• James Stranahan

Ben’s Suggestions for High School Students Who Are Interested in Film Production

When you watch movies, do you ever wonder what it took to get them to the big screen? Do you analyze films like The Lord of the Rings and think about how exactly Elijah Wood got so small or what was involved in managing such a large crew while they lived in New Zealand? If you are passionate about movies and are curious about everything that happens with them before they are viewed by audiences, then becoming a producer might be right for you. As the producer for Tip-Top Productions, I can tell you that my job is an absolute blast.

I often get questions from high schoolers who envision a career as a producer, and I love talking to them about their hopes and dreams for their places in the movie industry. I’d like to pass along my thoughts about what it takes to be successful and about how you can gain valuable experience that will help you out as your own career progresses.

My First Piece of Advice: Never Give Up.

Okay, I know, that’s hardly original. It’s true, though. You’ve probably heard the odds of making it in Hollywood: something like 2%. It’s worse than trying to get into Harvard! You are picking one of the world’s most rewarding professions, but to get there, you’re going to be facing a stiff wind right from the beginning. If you don’t want it - badly - you’ll be more likely to give up when that wind becomes hurricane force.

More than once, I sat on my bed at the end of a long day that was full of rejections and thought, “Ben, there really have to be easier ways to make a living.” There were. I probably could have been a music teacher and faced far less uncertainty professionally, but I just loved films so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of walking away from my dream.

You’ve got to want your movie production career pretty much more than anything else and stick to the road until the doors finally start opening. They will so long as you persevere.

My Second Piece of Advice: Take Advantage of Anything “Artsy” Your School Offers.

Production involves everything that goes into making a movie, from costume design, to creating sets, to choosing music, to bringing the right actors onto the project. It’s taking an idea from conception all the way to theaters. You can see, then, that the more you know about what happens between point A and point Z, the stronger your chances of success as a producer will be.

With that in mind, get involved in everything in school. Join the choir (unless you honestly can’t sing). Learn to play an instrument. Hook up with your Drama Club and work as an actor and as a stagehand. Take a public speaking course. Any of these activities will give you experiences that will be useful when you join a film production.

As a movie producer, you won’t be an expert in every part of the process. No one is. You will, however, be expected to know a lot about each stage. You’ll be a Jack of All Trades, basically, so it’s wise to start learning about each one as soon as you can.

My Third Piece of Advice: Get A Lot of Different Life Experiences.

When you become a film producer, you will work with a ton of wildly diverse people. That’s a great thing, don’t you think? Between actors, directors, technicians, and other crew members, you’re going to come across many personalities and be expected to work well with each one. It can be a challenge some days! What can smooth the way, however, is if you pursue experiences outside of the arts. Get involved with your church or with a nonprofit. Join a sports team if that’s your thing. Do what you can to get out of your comfort zone and to build your ability to work with any type of person. You’ll find that to be very useful as you get older and enter the movie industry.

My Last Piece of Advice: Start Making Movies Now.

Why wait? You’ve got a video camera on your phone, so why not start creating short films? That’s what I did back in high school, and it helped me get to where I am today. What do you want to show the world? Will you make documentaries? Do you want to make horror films? Are dramas your passion? Don’t let those ideas stay in your head - get going on them so that the world can enjoy them, too. Never be afraid to make mistakes. I have made more than I care to admit, but each one taught me something. It will be the same for you, too.

My career as a movie producer is everything I ever dreamed it would be. Yours will be, too. Just remember to stay the course and to follow that dream in your heart. It will take you on the adventure of your life.

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