Careers in film: producer, runner, casting, locations
Behind the scenes, every film needs an army of well organised professionals to support the creative process. Producers take the lead, supported by the production office – roles such as line producer, production manager, production coordinator and production accountant oversee financial matters, scheduling or admin. Casting directors and locations managers head up the teams that find possible actors or filming locations to suggest, then take care of the practicalities of hiring them. Meanwhile runners can be found in all departments – creative, technical and support – providing a helping hand with whatever needs doing.
What a film producer does and how to become one
Producers oversee the filmmaking process from the idea stage right through to the finished film being distributed and shown in cinemas. They’re responsible for making sure that the film is commercially successful – they need to select a script that has potential, or come up with a story idea of their own and ask a screenwriter to write it for them. They’ll then raise funding to make the film, put a strong team together, make sure that budgets and schedules are stuck to and troubleshoot when anything goes wrong.
To become a film producer you’ll typically need to start in a more junior role. For example, you could work your way up from being a runner.
Production office jobs: line producer, production manager, production coordinator
A film’s production office deals with all the organisational work and coordination between teams that’s needed to make a film, supporting the producer in ensuring that everything stays on time and in budget. Tasks can be administrative, financial or legal.
Once a script been chosen and edited into shape, a key first task for the production office – typically carried out by the line producer – is to put together a budget. This is an estimate of how much the film will cost to produce, and helps the producer to know how much money needs to be raised to finance it. An important aspect of this is to put together an outline of the filming schedule – filming tends to be the most expensive aspect of film production, so knowing roughly how many days’ work it will be is very useful. The line producer then needs to stay on top of the budget as work on the film progresses, knowing when to say ‘yes’ to unexpected extra costs (and how to save money elsewhere to allow for this) and when to say ‘no’.
Line producers also oversee the rest of the work of the production office, where tasks include:
- hiring cast and crew
- arranging suppliers for additional goods or services
- arranging insurance
- securing filming locations
- dealing with legal problems
- ensuring the work of different departments is on track
- creating detailed schedules.
The line producer will typically be supported by professionals such as a production manager, production coordinator and production accountant. Production managers help line producers to draw up the initial budget and schedules, then assist in overseeing these in practice. They are also involved in tasks such as:
- hiring crew (and sometimes cast members) and negotiating rates of pay and other contractual matters
- arranging suppliers for equipment and services and agreeing costs for these
- liaising with the location manager and helping with the practicalities of securing locations
- making sure that health and safety procedures are followed
- dealing with any problems that arise (such as staff issues or the need to reschedule filming).
The production coordinator assists the production manager, and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the production office and its staff. They are in charge of all the communication and documentation needed to make sure that cast and crew know where they are supposed to be when, and let them know of any changes to this or to the script. They also coordinate matters such as transport (for people, equipment and supplies), accommodation, and work permits for cast or crew members who need them.
Production accountants look after the detail of the production’s budget and keep track of it as work progresses. For example, they will produce regular reports showing what has been spent and forecasts showing expected spending, and can advise producers about costs. They make sure that cast, crew and suppliers get paid, making sure first that payments have been authorised and are included in the budget.
The above roles are often supported by a team of assistants, trainees and/or runners.
Finding work as a runner in the production office is a good first step into any of the above roles, with a view to working your way up once you have experience. See below to find out what a runner does and how to become one. If you want to become a production accountant, you could also consider qualifying as an accountant outside the film industry first before moving across. However, not all production accountants have official accountancy qualifications, and if you do start your career outside the film industry you may find you have a drop in income and job security when you move across.
Runner is an entry-level position in film and involves helping out with anything that needs doing. For example you might need to:
- get out and about to collect or deliver items
- help with admin
- arrange lunch, tea and coffee for the cast and crew
- transport cast or equipment from place to place
- keep members of the public out of shot
- communicate between different teams.
On large-scale productions different runners will work in different departments, from art to editing to visual effects, meaning you can gain experience in the area that most interests you.
To get paid work as a runner it helps to have a driving licence and work experience in film or TV. If you know you want to be a runner in a department that uses specialist skills (eg sound, lighting or visual effects), try to get experience that relates to that specific area. Anything else you’ve done that shows you have an interest in and commitment to film will also help, for example making your own short films or getting involved in a student filmmaking society.
Take a look at the different film job roles outlined in the articles in this section to find out more the qualifications and experience that will help you get your foot in the door as a runner or other entry-level position in different departments:
- film careers in sound
- film careers in the art department, camera work and cinematography, lighting, costume and visual effects
- film careers in directing, screenwriting, editing and performing.
What casting directors and casting assistants do and how to become one
Casting directors assist directors and producers in finding appropriate actors, securing their services, agreeing payment and putting together employment contracts. Casting assistants help them to do so. To get a job as a casting assistant you’ll need some relevant paid experience, such as working for an actors’ agent. Agents represent actors and other performers and creatives, finding them work and being paid a percentage of their earnings. Looking for entry-level vacancies at an agency is a good first step.
Locations department jobs: location manager, location scout, location assistant
The locations department is responsible for finding appropriate locations for filming scenes that can’t be shot in a studio and arranging the necessary permissions to film there. They also oversee the location while it is being used, for example:
- ensuring that it is kept in good condition and undamaged on behalf of its owner
- communicating with local residents and ensuring that disruption minimised
- making the location practical and comfortable for the cast and crew, such as setting up temporary facilities and making sure everyone can stay warm and dry
- ensuring the cast and crew know how to get there and know where to park when they arrive
- temporarily preventing traffic or pedestrians from passing by the filming area (on large-scale productions, the police may be involved with this).
The different roles within the locations department vary from production to production. Location managers typically have responsibility both for finding appropriate locations and for managing them during filming. On large productions there may be location scouts who focus just on finding locations. Location assistants, runners or marshals help out as required.
To get a first job as an assistant, runner or marshal it can help to have unpaid locations experience working on student films or friends’ films. Experience in helping run events outside the film industry can also be helpful (for example, if you’re used to turning outdoor spaces into venues for festivals, weddings or outdoor theatre then you’ve probably already encountered some similar challenges). Or you may be able to find work as a runner in a different department initially, or get locations work for low-budget commercials or TV companies.