What is a production company? Quite simply, it is a company that produces content. But there’s a lot more to the term than just that and every company is a little different from the next. Whether it’s animation, commercials, music videos, feature films, or web content, there is a production entity behind it. We’re going to explore the history of production companies, as well how they’re different from studios and publishing houses. By the end, you’ll know what these companies are and how to start your own.

What is a Production Company Used For?

Background on production companies

Before we dive into companies that produce content, we first have to dive into content. What is content? Dictionary.com defines content as “something that is to be expressed through some medium.” Judging by that definition, we can say that all media is content. But the notion of “media as content” is relatively modern; just 100 years ago, the media landscape looked much different, with newspapers, stage plays, and books reigning as kings of content.

That’s because the means to produce content – or at least content people were willing to pay for – were much harder to procure. Nowadays, we have content-making machines everywhere; thus making the process of producing media omni-accessible. 

Check out this next video to learn more about content creation:

What is Content Creation? By David Ward Media

So, are we all production companies? No, not quite. It’s true that we’re all producers in one way or another – but we are not companies. So, let’s define production company, then jump into some examples.


What is a Production Company?

A production company is a business that produces content; sometimes in a variety of mediums, including film, television, music, video games, etc. However, the term is most often used to refer to film production companies.

Film Production Companies

  • Lucasfilm's Skywalker Sound (Audio)
  • Studio Ghibli (Animation) 
  • ILM (Visual Effects)

Day to Day

What do production companies do?

Movie production companies perform (and facilitate) the essential task of producing content. A lot goes into producing content, from pre-production to post-production. Here are some things movie production companies do:

This next video shows some of the things a production company actually does.

What Does a Prod. Company Do? By 73 Degree Films

There’s no doubt about it: movie production companies do a lot. Of course, not all companies handle their business the same way – but essentially, they serve the same goal of creating content.

Prod. Co. Vs Studio

Production companies and studios

We’ve established that a production company is a business that makes content – so, what’s the difference between a production company and studio? Or a production company and publisher? Let’s break it down:

Movie Production Companies • Paramount Pictures Production Distribution Company

Movie Production Companies  •  Paramount Pictures Production & Distribution Company

A prod. company works with a motion picture company (studio) to produce content (VFX, props, animation, etc.) in a variety of capacities. In many cases, the prod. company finances and produces the film and strikes a deal with the studio for distribution. 

It's also common for prod. companies to have long-standing deals with the studio. This partnership sometimes includes having the prod. company's offices to be located on the studio's lot. 

Sometimes, the studio produces this content “in-house.” For example, Studio Ghibli animates their films “in-house.” Other times, the studio, say The Walt Disney Company buys the prod. company, say Lucasfilm, outright and integrates them into their media conglomerate.

What is a Production Company in Literature • The Gotham Group Production Company

What is a Production Company in Literature  •  The Gotham Group Production Company

In some cases, content producers – like writers for example – work in tandem with publishers. In these cases, the content producers serve the role of the creator and the publisher serves the role of the distributor. Writers can even work as a consortium under the umbrella of a literary production company.

How to Start One

Start your own production company

In simplest terms, a prod. company is a company that actually produces work; aka the commission to the commissioner. This next video shows how one person can start their own company!

How One Person Can Start A Video Prod. Company by Film Courage

There are two important facets of any company that produces content: the legal and the creative. In the video above, Van Ditthavong explains that he created a Limited Liability Company (LLC) for his company. Anybody and everybody interested in creating a content-producing company should thoroughly research the legal requirements for business-related tax purposes.

But remember, prod. companies also create! And that means they must have a creative outlet. Scripts, manuscripts, audio, and video, are just some of the many creative outlets.


How to Start a Prod. Company

We briefly touched on how to start a prod. company, but there’s so much more to the process than what we went over here. Want to learn more? Check out our next article where we explain step-by-step how to start a company. By the end, you’ll know all of the legal and creative challenges involved.

Up Next: Starting a Production Co. →
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  • Chris Heckmann is a Professor of Media & Communication at Roger Williams University and graduate of UCLA’s Cinema & Media Studies Master of Arts program. When he’s not writing or teaching, he’s probably playing video games (or thinking about the next great Boston sports trade).

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