We’ve just finished watching a movie, and the ending credits start to blare in front of our faces with some fine-picked soundtrack. Often, some of the first names we’re reading are the producers of the work. The same goes for television. Our favorite shows end and thank the producers; in theatrical productions, we read our program and see producers as top billing.
Even with all the credit producers get, it’s a mystery what exactly these producers are getting credit for. Producers are often considered people who donate funds to the movie — but there’s much more that goes into the job title. While some producers do deal primarily with finances, others are responsible for a plethora of a production’s arenas, including anything from creative work to marketing content.
We know about directors, writers, actors and crew. Producers don’t hold the same spotlight, but that doesn’t mean their role isn’t just as important. Instead, producing is one of the most of the most powerful roles in a production. Producers are the ring leaders; according to the Producers Guild, a producer “initiates, coordinates, supervises, and controls…all aspects of the motion picture and/or television production process.”
Because a producer is responsible for “all aspects” of a production, their responsibilities range in job types and skills. Producers do just as much creative and technological work as they do financial and administrative work. They are with a production for the four major stages of work: development, pre-production, production and postproduction.
Whether it’s a new work that’s barely been developed or a tale as old as time, producers are the ones responsible for picking the stories we see as movies, television and theater. Once they choose a work they’d like to develop, the producer will go about the logistics to tell the story they want. That might include gaining access to a script, getting book rights or even securing someone’s life rights.
A producer might pick a story that’s traditionally told in another medium; for example, they might want a bestselling book to become a movie. They might simply have an idea or a story they want to be told but no script that tells it. Producers, therefore, hire screenwriters or a team of writers to develop their story and create a script.
The producer is often the lone ship in the whole production process, which means they need to hire an entire creative and technical team to make the project come to life. A producer will hire the director, cast, crew and department heads on a production.
It’s true that producers often have to deal with the money side of a production — but that doesn’t mean they’re throwing bills at the production and letting everyone else do the work. Producers work on a production’s initial financing, which often comes from individual investors or institutions. During the production process, they become the main financial point of contact during production and often approve weekly cost reports.
Producers continue their work throughout the production process by overseeing daily operations on set or on-site. While they’ll let the directors, actors and crew do their creative and technical work, the producer is there as a consultant for every member of the team to field any questions they may have.
Once a production has been filmed and rehearsed, a producer works with the creative team to put the final production together — whether that be editing or visual effects. The producer then works with a business or marketing team to distribute or advertise the production.
Distinctions among responsibilities of movie, television, and theater producers aren’t wide gaps; while differences come with every medium, size and span of a project, the bigger variations come when we consider who’s the boss.
In television, the creative brains behind the show—often called the showrunner—often take precedent. They take creative responsibility for not only the script but also shooting location, schedule and creative team. In the movie business, the creative producer often collaborates with the director to overcome creative difficulties. Theater producing provides a medium between the two, where financial producers, creative producers and line producers — often deemed production managers — come together to put on the performance. Like television, writers often have strict power over their material; however, theatrical producers have power in much of everything else, including investing to hiring a creative team.
Not only are there different mediums in which to produce but also different levels of producing. Not all producers are responsible for every aspect of every production; rather, some specialize while others take the reigns.
Executive producers are essentially the boss of all other producers. They supervise the other producers on the project and ensure that their producer responsibilities are carried out. According to the Producers Guild, many Executive Producers in television are also the creator or writer of a series.
Similar to an executive producer, a supervising producer — like the name implies — supervises at least one producer on some of their responsibilities. They can work in place of the executive producer, but the executive producer has the power to override them.
Associate producers are underneath executive producers. While they are responsible for the same producing tasks, they don’t carry out all of the typical work a singular producer may; instead, the executive producers gives them specific functions or areas to work on.
While the general role of a “producer” includes creative work, a line producer is responsible only for the physical and financial aspects of a production. Because they’re on location to supervise physical daily operations, they often work on one project at a time.
More of a creative and technological role, visual effects producers work either directly for the production or for an individual visual effects company. When movies are responsible for hundreds and even thousands of shots for visual effects, having a producer to outsource the effects work helps ensure productivity and time efficiency.
Producers in the film and television industry have a median pay of $66,703/year according to PayScale. In the theater industry, the producing salary clocks in at about the same: $65,133/yr, reports Glassdoor. The main point of salary growth for this industry is experience. On average, those with 10-19 years of experience have a $15,000 increase in their pay; with 20 or more years, a producing salary can go up to $30,000 higher than the median.
Producing salaries also vary depending on what level of producing you do. An associate producer who is only responsible for some of the producing tasks will make $55,208 on average, according to Glassdoor. An executive producer, who oversees all of the production work, makes an average of $102,604 annually.
While there can be power rankings within producing, there are also differences in the types of producing you can do. If you decide you like the physical, numbers side of the game, aim for being a line producer. If you want to handle the creative and technological side as well, you can work your way up in production to an executive producer or associate producer position.
While going to college is not a requirement for producing, if you have the ability to get an undergraduate education, there are numerous programs that give you the knowledge you might need in production. Majors in film, television and digital production can help give an overview of the different aspects of production — including writing, lighting, sound and editing. Certain schools even offer the opportunity to do a producing-like project in their senior year.
One of the most important parts of the production industry is experience. The most common way to get this experience is by working as a production assistant. These jobs familiarize you with the studio or set of productions you may want to be working on, as well as get you comfortable with the initial tasks of production.
Producers are responsible for curating and telling the stories they want told. Building a portfolio of smaller and valuable projects can help you gain experience and start focusing on what kind of producing you'd like to do. In order to choose projects carefully and well, producers are always paying attention to what’s happening not only in their industry but also in their everyday world. They understand what’s going on in their business and what people want (and need) to see.
Working as a producer means you’ve got to hire the best teams, often including other producers. Networking is therefore integral to creating the work you dream of. By connecting with others, you can learn about the projects they’ve worked on and inspire your own work; you can also learn about other developing productions that might need a production assistant or (depending on your experience) an associate producer.
Producing is a great way to combine numerous skills in the movie, television and theater industry; to get the job done, producers need to harness skills dealing with creativity, organization, finance, technology, marketing, business…and the list goes on.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.