You will often hear that the most important part of a movie is a good story. That is wrong. Lots of good stories are ruined by bad acting, directing, dialogue, production, editing, or just bad writing. Some people have good ideas but are terrible at putting them onto paper. That’s often one of the reasons there are a lot of writers on a project.
You can have the expensive camera, the expensive equipment, the slick editing. But your movie can still suck.
Great acting can sometimes elevate a movie, but I’ve too often seen great actors in milquetoast roles.
If you have a good team of producers, though, you’ll probably make something watchable. To the outside world, the film producer is viewed as this evil, creativity crushing entity that hates creativity. He wants the filmmaker to fall in line, make a cookie cutter, inoffensive, generic, white bread and mayonnaise sandwich equivalent of a movie. Part of being a good producer is finding the right fit of people for the right project, then stepping back and letting them do their thing.
And don’t mistake the term “well produced” to mean “high budget.” While you have more resources with a bigger budget, as money can be thrown at any problems, the movie can still be a piece of garbage. Look at the Star Wars prequels. Those movies are awful. If they were not in the Star Wars Universe, they’d be in the running for movies considered to be “so bad they’re good.” George Lucas didn’t have a good production team, otherwise someone would have stepped in and told him the script sucked and he wasn’t doing enough actual directing of the actors. It’s tough when the person in charge has a demagogue status when it comes to good ideas.
Conversely, you have a producer like Jason Blum who has completely revolutionized how films get made – creating a new model of filmmaking that has tiny budgets but makes huge profits. You may have heard of some of his movies such as Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Sinister, and the Oscar-winning Whiplash.
All that cynicism later and I still have not answered the question. What is a producer?
Since the internet loves lists, here is a list of the different types of producers and the roles they play in a scripted movie production. Keep in mind, these jobs are different if it is a documentary film, a scripted series, or a broadcast program.
The EP is the person who is probably involved with the production the longest of anyone else. At some point, this person found this script or heard this idea from a colleague and wanted to make this movie. Sometimes they are also the director, writer, or an actor in the film, but more times than not, they are just someone who felt very passionately about this idea. As a filmmaker, these are the folks whose wisdom I seek the most.
They are usually the person who picks the director, the one it falls to to interpret that vision. They also usually have final say over the script, and may play a role in how the script is written and revised. They are also usually the person who gets the largest cut of whatever profits the film might make (which isn’t always as much as you think once everyone has been paid their share). Bob and Harvey Weinstein are the best examples of these types of producers out there. They helped get movies made that they wanted to see, movies like the Kill Bill series, Gangs of New York, and The Lord of the Rings. There are fewer and fewer producers like the Weinstein’s out there.
When it comes to the types of high-budget, serialized, dramatic shows that are tailor-made for binge watching on a streaming service, the EP is often the head writer and plays a similar role as a director. Sometimes they direct some episodes as well. David Fincher, for example, is extremely involved at every level of production when it comes to the two series he is executive producer for, Mind Hunter and House of Cards. He wants to see the looks for the extras, for makeup, wardrobe, etc. That’s a big reason why his work is consistently among the best.
A producer is generally someone who had some sort of input in the film’s production, but might not have been there on a day-to-day basis. It may have been someone who simply believed in a project and made some calls to help secure funding. In other cases, it might be an actor who is taking money on the back-end or wants to be involved on the production side, or it can be a writer who did not get a writing credit for one reason or another.
Joel Silver is probably the most famous “producer” out there. He’s involved on a lot of projects, many of which involve cool explosions and special effects. He’s sometimes the executive producer, but other times, it’s hard to tell his actual level of involvement in some projects, but he’s a guy who thinks big and gets stuff done. I know he played a part in getting a 1.5 mile freeway built for The Matrix Reloaded.
The associate producer is often a title given to someone who helped the (or several) producers in some capacity. The job’s role really depends on the producer and the duties they delegate to their associate or assistant. Sometimes this person is nicknamed “the fixer.” Basically, the producer will have a problem that needs solved.
At other times, the Line Producer is the one known as “the fixer.” Movies run into a lot of problems. Locations fall through at last minute, someone higher up on the set quit, budgets need to be made, arrangements for something or someone need to be made at last minute. This person does that. On smaller productions, they often act as the Unit Production Manager as well, and fill out the crew, file paperwork, and be a pain in the ass when needed. They also might be in charge of making sure everyone is eating at a certain time in order to keep the production running smoothly and on schedule.
Unit Production Manager
On bigger shoots, this person oversees the production and is the top crew person. They organize the day-to-day business details, file paperwork, and generally make sure everything is running smoothly. If this is your first day on set, the Unit Production Manager is the one person who’s face, name, and number you remember. That and the person directly above you (who is probably Key PA).
So now you’ve learned something! Or maybe you didn’t! I don’t really care either way. But be sure to come back next month, when I regale you with a tale from the road. Perhaps the time we saw the pack of wild dogs in the streets of Detroit, or perhaps the time we lived next door to a family of feral cats for a month. Or maybe I’ll just make something up!