What does a Producer do, exactly?
Not just any producer (since that word applies to many industries), but what does a movie producer do in particular? More to the point, why are there so many different kinds of producers in the credits?
In this post, we’re going to clearly answer these common questions.
What does a Producer do? What is a Producer?
A producer is an individual who aids in the development, planning, execution, and marketing of a feature film.
A true producer is with the project from the idea stage to the DVD shelf. From the coffee shop laptop to the Netflix queue.
Still, what does a Producer do? A good producer is with the project from before the cradle to long after the grave.
You may have thought this would have fallen under "what does a director do?” And in some cases, yes. A Director is the earliest and latest person involved.
Certainly on an indie passion project.
In a more traditional setup, a Director will be less of a permanent part of the film's lifespan than at least one, or maybe a few, of its producers.
The PGA, or Producer’s Guild, handles the various rules that define what types of people can hold which titles. They also provide some wordy breakdowns in their FAQ on what each producer is.
What does a Producer do?
Irving Thalberg, arguably the most important Producer in movie history, once said "a credit you give yourself is not worth having." Maybe his refusal to be credited adds to the mystery of this role.
A quick answer to the question what does a producer do?
How about: a little bit of everything.
The longer answer begins at the beginning. As mentioned above, producers are often present at the inception of a story.
It could start with a news article.
It could start with a book.
A spec script.
When inspiration sparks, the producer is the one holding the flint to the kindling.
We know the producer isn’t usually a writer though. So at this early stage what exactly does a producer do?
Let's look at a few examples.
Before he was a mega-Producer, Brian Grazer once came up with a concept for a movie about a man who falls in love with a mermaid.
Grazer knew he wasn't much of a writer, but he believed in this idea. So he hired a writer to write the screenplay. Together they 'developed' the project. It became Splash and helped launch many careers.
Launching careers often fits under the umbrella question: what does a producer do.
In the early 1960s author, Ken Kesey wrote a play starring Kirk Douglas, who later bought the film rights.
This is referred to as "optioning" because the buyer is purchasing the "option" to turn the material into a movie. Here is a little more info on how to option a book.
Years went by, and Douglas passed the rights to the option on the play to his son, Michael. Michael Douglas brought in a more seasoned producer, and the Oscar-winning classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was born.
Early on, the role of the producer is to 'develop' the material. Getting it ready for production.
What does a producer do next?
A producer will then hire a director, and attach stars. These steps often help secure funding. Another task that falls to the producer.
With funding in place, a producer will make or oversee the budget. For more on that checkout this guide for crafting film budgets.
High-level producers have the closest relationship to the film’s financing. Understanding how to manage the films budget and cash flow is critical to being a Producer at any level.
Next? Crew up, and then manage all that arises during the shoot.
But it doesn’t end there.
After wrapping a shoot, a lot of the key talent moves on to new projects. The cast and crew will likely have other jobs to jump right into. The director may also start prepping his or her next film.
What does a Producer do when everyone starts to disperse? He sticks with this project and sees it through post.
Editorial teams assemble a rough cut, with the director around as much as he or she wishes to be (or is allowed to be...)
Then there is a final cut, final VFX, color grading, the film score, and audio work.
The role of a producer will then turn towards test screenings and even make changes at this late date if necessary.
Producer Robert Evans screened The Godfather and notoriously yelled at Francis Ford Coppola. In an uncommon request, Evans wanted the would-be classic recut to be longer. He wanted an "epic".
What does a producer do after that?
With a film is finished, a Producer starts a marketing campaign. It's one thing to make a movie. It's another thing to get people to see it.
Talent will come back into the fold now. Often times public relations firms get involved as well. Promotional tie-ins.
Producer George Lucas made a galaxy-altering decision during this phase. He negotiated to retain merchandising rights to his then unheard of space opera Star Wars. At the time, film merchandising was not seen as a moneymaker.
This is where George Lucas donned his producer cap. He used the idea of manufacturing toys based on his film to build up anticipation for the films release and beyond.
The studio executives scoffed at the hubris and granted the rights.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking of executives. This leads me to the next point…
The many types of producers
We've covered some broad strokes. But we've left something critical out.
There are many different kinds of Producers. You've noticed on your movie poster that there are two to three different types of Producers. You've noticed film credits order hierarchy features many types of producer roles.
You might be asking not just what does a Producer do, but also:
What does an Executive Producer do?
What does a co-producer do?
What does an associate producer do?
What does a fill-in-the-blank producer do?
What does an Executive Producer do?
Let’s start at the top. So what does an Executive Producer do? Usually, this Producer works only at the highest level.
The Executive Producer (EP) may own a production company that develops its own projects. This could be the entire extent of the EP’s involvement.
They may also be the author of the source material but have no hand in the writing of the script. In this sort of instance, the title is “negotiated.”
They may raise some money for the film. They may also put up the money and be looking for a return on their investment.
These types of executive producers actually don't do much on the film itself.
In many instances, the executive producer oversees the project. There may be a few places where some executive producers will have a larger hand.
Say in the cutting room. Attaching major stars. Negotiating. Some EP's may do this for multiple films at once, working for a studio or conglomerate.
But it's best to think of the Executive Producer as someone working at the global level. A hand in everything. Power over much of the process.
But not likely to dip into the details.
Ok. That answers for one type. But what do these other movie Producers do?
What does a Co-producer do?
A co-producer typically works right beneath the Executive Producer or Producer. They'll assist with finances, casting, post and other high-level tasks.
Any producer credited like this is “above the line” – a phrase used to delineate key decision makers and talent. The bulk of the crew is “below the line.”
Above the line is where you have the high-level creatives and decision makers.
This line brings us to our next type of producer: the Line Producer.
What is a Line-Producer
A Line Producer's domain is all that happens below the line.
In other words, above-the-line Producers hire the Line Producer to oversee everything below the line. They might even make the budget, but only once the big ticket items (above-the-line talent) is secured.
Producers of all kinds oversee. While they may take on the entire task of say, making a schedule.
They may also rough it out and hand it off to the first AD to finish and finalize. Then the above-the-line Producer will take a look. And perhaps run it by a higher up producer such as an executive producer.
Here’s a high-level breakdown of what a line producer does:
Learn the essential tasks of a line producer
So as you can tell, the answer to what does a producer do could very well be "everything." If the project is small enough, and the money tight enough, the producer has to do it all.
If the project is huge, with a gargantuan budget to match, then there may be tons of producers out of necessity.
And in the case of a large project such as this, the answer could be in some cases "nothing." Because maybe he just works at the production company helping finance the film, and he’s never even read the script.
Speaking of which...
What does an Associate Producer do?
Often you'll hear that an Associate Producer credit isn't a “real” credit. It could be a friend of someone high up. It could be someone the production owes a favor to.
It could be someone who did some amount of work on the production, but that is more likely the outlier.
Like many producer credits, associate producer is one that can be a part of a negotiation.
Say on a film someone let you use a location they owned for free, or heavily discounted. You might throw in an associate producer credit.
Why is it a credit worth getting?
Because a lot of people don't know what is a producer is. Or what a producer does.
Remember that's why we're answering the question what does a producer do!
There is little to no difference between an associate producer or co-producer for many.
Within the confines of the industry, people will more than likely know what a producer did on a project. They may just know based on the individual’s skill set, or work history.
But to much of the world, defining the role of a producer isn't so straightforward. To them, all producers are the same, and no one is quite sure what it is they are up to.
What does a TV Producer do?
Now we know what the various movie producers do. But how is it different from their counterpart in TV? What does a Producer do on a TV show?
In television, a producer is often a writer. In the case of an executive producer in television, it's a "head writer". You could almost think of the "EP" or "Showrunner" as they are more commonly called, as some Director-Producer-Writer hybrid.
A producer in television is a creative decision maker, and not so often involved in nuts and bolts of the day to day. Though they may have some hand in that too.
Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, The Newsroom), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Carlton Cuse (Lost / Bates Motel), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), Ann Biderman (NYPD Blue), Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective)
How do you Become a Producer?
This is an important question. Now that we understand the film producer job description, how do we get started?
Many Producers come from humble beginnings. And for good reason. A producer needs to know a little bit of everything happening in the filmmaking process.
Some start in the mailroom. Some start as production assistants. The aforementioned Thalberg was a secretary who became Head of Production at MGM. In those days, the studio was the king of movies, and MGM was the king of studios.
Walt Disney started with an entry level job “inking” at an art studio.
Mogul David O. Selznick started as a script reader.
By learning the craft from the ground up, a producer learns every inch of the process. And as we've seen, that'll be critical to success.
Of course, there are producers who came into it other ways. Magnate Howard Hughes decided he wanted to produce movies without prior experience. The results were... costly. (Plus he had some other problems.)
Getting hired for producer jobs
Okay, so say you have some experience in the field, and you'd like to cut your producing teeth. What does a producer do to jump-start their producing career?
One great option is to start working on student projects. You can also search for low-no budget shorts and offer producer services. Projects such as these often have a serious need for good producers. The struggle of shooting on a shoestring will help a producer learn to adapt on-the-fly and plan for everything.
If you can stomach the hard work (often to get paid with experience only), this is a solid route to try. Brush up on what a working production coordinator should know and apply some of that knowledge to a low budget producing gig.
What does a producer do? Know a little bit about how to do everything else.
So you can also practice using the software. Producers need to know how to organize all the elements of a film. Make a trial schedule for free in StudioBinder. Put together a strip board. Even try creating a free call sheet for that feature you want to develop.
Practicing and developing these skills will make you more hirable.
Which brings us to another way to start producing. Get onto some production job boards like ProductionBeast, and submit your services. Search for video producer jobs. Nothing will make you better at being a Producer than starting to produce.
In sum, we’ve learned a producer can do many things. Or almost nothing.
One thing exclusively. And sometimes everything.
Turns out, it depends on many factors.
But to put it in simple terms, a producer always helps facilitate the creation of the film. At one stage, or many stages, the producer ushers the vision along from a set of artists arms into another’s.
From one part of the process to the next. A producer serves as continuity in the hectic lifespan of the movie.
Ever heard the phrase “development hell?” Development hell is when a project is stuck at one stage, unable to go anywhere else. Only a producer can rescue a project from development hell. The job of a movie producer is to bring the elements of the process of filmmaking together.
What does a producer do? They organize the primordial soup and wait for lightning to strike.
Further Reading: 8 Essential Keys to Becoming a Great Producer
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