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So... what do Producers even do? It's a hard question to answer because there are so many different kinds of producers on a movie. In this episode of Crash Course Film Production, Lily Gladstone talks us through the different kinds of producers and what they do in the movies.

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  Intro (0:00)


No movie in the entire history of film has been made without a producer, whether or not they were credited as one. But no one ever seems to know what they do. 

To be fair, it's a little confusing. There are different kinds of producers, and people earn the title of producer for different reasons. But the job is really hard work. They're the driving force of a movie, getting a film crew off the ground, keeping everything running, and making sure it gets shared with the world. 

If a film doesn't get finished...well, chances are, it could've used a team of producers. 

[Opening music]

  How to Become a Producer (0:42)


Let's start with a wide lens and then zoom in. See what I did there? Film jokes!

An executive producer, or EP, oversees the whole filmmaking process and other producers involved in the project. This person might be independent and run a small studio, like with Crash Course. Or they might work for a larger company and represent the studio or the money person - the financier.

An executive ensures that a film has the funding it requires, and usually sets the budget and overall schedule. They can be deeply influential on the style of the film, too. Think of movies that were executive produced by Steven Spielberg. Or Judd Apatow. Or Tina Fey. They're all different from each other, but distinct to their Executive Producer.

While the job can be highly demanding, sometimes people are honored with the title because they're lending their well-known names to a production they believe in. These honorary executive producers might not be involved in the daily grind, but they're very important in helping the movie get made. 

If you have student loans, you'll understand when I say that an honorary EP can be like a really wonderful co-signer. They're standing behind your project and promising to the world that you're going to deliver a film that's up to their standards. Even when a film has honorary EPs, it'll still have an executive producer who's keeping things running on a macro scale and looking towards the future: a movie they can sell and get to an audience. 

 The Types of Producers (1:49)


Now, an EP is one kind of producer, and there are lots of different producer roles that we'll get to soon. But the simple title of "producer" is usually where the job description seems the most...nebulous. Like, "what-the-heck-do-they-do" kind of nebulous. Turns out, there's no one thing that a producer is or does. Really, the title can be given to anyone who was essential in making sure the film got made. 

This could mean they found funding and resources. Or maybe they developed the idea, balancing big picture stuff. Or they might have brought the creative team together, and hammered out the details that make a film set run will.

So things can get a little confusing when you're reading the credits of a film. But, not to worry, there's a code that we can decipher. The person who we think of as THE producer will be listed in the credits after the phrase "produced by." 

This is the person, or sometimes couple of people, with the seemingly never-ending list of responsibilities. They're the point of contact through every stage of the film, and ultimately responsible for the movie becoming a movie at all. In pre-production, the producer finds a project and develops it with a writer. 

Then, they gather the resources and hire the key crew members for production. During production, they oversee filming, and help run the shoot. And in post-production, the producer works with the director, editor, and composer to finish the film. They can even have the editor cut scenes or schedule reshoots - if that's what the film needs to come together. 

Their ultimate goal is to crystallize the vision of the filmmaker and find a way to sell it. To be clear...not in a skeezy way. Filmmaking is really expensive. So financiers will pay for a movie up front, and you want to pay them back for their investment. Plus, selling the film to distributors is the only way to get all your hard work out into the world. And it's not really a movie until audiences sees it. 

So, okay. Now that we have a handle on producers, what in the world is a co-producer? This title is actually great, because it's descriptive! A co-producer is part of a producing team. Two or more co-producers will produce a film as a unit. Sometimes, a co-producer will have another role in the film. Like, maybe they're also a writer or an actor, so they're not involved in all the producing responsibilities. 

An assistant or associate producer works under the head honcho producer. On a large production, the producer delegates work to one or more of them. Associate producer, like executive producer, can also be an honorary title given to someone who helped get the film made, like because they lent their name to the project, or funded it. 

Now, let's talk about specific producer titles and their duties. 

The line producer reports to the producer. And all the department heads report to the line producer. The line producer plans and orchestrates the logistics of the entire production, including scheduling, staffing, and managing how the budget is used.

Does this sound kind of familiar? On lower-budget films, the line producer and the unit production manager might be the same person. But if they're not, the line producer plans all the budgets and other minutia, while the UPM carries out the line producer's plans.

Sometimes, usually on a TV show or a series like Crash Course, you'll see the title supervising producer, or senior producer. They help guide the whole project both logistically and creatively, and report directly to the executive producer. 

  How Do They Help Make a Film? (4:28)


So, now that we've got the basic scoop on what producers do, here's a puzzle for you. And, honestly, for the Academy of Arts and Sciences too. 

Who accepts the Oscar for Best Picture? 

See, the director is often thought of as "the filmmaker," but they've got their own category: Best Director. So the winner of Best Picture is the producers! They're usually the ones who chose to make this particular movie and who hired all the creative leads. So, they deserve some recognition too. 

Sometimes you'll see a director or writer run up on stage to accept the Oscar, that's because they were also a producer. And there are a lot of reasons why someone would want to wear so many hats, even though it's difficult work. 

One is control. What we think of as the creative roles - like writer, director, or even actor - ultimately answer to the producers. So if you're one of those producers, you have more control over the film. This can mean creative control, because you're helping move the film through production. 

Or, it might mean financial or marketing control, because producers typically help decide which festivals and audiences the film will reach. 

Secondly, if someone has proven themselves to be multi-talented, studios will sometimes prefer to pay one person to do multiple jobs. Because, remember, filmmaking is expensive. A lot of the time, director/producers or writer/director/producers are highly experience auteurs who have the best understanding of a project. So, if they wear multiple hats, it can really help the movie's success. 

That said, it's extremely rare for there to be just one producer on a project. There's still THE producer with the "produced by" credit, and the line producer organizing the production, not to mention any other producers and executive producers on the team. That way, if the director-producer needs to focus their whole attention on directing at some point, they can! And the production will go on. 

Oddly enough though, the producing team doesn't really seem to scale like other departments. Like, a couple episodes ago we had a note comparing the scale of two movies starring Felicity Jones, Rogue One and Like Crazy. Across the board, there were a lot more people and departments working on Rogue One. For instance, the art department for Rogue One included 174 credits, while Like Crazy's was just 4 people. 

But that wasn't true for the producers. Rogue One credited 10 producers, while Like Crazy credited 13. So, how does a movie with a much smaller crew and budget wind up with three more producers than one with a massive team and 800 times the budget? 

Well, there are a couple possibilities. For one, a filmmaker can need an army, but you can also make a movie with a small group of multi-talented people. While anyone on a film set is most likely going to be a hard worker, on a low-budget film you end up relying on a few heroes who really go above and beyond. Often, those people are thanked with a producer credit of some kind. 

Another option is that sometimes people who usually fill a different role on film projects, like a makeup artist or sound mixer, want to get into producing. And they'd do that by starting out small, and producing a low-budget film. 

Third of all, independent films usually benefit most from an honorary executive producer lending their clout. So, more producers might be credited for name recognition reasons.

Fourth, it's a good way to stretch your budget. Like, if you can't afford a lead actor's salary, you might ask them to be a producer too, so the project will be worth their while. They'll have another credit on their resume, a foot in the door to a new job in the industry, plus, more control over the film. 

Any of these reasons could be why a small, independent film such as Like Crazy would have more producers than Rogue One. But, after looking a little closer at their credits, here's a different guess. You see, one of THE producers - one of the people Rogue One was produced by - was Kathleen Kennedy. She's a very, very experienced producer and has led Lucasfilm since 2012. 

Think of some of the biggest blockbusters from the last 35 years, chances are Kathleen Kennedy was a producer on it. Jurassic Park? Yup. Back to the Future? Yep. Who Framed Roger RabbitThe Sixth SenseIndiana Jones? Yep, yep, yep.

And that goes to show how critical good producers are to the success of a film. Even though it might be a little confusing what they do, because they do so many things, 

  Review and Credits (7:58)


Today, we learned about lots of ways a person can earn the title of producer. We broke down some different roles, from executive producers to line producers, and talked about how they each help a film get made. And next time, we'll talk about the person who most influences what a film will be: the director. 

Crash Course Film Production is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel, check out a playlist of their latest shows, like Deep Look, Artrageous with Nate, and PBS Space Time. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of all these nice people. And our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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