What does a Hollywood producer do, exactly?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 20 2009 3:02 PM

What Does a Hollywood Producer Do, Exactly?

Everything—or nothing.

Oscars.

You probably won't recognize the men or women who pick up the award for best picture at this Sunday's 81st annual Academy Awards. The trophy doesn't go to the winning film's director or to its on-screen stars. Rather, it's handed to the "producers." What does a producer do, exactly?

He shepherds the production from start to finish. In a typical arrangement, the producer develops an idea or script with a writer and secures the necessary rights. He often hires the director, supervises casting, and assembles a crew. Additionally, the producer oversees the budget and then coordinates the postproduction work—everything from editing, to commissioning music, to encouraging the film's stars to plug the movie on talk shows.

The top post of "producer" is just the tip of the iceberg, as anyone who's watched the opening credits of a movie knows well. Although Slumdog Millionaire, for example, credits only one producer, it lists two executive producers and two co-executive producers, along with a co-producer, an associate producer, and a line producer.

An executive producer often owns the rights to a book or story idea or secures at least 25 percent of the film's budget. Executive producers rarely have creative or technical involvement and are often caught up with several projects at once. The "co-executive producer" title applies to studio executives or distributors who have a limited financial stake in the project. A co-producer works under the producer and often helps with casting, financing, or postproduction. The line producer is on the set at all times to supervise the budget but has little or no creative input.

Advertisement

"Associate producer" is a largely honorary title. Sometimes it's a form of recompense for exceptional performance on-set. A script doctor who saves a bad screenplay, for example, might be granted an associate-producer credit. The title is also frequently an inexpensive way for a producer to pay back a favor or reward an assistant or colleague who had little to do with the film. As David Mamet wrote in State and Main, an associate producer credit is "what you give to your secretary instead of a raise."

To ensure that a producer nominated for a best picture Oscar actually supervised a majority of the production process, the Producers Guild and the Producers Branch Executive Committee of the academy conduct extensive interviews with everyone from studio executives to crew members. Occasionally, an investigation leaves producers out in the cold, as when the academy withheld nominations from four of the six producers of best picture winner Crash.

All the lesser producer credits go unregulated by the Producers Guild and are awarded at the discretion of the movie's copyright holder. These credits rarely mean the same thing from movie to movie and are especially murky on smaller, independent films, in which limited budgets often mean a few people do several jobs at once.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Chris Green of the Producers Guild of America and Michael Taylor of the USCSchool of Cinematic Arts.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.