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When it comes to television, people often flock to new and old shows alike due to the actors in them or the past work of the show’s creators. Yet while these persons being a part of a project help attract viewers, there would be no show to view in the first place if it weren’t for the person who’s work typically goes unlauded — the show’s producer. So what exactly does a TV producer do and what even is one?
In essence, a TV producer is the CEO of the small business that is creating a TV show episode from start to finish. A TV producer initiates, supervises and manages the creation and production of a show/show’s episode. Additionally, they are often the person who holds the rights to the underlying property. They’re the head of the entire operation, even above the director.
This answer is as simple as it is complex. For, simply put, a TV producer does a little bit of everything. What exactly this all entails is a bit more detailed, however. The following list exhibits many of the tasks that are usually involved.
The TV producer is in charge of gathering the team for the project. This includes hiring the writer(s), the cinematographer and other necessary crew members, actors and even the post-production team. And this task includes the drafting of contracts, bargaining agreements, etc. involved with hiring each team member.
A TV producer doesn’t let the screenwriter(s) write whatever they want and then proceed to go shoot that. Rather, the producer oversees the script development to both ensure that one episode’s content aligns with both past and future episodes while being feasible to accomplish with the episode’s budget.
You can’t just use other people’s works in your project without paying a price. Until recently, the “Birthday Song” was not public domain, and cost a pretty penny to buy the rights to, which is why it isn’t sung in most films or television shows even though it’s sung in most every house in America. So if there’s a song, movie clip or some other creative work that a team seeks to include in their project, the TV producer must secure the rights to said work.
While a general maximum budget will typically be given to a TV producer by the studio they are working with for any given show, the producer makes the final, more specific budget. To ensure that things run smoothly and the budget is adhered to, TV producer’s also oversees the director and the project at large when in the production stage.
The TV producer breaks down the script, into various locations, times of day, number of actors and extras, etc. so that they can create a shooting schedule. It will rarely make economic sense to shoot a project in chronological order. Shooting multiple scenes in one location in the same day, however, saves a significant amount of both time and money.
By no stretch of the imagination does the end of filming mean the project is done. Between editing, music composition and more, there is a lot more work that the TV producer must oversee.
While, much like becoming a screenwriter, there is no single way to become a TV producer, here are some things that can help you do so.
Most TV producers have a Bachelor’s degree at the very least and many have an MFA. While there are many people don’t have either of these, it is a good idea to educate yourself prior to thrusting yourself into the industry. Even if it’s not a Bachelor’s degree, programs like those at the New York Film Academy’s Producing School can help better prepare you as well as separate you from the multitude of people who claim they want to produce but aren’t willing to put the work in.
Just like McDonald’s has every new employee start with cleaning the bathrooms, everybody who wants to work in film must start at the bottom — typically as a lowly Production Assistant (PA) on set. Being on set, however, even in this unlauded role, is a tremendous learning experience. And over time, often via the rapport established with new connections, this leads to one’s moving up the ranks. One second you may be a PA, the next moment a script supervisor, a line producer after that and possibly a TV producer soon after.
Keep track of what’s going on and who’s doing what in the industry, and not just with the mainstream. See what indie projects are going on in your area, what YouTubers are looking to branch out and try to meet people. Do so with no expectations and just develop a connection with the other party. You never know where it could lead.
The only way you can truly prove yourself as a producer is to produce. This may not be TV to start, but get some friends together and create a short film that you produce. If that goes well, maybe try a movie or a weekly YouTube channel. If you can prove that you’re both willing and able to do projects on your own, and are successful at it, studios will be much more willing to pay you to work on their projects.
The amount a TV producer makes varies tremendously. According to PayScale, the average pay is close to $67,000 per year. The bigger the studio, however, the higher that pay may be. For example, TV producers at the Discovery Channel earn about $82,000 per year and those at NBCUniversal Media, LLC. earn about $105,000 per year.
Though becoming a TV producer seems like a long and arduous process to earn an amount that, while not insignificant, is easily eclipsed by other professions that require less time and offer less career ambiguity, those who do it do it for a reason. If it’s what you love to do, then being a TV producer will always have more pros than cons, even if the work goes unlauded.
J.P. Pressley is a writer, entrepreneur, and an asthmatic former two-sport college athlete (basketball and track). Is he a jockey-nerd or a nerdy-jock? The world may never know. You can learn more about him at his personal website.
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