How To Become a Co-producer
What Exactly Does a Co-producer Do?
For Annick Wolkan, Co-producer of the HBO series Game of Thrones, her average day begins before 8 a.m. She usually has about 45 minutes of relative quiet to go through her emails and make a few calls before the meetings begin. In these meetings, she usually is jotting down questions and notes that regard the coordination between the many different teams working on the show. Some teams might be working on the entire season of the show, while others, like a Director’s team, might only be working on one or two individual episodes.
It’s Wolkan’s job to coordinate the needs of those different teams and make sure each one has the time it needs with the other departments to successfully produce an episode or season. On most days, she’ll leave the office between 8 and 9 p.m., though she typically gets and must respond to emails even later into the evening.
Wolkan attended film school in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles. There she got her first job at a low-budget production company where she stayed for two years. At this company, Wolkan had the opportunity to learn many aspects of filmmaking from development all the way to distribution. She then went on to work other production jobs, as well as a stint as a Page at Paramount, which gave her the chance to meet many people in the industry. Eventually, she was hired onto the show Big Love, which is where she was introduced to the Producer who brought her onto Game of Thrones as an Assistant. Over the last seven years, it has been through hard work that Wolkan eventually rose to the rank of Co-producer.
Is her career path the typical way to becoming a Co-producer? “Yes and no,” says Wolkan. She states, “There’s no one way to do it.”
Education & Training
For someone who isn’t already living in a major city like Los Angeles or New York, which have thriving production industries, college can provide many opportunities towards one day becoming a Co-producer. While in school, an aspiring Co-producer will get to know the other students who might one day become their professional colleagues. A college education will also give someone the chance to make student films and gain valuable working experience.
Even while going to school, if the opportunity presents to work on local productions, Wolkan strongly recommends that students capitalize on those chances. “Take all the opportunities,” she says, as it’s important to know how every job works on a production. Also, when on a production, always ask if there’s extra work to be done or shifts to be taken. The more senior professionals on that production will notice and may be more likely to recommend that person for another job or promotion.
Wolkan also states that if someone wanting to work as a Co-producer is already in Los Angeles or New York, college may not always be mandatory because so many opportunities already exist to enter into production as a Runner or Production Assistant. In her experience, a strong work ethic can be more important than a degree.
What skills do you need to be a Co-producer?
As Wolkan has already mentioned, real-world experience can go a long way towards becoming a successful Co-producer. That’s why someone looking to have that career should start on gaining that experience now. No matter the location, it’s possible that a local production might need a helping hand. Even if weekdays are already taken up by school or work, weeknights and weekends are always an option.
As far as special skills go, Wolkan states that “the basic act of caring means so much.” Someone who loves what they’re doing will get noticed by others. And when they ask for extra work, they will eventually get recognized for their strong work ethic. That’s why when it comes to working on a production, she says, “Just take anything!”
“You have to be patient and helpful for all interactions — even when people do not treat you in the same manner,” says Wolkan. So for someone wanting to one day become a Co-producer, being able to interact and communicate with others in a professional, courteous way is a must. Beyond that, someone who’s organized and can multitask will also do well in this career. They must also be able to anticipate the needs of others and not wait to help until asked to do something. In other words, being proactive is essential to being a successful Co-producer. Wolkan adds that being curious about technology and well-versed in different computer programs can be a big plus in this field.
In her particular role, Wolkan works with colleagues across many time zones, which means that she must be available to them around the clock. For example, it’s not unusual for her to get an emergency phone call at 3 a.m. regarding a cast or crew member’s disrupted travel arrangements. And during production, her workday might last 15 hours or more. That’s why she advises for a job like this, “You have to love it.” Having her nights or weekends free isn’t always guaranteed, which is why Wolkan urges someone wanting to enter this field to be prepared to have an uneven work-life balance.
However, her job gives her the opportunity to work with many other industry professionals in other fields. She regularly interacts with other Producers, department heads, department coordinators and their assistants. It’s a demanding job with long hours, but it’s also a fun line of work that can be very professionally rewarding.
Any job that allows someone to gain real-world industry experience and professional contacts could be a great stepping stone towards becoming a Co-producer. As mentioned, Wolkan was a Page at Paramount. Other valuable entry-level positions include Production Assistant, Runner, Mailroom Clerk or Agency Assistant.
Wolkan cautions to look at all angles when considering a job offer. While offers may not always provide sufficient income, the expertise gained is invaluable. If necessary, she recommends getting a side job to pay the bills while continuing to build that professional experience.
How Much Does a Co-producer make?
Wolkan has never been a salaried employee. Everyone who works on a production is getting paid through the production company as a freelancer. To be clear, that means that typically no benefits are given through the job — even as a Co-producer. For someone aspiring to this position, they must look after their other needs such as health insurance. Holidays and vacation are also not paid for someone who is freelance.
The income that a Co-producer can earn on a production will vary according to that project. Newer Co-producers will earn less than those who may have been working on the production for a longer amount of time. On a typical television series, most crew members will earn a three to five percent income increase with each season they are on the show.
Unions, Groups & Associations
Many major studios and production companies have internships listed on their websites. Internships can be invaluable for a future Co-producer, and Wolkan highly recommends submitting for as many of those opportunities as possible while still young and in school. Volunteering for events, such as those hosted by the Producers Guild, can also help towards meeting industry professionals. Lastly, Wolkan states that it’s never too soon to start reading Hollywood Reporter and Variety to keep current with ongoing productions and industry trends.
To get started on the road to becoming a Co-producer, Wolkan has some tips:
- Get a group of friends together and shoot an original story or script as a short film.
- Use that film to gain exposure through film festivals or social media.
- Don’t forget to submit that short during the college application process!
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
Work as hard as possible. Always be asking, “What else can be done?” This question will get others to take notice and perhaps make a recommendation for another job or higher position.
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
Feeling entitled. Everyone in this industry works hard, so never expect to be given anything.
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Am I ready for this commitment?” As Wolkan has mentioned, a career as a Co-producer requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. It is not the average nine-to-five job. Late nights and weekend work are common. Be ready to embrace that lifestyle.
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Co-producer Annick Wolkan graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2005 with a BA in Film/Video. While at Columbia, Wolkan produced twelve short films, one of which screened at the Cannes International Film Festival in an exhibition sponsored by Kodak. During her senior year at Columbia, she also produced a feature documentary, Take a Bow, which screened at several film festivals.
Upon graduating from Columbia, Wolkan moved to Los Angeles and worked for a small indie production company, Night Owl Entertainment, first as a Production Assistant and then eventually as an Assistant to the co-owners of the company. After two years at Night Owl, Wolkan moved on to freelance in production, working on commercials and independent projects, eventually landing in the production office of an A&E series called The Cleaner. From there, she worked in production on the last two seasons of HBO’s Big Love, first in the office and in the final season as the Assistant to Bernadette Caulfield, one of the show’s Executive Producers. When Big Love ended, Bernie was brought on by HBO to join Game of Thrones, which shoots primarily in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She asked Wolkan to join her there as her assistant, which she did for the second season. For the third season, Wolkan was promoted to Associate Producer on the Game of Thrones, and on the sixth season she was promoted to Co-producer. She has been with the show through to its final season, splitting her time between Belfast and Los Angeles.