Just What Is A Producer's Job Anyway?

Written by CJ Cookson on . Posted in Guides

Producers are different things to different people, making this question difficult to answer. There are no detailed job descriptions and no two producers handle their jobs in exactly the same way. Is it any wonder that  both audiences, and many 'insiders', are bewildered by the proliferation of producer credits in films?

The producer credit has often been an olive branch - an award for unearned or unclassifiable contributions to a film.  This makes the nature of the job difficult to determine and has now become something of a joke.  Recent years have seen attempts to cull this trend - most from genuine producers and their guilds.
So, rather than try to define what a producer is, let's start with what a producer is 'supposed' to be.  Also, let's discuss how the roles of producer and director can both conflict and compliment each other.  This will help to clear up confusions that arise resulting from many of the bulletin board postings we see created by directors 'seeking' producers to make 'their' films.

Contrary to what many may think, a producer is usually the first person attached to a project and is considered to be the person in charge of the entire film. Further, it is usually the producer who recruits and hires the talent that will work on the film, which includes the director.
Does that mean the director works for the producer?  Almost without exception this is certainly the case. The producer has the veto power over any of the director's decisions.  This authority, however, is only exercised as a last resort - if the budget or project is straying from that specified by the studio.
Quite often, with smaller independent studios, the producer 'is' the studio. In this event, the producer's authority is more clearly defined.  The producer also hires the principal actors, cinematographer and editor, to name a few. Established directors may have equal say in selecting key cast and crew, but this is still the exception rather than the rule.

 There are many considerations, other than artistic, that must be considered when making a film.  Certainly a director would prefer to choose principal stars, but the producer is often the one to decide this on 'marketability'. The director may be able choose actors better suited to their 'vision', but they are not the ones who have to sell the film.

Why does the producer wield such power when the director is clearly the one making the film?  This is explained by a conflict of interest that is not easily resolved. The director's principal role is to make the best film possible.  To this effect, the producer will often allow considerable latitude.  
However, it is the producer's role to ensure the film stays within budget and within the guidelines the studio has established.  Many films have simply run out of money due to directors overspending to make the best film possible and the film never gets finished.  Who would be to blame then?  Simply stated, both the director and the producer!
The bottom line is that, in most cases, it's not the director's money that's at stake.  A good analogy would if you decide to refurbish your house on the basis of a finite bank loan. Armed with a wad of cash you hire builders to do the work but, instead, they start telling you what you will be getting - which isn't what you want.  
Yet you're expected to keep forking out money for what you haven't asked for and what you don't want.  It wouldn't be unreasonable for you to say 'hold on a minute. I'm paying you and I expect to get what I want'.  The same principle holds when a producer hires a director and that is why the producer
has the final say.  
The producer, or an authorized representative, is often present during and after filming.  They act as a supervisor making practical or procedural decisions to enable the director to concentrate on directing.  It is the producer who decides the shooting schedule and any changes necessitated by weather or other logistics.

The producer is the one the studio calls with any questions or concerns, for this is where the buck stops.  All major financial and organizational decisions rest with the producer.  Both the producer and director are normally involved in the editing process but, unless a 'director's cut' has been negotiated, the producer decides on any final revisions.
At this stage, the director fades from the picture and the producer takes control of any commercials or promotional trailers, posters and other marketing decisions. So, now we know what a producer is supposed to do, what exactly is a director supposed to do?
This is more clearly defined than the role of a producer.  Once hired by the producer, the director orchestrates the artistic and creative aspects of a film.  A director, with the possible exception of principal 'name stars' will be asked for input into the choice of actors.  Though less common, this may
also extend to input into the selection of crew.

The reason the producer will normally be the one to select the crew is for practical considerations.  Crew are more directly linked to 'production flow' while cast are linked to 'creative flow'.  Locations and budgetary assignments are normally selected in discussions between the director and producer.
Any activity that defines and realises the artistic vision of the film is the director's arena.  The degree of control that a director has in a film can vary considerably but is usually dependent upon the director's reputation and proven ability.  This line blurs somewhat with director/producers but directors normally enjoy considerable latitude.
 Simply put, the director is responsible for taking the film from the screenplay to a completed film, but this does not mean exclusive control or input into other areas.  A film can be enhanced by allowing the director as much license as possible but, as is currently the norm in film production, the producer's decisions must, out of necessity, take priority.

Another article from CJ Cookson How to Fund You Independent Film! is here: