Who’s the Boss? The Difference Between a Film’s Producer vs Director
There is a big difference between a Film Director and a Film Producer, but the two work very closely together. To answer the question “who’s the boss?” — they both are. The relationship is like a marriage with a precious baby called the film. The Producer and Director each have important responsibilities, but they must consult one another, not only because it makes sense, but also because both the Director’s Guild (DGA) and the Producer’s Guild (PGA) require them to. In a nutshell, the Producer handles the business side of things and the Director handles the creative side of things, but many decisions are made together.
Anyone who has watched a film and has stuck around for the credits (and you should!) knows that there is one Director (with some exceptions), but a slew of Producers on a film. That’s because producing is a lot of work, but to qualify for a “produced by” credit, and ultimately become a member of the union, the PGA has a set of responsibilities that determine whether a Producer deserve that credit. Likewise, the DGA has a set of creative rights for the Director.
Responsibilities of a Film Producer
Finding and Developing Material
A film project usually begins with the Producer. Whether it is a newspaper article, a book or a script that is already written, it is the Producer who finds the story and options or buys the rights to make the film. This person will hire a Writer or work with the Writer to develop the script and get it polished and ready for production.
Securing the Funds
The Producer will also secure funding. This is what scares many people away from producing, but it is the Producer’s job to get initial funding or find people who can. This requires putting together materials to pitch the project and sell the idea to get people interested. There are many ways to raise money for a film and the Producer is at the helm of this effort.
Budgeting and Scheduling
Before the Producer can raise money, he or she must put together a budget. This involves breaking down the script to see how much things will cost and what kind of bells and whistles the film will need. He or she must take into consideration all aspects of the production from pre-production to post, down to the smallest details — from office space and copy paper to visual effects.
Another thing that will inform the budget is scheduling – how many days the film will shoot and in what order — so a Producer will have to think about this early on. A Director will have a voice in scheduling (as discussed below), but when money is a factor, the Producer often has a louder voice.
Putting the Team Together
The Producer hires all the department heads. As mentioned above, the Producer hires the Writer, but the Producer also hires the Director. This is where the “boss” idea trips people up. The Director does, in effect, work for the Producer, but the Director is hired because of her vision so the Producer supports that vision in every decision he makes, which is why the Director is consulted in choosing department heads and is entitled to pick her First Assistant Director (AD). A good Producer will make sure that the team he picks is a good match for the Director, just as he chose the Director as the best creative match for the script.
The Producer is also involved with casting, which is, again, in consultation with the Director.
Managing Pre-Production and Production
While the Director is working with the creative team, the Producer is working with the production team hiring local crew, securing locations and permits, getting team leaders what they need, and all the mechanical aspects of production. The Producer is the “deal maker” — from SAG contracts and deal memos to negotiating bids from VFX companies.
During pre-production the Producer is also scheduling meetings between the Director and department heads and consulting the Director about budgetary concerns. During production, the Producer is on set supervising the entire team to support the Director’s vision and manage cost reports.
Once the shooting has stopped, the Producer moves on to post-production. As with production, the Producer is a consultant and provides in person support to the Director and Editor. The Producer will also help the Director choose a Composer and the rest of the post team, from sound to color correction.
The Producer will also manage test screenings and feedback for the Director and if a studio is involved, the Producer will be a liaison between the Director and the studio.
When everybody else goes home, the Producer continues to be a champion of the film. After all, a film must find an audience to be successful and all this lands on the Producer, who must put together a distribution plan for both domestic and foreign markets and supervise marketing materials to promote the film.
Responsibilities of a Director:
Interpreting the Script
The Director is responsible for all the creative aspects of a film. This starts with the script. The Director has input on the shooting script and any revisions, digging deep into theme, character development and all aspects of story. She visualizes the script and figures out how to put that vision onto the screen, considering how it will be shot and who will be cast.
Establishing the Look and Feel of the film
The Director will work with the Producer to develop the look and feel of the film. Will it be dark and moody or sunny and fun? She will pull visual references to demonstrate what she has in mind and use these to create a “mood board” or some sort of visual to help her team grasp her vision.
Signing Off on Department Heads and Schedules
As mentioned above, the Director has the right to be involved in all the creative decisions. This includes hiring of department heads, (such as Costume Designer, Production Designer, Director of Photography, Editor, etc) finding locations, and/or the construction of locations.
The Director also has a say in scheduling and budgeting. Though these things seem more likely to be a concern to a Producer, a Director has a say in how things get done and often has creative ways to stretch money or reschedule things to save time.
Working with Department Heads
While the Producer is busy with the logistics of production, the Director is working with the Production Designer, the DP and Costume Designer to bring the “look and feel” of the film to life. They are discussing color palettes, looking at picture references of locations, costumes or other visuals so the team leaders can create or find things to emulate the ideas on screen.
The Director will work with the DP to decide what aspect ratio to shoot and what kind of camera and lenses to use and they will visit locations and start visually planning the shoot with storyboards or shot lists.
Though this is a team effort between the Producer and the Director, the Director is the one who has the vision and casting revolves around how she sees the characters.
Working with Actors to get the Right Performance
The Director is a guiding star for Actors. Some Actors like as much information as they can get from the Director; others come to set having done their homework in secret. It is up to the Director to understand how an Actor wishes to work and be a midwife to his or her performance. In some cases there will be time to rehearse before shooting, but often, all they get is rehearsals on set.
Working with the Post-Production Team
The Director is entitled to a “Director’s cut” as outlined by the DGA. This right is absolute and begins after the Editor finishes her assembly. The time allotted depends on circumstances, but this is generally a 10-week period in which the Director works with the Editor to get her version of the film before the Producer and studio get involved. After this period the Director is once again in a position to consult with the Producer until the final cut of the film.
Once the picture is locked, the Director will see the film to the end, working with the Composer, the post sound team and Colorist.
Summing it All Up
A Producer hires a Director for the same reason the Director casts an Actor – because he believes in her talent. A Director signs on to a project with a Producer because she knows he will give her the support she needs. Making a film is immensely challenging. Teamwork is critical. Understanding the relationship between a Producer and Director is a benefit to you, whether you want to be one of the two, or if you work for one of the two.
Note: The relationship between and Producer and a Director in Television is a whole different story.
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