What a Producer Does, or How to Herd Cats
Many people are confused by the term “producer”, and most people don’t actually know what it is a producer, you know, does. I’ve learned that it is so complicated that it’s really not good conversation fodder at a bar, either. Now, maybe if I were an actor… but I digress. Although the term producer is nebulous, murky, and mostly considered all-inclusive, everyone seems to agree that there are different types of producers, even though they disagree as to how they’re divided up.
TYPES OF PRODUCERS
The industry standard line is that producing is like herding cats. If you’ve ever produced, however, you know that is woefully inaccurate. Producing is like herding cracked-out, seasick, suicidal cats on a ship in a hurricane while recovering from heavy anesthesia.
Typically a producer is responsible for things like; scheduling cast, crew, and locations; finding, paying, and managing crew; dealing with budgets, copyrights and contracts; overseeing or managing all of the creative decisions; finding, raising, or providing funds or investors for the production; overseeing distribution channels and marketing opportunities; and managing the production as a whole. Basically, a producer has to make it happen, no matter what it is. They literally do some form of everything. Within the world of producing, however, are subcategories of producers, and each tends to focus on different aspects of the job. It’s just like being an athlete; sure, you’re an athlete, but what kind? Every producer mixes and matches their responsibilities based on the needs of the project. And sometimes they don’t. Hence everyone’s confusion. Here are a few of the ways the term “producer” is interpreted:
The most prevalent interpretation of a producer is the iconic Film Producer. This person is responsible for every aspect of the creation of a film, movie, or television show. The film producer oversees everything, and is primarily concerned with making sure all of the pieces come together to fund, create, distribute, and make money off of a film. In this sense, being a producer is pretty nebulous and non-descriptive, but incredibly important. These types of producers aren’t typically responsible for the artistic decisions (they delegate that to the directors, DPs, etc.), but they do have the final say about what ends up in the movie, and they serve as a tie-breaker when there are creative differences.
Another prevalent form of the term “producer” can best be described as a corporate or commercial producer. This is someone who will run the creative and logistical actions of the production and make sure the client gets what they want. A producer in this sense carries the production from the client’s head and follows it through final deliverables to the client. This is typical in a production company that does corporate/industrial/client-based work, or for independent producers who create local ads or videos for marketing campaigns. This type of producer typically serves as a liaison between creative desires and the clients’ needs. This position is a more managerial position, as opposed to creative. This type of producer may sometimes be directly involved in the creative, too, however. Most importantly, this type of producer deals with the client. It’s their job to turn chicken shit ideas into chicken salad.
There’s also a type of producer who oversees production in the field. This is called, funny enough, a field producer. This person goes out on the shoot and makes sure everything runs smoothly, including the allocation of money. But their responsibilities more often than not include shooting, managing the crew and cast, interviewing talent, and even making PA runs if necessary. As far as producers go, the field producer and the “preditor” are typically much more boots-on-the-ground oriented. They’re the folks who buy the crew beers after a hard day, if there’s money left for it.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding which type of producer does what (except, of course, when there are), and often a producer is some mix of a few or all of these different types. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are also associate producers, assistant producers, production assistants, assistant directors who are on the producers’ track, 2nd assistant directors, unit production managers, and on and on. There’s really no way to explain what every type of producer does. The best explanation I’ve ever heard was that “no one actually knows what a producer does. But nothing happens without one.”