How To Become a Line Producer
The Line Producer is the liaison between the above-the-line and below-the-line creatives and technicians on a film shoot. They manage the production, focusing on budgeting and scheduling, and report to the Producer.
A Line Producer will be part of a production from pre-production to delivery of the project.
To learn more about line producing, we spoke with Siddharth Ganji who has worked as both a Line Producer and Producer on feature films, music videos, and commercials.
Says Ganji, “Often, a Line Producer will come on before money has even been raised… They will read a script and create a budget for the Producer, who will then raise money from the Executive Producers.
“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 looks after the Producing Department.”
Given the tremendous responsibilities they must carry out in overseeing the physical production of a film, the Line Producer is typically considered the backbone of a production.
The average national annual salary for a Line Producer currently stands at $89,420.
That figure can vary considerably, though, according to experience, type of project, budgetary allowances, and volume of work in a given year. Those factors considered, Line Producers can generally expect to make annually anywhere between $50,000 and $135,000.
It’s important to keep in mind that a Line Producer is a freelance position. This means they do not receive benefits such as paid time off or health insurance. Each new gig also entails negotiating work rates.
“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 to $1,200 per day or higher, depending on the scale of the job,” notes Ganji.
A great Line Producer is always in demand. However, it’s also a highly demanding job.
Many people outside of the filmmaking industry consider only the creative aspects of making a movie, like the storytelling or acting. But no story can be told or performed without a production that has a solid budget, schedule, and crew–all of which are the domain of the Line Producer.
So to succeed in this particular profession, a Line Producer must be a master of management. When a budget is going over or the schedule is falling behind, the production company or studio funding a production will look first to the Line Producer as to why.
As such, it’s important for an aspiring Line Producer to understand the fundamentals of these filmmaking essentials.
They must know exactly what they need to budget for as it pertains to every single part of the filmmaking process from pre-production through post. They must also have a keen sense of how long it will realistically take to complete these phases of filmmaking.
Just as importantly, they must be comfortable with and adept at communicating frequently and clearly with all key parts of the crew, as well as the Director and Producer, to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding budget and schedule.
The person who can capably carry out all these tasks can have a long and successful career. As mentioned, though, it’ll also be a demanding career.
Because the Line Producer is responsible for so many vital parts of a production, they will be expected to work well before and after the normal nine-to-five schedule, including weekends. This can be the case through the life of a production, so Line Producers can expect to have time-intensive responsibilities for months at a time until the project is delivered.
Ganji states, “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.”
During pre-production, the Line Producer’s main collaborators are the Director, Executive Producer, and Screenwriter, as they work together to break down the script, set the schedule, and begin the hiring process.
Once those key positions have been filled, the Line Producer will be in constant communication with the crew heads such as the Gaffer, Key Grip, Key Hairdresser, Key Makeup, Production Designer, and Director of Photography during principal photography.
The career path of an aspiring Line Producer can begin both in college and on-the-job.
Line Producers who want to work specifically on movies may pursue a general film degree. Depending on the program, they may have opportunities to work on student films and start to develop those skillsets of managing the budget, schedule, and other crew.
Real-world experience can also come in the form of working on small, independent projects like short films, music videos, or other similar types of content. Smaller productions might mean a larger role for an aspiring Line Producer.
But just as valuable is starting out as an Intern, Production Assistant, or Producer’s Assistant on a larger project. In these roles, an emerging Line Producer will get to see firsthand how more senior individuals on a set manage a crew or keep to a schedule.
Depending on the job, an aspiring Line Producer might be asked to assist the Unit Production Manager or Production Coordinator, which can offer invaluable insight and experience into the managerial responsibilities these professionals have on a shoot, even as they handle the more basic requirements of a production.
Ganji notes, “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.”
As an aspiring Line Producer gains more experience through their growing resume of projects, they can sharpen their skills as they relate to tasks like securing good vendor rates or carrying out managerial needs to ensure that everything on set is running smoothly.
“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.
Even for a role like the Line Producer, which comes with a sizable list of responsibilities, the competition for gigs can be difficult. So aspiring Line Producers are encouraged to go where the work is to help their chances of breaking in and getting jobs consistently.
An aspiring Line Producer might also have to volunteer at the outset of their career just to gain experience, grow that resume of work, and make professional connections that could potentially lead to the next gig.
With that in mind, Ganji offers the following recommendations:
- Get on set and PA large jobs, even 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.
Experience & Skills
When it comes to being a Line Producer, the importance of experience cannot be underestimated.
Especially when it comes to budget and schedule–and the many ways in which both of those factors can be affected during a shoot–it’s necessary for an aspiring Line Producer to gain as much experience as possible to understand how to capably deal with those issues.
That’s why taking on even volunteer or PA positions can prove a useful investment of time and energy, as someone who wants to become a Line Producer can begin to learn what to do when something on a shoot invariably goes sideways.
Because a Line Producer’s role encompasses overseeing budget, schedule, and crew, Ganji notes that “any kind of organizational or managerial experience is crucial for this career.
“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.”
Those organizational and managerial skills don’t necessarily need to be gained with set experience. Ganji adds, “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?”
It may come as no surprise that the job of a Line Producer can be highly stressful at times. But often what sets apart someone wanting to be a Line Producer from someone who is actually successful at it is their ability to remain calm during trying circumstances.
Especially given that many of the other key crew members on a shoot will be looking to the Line Producer when something goes wrong, it becomes extremely important that the Line Producer can work well under pressure and provide the leadership necessary to keep the production running smoothly.
In particular, that’s where experience can come in handy. If you know that you can get yourself out of a sticky or stressful situation, you’re much more likely to find the strength and know-how to do it again in the future.
Ganji notes, “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.”
At the end of the day, balancing is what a Line Producer’s job is. Balancing the budget. Balancing the schedule. Balancing the demands, expectations, and needs of the crew.
Education & Training
Training to become a Line Producer is best found in practical experience.
Again, don’t pass on internships, Production Assistant positions, or other entry-level opportunities, as they’ll provide important experience that can be used on the next gig. Any job, even volunteer ones, also provide the chance to meet other professionals who might be able to recommend you for a future job.
While nothing can substitute for real-world experience, college can also be helpful in terms of gaining experience on student films and meeting peers who might one day be in a position to hire you for a job.
Even if going to film school isn’t an interest or option, aspiring Line Producers can look to other film-centric organizations like Film Independent or the Producer’s Guild of America for both classes and events that can build their skillsets and professional networks as they move through their careers.
Ganji adds, “It’s also good to check out Facebook for local groups… Groups like I Need a Producer will be full of Producers and people posting work.
“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.”
Aspiring Line Producers can find many books on the craft and business of filmmaking to specifically help them become more adept at their job.
Books like Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film: A Panic-Free Guide and Line Producing for the Independent Producer can provide important insights for those looking to enter this field.
Ganji also points out, “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.”
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, Producer 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.