Film and Television Producers

The primary role of a producer is to organize and secure the financial backing necessary to undertake a motion picture or television project. The director, by contrast, creates the film from the screenplay. Despite this general distinction, the producer often takes part in creative decisions, and occasionally one person is both the producer and director. On some small projects, such as a nature or historical documentary for a public television broadcast, the producer might also be the writer and cameraman.

The job of a film producer generally begins in the preproduction stage of filmmaking with the selection of a movie idea from a script, or other material. Some films are made from original screenplays, while others are adapted from video games and books. If a video game or book is selected, the producer must first purchase the rights from the author or his or her publishing company or the game development company, and a writer must be hired to adapt the book or video game into a screenplay format. Producers are usually inundated with scripts from writers and others who have ideas for a movie. Producers may have their own ideas for a motion picture and will hire a writer to write the screenplay. Occasionally a studio will approach a producer, typically a producer who has had many commercially or artistically successful films in the past, with a project.

After selecting a project, the producer will find a director, the technical staff, and the star actor or actors to participate in the film. These essential people, along with the script and screenwriter, are referred to as the package. Talent agencies sometimes help to arrange the packaging. The producer tries to sell the package to an investor to obtain the necessary funds to finance the salaries and cost of the film.

There are three common sources for financing a film: major studios, production companies, and individual investors. A small number of producers have enough money to pay for their own projects. Major studios are the largest source of money, and finance most of the big budget films. Although some studios have full-time producers on staff, they hire self-employed, or independent producers, for many projects. Large production companies often have the capital resources to fund projects that they feel will be commercially successful. On the smaller end of the scale, producers of documentary films commonly approach individual donors; foundations; art agencies of federal, state, and local governments; and even family members and churches and other religious organizations. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts are major federal benefactors of cinema.

Raising money from individual investors can occupy much of the producer's time. Fund-raising may be done on the telephone, as well as in conferences, business lunches, and even cocktail parties. The producer may also look for a distributor for the film even before the production begins.

Obtaining the necessary financing does not guarantee that a film will be made. After raising the money, the producer takes the basic plan of the package and tries to work it into a developed project. The script may be rewritten several times, the full cast of actors is hired, salaries are negotiated, and logistical problems, such as the location of the filming, are worked out; on some projects it might be the director who handles these tasks, or the director may work with the producer. Most major film projects do not get beyond this complicated stage of development.

During the production phase, the producer tries to keep the project on schedule and the spending within the established budget. Other production tasks include the review of dailies, which are copies of the day's filming. They are typically transferred to digital or nonlinear format for review by directors, producers, and editors. As the head of the project, the producer is ultimately responsible for resolving all problems, including personal conflicts such as those between the director and an actor and the director and the studio. If the film is successfully completed, the producer monitors its distribution and may participate in the publicity and advertising of the film.

To accomplish the many and varied tasks that the position requires, producers hire a number of subordinates, such as associate producers, sometimes called coproducers, line producers, and production assistants. Job titles, however, vary from project to project. In general, associate producers work directly under the producer and oversee the major areas of the project, such as the budget. Line producers handle the day-to-day operations of the project. Production assistants may perform substantive tasks, such as reviewing scripts, but others are hired to run errands. Another title, executive producer, often refers to the person who puts up the money, such as a studio executive, but it is sometimes an honorary title with no functional relevance to the project.

A television producer's responsibilities are also affected by the type of project. For example, newscast producers, along with reporters, determine what stories are worth broadcasting. Newscast producers assign stories, review taped reports, and may even help edit the material. Often these producers must deal with late-breaking developments and must quickly assign reporters and TV crews to cover a story, then weave the new report into the broadcast while staying within the broadcast's time requirements. The newscast is a combination of live and recorded segments, and the producer often needs to make decisions quickly while the show is on the air.

Documentary producers are also very actively involved in their productions, but they typically have days, rather than hours, to complete projects. They may be involved in deciding on a concept for the documentary; hiring writers, directors, and the crew; and scouting out locations and finding interview subjects. Once interviews and other segments are taped, they may review the material, select the best footage, and edit it into a program of predetermined length.

Whereas newscast and documentary producers rely on their news judgment, drama and comedy producers rely on their understanding of the entertainment world. These producers come up with ideas for shows; hire writers, directors, and actors; and review the final product for its tone and content.

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