- /Media Industries
Having no background in media industries give me an insight that majority people does not know what producer is, and easily mistook it with another role, especially with the role of Directors. Instead of the Producer, in public eyes, it is the director who leads and manages the whole process of filmmaking. Not blaming them as there are not so many publications about the producer role like how the director was. After stepping into this field and learn a lot more, it is surprisingly true. Producer role has been addressed as the most misunderstood and mysterious in filmmaking process (Rea and Irving, 2015, P.xxi). In addition, roles and responsibilities for the producer always change from one project to another, which caused people to question what does a producer actually do.
Producer itself carry a wide context, with different roles and responsibilities based on specific producers bespoke for a task. The concept of the producer is deeply affected by the type of project (television or movies) and cultural context. As a result, a debate emerged on how far a producer’s roles as a creative, as opposed to an organizational one, as the producers are supposed to be obliged to do both. This essay will firstly give an explanation about the roles of each type of producers and the difference with the director; then we will discuss how a producer’s work on a different platform, which is television and film, and how it affects their creativity and their organizational one. Lastly, it will discuss the differences of producer’s work in different country, which we will compare USA and Europe as two major filmmaking countries, and we will discuss in a short brief about how the role of producer in my country, Indonesia, as a comparison between producer from a big country that their works have been recognized internationally as a producer from a country that doesn’t do well in international.
Producers and What Makes Them Different
The producer is the head of the whole process of filmmaking. They act like a Chief Executive Officer in a company. They knew what they are doing from both the creative side and the business side, which we called them balanced producer, “… they understand and sustain a balance between their pictures’ creative, audience, and income aspects” (Lee, 2000, P.10). After the collapsed of Hollywood studio system in the 1950s, movie making has become more expensive and complicated (Adler, 2004, P.11). Therefore, having more than one producer for each film production is necessary, especially for a big project, so the producer(s) can do their whole job on it as a team rather than doing it as a solo player. There are five types of producers that have their own roles and responsibilities; Executive Producer, Producer, Co-Producer, Line Producer and Associate Producer.
Executive Producer rarely comes on set during production time. But they hold the highest authority. “They supervise one or more producers in the performance of all of his/her/their producer functions on tingle or multiple productions” (Honthaner, 2012, P.2). Meanwhile, the Producer worked directly on the project and held the highest authority on the field. “They are basically the one who initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls all creative, financial, technological and administrative aspects of a motion picture and/or television show throughout all phases from inception to completion” (Honthaner, 2012, P.2). Co-producer basically has the same role as the producer itself but have fewer responsibilities than the producer, usually given to less experienced producer. On a feature, Co-Producer could be another title for Line Producer, which usually focus on budgeting and scheduling, mostly working behind the desk doing all the administrative and financial details of the production. Lastly, Associate Producer can be the most ambiguous title among the others. People could get the title just if they give a significant contribution or someone who brought the producer to the project or even can be the producer’s assistant. (Honthaner, 2012, P.3)
It is clearly seen from the roles and responsibility of producer; there is a stark difference between a director and producer, along with the fact that director is supposed to be working under a producer. Though it is said that a director worked in tandem with the producer and they’re the second in command on the creative side, but clearly not for the business side. It is also said that a ‘producers are the mastermind, they discover the story, provide the resources for them to be developed and produced, even select the director. However, the final preparation and the actual production will be delegates to one person as the production going to be so intense, and clearly, the producer needs help, which is the director itself’ (Lee, 2000, P.135). This explains why producer doesn’t go public as much as the director does, as the producer doesn’t involve as much as they are more into a back player, someone who has the highest authority yet their main roles are delegates instead of doing it by themselves.
Television Producers VS Feature Film Producers
As mentioned before, producer’s role could be different in every project, and even the platform like television and film feature could affect the focus of the producer’s responsibilities as well, whether they will more focus on the creative side or the organizational side. Clearly, the producer who works in the film will have different focus and concern with the producer who works for a television drama. The significant difference between producer in television and feature film is, In most cases, feature film producer acts as the liaison between the studio and the production, providing a support system for the film’s director: increasingly, producers shepherd their own scripts or projects, hiring the director and cast, and overseeing the film’s integrity, production value, and marketing. Whilst in television, the producer is the governing force who often doubles as the director, unless the project is heavily actor oriented, like network episodes, sitcoms and drama. (Kelson, Morrow, Morrow, 2013, P.3)
In television, there’s more categories for producers than a feature film, like staff producer that focus on network or production company, segment producer who will be assigned to one of several stories within the program and may produce his own segment, independent producer as a freelancer producer, field producer that always stand by on set, session producer that will supervise all the producing necessities and post-production producer that will focus on footage and editing (Kelson, Morrow, Morrow, 2013, P.12). It seems that the role of producer is catered to individual segments, rather than the whole production cycle like in feature film. Even some producer role in television most likely has been labeled as a head department or other below the line position in feature film crew.
On the other hand, it is believed that the word ‘creative’ have its own connection with organizational skill, focusing on communications organizations – people who work on the selecting, shaping and packaging of programs- communicator’s work is ‘creative’, requires ‘flairs’ and ‘personal contacts’ (Tuntstall, 1972, Cited in Orlik, P.58). The concept of organizational doesn’t starts and end in the business side, but also creative. Therefore, the role of producer in television focused more on the creative ends of the organization.
However, as organizational purpose on the creative side is purely communicative, it is problematic to generalize the meaning of organizational to the whole process. Also, in television medium, producers have to look into the demands of viewers and the needs of unique content for television to survive. The producer must satisfy both client (broadcaster) and the viewer (Kelson, Morrow, Morrow, 2013, P.1). Also, most television crew are tied to long term contracts, especially as a project developed into a full-fledged series. It is the producer’s responsibilities to make his/her crew ready for a long commitment, which requires the negotiation skills to persuade all the crew and keep the consistency throughout the project.
As we understand the focus of television producer, we can see that they are leaning more into the organizational part instead of the creative. Most of the roles of producers in television require communication skills, decision-making, supervising and managing skills, rather than focused on creative ideas. As mentioned by (Kelson, Morrow, Morrow, 2013, P.13), a strong television producer require collaboration, verbal and non verbal skills, emotional intelegence, analytical learner, goal oriented, listening and leadership skills, and many more. Surprisingly, they barely mentioned about something that connects with creative skills on it. Though it doesn’t mean that being a television producer doesn’t require creative skills at all. In fact, nowadays television producer also become a writer of the project, and a source of ideas for the project. Delegating their creative role enable the producer to create synergy across segments through their organizational role.
The role of a film producer is equivalent to talking about the creative producer (Pardo, 2010, P.3). For Selznick, the producer was the man who is the most of the time responsible for the creation of the pictures. Though it still mean that film producer have a responsibility for the business side, it just that he placed greater importance on the former, going so far as to defend the need for the producer to have knowledge of screenwriting, direction and editing (Pardo, 2010, P.4). This statement inferred that since the beginning, the producer was meant to be a creative person who builds the whole production cycle until the end, regardless of having a talent or crew that specialized in their own field which usually focuses on the creative part of filmmaking.
It is blunt to reduce the role of a film producer to a creative role. ‘A lot of producers are not remotely creative, yet they still manage to success like Robert De Niro for example. People know him that he himself is a creative actor, but he’s a bit more to producing movies than good salesmanship’ (Linson, 1993, Cited in Pardo, P.7). People who believe that film producer has to involve themselves in creative more than into organizational is a traditional kind of thinking that happened before the evolution of producer role in the industry around fifties (Pardo, 2010, P.5). The producer has been shifted toward the business side nowadays, and obviously, the organizational roles of producers have become more important than the creative ones whose ‘principal role was raising funds in place of contributing to the creative side’ (Thompson, 1982, Cited in Pardo, P.5). And obviously, a producer need to master these skills to be able to persuade the industry to get their project happened. However, those statement has been argued with the fact that widely known producers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Guber, and many more has restoring the trust of industry towards the producer on the creative side of theirs. (Pardo, 2010, P.6). And everything seems to be back to what the producer should mean. E. Buzzell also placed the film producer in the creative group, along with screenwriters, directors, actors and designers, not in the managerial one (Pardo, 2010, P.4). This just shown that majority of people agreed that film producer was supposed to understand and be as creative as possible rather than showing the other role of them.
After what we’ve seen from those arguments, there’s no more reason not to believe that feature film producers focus more on the creative side rather than the organizational ones. To the extent that producer has been tied with creativity, and how people try to bring those meaning back to the producers nowadays despite the transformation that happened and ‘re-emergence of the figure of the film producer is not something new and rebirth of something that existed many years ago in the industry when the producer had a strong creative input and really put his stamp on the movie’ (Ansen & McAlevey, 1965, Cited in Pardo, P.6). Yet again, it doesn’t mean that producers has ignored their ancilliary roles. ‘You still need some creative insight to make the right choices, and you need business acumen to set out the whole project properly’ (De Winter, 2006, P.x).
American, European and Indonesian Producers
After we look in depth at the differences between television and feature film’s producers, now we explore the role of culture in defining the role of a producer. It is clearly seen that among the well-known producer’s list, there are only a few producers that came from a European country, with the majority stemming from America. That also happens with the movie list that has been published. Americans, or Hollywood, produce more films every year compared with European. But that doesn’t mean all the movies are better than Europeans. It turns out that European films have higher ratings in overall compared with Americans (Stephen Hollows, 2014). This fact tells us that both countries have a different approach to making a film or television. The producers as the head of the filmmaking in any platforms became a clear diverging point between the European and American approach. Therefore, we can conclude that the difference between films is caused by the cultural differences among producers, and their approaches to their roles and responsibilities.
Based on the American filmmaking history, film production has been tied to creativity. Some film historians as well as critics, together with the producers themselves, have assumed this reality throughout the years. ‘Once the studio system was established in Hollywood, the job of the producer was specialized and hierarchically structured, whose mission was to focus on the production budget for a specific projects’ (Davis, 1993; Staiger, 1985). ‘Talking about the producer during the Hollywood golden era is equivalent to talking about the creative producer’ (Levis, 1993, Cited in Pardo, P.3). Despite being responsible for the business side of the filmmaking, Selznick (1988, Cited in Pardo, P.4) believe that ‘the producer must be able not merely to criticize, but also answer the old question what or why. He must able to sit down and write the scene, if he’s criticizing a director, he must be able not merely say ‘I don’t like it’ but also show him how would direct it himself’ (ibid.). It just an essential thing that a producer must have; despite having talents and crew that most of them are specialized in the creative side of the project, the producer still needs to know and understand the process; To credibly provide critical feedback and direction for other production role. This paradigm last until the collapse of the studio system in Hollywood and the roles of producer ‘shifted as the talents needed producers who could provide them with financing and distribution with minimal interference in the creative process’ (Schatz, 1983, Cited in Pardo, P.5). By then, there’s no more obligation of producers actually to mastered up the creative work and starts to focus on the business side.
Meanwhile, in Europe, ‘due to the lack of regular industrial infrastructure, film production in Europe has always been more personalized, or we can say that it has usually been an industry based on single filmmakers rather than on consolidated production companies.’ (Pardo, 2010, P.5) this thing affects the way European producers to be more focus on business compared to American producer as they lead the industries themselves. Even though ‘European producers are known for having good qualities from both creativity and organizational, they just simply replaced by a new generation whose reduced their roles as mediator between author and organisms or financing only’ (Thomson, 1982, Cited in Pardo, P.2). Until around nineties, European producers starts to work closer with the studios, try to have a collaboration work with American studios because they know it will be very hard for them to get money from their film if it’s only for a domestic market alone (Macnab, Swart, 2013, P.11). This self-realization could affect European producers in the end. Because once the producer gets a studio as their backup, they have less worry about their business role, and they have a chance to highlight their creative side in the end.
Despite the fluid perception regarding a producer’s role in a production, the last two decades, however, have witnessed an increased appreciation of the role of the producer, or creative producer to be exact, both in United States and Europe (Pardo, 2010, P.7). It seems that everything slowly goes back to how it used to be for American producers, while for European producers, though they used to be more balanced between both sides, now they show their creativity roles more than before, which give them similarities with the American producer. Yet the way they see themselves is just not as a creative producer, but organizational link between business and creative (Dale, 1991, P.77). A producer is aware of their key standings to the whole production cycle, including the business part of it.
How about the role of producer in countries that outside the mainstream spotlight, like Indonesia for example? Different with producers from United States and Europe, Indonesian’s producer doesn’t have their own association until 2013. When they finally made one called APROFI or Association of Indonesian Film Producers (FilmIndonesia, 2013). In my opinion, to be a producer in a fringe market like Indonesia would be harder than be a producer in mainstream market (Hollywood). One of the reason is because, the film industry in Indonesia still owned by a select number of private investors, including the studios, and there’s no support from government to expand their appeal beyond the domestic market, both from the business side or even the creative side. Though we can slowly see that the government starts to look after it from 2015 and making some consideration to aid the producers, or the film industry in general to be able to go for international market. (APROFI, 2015)
The main challenge to a producer in a foreign market is the marketability and distribution of their product. In a generally smaller market domestically, it’s very difficult to find an international studio or distributor that interested to market the film. Partly due to cultural differences, partly due to language barriers and partly due to an unfamiliarity to the subject matter. That is why it is necessary for Indonesian producer to balance both creative and business roles to align their project marketability with a wider market. It is a similar conundrum to those faced by European before their expansion into the United States market.
After looking in depth into the role of producer and how far they are involved with creative side and the organizational side in different platforms and in different countries. There is a visible difference in approach between television producers and feature film producers towards their roles and responsibilities. The television producer seems to be focus on the organizational side, as they’re working for the broadcaster that basically helps them a lot in creative needs. For example, it is not a rare case when even the broadcaster get the story ready for the producer, and what the producer do is just improve them and make them ready to go for the production. Another example is, most of the time the broadcaster even get the crew and talent ready, the producer primary role is in their daily management to ensure the program is ready for broadcast. On the other hand, feature film producer seems to be stressing more on the creative side with the case that once they find a studio and/or a distributor, all the business items that needs to be working on basically done. Also, they trust and delegate their team management as well to their second person in command, which is the director. But they will be on standby mode and ready to give feedbacks to their crew and talent through direct improvements rather than vague criticism.
When we’re looking on the producer’s based, we conclude that even though the conception of producer at first between United States and Europe are slightly different, they converge in the end, which is leaning more into creative side in general. American’s producer had to evolved from a creative producer into a managerial producer after the collapsed of studio in Hollywood. They would eventually revive the real meaning of producer, into a role called “creative producer”. While for European’s producer, they used to be leaning more into the organizational side, if not balanced, until they start working together with the American film industry and slowly shift into the creative side. We can also see that, when we compared those two countries that has been known with their works with another country that barely distribute their film outside their own country, they are naturally more balanced than producers who come from United States and/or Europe to be able to make their project works and finished.
From the beginning, the job of producer has covered both financial and creative responsibilities though there is no clear explanation of what a producer is. This has resulted in confusion among people who aren’t familiar with the industry. ‘It is because of the evolution of the industry itself that changed and tipped the balance towards technical knowledge or, less frequently, toward its creative capacity’ (Pardo, 2010, P.2). But despite of the scale between creative role and organizational role doesn’t balance anymore, it does not change the fact that the producer, no matter in what platforms, and what country they are from, they are still in charge and hold the highest authority in a whole production cycle. Hence, the capabilities of handling both side is required. The sheer complexity of their task has required that multiple producers is hired for a single project. Simply to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of the production process. As stated in (Finney, 1996, P.10), Theoretically, an effective producing combination is one where two people – one creatively skilled and one financially inclined – work together on developing and producing projects. A producer gain their respect by harnessing the collective talents of the production staffs through both creative and organizational undertaking.
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.