Become a Line Producer
The Line Producer is the bridge between the above-the-line and below-the-line on a film shoot. They manage production, focusing on budgeting and scheduling, and report to the Producer. “Often, a Line Producer will come on before money has even been raised,” says Siddharth Ganji, a Line Producer who has worked on features, music videos and commercials. He goes on to say, “They will read a script and create a budget for the Producer, who will then raise money from the Executive Producers. Then, once the money has been raised, the Line Producer will work with the Director and Producer to hire the key crew heads. During the shoot, the Line Producer manages the budget and schedule, as well as looking after the producing department.” This job doesn’t get a lot of the fame or glory that comes with filmmaking but Line Producers are the backbone of a production, the people overseeing the physical production of creating a movie.
Working as a Line Producer is an end goal for many. There are three types of Producers: Executive Producers, Creative Producers, and Line Producers. Each deal with the business of filmmaking in a different way. The Line Producer has a knack for the physical production of making a movie, for managing budgets, schedule, and crew. Ganji states, “A lot of Line Producers who are successful in their careers end up working for Disney on Marvel movies. They’re essentially the key crew head who runs the producing department on set.
Naturally, the best jobs to get on set for practical experience are to become a Producer’s Assistant or a Production Assistant. Both of those jobs will give first-hand experience working with a Unit Production Manager and Production Coordinator. Generally, the production department’s responsibilities include logistical coordination, setting up lunch, establishing basecamp and prepping the location. It’s a big deal to make sure that transportation is running correctly and that there are toilets on set.”
Learning to become a Line Producer means developing relationships with vendors to get better rates for productions and practicing the logistical elements of making sure everything is running smoothly.
Education & Training
Training to become a Line Producer is best found in practical experience. Ganji says, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s being a volunteer or PA. There is always something to learn on any set, ranging from small commercials to large features. Beyond that, there are some non-profit organizations out there like Film Independent that provide classes to brush up on skill sets like budgeting. It’s also good to check out Facebook for local groups. Many Line Producers will get together to talk about the problems they faced.
Finally, watch the behind-the-scenes interviews with Directors on DVDs. Usually, they talk about the artistic side of things but it is easy to discern what the production department had to do to achieve that Director’s vision.” It can also help to attend film school but isn’t always necessary.
Experience & Skills
The Line Producer oversees people on set and understands how to allocate money efficiently. “Any kind of organizational or managerial experience is crucial for this career,” says Ganji. “Learn how to keep cool and collaborate with others. A lot of creatives are only thinking about their craft and it’s up to the Line Producer to hold everything together. Everyone wants more time and resources to do their art but the Line Producer must play this tug of war with them without sacrificing schedule or money. At the end of the day, the movie needs to be completed. So any prior experience with a position requiring coordination is beneficial; it doesn’t have to be in the film industry. For example, managing a team at Starbucks could be a great training ground, as well. How many customers are coming in and how much staff and coffee do I need to accommodate them?”
The demeanor of a Line Producer is very important. Ganji says, “Someone who is level-headed and won’t show they’re stressed is an ideal candidate for this career. If crew members can see the Line Producer is stressed, even if it’s justified, they’ll begin thinking about logistics and other departments instead of the task they were hired to do. That’s not good for a movie. Additionally, it’s important for a Line Producer to be able to trust people and not necessarily keep track of every dollar. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. However, it is the Line Producer’s job to manage the budget so there is a bit of a balancing act.
Never cheat people or be cheap. Respect goes both ways and if people feel like they’re being bullied or scared then they’ll find ways of taking it out on the Line Producer, which ultimately hurts the production. Really the job is knowing how everyone likes their coffee and making sure they get it that way.” A great Line Producer may not seem like they are doing any work on set but that’s because they’ve already planned everything out and hired good people.
“The Line Producer can act almost like a bottleneck. The more they wait or delay, the less time other departments have to get ready. It’s best to prepare a checklist and knock out the top priorities that the other Producer(s) or Director need. Most of the Line Producer’s intensive work happens in pre-production when they’re forming the budget.
They will work days, evenings, and weekends to get it done. That way hiring can take place and the other departments can start their prep work. Once principal photography begins, things can get a bit easier since the natural stress falls onto other departments and there is a production department managing the day-to-day problems that arise. Essentially, the workload gets heavier and heavier as production nears, then incrementally declines as principal photography gets underway.”
Working as a Line Producer is a freelance management position. They not only need to manage their own time but other’s time. This results in not always working but usually being only a phone call away. The Line Producer collaborates with the Director, Executive Producer, and Screenwriter to prepare a shoot. Then they work with all the key crew heads like the Gaffer, Key Grip, Key Hairdresser, Key Makeup, Production Designer and Director of Photography to make the film itself.
“The best way to learn line producing is to work with a respected Line Producer. They will act as a mentor and get you on set. It’s a career where talents develop through practical experience. So even if an apprenticeship isn’t available it can be beneficial for an aspiring Line Producer to work as a PA then climb the ladder into becoming a Production Coordinator and Unit Production Manager,” says Ganji.
Breaking into working in the film industry can be difficult. It helps to go to a city where films are constantly being made and even if a person can’t get on a big set, to volunteer for small ones. This will give valuable experience, help build a resume and provide connections for future hires. If someone is a hard worker they’ll be remembered.
A Line Producer is a freelance position so they don’t typically get benefits and each opportunity is negotiated on a case-by-case basis. “Usually, a Line Producer will accept a flat rate for breaking down a script, then a daily rate to handle pre-production and production. This rate can range from $150 per day to $1,200 per day or higher, depending on the scale of the job,” says Ganji.
While this job handles a project’s money it isn’t all about finances. Finding a great Director to collaborate with will often lead to better-paying work in the future. It’s important to follow the gut as well as the bank account.
Unions, Groups & Associations
“One of the best films to watch is Lost in La Mancha to learn how to make a movie. It’s a documentary about a production where everything goes wrong and the documentarians interview every crew position,” says Ganji.
Otherwise, there are lots of good books on budgeting and producing. It’s good to get the most recent books available because they will have the most relevant information about fringes, tax incentives, and budgeting software. Locally, many non-profits exist, like Film Independent in Los Angeles. Each city has their own meetups and organizations so it’s good to just Google. Finally, check out Facebook. Groups like I Need a Producer will be full of Producers and people posting work.
- Get on set and PA large jobs, even if they are reality shows or music videos, to see how things are run.
- Do student films. They provide a chance to get more responsibility where trial and error can be practiced.
- Find a Line Producer to assist.
- Network with Directors and DPs. They can be great reference points for getting future work.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Every Line Producer needs to remember to be open-minded and not take things too hard. It is a profession where people are constantly judged. Sometimes other people will go out of their way to try and beat down the Line Producer because they think they can get more money for their department and they don’t understand how budgets work. Also, if a Line Producer does make a mistake there is always a solution. Failure is a stepping stone to success.
Stay humble and move forward; there is always an answer to every problem. The Line Producer just needs to fret enough to figure it out.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Many people change when they get power. The Line Producer often holds the production’s purse, telling people what they can or can’t do. It’s important for them to remember their passion and stay the same person they were in the beginning without any additional attitude or ego. Forgetting this won’t just hinder the project but stop the Line Producer from getting future work. It is simple to say but many people forget and become their own worst enemy.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Where are we at right now with budget and schedule?
It can be difficult to keep everyone focused. Production is often like herding a bunch of cats. Creatives get caught up in their vision, what they want to achieve, and how it is going to be done. A lot of value can be found in taking stock of what has been accomplished, as well as what is happening in the present moment. Effectively understanding where a production is at will impact what future decisions will be made. It sounds vague to say, but sometimes, it is making one artistic choice that will result in squeezing in another day of production. The more a crew and Line Producer communicate what is going on with production and budgets, the easier it will be for them to make educated decisions.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“What is contingency?
Veteran Line Producers always calculate 10-12% as an extra buffer into their budgets. It may mean scaling back on equipment, personnel, and/or days but it provides a creative flexibility. Unforeseen problems always arise and that’s what that money is for. If it doesn’t get used, then the Line Producer looks good because they ‘saved’ money. The Director will often be happy, too, because it means they get to shoot for an extra day.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Having worked in Los Angeles, New York, Mumbai, London and Doha, Siddharth Ganji has managed and driven all forms of production with multiple teams around the world. Diversity in collaboration has always led to telling compelling stories and this is a value that Ganji holds very highly. He loves getting an intimate understanding of the client and telling the right story for their audience. Personal interests include a trip to the theater, tennis court and experimenting with smoothies.
Ganji is currently Head of Production at Replay Collective. He has produced over fifty music videos, commercials, branded shorts and TV Pilots.