple contributors to collaborate to create a single web document. A wiki can include text, graphics, rich media, and links to other sites. Fortunately, most wikis do not require that a user to know anything about website programming, or at least the wiki that we’re going to use. The wiki allows all of the group members to add and edit material, and will also allow other members of the class – as well as yours truly – to add comments and questions, kind of like a blog.

    There is a wiki tool available through Blackboard, or your group may choose to use PBWorks or another wiki envinonment for this part of the course. WHatever environment is selected, one member of the group should be the “wikimaster.” He/she will be responsible for making sure that your stuff is backed up, that everything is posted in the right place, and for implementing whatever style or formatting decisions are made. The wikimaster will also maintain access permissions.

    I have provided a template that you can follow. I suggest that you create separate pages for major topics; otherwise you’re going to end up with one endless scroll of a webpage. Depending on your topic and the amount of information, one or more topics might fit on a single page.

    Please try to follow the guidelines as you develop your wiki. Obviously, some of the suggested topics will not apply to your chosen domain, or you might need to add others. That is fine. But, try to stick as close to this organization as possible so that there is some continuity between wikis and your fellow students can access the information readily.

    In addition to the overall report, each member of the group will undertake a more specific and detailed report on a single company or aspect of the domain, looking more closely at job opportunities that might exist or entrepreneurial opportunities.

    3.  Career Targeting

    Through the semester, each student will maintain a notebook for sustained consideration of what lies ahead in his or her professional life. This will include an inventory of discrete skills that will be required in one’s future as producer/creator/entrepreneur, and charting pathways for self-promotion, self-education and networking.  At the end of the semester, students will submit a resume and a short final paper that will summarize a tactical plan for career development.

  • Attached Files:
    Take a few minutes and fill out this self-assessment. Combined with your introductions, the information in this survey will help me to better fit the course to your needs as we move forward through the semester. Rest assured, this does NOT count towards your grade.

    • Project Assignment: Develop 3 Pitches

      Each student should "pitch" three different ideas that are his/her candidates for the Individual Project to be worked on for the rest of the semester.  

      Pitches, if they were to be delivered orally, should be around a minute but no longer. This is not an arbitrary length of time. Sometimes pitches are done on a very formal basis. In those circumstances, the person pitching has maybe 60 or 90 seconds to lay out all the basic arguments for the project, plus, of course, a sense of what the thing will look like. But most often, you will be pitching your idea in the flow of an open discussion about programming and production possibilities. One can never be sure when that pitching opportunity -- when the right moment -- will come. But when it does, you will probably have about 30 seconds to get your idea across.

      Obviously, you’re not pitching face to face, so we’ll have an arbitrary limit of 100 words for each pitch – no more.

      Give each of your ideas a short name that is easy to remember and post it to the Pitches discussion forum. Once you have posted your idea, you should read each of your fellow student’s pitches and comment on which one you like best, which one you dislike, and why. These do not need to be highly detailed exegeses, but rather concise statements. You will have quite a few of these to read through and comment on, so don’t spend too much time on them.

      You should post your three pitches no later than Monday (1/30) to give everyone time to read through them and comment by Wednesday. Most weeks, assignments will be posted by Wednesday and will be due the following Wednesday. This allows time for posting of videos of guests who will be visiting the onsite class. Lecture notes and other materials will be posted by Wednesday of any given week. Changes to the schedule will be noted in announcements.

    • Week 1 Dossier Assignment

      By Wednesday (2/4), students should have self-selected first, second, and third choice topics on the Dossier Topics listed below.  Please note your selections in the Dossier Topics discussion forum
      I will review your selections and attempt to divide the group into teams. Please check back on Thursday for my comments/assignments/suggestions for group assignments. Once we have finalized the dossier groups, each group can determine what collaborative working environment they would like to use -- a wiki within Blackboard, an email tree, Google Docs, etc.

      Industry Dossiers – The Producer’s Craft



      Please review these topics and make three selections, in order of preference. If you do not see a topic that is close to your interests, you may create one, but only one, and note that in your discussion posting, but make sure to read the other postings before you do so, since someone else may have had the same idea. The purpose of this exercise is to self-select into groups with approximately the same interests. Once your group has been established, you can modify the topic as you choose to more closely mirror your actual interests. To make your selections, please create a post in the Dossiers discussion forum.


      Production Genres


      Studio Feature Films (distribution, #/yr, marketing, producer deals)

      Independent Feature Film ($5 to $20 Million)    

      Low Budget Features ($1 to $5 million

                  No-Budget Features (under $1,000,000)

      Shoe String DV Features (self-financed)

      Shorts (Student Films, distribution, budgets, festivals, all types)

                  Music Videos

      Sponsored Film & Video (Corporate/Industrial, Governmental, Exhibitions, Imax)

      Animation  (Features, Series, Broadcast Design, Advertising & Identity)



                  Series (Half Hours & Hours)


      Radio & Music  (NPR, Conservative & Liberal talk, satellite, pod casting, Garage Band,  etc.)

      Gaming (hand-held, Sony X box, networked games)


                  DIY & User Generated Content (UBC, blogging, collaborative data, social networks)

                  Site Design, Development apps, Infrastructure, Governance, Economics

                  Newscasting  (Network, local, PBS, radio,)


                  Interactive (DVD authoring, “enriched” features, Kiosks)

      Emerging Media (Metaworlds like second life, 3-D web, Web 3.0,

      Mobiles (original content, formats, production entities, production genres, etc.)



      Broadcast & Networked Media: Programming Categories

      Webisodes (created for Web, genres, distribution, sponsorship, advertising)

      Dramatic Series (hour and half-hour shows, cop, doctor, PI, etc.)

      Made-for-TV Movies (also Direct to Video)

      Soap Operas (aka Daytime)

      Comedy Series (sitcoms, serials, repertory (like SNL), improvised)


      On Air Promotion/Branding/Broadcast Design

      Reality TV (competitions, life styles, events, sub-cultures, etc.)

      Children’s TV & Features


      Variety/Magazines/Talk/ Late Night/Game Shows

      News Casting & Public Affairs



      Industry Domains

      Film Festivals

      Agents & Representation

      TV Programming / Scheduling (Development, Talent, Acquisitions)

      On-Line Learning

      Audience Measurement Research (Testing, Ratings, Demographics, etc.)

      Public TV (Programming & Devel & Organization)

      Marketing & Advertising (for film, TV, web, via new media)

      Cable Networks & VOD

      Broadband Networks

      Web Development (see above under Internet)

      Secondary & Ancillary Products (publishing, licensing, foreign, DVD)

      Art Projects/Programming (Foundations, Corps, Museums, Festivals)

      Advertising (Account, Creative, Media Planning)

      Media Criticism (Daily, Entertainment Press, Journals, web sites)

      Crafts Guilds, Unions and Training Institutions

Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 7:00 PM