Producers – What are They Good For?
by Dan Witt
It’s one of the real puzzles of the motion picture and television business. Audiences know that directors direct, the cameraman photographs the actors acting after they’ve been directed by the director. And everyone understands what the writer does – besides wanting to direct – he writes.
But what does a producer do? How do you “produce?” And what about all the different types of producers you see in movie and television credits? Sitting through the opening credits of a feature film at the local multiplex often tests our patience as we’re subjected to seemingly endless credits for producers, executive producers, line producers, co-producers, associate producers, and supervising producers. And occasionally they’ll throw in a “production executive”, just to mix it up a bit.
Shifting through the various producer credits and pointing out who does what is an inexact science. Anyone can call themselves a producer, and many do. The word itself is bedeviling. Webster’s says “produce” means to “present to view, to exhibit, to give birth or rise to.” And these days, as difficult as it is to get a movie made (even an awful one); it actually makes the human gestation period seem easy by comparison.
In feature films, the “executive producer” may be responsible for providing or arranging either some or the entire movie’s financing. This same credit may also be given to the manager of the lead actor as acknowledgment for his role in securing his client. Sometimes, the executive producer is responsible for finding the book, the script, or the newspaper article upon which the screenplay is based is accorded an executive producer credit. This could also include the screenplay writer, too, provided he has a good agent who negotiates the credit and usually an additional payment for him or her as well.
Another reason for the plethora of produces is the fact that often one producer or production company originates a project but is unable to get the movie made. Subsequently they might partner up with another company who is able to enlist the missing element or elements to enable the movie to get the greenlight. And then all the producers and their lawyers and agents scramble to negotiate the most favorable credit. Usually the last ones in – the one or ones whose efforts actually got the movie made - will be the ones with the more prominent credits.
It’s worthwhile to note that unlike in feature films, in television the “executive producer” usually has much more power and is often the key ingredient in the show. In TV, often the “executive producer” is also referred to as the “showrunner”, because essentially that’s what they do – run the show and everything in it, including often being the head writer, casting the show and being in charge of the overall look and shape of the production.
In addition, the person in charge of making sure the movie stays on schedule and on budget is sometimes accorded the executive producer credit. This person is in charge of the “nuts and bolts” of the show, and he’s around for preproduction, production and sometimes the post production as well. The same person is sometimes given the credit “line producer” or “production supervisor.” When the leading lady comes down with food poisoning, it’s usually the nuts and bolts guy who will confab with various department heads and come up with a plan to shoot something else until the poor woman recovers. This producer is often the only producer who is on the set every day during filming. However, in the overall pecking order, he is usually just a hired gun and as such, merely an employee.
“Associate producer” and “co-producer” is usually a “gift” credit, handed to someone as a perk to make their job more appealing. Sometimes, it’s given to someone being groomed to be a more “hands on” producer. Or the current “hot” music guy who picked a winner in his last movie by suggesting that a diva singer cover an old standard tune that became a big hit and helped sell tickets to the movie. It’s often cheaper to give someone an enhanced credit like “associate producer” than it is to pay them what they are worth.
Dan Witt has been a producer/writer of TV and cable movies for over
twenty years. Movies he's been involved with have been nominated for
both Emmys Awards and the prestigious Humanitas Award. He's worked for
all the major networks, and has written feature scripts for Mel
Brooksfilms, MGM and Warner Bros.