What does a Producer Do?
March 22, 2004 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Regarding motion pictures: I know what a screenplay writer does. I know what a director does. What I do NOT understand is what a Producer does. Nor do I understand what an Executive Producer does. And how do they (Producers) figure so prominently in blurbs, reviews, and awards? Insight, please?
posted by davidmsc to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
let's say you're a writer, or an actor, or even someone with an idea. How are you going to get your idea made into a movie? The producer is someone who makes this happen.

The vagaries come into play because the producer can be involved at virtually every level of making the film. They can literally be on the set making sure things happen, or they can be in an office deciding which projects to put money into.

The producer can be independent, or work for a small or medium company, or be on the payroll of a major studio. Executive producers usually (but not always) are involved mostly on the financial end, while regular producers might be involved in the most high-level aspects of getting the film made (hiring the right people, getting funds, guiding the film towards commercial viability). Supervising producers/ asst. producers/ etc. are usually on set people who coordinate the actual production. But there are no hard and fast rules that I am aware of that go into these titles. People (actors, writers, etc) also get 'producer' credit sometimes as part of their financial deal.

Basically if you are involved in a management capacity with producing the movie, you are a producer.
posted by chaz at 12:23 PM on March 22, 2004

Think of a producer as the CEO of the movie. The director is more like the head of the creative team. A lot of things need to happen to get a movie out (direction, casting, promotion, distribution etc)
Producers will sometimes hire and fire directors at will to get a movie out.
posted by vacapinta at 12:29 PM on March 22, 2004

What's an associate producer credit?

It's what you give to your secretary
instead of a raise.

From State and Main by David Mamet
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:30 PM on March 22, 2004

Typically producers (especially executive producers) are credited so prominently because they are -- in either a general or very specific sense -- paying for the film to be made or otherwise "responsible" for the film to financially interested parties.
posted by majick at 12:31 PM on March 22, 2004

As said above, producers are often the people that writers pitch their idea to. As the money people, they can also muck about with the ending (incurring the wrath of the director) if the film doesn't test well. If you watch "The Producer" with Tim Robbins it will all become very clear.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:45 PM on March 22, 2004

FWIW, it's a curious quirk that in music, the "producer" of a record is more akin to the "director" of a movie.
posted by adamrice at 12:51 PM on March 22, 2004

This rather excellent book will explain the details of what people answered, above.

onivconnect, I think you mean The Player, not The Producer. In the film, Robbins plays head of the story development at a studio, though. Not a producer (though sometimes they do similar things).
posted by dobbs at 12:53 PM on March 22, 2004

To sum up, the producer is typically the "manager" of the whole process. He oversees buying stuff, dealing with the studio, etc. I believe technically he often is entitled to creative control (telling the director what direction to go in, not on a moment-to-moment basis of course), but traditionally not at a high resolution like an editor, director or set designer would. He just clarifies the general direction for all of them. Directors do a lot of that too, but technically producers usually have more authority.
posted by abcde at 1:09 PM on March 22, 2004

adamrice: Producers' role in records has gotten more and more involved over time. I believe early on it meant something similar to what producers in movies do. Now a producer does or oversees the engineering (a process that before was often totally isolated before), hiring players, and even some arrangement. (The musicians themselves are of course more involved now as well, for another change). So the original definition matched up with that for movies.
posted by abcde at 1:15 PM on March 22, 2004

Dammit, dobbs, can't you just let me heedlessly promote misinformation without incurring any personal consequences? Such a stickler for "truth" here. Geez!

posted by onlyconnect at 1:25 PM on March 22, 2004

I've found that people sometimes get confused about what a producer does because there's quite a bit of difference between being an executive producer on a movie as opposed to a TV series. TV executive producers like Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon or Steven Bochco, for example, are often deeply involved in the creative process, sometimes even writing the screenplays or directing episodes, while as others have pointed out, the executive producer on a movie is more of a money manager.
posted by Cyrano at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2004

Sometimes a producer is named "Producer" or "Executive Producer" simply because it is a way to add credibility to a production so it's easier for the real producer to talk other people into joining the product. Having Steven Speilberg as an Executive Producer makes it more likely for a big name star to agree to a project.
posted by perplexed at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2004

Yeah, J. Michael Straczynski ("Babylon 5") once explained the difference between TV and movies in terms of who the top dog is. On a movie, it's the director who's the auteur. On a TV series, it's the executive producer whose creative vision gets realized. The director of an episode of TV is typically a hired gun and you typically use several of them on a given show.
posted by kindall at 2:21 PM on March 22, 2004

The actual title of "Producer" is somewhat meaningless, in that there are so many ways of getting that credit in a film or television series that seing the title in and of itself doesn't tell me anything.

As others have stated, ideally, the "producer" is the person (or people) who lines up the talent (actors, director, writer/s), takes the project to the studio, and/or rounds up the money to get the project off the ground. In television, the producer can also be the person who takes a series idea to a network, who will then finance the show.

However, the "producer" credit itself can go to just about anyone. An actors agent or manager can get a "producer" credit (as well as a producer's fee) as one of the conitions for getting their clients to work on a film. A director could give a long-time assistant the credit as a reward for years of loyalty in the industry. And on and on.
posted by herc at 3:36 PM on March 22, 2004

Response by poster: Very much obliged, folks...I had an inking about some of this stuff, and it's nice to have it sorted out a bit better in my head.

posted by davidmsc at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2004

The "producer" and "executive producer" credit often goes to someone who has a stake or loose connection to the film, but no connection to the actual film production/release itself. An example might be a producer options a book or script, but that property is later bought by a studio, and they decide to push the original producer aside in favor of a new creative team. The only thing the original producer gets in return is a meaningless credit. This also has the added bonus of someone outside the actual production the studio can blame if the film bombs. (As Columbia did on "The Last Action Hero".)

If you want to know which producer did all the actual production work on the film, the day-to-day grind of keeping things going on-set and what not, look for the "line producer" credit.
posted by jca at 5:20 PM on March 22, 2004

And in TV news, it's completely different. My title is "Editor/Producer", f'r instance. You have executive producers, show producers, line producers, segment producers, package producers, field producers, et cetera.

But yes, in film, the CEO analogy is appropriate. That's why the "Best Picture" Oscar goes to the producer.
posted by Vidiot at 10:26 PM on March 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

The last run of "Project Greenlight" seemed pretty good for illuminating the various roles and levels of "producer" -- the more so because the directors were sort of labratory rats for the documentary.
posted by coelecanth at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2004

We have producers in the games industry. They seem to be somewhere between movie and tv producers in terms of creative involvement, depending on the game.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:04 PM on March 23, 2004

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