What Does An Executive Producer Do?
Just what do executive producers do, anyway? Nobody really seems to know the answer to this question. The executive producer credit is usually displayed first (or last) in a production; no doubt they're important folks. Besides obtaining the money, there are other aspects to the executive producer's job including people, and developing relationships. The management of these relationships falls into the executive producer's domain. The executive producer is responsible for all the key relationships. On one side, you have the business relationships between financiers, facilities, distributors, marketers and broadcasters. On the other side, you have creative relationships. The executive producer may hire the producer, director and writer. The concept for the program may be something that the executive producer found or developed. The executive producer is often the first person to get the project financed, fully packaged and made. (In some instances, producers bring their packages to executive producers to get them made.)
When we say that the executive producer "handles the money", what does that mean? It means that he or she is responsible for the money. It doesn't necessarily mean that the executive producer puts up the money. Rather, the executive producer is responsible for the project's financial status and for delivering the program on time and within budget. For this, of course, he or she looks to and depends on other people.
The first thing I do is create clear, written agreements with my creative partners in projects. These agreements are usually a short letter or deal memo (which may later be expanded into a long-form agreement) stipulating what the project is, each partner's responsibilities, fees, payment terms (usually triggered by performance), credits and profit participation (if any). When people start to work on a project and things aren't spelled out for them, they may feel they are on very thin ice. This makes for very insecure and inauspicious beginnings. The first thing an executive producer does is clarify the relationship in basic terms: money, money, money. Once done, there's a sigh of relief, and the creative work begins wholeheartedly.
Nevertheless, the executive producer is called in for things that others deem as unpleasant, such as negotiating, or renegotiating, or simply saying what needs to be said. Misunderstandings about money are common in our business.
There is a line, however, which is not to be crossed. That line has to do with where the executive producer's job starts and stops before it enters someone else's sphere of responsibility. If you hire a producer, then the producer's job is to produce. If an executive producer has to step into producing (or directing or writing or whatever), then this is an acknowledgment that they've hired incorrectly. The first job of the executive producer is to hire correctly. If you don't do it correctly, it's time to get another day job.
When you've hired someone, you've already agreed on what they will do. Their domain has been established. You have to live with that decision unless things really go off track. Otherwise, you have to back off. Your job is now to be as supportive as possible and to bring your talents, abilities and insights into play only when they are required or requested. But, most of the time, you don't want them to be required. "If you want to direct, then direct!" Executive producing is not the place to be confused about what hat to wear.
The executive producer has the final word. He or she is responsible for every aspect of the production and is held accountable to his or her employers, be they broadcasters, home video companies or corporate entities. Every project has restrictions, which may relate to budgets, schedules, formats or content. The executive producer (and everyone who works with him or her) must also conform to these limitations. The limits must be clearly defined for everyone. If you or your employees ignore these limitations, you won't work again. They'll take away your "executive producer card," since you are the one your employer hired to keep everything on track.
Concurrent with the role the executive producer is asked to play in "limiting" the perimeters is another role that requires that the producer get the greatest contribution possible out of the cast and crew.
If you let people do more, they will, and if managed the project's quality will exceed its budgetary price tag. People in the business care about the quality of their work and will deliver quality because their own integrity calls for it (regardless of what they're paid). Producers, directors, writers, crews and actors want to excel. They want to create a "break" for themselves and want the chance to really perform. Your employer doesn't care about how you get the job done or what philosophy you use. They want results. As an executive producer, you have to deliver, on time and on budget.
This means you have to trust your people and to communicate clearly what the limitations are. And at the same time, you must trust them to do more, to give more and to produce the greatest results they can. An executive producer has to be prepared, from time to time, to pull everyone back, to remind them of the limitations. It's not a free-for-all. (Sometimes you have to yell "Stop!" If you don't, you'll still be working on it on the due date.)
The most important thing to realize about other people is that we all see things very, very differently. I mean that in the extreme. We take it for granted that just because we speak English we understand what everyone means. This is not so. This assumption can lead to enormous problems and frustration. If you start with the premise that humans perceive things very differently, then you can at least try to understand how other people think and work.
Prior to most voice-recording sessions, you prepare a script. Then you go into the studio, and you follow the script. On one occasion when the talent also had final creative control of the project, the talent refused to use the script even though that person had a hand in writing it. The talent said, "I can't work this way. I have to see how I feel, and then just do it". No amount of cajoling was going to move that mountain. The path of least resistance was to go along with it. I could see that this was the way the talent worked, and that this was the way it was going to be. As executive producer, I had to relax and support the talent in being creative in the studio regardless of my own feelings that most people do not work this way and that it is very expensive. My role was to create a supportive environment so that we could get the best material from the session as possible.
Yet another example of how differently people work and think. I came to a documentary shoot to see how things were going. The director knew exactly what he wanted; in fact to such a degree that it was staggering. Not only had he pre-visualized every scene but he knew exactly how much footage to shoot at the head of a scene for a voiceover. And he knew what he wanted the voiceover to say and how long it would run. He knew how he would cut it, he knew exactly what to shoot and that's what he was doing. He was not overshooting coverage "just in case". I'm rarely that clear on how everything will go together, so I shoot somewhat more coverage. What he was doing was going so well there was nothing for me to do so I left.
The executive producer is neither the director nor the producer. So the executive producer is not to direct or produce but, rather, manage the work of the producer and director in the most supportive role as possible.
Here are some goals for executive producers to hold in mind:
Cast the right people for the right jobs and as part of a team.
Make sure abilities are complementary and not supplementary.
Get as much creative work out of people as possible.
Keep the team spirit alive.
Give people "creative rope" when it will enhance the project.
Make people feel good about what they are doing.
Smooth the path for everyone. Play a supportive role.
Be a leader and the final arbitrator. Provide the last word.
Be the liaison between the financial, marketing and production groups.
Anticipate problems and solutions.
Hold the vision of the entire project from start to finish.
Make sure the program is consistent with marketing and promotion goals.
Learn how much or how little to be around.
How to become a movie producer
Imagine having an exciting job creating movies that will be watched by thousands - or even millions of people.
As a movie producer you may be involved in everything from coming up with ideas for shows to hiring the stars and supervising shooting. You will have a rewarding and creative job that lets you see the results of your work.
Producers for movies can earn salaries of up to $100,000 or more. They also earn respect as the leaders of the entertainment industry. It is the executive producer who accepts the Oscar for best picture.
A degree is not required to learn movie production. There are many ways to gain practical experience. Get an internship. Do research to find which studios are hiring interns, and which ones will be most beneficial to your needs. You'll most likely start out as a "runner" or a "Gopher" This is someone who runs errands or goes for coffee, etc. There are also organizations that can help with job placement. Learn how to network, and make the most out of the connections you make while you are on set. Remember, if this is something you’re serious about, take it seriously. This is a competition, you will not be the only person vying for a position as a movie producer, in the entertainment industry today, and there are hundreds and thousands of people who are trying to make a living as movie producers. It is also possible that a movie producer might not be the optimal position for you. You may find out you are better suited at directing, or in another field, so keep your eyes, and your options open. Be sure to maintain a professional and potent resume and cover letter. If you have little experience and no films under your belt, it will take hard work to convince a movie company to employ you. Remain a constant professional in your appearance, and your attitude. You'll need to produce a quality demo reel. This will help demonstrate to movie companies that you are competent enough to handle a major budget and or film. No matter what background you come from, you can still be successful in the industry. Some Hollywood movie producers have come from nowhere, complete obscurity and only succeeded thanks to their desire, hard work, and dedication. Others are simply born into the movie industry and begin at an early age. This doesn't always mean that they have an advantage. Try and take advantage of every opportunity that arises, you don't know how many will come along. Do research on other famous movie producers. Often, you can find valuable information on how they achieved their goal and apply similar techniques to your own quest.
Famous movie producers
Without a doubt one of the most influential film personalities in the history of film, Steven Spielberg is perhaps Hollywood's best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. Spielberg has countless big grossing critically acclaimed credits to his name, both as producer, director and writer. Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1946. He went to Long Beach University, but dropped out to pursue his entertainment career.
Half of the producing tandem behind the most testosterone-laden action flicks, the name Jerry Bruckheimer has become synonymous with explosive pyrotechnics and machine-gun fire. The producer of such hits as Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986), and Days of Thunder (1990), Bruckheimer dissolved his partnership with hard-partying producer Don Simpson in 1995, only weeks before Simpson's death and after 14 tumultuous years together.
Don Simpson, one of the most highly regarded creative forces in the entertainment industry and one of the most successful producers of all time, was a filmmaker who loved movies. In the 1980s, he was responsible for some of entertainment's most popular and enduring motion pictures. In the 1990s, this exceptional and unique producer continued that tradition, bringing audiences worldwide films that thrill, excite and delight.
Born in Czechoslovakia, producer/director Ivan Reitman was raised in Canada by his concentration camp-survivor parents. After majoring in music at McMasters University, Reitman got his first taste of the line of work that was to bring him fame and fortune when he attended summer classes at the National Film Board. Here he directed his first short subjects, one of which received mainstream distribution.
Robert Zemeckis began making home movies as a child in Chicago. He eventually attended the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television where he befriended budding filmmakers like George Lucas and John Milius. Zemeckis directed a pair of well received student films while at USC (The Lift and A Field of Honor). He soon met a man who would change his life, a burgeoning young star director named Steven Spielberg who was then based at Universal Pictures.
Stanley Kubrick was born in New York, and was considered intelligent despite poor grades at school. Hoping that a change of scenery would produce better academic performance, Kubrick's father Jack (a physician) sent him in 1940 to Pasadena, California, to stay with his uncle Martin Perveler. Returning to the Bronx in 1941 for his last year of grammar school, there seemed to be little change in his attitude or his results.
George Lucas was born in Modesto, California. The son of a stationery store owner, he was raised on a walnut ranch, and attended Modesto Junior College before enrolling in the University of Southern California film school. As a student at USC, Lucas made several short films, including Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138: 4EB, which took first prize at the 1967-68 National Student Film Festival.
The son of an immigrant Russian tailor, Aaron Spelling grew up in the Jewish ghetto of Dallas. Traumatized by constant bullying from his WASP schoolmates, Spelling psychosomatically lost the use of his legs at age eight and was confined to bed for a year. He spent his solitude with the written works of Mark Twain, O. Henry, and other masters, developing his own storytelling skills in the process.
During a 43-year Hollywood career, which spanned the development of the motion picture medium as a modern American art, Walter Elias Disney, a modern Aesop, established himself and his product as a genuine part of Americana. David Low, the late British political cartoonist, called Disney "the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo DaVinci." A pioneer and innovator, and the possessor of one of the most fertile imaginations the world has ever known, Walt Disney.