Working as a Movie Producer: Who Does What?
The Movie Producer has one of the most stressful jobs on a production. A Producer must support the Director’s vision, balance the budget and do everything in between.
Everyone knows that film is a Director’s medium, but it is the Producer that handles all practical things a Director needs to fulfill that vision. At the same time, a Producer is accountable to investors or a studio, runs the whole show from pre-production to post-production, and in the end, is the one who has to sell the picture. It’s an extremely demanding position.
Maybe that’s why we see oodles of Producers in credits these days. Or maybe not. Let’s be honest, does a film really need 18 Producers? Perhaps, but only the people who actually do the heavy lifting get a “produced by” credit, which is outlined by the Producers Guild of America.
The Producers Guild of America (PGA) is a trade association that represents Producers. The primary benefits of guild membership are healthcare and a pension, but the PGA also offers mentorship and networking opportunities, among other perks. Membership revolves around guidelines that the guild has laid out called the “code of credits.” You can find them here.
The code of credits verifies whether or not a Producer has earned the “produced by” credit. If the credit is submitted to the PGA for approval and the person or people with the “produced by” credit meet the criteria, they are given the Producer’s mark,” which is a small p.g.a. next to his or her name in the credits. The “Producer’s mark,” however, does not necessarily indicate that the Producer is a member of the guild. It just means “that the credited Producer performed a majority of the producing functions on the film in a decision-making capacity. Certification marks exist solely for the public good. The Producers Guild believes that audiences deserve to know which Producers, among an often-extensive list of credited individuals, performed a majority of the work.”
So what about all those other credits with the word “Producer” in them? What do they do? Well, in general, they support the Producer. But there are several legitimate credits that have specific responsibilities attached to them. One thing to bear in mind is that the term Producer and Executive Producer are different in television and motion pictures, which you can read a little bit about below, but for all the details check out the PGA website.
On a movie, the Executive Producer oversees the work of the other Producers on behalf of the studio or production company. Executive Producers are more concerned with financing and budgets and can be working on more than one film at a time. On independent films, Executive Producers can be the major force behind funding. They deal with investors or get loans, and often they are one of the funders themselves. Executive Producers are the dealmakers on a financial, executive level, much like a CEO.
An Executive Producer can also be the person who acquires the rights to a film, or they can be a more established Producer who is attached to a project to give it prestige (which attracts money) or to supervise a less experienced Producer. Sometimes you will see Actors as Executive Producers, which is another way to give a project prestige, but a lot of Actors have production companies and are instrumental in packaging projects to attract investors.
Note that a lot of this revolves around attracting money. As mentioned above, in television the Executive Producer has a different role, which I will address below.
Producer, as in “Produced by”
The Producer who is honored with the “Producer’s mark” oversees all creative aspects of a production, but also has to juggle financial, technical, and administrative tasks from funding to post-production. You will often hear the term Creative Producer because this Producer works closely with the Director.
The fundamental role of a Producer is to find the material to be developed into a motion picture, although it can also be the case that an Executive Producer has a project and seeks out the appropriate Producer to the helm it. But most often it is the Producer that finds a property to develop into a script or finds a script that she wants to produce. The Producer will hire the Writer and find the right Director for the project and collaborate with all three to get the story ready for production.
Once the project is ready and gets “the green light,” the Producer oversees all aspects of production. She works with the Director to pick out a creative team and hires the staff to run the day-to-day aspects of production.
The Co-Producer is exactly what it sounds like. It is someone who shares the task of the Producer. This can be a person who is not ready to take on a project by herself and is still learning the art of producing, or it can be veteran Producers who split the load. Sometimes it is the Line Producer who takes on more creative tasks.
The Line Producer is the “in the trenches” Producer. She creates the budget for the Producer and watches over it like a hawk. It is the Line Producer who is in charge of all the administrative aspects of production. She runs the production office, hires the below-the-line crew (sometimes with the help of a Unit Production Manager) and makes sure the day-to-day operations run smoothly. It is her task to make sure the film stays on schedule and on (even better, under) budget. Luckily, the Line Producer gets a team to help with all of this.
The Line Producer is a high-pressure job. Line Producers are held accountable not only to the Producer or the Executive Producer but often in the independent world, to a bond company, an entity that provides completion insurance to protect the investors. If the production runs off the rails, the bond company can take the film over. Yikes. Intense.
Line Producers are responsible for all cash flow, cost reports and must create daily reports on the status of the production (production reports). Not to mention, they have to deal with all the technical details to get a film made. How are they going to get the car to explode on the highway in the middle of rush hour? The Line Producer has to have an answer; so he or she must also think about the Director’s vision and communicate with the Director to figure out how he or she plans to get it done. Then the Line Producer has to coordinate all the elements to implement that vision.
Line Producers also deal with unions, keep the crew happy and battle problems like a superhero. So next time you run into a Line Producer on set, give her a smile and offer to grab her a cup of coffee.
This is a credit that is often handed out to relatives and friends, but it is also a credit given to someone who is honestly working his or her way up the ladder and is ready to take the next step up. In theory, the Associate Producer should have done something significant on the production in order to receive this credit.
Understanding who does what on a film can be confusing because many responsibilities overlap. Although there is a hierarchy that runs from the Executive Producer down to the Associate Producer, they are more like teammates.
Producers in Television
The biggest difference between film and television production is the role of the Executive Producer, referred to as the EP. In television, the EP does most of what the Producer does on a film, but is even more entwined with the creative process. In fact, the EP is the creative force behind a television show. Television, it is said, is a “Writer’s medium” so the EP is usually a Writer, if not the creator of a show. Take Ryan Murphy, for example. He is a Writer and creator, but with so many projects, chances are, he is not sitting down and writing every episode. He has a staff of people who implement his story ideas and he oversees the process. In his world, it is his vision, as the Executive Producer, that everyone strives to fulfill. So in that sense, it is very different from film, where it is the Director’s vision that everyone scampers to carry out.
Another area in which the responsibilities differ on a TV show is that the EP will not only have final say in principal casting but will also coach talent in performance. An EP can and does direct, but she usually directs the pilot or the first season and once the gears of the show are moving smoothly, she passes on the duties to Directors for hire. A Director on a TV show must fall into sync with the EP’s vision.