ProducerTHE FILM PRODUCER'S FUNCTIONS
STUDIO AND INDEPENDENT PRODUCERS
DIRECTORS AND STARS AS PRODUCERS
FILM PRODUCERS TODAY
In the most general terms, a film producer is responsible for the entire production of a film from its inception through its completion. The producer supervises all phases of production (development, pre-production, principal photography, post-production) and oversees or actively participates in a film's conceptualization, financing, budget controls, casting, and director and crew selection. The producer can also contribute significantly to a film's marketing and distribution. The producer's work is, at its core, managerial, administrative, financial, and creative. It is crucial to the realization of any film.
The work of the film producer has always been multifaceted and often difficult to define, particularly when compared with those of other major talents involved in filmmaking. Actors act; screenwriters write; directors work with the actors on staging and with cinematographers on camera placement and movement; cinematographers light and shoot films; editors cut them. In the case of the producer, by contrast, the range of responsibilities varies depending on the country, industry, studio, or production company in which the producer works and on the personal working habits of the producer. This elasticity of definition applies to the producer's work even today to the extent that the Producers Guild of America (PGA) has created a Producer's Code of Credits to help establish a system for awarding credit to film and television producers.
In American fiction feature filmmaking, the producer's work begins with the development phase of a production. The producer's work is first of all conceptual: he or she decides that a particular story and genre will prove profitable or at least attract a wide viewership. The story for the film can be an original idea or a pre-sold property (the Harry Potter series, the long-running musical The Phantom of the Opera) to which the producer obtains the rights to make a film version. The producer works with a screenwriter to develop a treatment (a relatively short prose summary) as a basis for gaining initial financing and getting stars or actors to commit to the project. If the producer is not working with the backing of a distribution company or studio, she or he also must raise the funds for the production after estimating a budget for the project. Hence, the producer's work is also financial in nature. When financing is secured, the producer typically works with the screenwriter on developing and completing the script. As an alternative to initiating a script, the producer can option a completed screenplay for possible production; even in this case, the producer may work with the writer to revise the script.
During the pre-production phase, the producer chooses the above-the-line talents for the project, most importantly the director and principal cast if they are not already associated with the project as a package. (If the producer is working on a studio-backed production, the studio executives also have a say in the choice of director and the casting.) The producer and director agree on the lead and supporting role casting, hire the below-the-line talents (the crew, including the cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, editor, special effects team, sound crew, composer, unit production manager, and casting director), and together scout locations. Many times these choices are based on the talent and crew's prior work and their skill in filmmaking within particular genres. Finally, the producer and director (and, if appropriate, studio executives) approve the final shooting script, the final budget for the film, and the timetable for realizing the film. The budget decisions in particular affect many major aspects of the project, particularly its casting and its visual design. Conversely, getting the interest of a major star early on may enable the producer to develop a bigger budget for the project. Whatever the cost, if a film goes over budget or over schedule, the producer is held responsible. (In the case of a film produced for a major studio, the director and cinematographer may also assume fiduciary responsibility.)
During production, or principal photography, the producer supervises subordinate or co-producers, troubleshoots problems that arise on the set, and keeps track of how closely the production adheres to the budget and schedule. During principal photography, the producer typically can review the rushes (uncut footage of the day's shooting) with the director; he or she may or may not be present during the shooting on set. The producer can also negotiate between the demands of the studio financing the film or other financiers on the one hand and the needs of the creative talents on the other. Ideally the producer fosters a creative atmosphere in which the talents can work. She or he can also make concrete suggestions to the writer if a scene needs new dialogue or action; direct particular scenes if for some reason the director cannot; and troubleshoot problems on the set whether they involve personnel or technical difficulties.
Throughout post-production, the producer confers with the director and the editor on cutting and recutting the film for a first rough cut to show to the film's financial backers. The producer also consults with the director about, or directly confers with, the music supervisor and the composer and with the sound crew (which redubs dialogue for clarity and mixes sound effects, music, and dialogue). Beyond sound and editing, the producer can confer, again typically alongside the director, with the special effects team. The producer also ensures the proper credits are on the film, in accordance with union requirements. (If the project is a studio financed film, company executives also review the credits.) When a final cut is completed, some producers arrange previews with audiences that might affect the film's final form (that is, audience comments could inspire the reshooting or recutting of certain scenes or the addition of new ones, such as changing the ending of a film). Some directors also have a right to hold previews of their final cut. When they finance the film, studios typically require several previews with audiences of different demographic groups, which can be arranged by the studio's marketing department. The producer also works with the director (recutting if necessary) to earn a contractually agreed-upon rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); often, this is a rating that ensures that the largest possible audience can attend the film without age restrictions as appropriate for the film's content. (For example, the producers may strive for a PG-13 rating rather than an R rating, or an R rating instead of NC-17.)
As the film takes its final form, the producer can work on its marketing and distribution by participating in the decisions made for the film upon its initial theatrical release. In this case, the producer confers with the film's distributor on release patterns (limited or saturation booking) and marketing plans, specifically its publicity and advertising for theatrical, broadcast, and home video distribution. Here, the producer can suggest which aspects of the film should be emphasized in posters, trailers, television spots, and so on. The producer can also confer on these aspects of a film's marketing for ancillary (post-domestic theatrical) venues such as foreign markets, airline screenings (for which alternative shots have been taken of potentially offensive scenes), pay or free cable or satellite television channels, and home video. This arena of distribution now extends to video on demand via cable television and the Internet.
Thus the film producer's functions are creative, conceptual, financial, managerial, administrative, and promotional, and they extend across the entire filmmaking process into marketing and distribution. Moreover, the producer's work can be defined and subdivided further. A producer's credit today, according to the PGA, means an individual has "taken responsibility for at least a majority of the functions performed and decisions made" in the various phases of the film's production and distribution, in terms of the film's creative and financial features. An associate producer has fulfilled one or more of the producer's tasks (conceptual, financial, organizational, managerial) in the course of a film's production, but this type of credit is notoriously applied so freely that it may be assigned to an individual who has done something as minimal as finding a shooting script. The PGA defines the executive producer as a producer who has made "a significant contribution to the development of the literary property" for the film or has facilitated at least a quarter of the film's financing, or both. In practice, the executive producer may bring one or more elements of a project package to the table, introduce above-the-line talents to each other, give the director feedback, or even just be willing to back a film without actually doing so. The executive may simultaneously be the film's line producer. A line producer oversees the actual production and post-production phases of a film project that has been packaged, financed, and is ready for production. The specialization of the producer's function in filmmaking further testifies to its multifaceted, complex nature.
In the Hollywood studio era (1920–1950), different producers performed these various functions (creative, conceptual, financial, managerial, promotional) to a greater or lesser extent. At one of the major studios (Columbia, MGM, Paramount, RKO, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Warner Bros.), the executive in charge of production could be creatively involved in the details of all or most of his or her company's films. This was especially the case during the 1920s, and at some studios through the 1950s, under a central producer system of production. For example, Irving Thalberg (1899–1936), the head of production at MGM from 1924 through 1932, conferred with screenwriters on script drafts, with directors on revised scripts, on the rushes shot during principal photography, and on film editing. Darryl F. Zanuck (1902–1979), the head of production at Warner Bros. through 1933 (responsible for the studio's major hits in the gangster and social problem genres such as Little Caesar, 1931; and IAma Fugitive from a Chain Gang, 1932) and then at Twentieth Century Fox from the mid-1930s through the 1950s (and intermittently in the 1960s), likewise was intimately involved in the creative process of making films.
Moreover, production executives like Thalberg or Zanuck chose the property, cast, screenwriter(s), and director for each film, and they also estimated its budget. They did not raise the funds for their studio's annual slate of films; instead, they worked within the annual budget handed them by the exhibition (theater-owning) division of their company. They divided the yearly amount into the budgets for different categories of films (such as programmers and prestige films) featuring various studio stars. Both Thalberg and Zanuck defined their respective studio's house style, genre preferences, and technical qualities (MGM's glossy, tasteful, high production values and Twentieth Century Fox's biopics, Americana films, and musicals).
Executives such as Thalberg and Zanuck either personally produced certain films (usually prestige productions) or assigned subordinates to several properties they had selected for filmmaking that year. By the early 1930s, studio producers sometimes were working with particular production units, comprised of stars, directors, contracted talents, and technicians, which turned out distinctive films in particular genres that added diversity to a major studio's slate of releases during a year. At MGM, Harry Rapf (1882–1949) worked on Joan Crawford melodramas, while Albert Lewin (1894–1968) produced sophisticated play adaptations.
These producer units were a successful way of organizing studio filmmaking, and at several studios (RKO, Paramount in the early 1930s, and MGM after Irving Thalberg's illness in 1933) this system replaced the central producer system. Val Lewton's (1904–1951) unit at RKO turned out memorable, minimalist horror films in the early 1940s (Cat People, 1942; I Walked with a Zombie, 1943; and The Body Snatcher, 1945). From 1939 onwards, Arthur Freed (1894–1973) ran a unit at MGM that produced some of the best musicals in Hollywood history, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), On the Town (1949), An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and The Band Wagon (1953). In such cases, the producer formed productive, collaborative relationships with major directors: Lewton with Jacques Tourneur and Freed with Busby Berkeley, Vincente Minnelli, and Stanley Donen. Freed also had such relationships with major stars (Judy Garland and Gene Kelly).
The term "independent producer" is, if anything, more difficult to define than the work of the film producer. Defined strictly, the term can be applied to any filmmaker who does not work with or for a Hollywood studio or distributor. In this broad sense, independent production would extend to avant-garde independent filmmakers, such as Maya Deren (1917–1961); to documentary filmmakers, such as Barbara Kopple (b. 1946) or Errol Morris (b. 1948); to race filmmakers, such as Oscar Micheaux (1884–1951) and Spencer Williams (1893–1969); and to former Hollywood talents who left the industry, such as the blacklisted filmmakers of The Salt of the Earth (1954), Herbert J. Biberman and Michael Wilson. Most commonly, however, the term independent producer is applied to narrative filmmakers or filmmaking companies with no corporate ties to major studios or distributors beyond contracting for the distribution and financing of a single film or series of films. The term, however, is used very loosely.
Individual independent producers could be more or less involved in the realization of a film than studio producers and studio executives. David O. Selznick (1902–1965), one of the industry's major independent producers and best remembered for his blockbuster adaptation of Gone with the Wind (1939), led several independent companies (Selznick International, Selznick Picture Corporation, Vanguard Films Production). He financed his own films with bank loans and the proceeds from company stock, which he sold to himself, his family, and wealthy friends. He owned his own studio facilities. He placed major stars, directors, and technical crew members under contract to himself. But he also hired these talents under contract at the major studios, and with a few exceptions, he produced films for major studio distribution or through United Artists, which had no studio. In this, he was like Samuel Goldwyn (1882–1974) and Walt Disney (1901–1966). Releasing films through the major distributors facilitated financing, since the distributors could actually advance funds or guarantee bank loans for particular films. The effect of these arrangements was that Selznick's independent filmmaking made him closely bound to the major distributors. For Gone with the Wind, for example, Selznick gained some production financing for what was the most
b. Brooklyn, New York, 30 May 1899, d. 14 September 1936
Irving Thalberg is widely regarded as one of studio-era Hollywood's most successful producers and production executives. Under Thalberg's leadership, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) rose to the position of the most glamorous, technically accomplished, and prestigious studio in the industry from 1924 through the mid-1930s. Thalberg entered the film industry in 1918, rising to the post of special assistant to Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle before becoming head of production within a year at the age of twenty. He moved to Mayer Productions in 1923, which merged the following year into MGM, where he became vice president and supervisor of production. At MGM, Thalberg defined the term "boy wonder" in the industry as he instituted many budget and scheduling efficiencies.
Thalberg also had an excellent eye for filmable properties (often pre-sold projects such as successful plays and novels) and a superlative sense of casting (drawing from among MGM's "all the stars there are in the heavens"). The film industry admired him for maintaining high production values and "good taste." While an executive who assigned films to a team of producers, Thalberg also worked directly on several successful films, collaborating with creative personnel at every stage. He personally supervised as much as one-third of the studio's annual output, including The Big Parade (1925), Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), Flesh and the Devil (1926) with Greta Garbo, and Grand Hotel (1932). Sometimes Thalberg required extensive, costly reshooting and recutting of films after negative previews, and he famously dismissed Erich von Stroheim from the post-production of Greed (1924).
Thalberg was effectively demoted from his executive position after suffering a heart attack in 1932, but he continued to produce many of the studio's most prestigious projects, including an adaptation of the stage hit The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), starring his wife, Norma Shearer. He also produced Ernst Lubitsch's musical comedy, The Merry Widow (1934), the Clark Gable-Charles Laughton seafaring adventure, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), and the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera (1935), as well as backing or personally producing (or both) such unusual films as King Vidor's common man melodrama, The Crowd (1928), his all-black cast musical, Hallelujah (1929), and Tod Browning's cult horror film, Freaks (1932). A year after Thalberg's death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which he helped found) created the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award "for the most consistent high level of production achievement by an individual producer." He was also the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Monroe Stahr in the writer's last novel, the unfinished The Last Tycoon (1941).
The Big Parade (1925), Ben Hur (1926), Grand Hotel (1932), The Merry Widow (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), A Night at the Opera (1935)
Flamini, Roland. Thalberg: The Last Tycoon and the World of M-G-M. New York: Crown, 1994.
Marx, Samuel. Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-Believe Saints. New York: Random House, 1975.
Rosten, Leo. Hollywood: The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1941.
Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.
Thomas, Bob. Thalberg: Life and Legend. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969.
Matthew H. Bernstein
expensive Hollywood film to date (over $4 million), but he had to grant MGM the right to distribute his epic in exchange for the casting of MGM contractee and major star Clark Gable in the lead as Rhett Butler.
Still, independent producers like Selznick could gain greater creative autonomy than they would enjoy at a major studio as an executive or studio producer. Selznick worked with various scriptwriters to adapt Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel, fired one director and hired another during principal photography, and made major decisions in the post-production phase about which scenes to retain and which to discard, and within each scene, which shots to use. In short, Selznick was completely in charge of the films he produced.
Not all studio-era independent producers enjoyed Selznick's autonomy or chose to be so involved in film production. Samuel Goldwyn financed his own films almost entirely by himself and he owned his own studio facilities, but he generally let his screenwriters and directors work without his detailed participation in production and was content to comment on the overall results. Walter Wanger (1894–1968), who—like Goldwyn and Selznick—released through United Artists in the 1930s, was not financially independent. His production companies always relied heavily on bank loans and distributor advances and contracts from major studios, which meant his productions were subject to the oversight of the banks and distribution companies. Yet, Wanger was still considered an independent producer in the studio era, one who, like Selznick, had worked as both a production executive and a studio producer beforehand, and he produced several controversial political films (The President Vanishes, 1934; Blockade, 1938; and Foreign Correspondent, 1940) that major studios and other independents would not have backed. The differences among Goldwyn, Selznick, and Wanger demonstrate how elastic the term "independent producer" was during the studio era.
With the rise of auteur criticism in America in the 1960s—which argued that the best Hollywood studio-era films were the result of their directors' ability to impose their artistry and vision on studio films—classical Hollywood producers, whether studio executive, studio producer, or independent producer, were regarded as obstacles to (most often) the film director's personal expression. In certain cases, producers certainly were. At Universal, Thalberg notoriously refused to let Erich von Stroheim (1885–1957) complete Foolish Wives (1922) and drove him off the production of Merry-Go-Round (1923); at MGM, he refused to release von Stroheim's multi-hour version of Greed (1924), cutting the film down to two-and-a-half hours. Thalberg's implementation of systematic, efficient, and budget-conscious filmmaking at both Universal and MGM impressed the entire industry, and his assertion of authority over von Stroheim was emblematic of a shift in creative authority from directors to producers by the mid-1920s.
Other films suffered from producer interference in the studio era. MGM's production executives famously insisted that Fritz Lang (1890–1976) provide happy endings to Fury (1936), his social problem film about lynching, and the film noir The Woman in the Window (1945), casting the events of the film as a nightmare, even thought this latter film was produced for an "independent" company releasing through RKO. Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was dramatically recut by then-RKO editor Robert Wise at the behest of studio head George J. Schaefer (1920–1997) while Welles was abroad shooting a never-completed film, "It's All True."
Yet the evidence of the Lewton and Freed units also demonstrates how the input and support of producers aided and improved the realization of particular films. Producer Hal Wallis (1899–1986) contributed the memorable final line ("Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship") to Casablanca (1942), a film whose ending was uncertain during principal photography. The degree to which an actively involved film producer helped or ruined a particular film depended on the production policies at the studio or "independent" company involved and the proclivities and personality of the particular producer. Studio-era producers also handled the challenge of negotiating with the Production Code Administration to keep controversial subject matter (illicit sexual relations, criminal behavior, and so on) in screenplays and finished films. This could be another arena in which the producer supported the aims and desires of the director, screenwriter, and cast.
Other producers secured the financing, hired the talents, and let them create their films with a minimum of interference. George J. Schaefer granted Orson Welles unprecedented creative freedom under a contract that led to the making of Citizen Kane (1941). Walter Wanger contributed only studio space and financing to one of his most famous and financially successful films, John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). Wanger did the same for one of Ford's most unusual box-office flops, The Long Voyage Home (1940). In such instances, Wanger in effect allowed Ford to function as his own producer. As these examples suggest, the same producer (Schaefer) could remain hands-off for one project and hands-on for another, and the same policy of granting a director complete autonomy (Wanger's) could result in box-office success or failure.
In the studio era, many directors craved the autonomy, creative authority, and responsibility that Wanger granted Ford. In the 1910s only the most successful directors and stars had gained such power; key examples were the director D. W. Griffith (1875–1948), the actor-director Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977), and the stars Mary Pickford (1892–1979) and Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939), the quartet who owned their own studios and formed United Artists in 1919 to distribute their films. Beginning especially in the 1940s, some Hollywood directors and stars assumed the producer's role as well (in part because it was advantageous from an income-tax standpoint). Many directors (as well as stars) formed their own companies or negotiated with major studios for producing powers: Frank Capra (1897–1991), George Stevens (1904–1975), and William Wyler (1902–1981) created Liberty Films; Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) was a producer-director on all his films after his contract with David O. Selznick ended in the late 1940s; and screenwriter-directors like Billy Wilder (1906–2002) and Joseph Mankiewicz (1909–1993) had also assumed the function of producer on their own films by the 1950s. Stars such as James Cagney (1899–1986), Kirk Douglas (b. 1916), and Burt Lancaster (1913–1994) formed their own production companies, making important films for major studio distribution and claiming a share of their film's profits. As with Disney, Goldwyn, Selznick, and Wanger in earlier decades, these companies were considered "independent producers" despite their mutually beneficial relationship with the major distributors. For in all these cases, whether they had their own production company or not, directors and stars secured distribution and financing through the major studios.
Independent producers could do this by the mid-1950s in part because of the US Supreme Court's Paramount decision of 1948. This ruling forced the majors to sell off their theaters and thus lose their guaranteed income from ticket sales, in response to which the studios let go of hundreds of talents under contract. In this context, the way Hollywood producers worked changed significantly. Instead of drafting talents under contract at the studios where a producer worked or formed an affiliation, the producer during development and pre-production typically assembled talent from around the entire film industry: a bankable star or stars, a screenwriter, and a director for his or her property, as well as the crew. Under this new "package" system, which United Artists pioneered in the early 1950s, once the independent producer assembled the package, she or he would try to interest a studio, a distributor, or both in investing in the project. The studio could also help with providing or guaranteeing financing and providing or facilitating the rental of sound stages and equipment, as well as distribution and promotion. Stars themselves could more easily become their own producers. Warren Beatty (b. 1937), for example, produced and starred in the landmark gangster film Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 for Warner Bros. Agents also became packagers (albeit without producer credit) because of their representation of many types of talent whom they could easily package for a film. One such agent, Lew Wasserman (1913–2002), became head of the entertainment conglomerate MCA, which owned Universal Pictures.
Twenty-first century Hollywood producers, whether they are single-threat producers or stars, managers, directors or screenwriters, still work to assemble films by packaging a project during the development and pre-production phases of filmmaking described above and they fulfill various producer responsibilities in the subsequent phases of filmmaking as well. It should be noted that none of the studios have producers on staff, as regular employees. Rather, they have studio executives "greenlight" productions which non-studio producers realize, and which the studio executives oversee in all phases of filmmaking. To succeed, both the studio production chief and the individual producer cultivate relationships with directors, major stars, and other talents (including other producers), and they develop ideas or properties to offer them.
Major Hollywood studios typically contract with "independent producers" to realize films which the studios can help finance and then distribute and market. If such a partnership is successful, the distributor can gain the right of first refusal for any project the "independent producer" develops. One example of this arrangement is producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment. After directing films for different distributors (Splash, 1984, for Touchstone; and Gung Ho, 1986, for Paramount), Howard joined forces with producer Grazer to form their company. The first Imagine film was Willow (1988, for MGM); the following year, Imagine produced Parenthood for Universal distribution and inaugurated an association with Universal that continued through Apollo 13 (1995), the Academy Award® -winning A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Cinderella Man (2005, co-produced with Touchstone and Miramax), with the exceptions of Ransom (1996) and The Alamo (2004) for Touchstone. As an independent company, Imagine Entertainment is a corporate entity separate from Universal, yet the distributor's backing facilitated the production of more than twelve Imagine titles, and Universal distribution (for even more Imagine productions) ensured that Imagine's films received the widest distribution. Ron Howard was credited as a producer for only four of the twelve films;partner Brian Grazer was a producer for all of them.
Other directors also produce many of their own films: Steven Spielberg produced nine of the sixteen films he directed between E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Munich (2005). Stars can do likewise. Tom Cruise has produced several of the films he has starred in since Mission: Impossible (1996) via his own company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, in collaboration with Paramount Pictures. It is relatively rare for a single-threat film producer to be a household name today; Jerry Bruckheimer (b. 1945), the producer of many popular television shows and box-office hits, especially action films, from Beverly Hills Cop (1984) through Top Gun (1986) to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), is one.
b. Detroit, Michigan, 21 September 1945
Jerry Bruckheimer may be the best-known single-threat producer in contemporary Hollywood. He is famous for producing fast-paced action films with major stars that thrive at the box office. As of 2003, his films collectively had grossed over $3 billion in theatrical release alone.
Bruckheimer came to filmmaking from advertising. His first producer credit (along with three other producers) was for the neo-noir Farewell, My Lovely (1975), which revived Robert Mitchum's status as a film noir icon, and his first solo producer credit was for Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980) with Richard Gere. In 1981 Bruckheimer partnered with Don Simpson, a former Paramount production executive, to create a series of high concept films (movies easy to summarize and advertise), such as Flashdance (1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), that were extremely successful. The team crystallized its formula with the Tom Cruise vehicle Top Gun in 1986, a flag-waving action film about navy pilots in training that certified Cruise as a major star. The partnership flourished through 1995, the year of Bad Boys, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, but the pair split up shortly before Simpson died of a heart attack in 1996.
Subsequently, Bruckheimer has continued to make action films, often pairing older male stars with up-and-coming leads, as in The Rock (1996), with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage; Armageddon (1998), with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck; and Enemy of the State (1998), with Gene Hackman and Smith again. On these films he has tended to favor particular directors with distinctive visual styles: Tony Scott for Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Days of Thunder (1990), Crimson Tide (1995), and Enemy of the State; and Michael Bay for Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor (2001), and Bad Boys II (2003). But he also has varied his output more, moving into other genres as well as producing highly successful shows for series television, including CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (beginning 2000), which has three spinoffs set in specific cities, as well as Without a Trace (beginning 2002) and Cold Case (beginning 2003).
Bruckheimer is closely involved in the production process, insisting on authentic historical recreations for Blackhawk Down (2001), defending Johnny Depp's casting and performance in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), and having the film re-scored shortly before its premiere. Bruckheimer produces most of his films for Disney; Disney, in turn, provides him with $10 million a year to develop projects and set up his extensive production office and staff, and it pays him $5 million plus 7.5 percent of the studio's income from each film. Bruckheimer's skill at packaging (often original) stories, scripts, and stars with mass appeal is undeniable: Pirates of the Caribbean alone reportedly earned $654 million in domestic, international, and ancillary markets and another $360 million in DVD sales. His 2003 box-office grosses were greater than those of MGM and DreamWorks combined.
American Gigolo (1980), Thief (1981), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Enemy of the State (1998), Remember the Titans (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Bing, Jonathan, and Cathy Dunkley, "Inside the Jerry-Rigged Machine." Variety (1–7 September 2003): 1, 66–67.
Grover, Ronald. "Hollywood's Most Wanted: Jerry Bruckheimer Churns Out the Hits—and Disney and CBS Need Him Badly." Business Week (31 May 2004): 72.
Wyatt, Justin. High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Matthew H. Bernstein
The term "independent producer" in the twenty-first century is more accurately applied to filmmakers working outside of Hollywood, but it is still as unsystematically applied as is the producer label. Typically, independent producers realize a film project without a contract with a major distributor for financing or distribution. This
situation can give filmmakers (especially the screenwriter and director) greater creative freedom than working on a project for a major distributor might allow. The producer here arranges financing sources, which range from family members, domestic banks, and loan companies to the sale of film rights to foreign television or for foreign distribution. For American distribution, the independent producer shows the completed film to major or so-called mini-major companies, such as the "boutique" divisions of the majors (Miramax at Disney, Sony Pictures Classics at Sony Pictures, Paramount Classics at Paramount Pictures, Focus Features at Universal, Fox Searchlight at Twentieth Century Fox), or to autonomous small distributors, such as Magnolia Pictures, IFC (Independent Film Channel) Pictures, Lions Gate Films, and Newmarket Films; the latter distributed Memento (2000) and The Passion of the Christ (2004) when other distributors would not.
The presentation of the independently produced film to distributors often happens at film festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, or Sundance. Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It (1986), Richard Linklater's Slacker (1991), and Kevin Smith's Clerks (1994) are all examples of successful independent productions that ultimately received national distribution and box-office success, in part because of their extremely small budgets. Examples of independent production companies that produce feature films would include Film Colony, Ltd. (Finding Neverland, 2004), Good Machine (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000; and Brokeback Mountain, 2005), and Killer Films (Boys Don't Cry, 1999). The boutique distributors (among which Miramax was a pioneer before its 1993 acquisition by Disney) also co-produce independent films; their subsidiary status again demonstrates how hazy the term "independent production" can be when applied to contemporary filmmaking.
Whether a film is studio produced or independently produced, its producer fulfills a major function in a project's realization. No film is made without a producer; this is one reason why film producers are listed when films are nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards® and why they accept the statuette when their film wins. This seems appropriate, given the varied and essential nature of the producer's contribution to the making of a film.
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Staiger, Janet, ed. The Studio System. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Vertrees, David Alan. Selznick's Vision: "Gone with the Wind" and Hollywood Filmmaking. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.
Matthew H. Bernstein
Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Producers have financial and administrative control over the making of movies, plays, and television shows. A lot of money goes into productions of this kind, and the producer's job is to raise the money needed and see that it is wisely spent. The producer is responsible for ultimately turning a profit for the investors.
Television producers are usually employed by television stations or networks. A network television series usually has an executive producer who does long-term planning for the show. Some television producers work independently; they may find sponsors and grants to supplement their budgets from the stations.
Movie producers may be employed by film studios or they may work independently. Theatrical producers usually work independently. An independent producer first finds a script that can be turned into a play or movie. Books, especially bestsellers, often become successful plays and motion pictures. The producer may buy the rights to turn a book into a script. Then the producer raises enough money to pay for the project. Some producers use their own money, but many find investors who are willing to risk their money on the project.
The producer usually hires a director who makes most of the artistic and day-today decisions on the project. Nevertheless, it is the producer—the one who controls the money—who makes all the final decisions. The producer makes sure that the director stays within the budget and follows the production schedule closely. Producers must find theaters to house their productions. The play producer rents a theater. The movie producer finds a distributor who persuades movie theaters to show the film.
Together with the director, the producer hires the rest of the staff—actors, designers, and other workers. A large staff often includes several production assistants, associate producers, or assistant producers who are in charge of various parts of the production. Although these job titles may vary from studio to studio or job to job, these assistants help producers perform their tasks. Their jobs often range from traveling in search of a good location, to keeping the project within the budget, to carrying materials to and from the motion picture laboratory. In the theater a similar role is taken by an assistant stage manager, who provides help for the director, the stage manager, and the producer's staff and may serve as the understudy for several actors in case one of them gets sick.
How closely the producer works with the director varies in each case. Some producers have very little contact with their productions, while others go to every audition and rehearsal. Some movie producers watch "rushes," which are the sections of film shot on a given day. Some even direct their own productions. The producer of a low-budget documentary film may also be the director and may even operate the camera.
Education and Training Requirements
There are no standard educational or training requirements for the position of producer. Producers need a good business sense to handle finances and must have excellent administrative skills. Movie and play producers also need enough personal contacts to be able to raise money, hire staff, and find distributors. Most television producers are college graduates. To become a production assistant, it is useful to have some college courses in theater, film, or television.
Getting the Job
Anyone with enough money can produce a play or movie. Producers who work for large film companies usually have experience both in films and in business. The job of producer can be approached from either field. Someone experienced in films, such as a director, may raise enough money to produce a film. A person successful in business who has contacts in the theater may raise the money to produce a play.
Television producers generally rise through the ranks within television stations. Experience is what counts in television work. Stations in small cities usually have more jobs for beginners than the large stations or networks do. For all fields, a good way to start is by taking a job as production assistant. Interested candidates may apply directly to a theater, a broadcasting station, or a film production company.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Producers are already at the top of their field. They may advance to become heads of television stations or program directors. Some producers switch roles and take up directing, but this work requires a different kind of talent.
Employment of producers is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. However, the number of producers is small. Since theatrical producers usually work from show to show, there is no measurable turnover of the ordinary sort. Few new producers are hired each year by the large television and film companies. Nevertheless, anyone with enough money and the right contacts can produce a film or play.
Working conditions for a producer vary widely. On the whole, their schedule is not the standard 9-to-5 workday. Producers can set their own hours, although they must be available to handle crises whenever they occur. If a producer works as a director or works closely with the director, the hours can be very long. Although the work is often hectic and demanding, it can also offer a great deal of satisfaction.
Earnings and Benefits
Each production has its own budget and contract. Most producers receive a salary based on a percentage of the production's earnings; the amount varies from contract to contract. In general, the pay for producers is good. A producer can earn a few thousand dollars or a few hundred thousand for a production. Those with larger budgets earn much more than other producers. Television producers who work for the networks, for example, work on productions with very large budgets and generally earn substantial salaries.
Where to Go for More Information
Producers Guild of America, Inc.
8530 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 450
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
According to the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of 2004, producers earn a median hourly salary of $25.40, which translates to median annual earnings of $52,832. Some well-known executive producers make hundreds of thousands of dollars per project. Unionized producers generally receive paid vacations and health insurance.
pro·duc·er / prəˈd(y)oōsər; prō-/ • n. 1. a person, company, or country that makes, grows, or supplies goods or commodities for sale: an oil producer. ∎ a person or thing that makes or causes something: the mold is the producer of the toxin aflatoxin. 2. a person responsible for the financial and managerial aspects of making of a movie or broadcast or for staging a play, opera, etc. ∎ a person who supervises the making of a musical recording, esp. by determining the overall sound.