If you’ve ever wondered about what a producer does, our short guide on the duties of a freelance film producer will help get you started.
Are you a freelancer with an eye for organization and a passion for the big screen? If so, chances are you’re well suited to a career in film production. But if you’re wondering exactly what a producer does, here we’ll provide the basics to help get you started in this fascinating career.
What is a producer? 🤔
A movie producer is essentially the project manager for a film. Producers work closely with clients and directors to assemble a crew and meet their needs. Dedicated producers are involved with nearly every aspect of a film’s production, including budgeting, hiring, renting equipment, finding locations, securing permits, and catering. The producer is the go-to person for organization and management.
What does a movie producer do? 🎥
Summing up a producer’s role in a single sentence isn’t so easy simply because they wear so many hats. Here’s an overview of just a few responsibilities they may take on:
Finding and purchasing projects 🔍
A producer is often responsible for sourcing start-up capital, pitching a project to studios or production companies, and even securing a director or big-name star for the film.
Collaborating with the director 🤝
Film producers assist directors with hiring decisions for key positions in the production (e.g., cinematographers, casting directors, production designers). They may even help cast actors.
Securing funds and rights 💸
Securing funds is one of the most crucial aspects of a producer’s job. They source initial investments from financiers and any supplemental funding needed as production ensues. If a film starts to go over budget, the producer must find additional money to cover it.
Help with promotion and marketing 📣
Producers are often deeply involved in marketing a film. Even the most ground-breaking movie may fail if no one knows it exists, so a producer oversees a well-funded marketing team to produce advertisements.
Manage business and logistics 🗺️
A producer’s role is intimately tied to the financial aspects of a production, and time is money! In addition to tracking deals and expenses, scheduling is a primary aspect of the job. A successful producer ensures all the moving parts of a film’s production are on time and under budget.
Supervise major creative decisions 👍
During the pre-production, filming, and post-production of a film, pivotal choices that will significantly affect the finished product have to be made. If an actor must be replaced or plans must be scrapped, the producer is involved in that decision.
Types of producers 🗂️
The blanket term “producer” covers every type necessary for film or television, but here are a few of the different specific types of producers working in the film industry:
Executive producer 🎩
An executive producer (EP) sits atop the hierarchy. Executive producers are responsible for major financial decisions, guaranteeing the production stays on budget and meets stakeholders’ expectations.
Line producer 🗓️
The line producer’s job is to take any directives from the EP (“above the line”) and implement them on-site (“below the line”). Line producers work on budget tracking, ensuring that funds are accounted for and the production schedule is maintained.
As an “above the line” role in film production, the co-producer assists the EP in management decisions. A co-producer credit may also be secured by those who contribute financially to the project or provide some other vital service to the film.
Associate producer 📸
The associate producer, or assistant producer, is a jack of all trades who ensures seamless execution. The associate producer’s responsibilities are highly variable. They may organize a production team for particular scenes and shots, book and prep filming locations, or prepare a shooting script for the day.
A showrunner takes on multiple roles on a TV show: directing, writing, and making high-level production decisions. A showrunner is responsible for the quality of the finished product, often bearing the brunt of negative criticism.
Field producer ☀️
A field producer works outside the studio, “in the field.” They supervise outdoor production and schedule the required cast and crew for a shoot.
How to become a producer
Every freelance producer’s career path is unique to their circumstances. Some start producing directly out of film school, while others may work in another industry for years, slowly accumulating the necessary skills. Either way, step one is knowing how movies are made from start to finish. After all, it’s far easier to reach out to directors, producers, and ad agencies about getting involved in new projects after you’ve acquired reputable know-how about the filmmaking business.
Along with understanding the ins and outs of movie making like a pro, here are some other qualities helpful to becoming a producer:
Demonstrate management and leadership skills 🙋
A producer is a leader. They have to wrangle the creative team, the construction staff, the crew, and every other part of the production. A strong leader ensures the project is the best it can possibly be while remaining within its parameters.
Gain finance and business experience
An entire production hinges on the producer’s ability to secure capital for scenes, visual effects, and actors, so financial and business savvy are a must. Experience in a similar field as a treasurer or financial officer may prove valuable.
Develop creativity and problem-solving skills 🧐
On the set of a feature film, a television show, or even a student film, problems will arise. A producer needs robust problem-solving skills and a creative mind to develop solutions to these obstacles that won’t push a production over budget or off schedule.
Build your film production experience 🎞️
Gaining experience as a production assistant (PA) is a common way to break into film production. Whether you want to be a producer, director, or cinematographer, PA experience is vital for learning the ropes. The skills PAs develop both on and off set, as well as exposure to a film set and how it’s managed, are invaluable for any future producer.
Hone networking skills 💯
In the beginning, contacts, and networks will be sparse, but previous collaborators may hire directly or offer references for an opportunity they’ve encountered.
Horizontal networking is also essential. It’s not only the people above you that are important; consider everyone on set a potential ally and collaborator.
Tips for starting as a freelance producer 📝
While no two producer’s paths are identical, here are a few tips to help you begin the journey along yours:
Look for new opportunities online 🕵️
Whether it comes from Craigslist, an independent work platform like Contra, or an industry-specific board such as Mandy, no job is too small when building a portfolio.
Get involved in various projects, even if they’re out of your comfort zone. Reach out to clients, directors, and other producers with a concise message explaining why their project sparked your interest and how you can help bring it to life.
Keep your site and social media updated 🤳
Showing is better than telling, so maintain an up-to-date portfolio or website. This should include links to specific projects that reflect the type of work you’re looking for. And for better or worse, social media is part of the game. It’s a great place to showcase your ongoing work.
Even if you’re more established in the industry, it’s a good idea to keep your online presence up to date.
Reach out to peers 🤙
Horizontal networking is massive. Steven Spielberg probably won't reply to your email, but someone in the industry at your level (or a little ahead of you) might respond to your Instagram DM. Working on a low-budget passion project with a peer is an excellent way to get hired for their next big-budget commercial production.
Get started with Contra
Building your portfolio, searching for opportunities, and reaching out to clients and industry friends through established networks is key. But be sure to also check out platforms designed for today’s independent creative workforce, such as Contra.
Contra’s Portfolios is a perfect tool to update your portfolio and build a website. Reach out to friends and peers, or discover new ones in your industry with Contra’s Slack community. And keep working between opportunities — even creating something small but compelling on your smartphone is a great way to remind people you’re driven to bring projects to life.