The Associate Producer (often abbreviated to AP) assists in putting a production together. This nuts and bolts position may include writing, editing, organizing and assisting a wide variety of crew members during production.
How To Become an Associate Producer
No two single days on set as an Associate Producer are alike. With a wide range of responsibility comes a wide range of on set experiences. Associate Producer Jessica Lipman gives insight to some of her on set duties, saying, “Sometimes you’re tasked with writing. Sometimes you’re tasked with interviewing. Other times you’re simply managing talent or helping prep their wardrobe! Sometimes YOU’RE DOING IT ALL! You truly never know.”
Lipman says that’s also what she finds beautiful about the job: “So far every single gig feels unique to the show itself, so there’s no such thing as a ‘typical day.’” Associate Producers serve as the right-hand of the supervising Producers, which again means duties can be wide-ranging.
Becoming an Associate Producer is as unique as your journey on set may be. For Lipman, she knew early on that she wanted to be an AP in reality television. To set herself on that path she immediately sought out jobs working for other Producers. “I worked my way up from a talent agency desk to a studio desk, to a major production company development team, and then, into the fields these companies staff up for on their series. Some of my friends made similar moves as me, and others never worked a desk a day in their life.”
Lipman reconfirms that any career in entertainment does not come with a plan: “Simply put, there’s no one blueprint for how to become an AP — if anything, it’s about being flexible and open to endless possibilities and saying ‘yes’ when your gut tells you to go a certain direction.”
Education & Training
For working as an Associate Producer, there’s absolutely no substitute for being on set. Although, Lipman also greatly values her film degree: “My Film/TV degree from Boston University has been invaluable to me in terms of my education, networking, landing jobs, and beyond.”
That said, Lipman stresses everyone’s path is their own: “You don’t necessarily need a 4-year degree anymore to be the Writer or Producer or Director you want to be. I wouldn’t trade my schooling in for anything in the world, but one of the more fascinating things about this industry is that no formal degree is necessary to be a compelling creative.”
Experience & Skills
While there’s no set training for becoming an Associate Producer, storytelling skills are absolutely essential. Lipman stresses this as well– “Without fail, a natural instinct for story is what is most important in this business — at least for being an AP in reality [television].”
Lipman also underscores the value of knowing your way around a set. She also values educating yourself about the current TV landscape: “It never hurts to know the who-is-who in the production landscape; to know the buyers in town, and know their Assistants on a first name, speed-dial basis, at that! Because TV is unpredictable, so are the job offers…the best way for me to prepare for producing has been by wearing as many hats on as many different projects as possible so that when either a crime show or a dating show comes calling, I can say, “I have experience with that” or at very least “I’m a big fan of that.”
She also says you’ve got to dive into an opportunity that might come along: “Never be afraid to say yes even when a job opp scares you or doesn’t quite fit the bill of what you had in mind. Scary is good! Different never hurts!”
Working as an AP is not for the faint of heart. Ambition and hunger are qualities that are valued. Lipman says don’t be afraid to wear your passion on your sleeve: “It’s about being genuinely passionate, and not just about making it big or telling great stories, but about simply learning how to deliver a compelling product for whoever their client is, no matter the platform or genre or budget. And above all else, being humble and acknowledging how much you still have to learn and grow is a solid look 10 times out of 10.”
Work/life balance is not ideal in an on set career such as Associate Producer. Six-day-work-weeks are common, as are long hours. You could also find yourself miles from home. “Your crew and colleagues can become your closest friends to the point of even feeling like family, which is my favorite part of hopping from show to show,” says Lipman.
Lipman also thrives with this type of schedule: “My current position is only 5 days a week, so I do have my weekends, and I truly treasure them knowing that not every job affords you that time. Still, my 6-day-a-week shows are some of my most favorite, memory-wise, so it’s not all bad. APs work most closely with their fellow APs, but definitely with the Field Producers, Supervising Producers, Story Producers, and Showrunners. In the field, you likely also work directly with cast/talent. It’s a nice mix.”
Landing Associate Producer work is undeniably about who you know. That’s why development can be an excellent place to start. Lipman has some excellent networking tips for the aspiring AP: “Development Producers at production companies are the ones responsible for hiring (and hiring back!) production crew members, like APs. I literally took all of the Development/Production Assistants I could out to coffee or drinks when I first moved to LA, and almost half a decade later, it’s what has kept me employed!”
Associate Producer positions are work-for-hire and independent contractor roles, so Lipman has some excellent tips on knowing your value: “Your salary is a blend of A) what the show can afford and B) what it is you fight for. So fight for your worth, and then add tax 😉 while being an AP is a respectable place to be, you’re still on the come up, so the salary isn’t always super fabulous, but, if it’s a series or project you’re excited about and the rate you’re offered is the rate you deserve, it’s not too bad being freelance.”
Unions, Groups & Associations
While Lipman is not yet a union member she has some excellent Facebook recommendations for the up and coming AP: “The best resource for APs online — for me — has been Women Working in Reality TV on Facebook, or Awesome Assistants on Facebook,” she says.
- Say yes to, or initiate dinner and drinks for networking.
- Meet everyone in the room or on set.
- Work hard and make yourself worth knowing.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Shake a lot of hands!”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Assuming they already know everything they need to know, or thinking that because they produced 1-2 student films in college they understand budgets and call sheets and story breakdowns. You never want to act too cocky in this industry. The minute you think you know it all, you risk losing it all, too.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“People should ask more: ‘Can I go home?! It’s 11 pm!!!’ Just kidding. People should be more curious about diversifying their experiences. You might want to be a Line Producer, but why not try story editing? You might foresee yourself working solely in casting, but would working as a Field Logger hurt your career? More likely, it’ll help.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Boston University grad Jessica Lipman is a transplant from the East Coast who packed her bags and moved to LA in 2014 in pursuit of a career in entertainment. In her 5+ years here, she has worked at United Talent Agency in the Alternative TV Department, Shed Media (a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company), Bunim-Murray Productions, and on a handful of sets across the unscripted landscape, including Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, MTV’s The Challenge, USA’s Temptation Island, and MTV’s The Hills: New Beginnings, just to name a few. When she’s not working in TV — or watching it obsessively in her spare time — she enjoys spending time with her dog, Oliver, attending screenings and lectures with the Junior Hollywood Television and Radio Society, and continuing to play tourist in La La Land. Her motto in life is simple: “I’m going to succeed because I’m crazy enough to think I can.”