Friday, 28 March 2014

What Does a Producer Do, Exactly?

Jeffrey Katzenberg - the uber producer
What does a producer do, exactly? This is an important question for anyone who hopes to go into the entertainment business. Here at Bucks we teach students to animate. We teach art, design, computer skills, everything you need to become a digital artist. But we don't teach producing. As a result, most of our students have only a slender grasp of what actually is involved in producing a project. Arguably, we should teach producing. After all, when you go to the movies and watch the credits, there seem to be a lot of producers. And also sub-species of producer. Like associate producers. And executive producers. And line producers. And creative producers. And what do all these titles mean anyway?

Despite the big range of titles, there is typically only one producer on a project. That is to say, there is just one person who organises and runs the project, is responsible for it, and really gets it done. That person is the real producer, and they will work night and day to bring the project to life. These people are usually a blur - literally - because they are doing so many things at once that their feet barely touch the ground. They are, it goes without saying, energetic and well-organised people. They are also problems solvers. If anything goes wrong on a production (and things go wrong all the time), it is the producer who is expected to solve it.

But what about all the other titles? How many different kinds of producer are there, and what do all the different titles actually mean? See below for our handy guide.

1. Line Producer
On a big project, the line producer is the person who actually handles the day-to-day running of the operation. The line producer is in effect an operations manager, organising everything from the renting of premises to making sure that employees get paid, to making sure that deadlines get met. The line producer is a very busy person, who will often have help from...

2. Associate producer.
On a really big production,  the line producer may simply be too busy to handle everything that comes up, and they may delegate many day to day operations to an associate producer. The associate producer helps to tackle every day tasks that the line producer is too busy to deal with.
3. Executive producer.
As with so many things in Hollywood, the name is misleading. The role should really be described as "non-executive producer". Executive producers are usually people who were instrumental in getting the project made in the first place (such as the person who originally optioned the rights to the book that the film is based on), but then passed on the baton to someone else. An executive producer could be a powerful actor's agent who helped package the deal, or even a famous actor who wants a producer credit. The key point to remember is that Executive Producer is just a title. You might work for a year or more on a film and never meet them, because they often just aren't that involved, or aren't involved in a day-to-day way.

4. Visual Effects Producer
The visual effects producer, as the name suggests, produces the visual effects on a movie. They will make budgets, and project-manage the creation of digital effects. They are in reality line producers who specialise in visual effects work.

5. Production Manager
On a big movie, the production manager helps out the associate producer and producer to get the project done. They are typically responsible for deadlines, scheduling and keeping each shot on track. For an artist, this person is often your first point of contact if you need something done in a hurry.

6. Production Assistant
The production assistant is a dogsbody, a kick-me-in-the-backside downtrodden underling, a glorified runner who does the bidding of all the other production folk. They work long hours, running errands, getting tea and coffee for ungrateful clients, and ordering pizza for an even more ungrateful crew. You may pity their overworked and underpaid lives, but do not despise them. The job may be gruesome, but the canny and the talented often rise swiftly through the ranks.

Production assistants often emerge on the next project as production managers, association producers and even producers. Production Assistant is a tried and tested route to the top. So be nice to them - they may well be employing you in a few years time, and they are far more likely to retire to a villa in the south of France than you are. Kick them when they are down and they will remember - and pay you back one day.

7. Creative Producer
A producer who describes themselves as a creative producer is staking a claim to creative ownership of a film. They are in effect saying "I may not be directing this film, but I might as well be". Producers like Disney's Don Hahn, with a long string of box office hits behind them, have earned the right to steer the ship creatively as well as financially.

So there you have it. Now you know what these titles mean, and you can explain it all knowledgeably in the pub to your less fortunate comrades. Needless to say, the smaller the project, the more these various jobs tend to be covered by fewer people, or even by just one. If you're working on your own personal project, you will end up wearing every hat on the production.


(Editor's Note: for more on producing animation, see our post on what a visual effects producer does. Also see our rules for making group projects a success. Also don't miss our post about finding your first job in the animation industry.)

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