What is a Producer?

The question, What is a Producer?, is not an easy one to answer; primarily, because the term ‘producer’ is rather vague and confusing and it covers a particularly wide range of roles. However, while producers typically wear many hats, there is one way to separate them from everyone else working on a movie, television show, radio program, or theater project. They are the people responsible for providing the necessary infrastructure, resources, and logistics that allow the people involved only with the creative process to do their creative thing. Producers, therefore, are the indispensable executors who handle money, schedules, contracts, personnel, and a multitude of other less glamourous tasks that are essential to making a production happen.

It is also important to note that the work of a producer often begins even before a creative project is envisioned. The role of some producers, especially those working for a single movie studio or production company, may include finding would-be projects and forging relationships with writers, directors, other producers, and other creatives who may have the next big idea. Among these creatives may be book writers, comic book creators, and other intellectual property holders whose works or personal stories or experiences have potential for licensing as a movie, TV show, or theatrical production. The most accomplished – and prolific – producers extend their relationships to include investors, celebrities, and key personnel such as casting agents, cinematographers, and costume designers.

So, in short, it seems that producers are the support system for artists. They are the people who find the story, who connect investors to their vision, and who ultimately bring structure to the typically chaotic process of film, television/radio, and theatrical production. They are tasked with remaining focused on the big picture – literally and figuratively – and with ensuring that the entire production machine runs smoothly and efficiently from conception to completion, to marketing, and to the audience. They are the managers, collaborators, enablers, and problem solvers. It has been said that producers are truly the adults in the room, who give the dreamers a safe place to play and weave their magic.

What does a Producer do?

Producers are responsible for taking a writer's script and using it to create movies, television shows, live theatre, and other artistic productions.

Before outlining some of the specific tasks and responsibilities that make up a producer’s role, here are excerpts from interviews with several working producers, in which they explain their day-to-day job:

Emma Brunjes
‘Artistically, to create and support the creative team and the entire company throughout the process at every level… from the emergency tea or wine meeting with the writer to the complexities of technical rehearsals and high-octane anxieties that run on press night. To get bums on seats, working strategically, collaboratively, and in detail with your press and marketing teams. Crucially, to raise the finances and engage with those key supporters who have made it possible for you to mount your production in the first place. To be fair, transparent, diligent, and grateful. And always, to believe wholeheartedly in what you’re creating, who you are creating it with, and go for it 110%.’

Vicky Graham
‘The producer is financially and legally responsible for the production and everyone working on it. She or he chooses the venue, engages the artists, sets and manages the budget, raises the money, identifies the audience, enables the show to be the best it can be for the longest possible run, and reports to funders/investors at the end. It’s the best job in theater.’

James Seabright
‘The producer's role can appear confusing and indefinable. The briefest of definitions would be that the producer is responsible for delivering a good show, on time, and in budget. The producer also typically defines what is 'on time' and 'in budget' for the show, as well as raising the money required to fund the production.’

Edward Snape
‘A producer is someone who makes things happen. They need to be both creative and financially literate, and ultimately, the balance between the two skills is what makes each individual producer unique.’

Matthew Byam Shaw
‘To be the creative guardian of an idea, to gather as many friends in support of the idea and to wield a big stick against enemies of the idea.’

Carole Winter
‘The producer is the person in charge. The person who carries the risk, who hires and fires the staff, and who tries to make the play a viable commercial proposition – to the investors, the creative team, theatre owners, and ultimately the audience.’

Michael Harrison
‘The producer brings all of the elements associated with presenting a show together. Whether they have had the initial idea and commissioned a writer or have been inspired by an existing piece of work or someone else's idea, the producer assembles the creative team, raises the money, and makes it all happen.’

Tobias Round
‘To make it happen. Whatever 'it' might be. To create or identify an idea or product, and see it through to the end.’

Paul Elliott
‘The producer's job is to co-ordinate all aspects of a production – to nurture the idea and form a team that is right to stage the show and raise money to put it on, and keep a close eye on the budget. There is far more detail in dealing with the personalities involved but the producer must be the leader.’

Chris Stafford
‘Aside from spinning many plates, my job is to ensure the right conditions and resources are in place for artists and creatives to make the best possible work for our audiences. The best producers, I believe, are creative and find ways to bring the best out of the team; they are responsible for unifying everyone under a shared sense of purpose, vision, and direction.’

Danielle Tarento
‘A producer is pretty much in charge of everything, but if they’ve hired the right team, that doesn’t actually mean they actually do everything. Strong heads of departments will take charge of their own staff, so it’s essential that the producer picks a solid creative and production team. Another vital component of a producer’s job is raising the money to pay for the production. How do you find investors? That. My friends, is the $64,000 question that no amount of training will answer for you. They’re out there… but an investor-producer relationship is a special one that needs to be nurtured over time, and we producers keep our investors close to our chests. They are, after all, our lifeline.’

So, while the job of a producer can be articulated in more than one way, it is clear that the role is one of vision, leadership, authority, and control.

The following focuses more on the job of a producer in film, television, or theater; with the primary emphasis being on film production. While radio program production may involve some of these aspects, it is typically considerably less complex.

In the simplest of terms, a producer has three major areas of responsibility:

  • Turn a story idea into a profitable production
  • Put together a creative and talented cast and crew
  • Be responsible for all aspects of a production

These three areas of responsibility translate into a rather large portfolio of work. Producers have overall control of every aspect of a production. They bring together and approve the entire production team. Above all, they must create an environment in which the talents of the cast and crew can flourish. Producers are accountable for the success of the finished movie, television show, or theatrical production. They steer it from beginning to completion and beyond. Not surprisingly, then, the responsibilities of the producer span all four phases of production:

Development Phase

The producer is commonly the first person to get involved in a project. In the development stage, producers are often responsible for coming up with the idea for a production, or selecting a screenplay. They secure the rights and choose the screenwriter and story editing team. They raise the development financing and supervise the development process.

Typically, the development phase is the longest and can take many years with no guarantee of the project ever seeing the dark of a cinema. After purchasing the right to develop the source material, the producer will work with the writer to develop the screenplay.

As the script advances, a director will be brought on board who will, invariably, have input into the further development of the screenplay. Together, the creative team will establish the best way to turn pages of paper into a film.

To give the project the best chance in the marketplace, the producer will seek to attach at least one high-profile actor who satisfies the creative needs of the story, as well as the expectations of potential investors who are seeking to mitigate their risk.

The producer must balance the needs of each party with the overall vision for the project; it is not uncommon for the creative and financial needs to be at odds with each other.

Pre-production Phase

In pre-production, producers hire other key members of the creative team. This includes the cinematographer, production designer, musicians, choreographers, costume designers, and principal cast members. They conduct salary and contract negotiations, and must be familiar with relevant workplace legislation and union or association agreements. Producers also help the executive producers raise money for the production. Once initial financing is secured, producers select heads of departments and other production personnel. They also approve locations, the hiring of a production studio, the final shooting script, the production schedule, and the budget. Smart time and money spent in pre-production can reduce the amount of time and money wasted when production gets underway.

Throughout the development and pre-production phases, the Pitch Package for potential investors is put together. This process may involve a film financing company and sales organizations which will sell the film to foreign distributors. The pitch package typically consists of:

  • A treatment/presentation of the script, normally from one page to ten pages in length
  • A copy of the rights to the story, all options, and acquisitions agreements
  • An investment proposal that lays out the terms and conditions of the investment
  • A document outlining comparable box office returns on films of a similar genre or tone
  • Market research on current trends, with emphasis on projects that have recently gone into production
  • Talent connected to the project. This section of the pitch package identifies the director, screenwriter, and cast; it addresses their experience and comprises their contractual commitment to or letter of interest in the project. It also includes any crew agreements in place.
  • A copy of the budget; strategies for funding and distribution; any evidence of commitments or interest
  • Revenue projections
  • Any examples of press coverage the company has generated; any marketing materials commissioned

Production Phase

Once the film is in production, producers oversee the day-to-day operation of the production team. They are the first point of contact for all production partners, investors, and distributors. They work particularly closely with the director and other key creatives, both on and off set. Throughout this stage, the director makes creative decisions, while the producer makes the business, financial, and logistical decisions, approving all script changes and cost reports. Producers do their fair share of troubleshooting during production, dealing with actors, crews, and technical difficulties that call for additional hires. They are expected to provide reassurance among stress.

Post-production Phase

During post-production, producers liaise with the director and members of the post-production team to accomplish the following:

  • If the shoot is over budget, look for additional funding
  • Edit the film
  • Apply VFX (visual effects outside live-action shots)
  • Compose a musical score and combine it with post-production sound
  • Verify credits
  • Arrange preview screenings, which can mean re-editing the film to reach a version that everyone agrees upon
  • Plan the marketing, promotion, and distribution of the finished film; this normally includes advance press, media interviews, release of promotional clips, and promo tours

Considering the breadth of responsibility that accompanies the title of Producer, it is rare to find one individual who has the expertise and vision to effectively execute all of the tasks across all four phases of production. On multi-million-dollar productions, especially, practicality may dictate that a hierarchy of producers is required:

Executive Producer (EP)
Typically, the executive producer is someone who finances a film, but is not 100% involved in the day-to-day creative process during production. The EP can be a studio head, an owner of a production company, or anyone involved in investment in the film. Executive producers can oversee multiple films at the same time. Sometimes, an individual who may have very little to do with the film may be appointed as an EP simply because their A-list name lends credibility to the project and may attract financing and increase marketability.

Co-Executive Producer
Studio executives and distributors who have made financing commitments to the project are often credited as co-executive producers.

Producer
The producer is hired by the executive producer to be the equivalent of a project/logistics manager in a corporation. Some producers work in partnership; others work alone.

Co-Producer
The term co-producer can refer to a few types of producer. This credit often goes to a line producer (see below), an investor, or the screenwriter whose script was optioned. It can also refer to a producer attached to another production company if the film is a co-production. On a feature fil, the co-producer is the person working closely with the executive producer on matters of finance. On large productions, the co-producer will be involved in the day-to-day running of the production.

Associate Producer
Associate producers may be delegated work by the producer and their responsibilities may span all three stages of production, or they can be based primarily at the production company overseeing several productions simultaneously. ‘Associate producer’ is also the credit given to backers of the film who have made a financial investment.

Assistant Producer
Assistant producers work with the associate producer throughout the production.

Line Producer
The line producer is responsible for creating the budget and tracking and logging expenses. On smaller productions, a line producer may not be necessary, as these responsibilities may be part of the producer’s portfolio.

Unit Production Manager (UPM)
The UPM allocates monies from the budget and oversees spending. Unit production mangers are responsible for the physical aspects of production, but are not involved in any of the creative work. They are imperative to executing certain logistics. They hire and manage the crew, deal with gear and equipment rental, and run the production office.

All of the above roles are vital, particularly to larger-scale and larger-budget creative projects. Each set of responsibilities can be expanded to support the foundational role: that of the producer. If the director makes a creative idea happen creatively, then the producer makes a creative idea happen logistically. Without his or her idea and ability to inspire the right people, there are no logistics to plan and no need to hire a support team to implement them.

Are you suited to be a producer?

Producers have distinct personalities. They tend to be enterprising individuals, which means they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic. They are dominant, persuasive, and motivational. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if becoming a producer is right for you.

Take the free test now Learn more

What is the workplace of a Producer like?

The work environment is high-stress with a great deal of pressure. Assignments may be short, ranging from commercials to training videos to radio shorts; or they may be longer, ranging from documentaries to music videos to feature films. Many producers are self-employed, while others are employed directly by the motion picture or video industry or in radio and television broadcasting. Some producers work in performing arts and sporting industries, cable television, or radio. Hours are irregular and often very long, with weekend, evening, and holidays forming part of the regular work day.

The work location for a producer may be a theatre or soundstage, a television studio, or a radio station. Much of the producer's work is done outside of the workplace. The job may also be mobile when filming on location or traveling with a touring company. Weather conditions may sometimes be a factor.

Although producers in the U.S. and Canada can find work in different production fields almost anywhere, much of the work is concentrated in several large centres that serve as the hub of the motion picture industry. Many producers work on contract and move from one location to another, often learning the trade in other countries with major film industry centres, such as Bollywood or Teluga cinema, France, or Hong Kong. Films are also sometimes produced in these other centres as a way to manage costs.

Producers are also known as:
Movie Producer Film Producer Television Producer TV Producer Motion Picture Producer