Most of us like to watch movies for fun, but have we ever asked ourselves how they’re made?
What goes behind the scenes? How are they produced?
We asked experts to give us an inside look at some of the primary roles of being a movie producer.
Producer, Alphadu Productions | Founder, Berkshire Short Film Festival
The soup-to-nuts creators of the film
Depending on the scope of the project, Movie Producers are the soup-to-nuts creators of the film or one cog in a very large process.
There are several different types of movie producers, all of whom have set a level of responsibilities but in the case of an independent Movie Producer, all of that flies out the window because budget restraints will not allow for hiring each level.
In Independent Films or what is often referred to “Low Budget” films, meaning under several million dollars (last year’s Oscar contender The Favorite was considered a low-budget film at 15 million dollars,) each rank of movie producer is not always used.
In ultra-low budget films, where people are shooting films on their phones or $5-10K cameras and spending a few hundred dollars to 15K for the film, usually, only one Producer is attached. That person does it all.
The Producer will often be the catalyst for the project themselves because they have written the script and want to have the movie made. If they don’t have connections or significant prior work, the only way to prove their ability is to produce the work themselves. They will take their own script or one they have agreed to produce and do the following:
- Find locations.
- File permits with city or town to shoot in the locations.
- Hire crew.
- Place ads for auditions.
- File paperwork with Screen Actors Guild for the film.
- File the film online with the Independent Movie Database (IMDB).
- Create a website for marketing.
- Create social media accounts to generate an early buzz.
- Secure financing – either through crowdfunding, other investors or themselves.
- Audition and hire actors.
- Hire a Director.
- Continue social media marketing.
- Work with Director and Director of Photography and writer about the direction of the script.
- Buy Insurance for the location/shoot/equipment.
- Hire an editor.
- Continue social media marketing.
- Complete the film through Post-production.
- Market the film through entering Film Festivals.
- Continue social media marketing.
- Travel and network to have that film distributed.
The list is not necessarily in this order and often the Producer will take on several of the other roles such as Director, one of the actors, the writer, etc.
Until the budgets and scope of films get larger, and more people get involved and the roles become more delegated, it is you, a few crew members and actors. The Movie Producer will do whatever it takes to get that film completed, edited and ready to be seen.
Writer | Puppeteer | Producer, Evening Squire Productions
Ensuring that everyone has the tools and resources they need
I believe at its core a Movie Producer’s role is to ensure that everyone has the tools and resources they need to effectively execute their jobs.
This can range from financially backing the film to fighting operational problems on set. They are responsible for setting the tone of the entire collaboration from start to finish.
Their role is multi-faceted and will often end up wearing multiple hats to make sure everyone from technical to creative are able to do their job to the best of their abilities. They are a roadblock remover and enabler of action.
They are the Nick Fury to the Avengers, bringing together the superheroes to create an amazing end product.
Author | Writer | Producer, StolenDress Entertainment
Technical, creative, and investing
A common refrain, even among some movie producers, as to what a movie producer actually does, is that “no one knows,” and, while of course, this isn’t true, the varying nature, from job to job, can make the title ambiguous. Especially when a producer is someone who is credited for a reason that doesn’t involve additional input but, instead, is given the credit as a reward for longstanding service.
In my case, I’m doing literally everything, because of the micro-budget, independent nature of the films I make. This means paying for expenses out of pocket, organizing cast and crew, setting up shooting schedules, finding assets for editing, and feeding the cast and crew when it comes time to shoot. Since I’m also writing the things I produce, I’m a “creative producer,” as well.
The primary types of producers are technical (someone who knows the ins-and-outs of how to get a crew put together and generally how a film is made), creative (someone who has a creative input and knows the right creative brains to involved in the production and may also be a writer) and investing.
The latter is someone who pays for the actual production and gets a producer credit because they made it happen, and in some cases helps bring in other investors, either by setting an example or by actively seeking them out.
Producer | Director, Free Dream Pictures
Responsibilities for each role may vary on individual projects
There are different kinds of movie producer jobs, and responsibilities for each role may vary on individual projects. Generally speaking, an Executive Producer may help with financing and/or bringing an instrumental component to the project.
The main Producer(s) are involved throughout the entire process from concept through creation through delivery. This process includes development (optioning, perfecting and shopping a script, attaching elements and finding funding), pre-production (hiring and overseeing all department heads, casting, crewing, budgeting, overall equipment and resources), principal photography (overseeing all production elements assuring the movie has the highest production value and comes in on schedule and budget), post-production (editing, music, color timing and delivery), marketing (which will happen throughout the entire process) and distribution (finding the best home where the movie connects with its audience).
A Line Producer manages the budget of a movie and oversees the day to day physical aspects of the shoot. Co-Producers and Associate Producers have varying producer-related responsibilities that are defined by each individual product.
Andrew and Adrian Nuño
Producer | Founders, Diginamic Productions
A movie producer is a problem solver
Especially in the indie film world, a movie producer is a problem solver. Whether you’re producing a short film on depression and suicide or a web series about Latin culture, you’re the one that people come to whenever they need something. And that can literally be just about anything.
We’ve had to find new sets within days because our old sets got flooded because of rain. We’ve had to negotiate contracts, manage budgets, develop investor decks, plan and execute crowdfunding campaigns, and even drive actors in the dead of night after filming has concluded.
When you’re a producer, you have to be the swiss army knife of advocates for a project. No task is above you. You have to be ready to jump in however needed to help realize the vision of the film.
Actor | Producer | Writer
The more appropriate question would be “Is there anything a movie producer doesn’t do?”
I think it really comes down to where you sit in the layer cake and your function as a producer. Do you bring money to the table? Do you help organize cast and crew? Do you have good relationships with distributors?
I’m an indie film producer, so in my case, the more appropriate question would be “Is there anything a movie producer doesn’t do?”
To offer a detailed answer to your audience I will give an example of what I did as a movie producer on my most recent project “Standing Eight”.
For this particular project, I wrote the film, assembled key crew, cast, ran two successful Kickstarter campaigns. (In order to succeed in this particular fundraising front, I emailed everyone I knew, I bombarded my social media friends daily – almost begging them to donate, entertaining them with me singing, dancing, doing push-ups, and other silly things like this to entice potential donors and, somehow it worked. Twice. Once for production, once for the post.)
Fast forwarding to when we got the funds and start working, what did I do? I controlled the boards on our festival entries. I had to be the face of the franchise and go to as many festivals as financially possible.
After a successful run and eleven awards later, I prepared for release, but decided to do an extended cut; (Because that’s what we do as producers; we keep checking and checking and see if there is room for improvement), therefore, even though the film did so well in festivals, before releasing it to the world, I decided to do a new cut.
For the new version, I went again through all the dailies. Worked with two editors with all new selects to do a completely new version of the film. Worked with the sound designer. Recorded ADR and punch sounds (while on the set of another film).
I found an incredibly talented musician, Jase Harley to score and gives us the soundtrack. I oversaw numerous VFX shots and I sat in and on numerous color sessions until we got it right. I also put together all the promotional materials.
I think that covers most of it. So yeah, what don’t producers do?
Actor | Director | Producer | Author, Circumstances Beyond My Control
The term “producer” is the most ambiguous word in the film business
In TV commercials (also known as very short movies), this is especially true. Commercials are initially created by advertising agencies but the agencies don’t actually make the little movies. Once a client (AT&T, Ford, Arby’s eg.) approves the idea, a film production company, built around one or more directors, is booked. The ad agency team generally consists of an account executive (deals with the clients), one or more writers, an art director, and a producer.
This “producer” oversees the whole process for the agency and deals with the production and post-production (editing) companies. The center of the production company team is the director.
There is an executive producer whose primary job is either writing the bids or overseeing a staff assistant who does the calculations. Some companies have “line” producers (more like production managers) on staff who do the actual producing of the jobs while others use outside, freelance, producers.
On really big jobs there will sometimes be staff and a freelance producer on board. In these cases, the staff producer handles the politics and the freelancer does the real producing.
And what, exactly, is that?
The line producer hires the crew (all of whom are freelancers), rents the stage or secures the location. In consultation with the key crew members, they rent the equipment, props, wardrobe, and special effects if needed, and oversee (but do not have input to) casting.
For distant locations, the producer arranges for the travel, lodging and other logistics for the production unit. The producer (line producer, freelance or staff) makes it all happen. They provide the director with the material and people he or she needs to put the movie on film. “Film” is by now an archaic term but until the digital revolution, it was nearly always filmed (sometimes videotape – now also obsolete).
The producer is also responsible for bringing the job in on, or preferably under, budget. And in commercials, the producer is the liaison between the ad agency and the production company with regard to budget overages, scheduling, and other logistical and political considerations.
When you work as a freelance producer in commercials, you really have three clients. This often makes the job politically hazardous.
Your first client, the company that hired you and pays your fee, is the production company. They give you a story-board, script, and budget and it is your job to get the commercial “in the can” within the constraints of that budget, into which you had no input.
In most cases, the person who wrote the budget was competing for the job and made it too low. In some cases, this person had no real field experience and overlooked necessities that cost money and/or underestimated the amount of time (money) it would take to get it done so the pressure is built into the job.
Your second client is the director. Line producers are mostly movie people, we have theatrical backgrounds and are trained or experienced in making movies. In feature films most directors come from this same mindset either through film school, job experience, being film editors, directors of photography or some discipline of that sort.
Commercial directors, on the other hand, generally come out of advertising or photography. They are often (there are exceptions) less secure in the craft than movie people and tend to “overshoot” to cover their asses. A personal example (true story) of this occurred for me on a mountainside in Arizona when an advertising agency guy said to me. “Can’t you make him stop shooting? We had this hours ago.”
The point is that your second client, the director (whom you were hired to support in the first place) is often the producer’s biggest headache when it comes to bringing the shoot in on budget.
The third client is the Ad agency producer who gave the job to your primary client in the first place and whom you usually need to “butter-up” a bit. In my experience, it is not unusual that they ask for things to be done that were not in the specs or the budget of the job so you have to negotiate budget overages.
As you see the pressure comes from multiple directions and, as the line producer, you have to handle all this while running the shoot itself, dealing with the crew and “talent”, the weather, the helicopter that’s late, the local Sheriff, etc., etc., etc. It’s not always an easy job.
Why would anyone want this job?.
I have always sought challenges, and – believe it or not – the work of a producer is often fun. I thoroughly enjoyed being on location with a crew and exercising my organizational, managerial and logistical skills. And I took great pleasure in the camaraderie developed among those who share and accomplish an exacting and often difficult mission.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
And how many top management jobs are there where you go to work in shorts and sneakers?
Writer | Producer | Director
The one person always involved in every stage of the process
A movie producer captains the ship of a film from start to finish – from the script to distribution. He or she is the one person always involved in every stage of the process.
Unlike the writer, who may only come on during development, forced(!) to hand off his or her baby to the director during the production process. Unlike the editor, who will likely just come in for production and post-production. Unlike even the director, who is usually hired by the producer to direct the film.
They are responsible for making the movie happen – for establishing financing, hiring the team, and ultimately looking out for the story. Of course, the director has the power during filming, but it’s the producer’s cut of the film, which the audience sees, not the director’s (this, of course, has led to numerous ‘director’s cuts’ being released at a later date.
Why does the producer get the final say? Because they have all the responsibility. The responsibility to investors in particular, which leads them to be the one who must navigate the treacherous waters of art vs business.
Responsibility to the story in the sense that they should strive to protect the writer’s work from being degraded in any way by a director or anyone else, whilst acknowledging any weaknesses in the script upon which others may ultimately improve.
Crucially, they must have a rare combination of excellent delegation skills and good taste. They must choose the right filmmakers for the job, and they must choose the right film to champion in the first place.
Kelly Ann Barrett
Actress | Writer | Producer | Founder, KAB Films
You have to have everything set up prior to making a film
Being a movie producer is not easy. You are responsible for finding funding for features. You are responsible for finding distribution and actors and putting together a team of cinematographers, finding locations, a director, etc.
If you have millions of dollars in the bank, you can make a movie. You can also even make a movie for 10k. There have been a lot of movies made under 40k that have been successful.
The key is making a move on a budget, then making it so successful that you get your money back plus some. A lot of people make movies in the wrong way. They pay a star a ton of money to be in a movie, then film a movie and then take it out and try to get distribution.
You have to have everything set up prior to making your film. Raising funds for films is the hardest part, and getting a script read by producers in Hollywood is also very hard. I’m an actress, a writer, and I just started producing TV Shows. We have some shows being shopped around right now.
Actor | Producer | Writer
The producer is the glue that guides all of the moving parts of a production
A producer’s role starts with finding, buying, and developing an original or adapted screenplay. Once the project is found, a producer is involved in securing financing, finding distribution, the hiring of the director and screenwriter(s), the daily operations of production, and management of postproduction.
A good producer develops a team that can manage the daily operations so the producer can manage the broader needs of the project. In essence, the producer is the glue that guides all of the moving parts of a production.
While on a big budget studio production, there typically is a hierarchy of producers including but not limited to the Executive Producer, Line Producer, Producer, and Associate Producer.
For a typical low budget production, such as what I’m currently working on, generally, there is a limited producing team, which requires everyone to wear multiple hats.
Actress | Producer
A producer’s role varies depending on the project
I like Producer Robert Teitel’s analogy: “The studio or whoever finances the movie is the team owner. The director is the coach. The star is your star athlete. And the producer is the general manager.”
A producer’s role varies depending on the project. Part of their task is often to either fund the project or find someone to fund it then manage the relationships and ensure the investors get the movie they invested in.
As a producer on a smaller project funded by the Director like I was, it can more about coordinating the project, managing the relationships and creating an environment that supports the creative talent of the cast and crew.