You are currently viewing Types of Producers: Actually Understanding The Differences 

Types of Producers: Actually Understanding The Differences 

I’m a producer and even I get confused by the many ways in which the term is used. Every once in a while, I get asked what kind of producer I am and I find it very hard to pinpoint. In the labyrinth that’s entertainment, the term “producer” often pops up. But it’s cloaked in ambiguity. This is because the interpretation or implementation of the role seems to vary significantly across different sectors of the industry. In film, television, music, musical theatre, and live events ‘producer’ can mean different things. And to add to the confusion, being a producer can sometimes mean playing multiple roles at the same time. 

So, in this blog, I aim to demystify the term by exploring the various types of producers; what they do and how their responsibilities differ. From the omnipresent executive producer to the on-the-ground line producer, each plays a crucial role in bringing creative projects to life.

The definition of a Producer

Before we delve into all the variations on what being a producer can mean, let’s first set a general definition for the job by checking a few dictionaries. 

A person who makes the practical and financial arrangements needed to make a film, play, or television or radio programme. 

Cambridge dictionary

Based on this definition, we know that a producer works on the commercial or business side of a creative industry. Here’s another definition:

A person who supervises or finances a work (such as a staged or recorded performance) for exhibition or dissemination to the public.

Merriam-Webster dictionary

According to this definition, a producer is a person who also supervises or leads a creative work. 

During production on site, you will often find me looking very serious. Not because something is wrong, but because I’m keeping my eye on all elements to make sure everything is as it should be and all goes smoothly. Credit: Saudi Games 2023

So in general, we can state that a producer is often in charge of a creative work or process and also takes care of the administrative side of it, by keeping an eye on the finance and any practical issues.

Although not in the official definition according to any dictionary, I feel the need to add one more aspect that defines the producer’s job. It’s this: the producer is the person who forms the bridge between the commercial world and the creative world. As such, they needs to be able to walk in both worlds. A while ago, I wrote a blog on how film producers came into existence and I used a description that I would like to repeat here:

 to find a balance between ‘efficiency and art, bureaucrats and artists, big budgets and creative visions’. […] Enter the producer: the person with the unique job to find a balance between capitalisation and creativity in the studio. He needed knowledge about audience taste, storytelling, and the mechanics of picture-making and also have a businessman approach to the costs.

Quote around producer Irving Thalberg

I feel it’s important to include this aspect of the job, because this is honestly what makes the work so challenging and also unique compared to a job like project manager. Some people call producers the project managers of the creative sector. I understand where they’re coming from and they’re not really wrong. But the quote above highlights the difference in my opinion.

So now that we’ve covered what the base definition of a producer is, let’s have a look at the different kind of producers and what they do in their respective industries.

The Executive Producer: Vision and Finance

The executive producer (EP) sits at the top of the production hierarchy. This role is often associated with securing the funding for a project and overseeing its financial aspects. In television and film, the EP may not be involved in the day-to-day operations but plays a critical role in shaping the project’s overall vision, strategy, and objectives. They have a say in key decisions, such as hiring key personnel and finalizing the cast.

Examples of famous people who are executive producers are Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon, Pirates of the Caribbean, Top Gun: Maverick) and Kevin Feige (who handles all the Marvel projects for Disney) in the film industry and Shonda Rhimes (known for Grey’s Anatomy and Bridgerton) in the TV industry. 

In the music industry, an executive producer may be responsible for funding the recording project and ensuring that the album meets the market’s demands. They work closely with marketing and distribution teams to maximize the project’s commercial success. Think of Sir George Martin (of the Beatles) and Rick Rubin (listed in 2007 by Time Magazine as one of the Top 100 most influential people in the world). 

Sir George Martin with the Beatles

In the musical theatre sector, the role of the executive producer is similar to televison and film. It’s the person who secures the funding and oversees the project. However, in the US, the term Lead Producer is used for this role, while in Europe the term Executive Producer is more common. The term ‘executive producer’ is still used by Americans on Broadway, but refers more to a consultant to the Lead producer (which doesn’t make it confusing at all).

A known lead producer on Broadway is Ken Davenport, who actually has his own blog. You can find his article about producers on Broadway here. In continental Europa, a known executive producer is Joop van den Ende (now retired), whose company Stage Entertainment is still a major player in the field. I myself was in fact producer at Stage Entertainment for a while.

The Co-producer: The Funding of a Production

This term is only used in the film and musical theatre industry as far as I know. Co-producers are people who help fund a film by investing in it. In return, they have claim to a percentage of the films’gross, dependingon the amount of investment. They also get an official credit in the movie and may have some say on the how the project turns out. For example, co-producers are allowed to sit in during specific meetings/rehearsals which gives them a chance to push things in a certain direction. How much they are involved in the process differs for each project and is also subject to the amount of money that they invest. 

 The Producer: The Heart of the Production

The title of simply “producer” is perhaps the most enigmatic, encompassing a broad range of responsibilities that vary per industry. In film and television, producers are involved in all phases of production, from development to post-production. They are the logistical and creative backbone of a project, responsible for hiring the director, cast, and crew; overseeing the budget; scheduling; and ensuring that the project stays on track.

Creating a planning schedule: who will work when, on what and where?

Producers are often deeply involved in the creative process, working closely with writers and directors to develop the script, set the tone and style of the project, and make critical creative decisions. Their ultimate goal is to ensure that the final product aligns with the initial vision, is completed on time, and stays within budget.

 The Line Producer: On the Front Lines

The line producer is the practical executor of the production, managing the budget and day-to-day physical aspects of the film, television, or event production. They are the bridge between the producer’s vision and the (financial) reality of bringing that vision to life. Line producers develop the initial budget, hire crew members, negotiate contracts, and oversee daily operations on set or at the event venue.

I asked AI to generate the image of a line producer. Here we see the producer on a bustling film set. According to AI, this image shows the essence of their critical role in managing the budget and operations amidst the complexity of movie production.

Their role is highly tactical; they must be adept at problem-solving and making quick decisions to keep the production moving forward. Unlike producers and executive producers, line producers typically do not get involved in the creative aspects of a project.

 The Show Producer: Master of the Live Experience

In the realm of live events and television, the show producer plays a pivotal role. This type of producer is responsible for the overall management and execution of live productions, such as award shows, concerts, and live broadcasts. They coordinate the logistics, from staging and set design to live feeds and audience management, ensuring that the show runs smoothly and adheres to the planned schedule and budget.

One of my highlights: working for the Strictly Come Dancing Arena Tour.

Show producers work closely with directors, technical crews, and performers to create a seamless live experience. They must be adept at managing the unpredictability of live events and making real-time decisions to address any issues that arise during the production.

 The Content Producer: Digital Storytelling and Beyond

 In the digital age, the content producer has emerged as a new key player in the production of web content for social media and other digital platforms. This role involves overseeing the creation and distribution of digital content, from articles and blog posts to videos and podcasts. To do this, content producers must have a keen and up-to-date understanding of the ever evolving digital landscape, including SEO, content marketing strategies, and social media trends.

They work closely with writers, editors, videographers, and graphic designers to create engaging content that resonates with the target audience. Content producers also analyze performance metrics to understand what content performs well and adjust their strategy accordingly.

For events and films, a content producer can also be in charge of the creation of audiovisual (marketing) content. More and more events make use of LED screens with amazing visuals that need to be created. The producer to guide that process, is sometimes called a content producer (or in the case of visual special effects, a VFX producer). 

In films, a content producer will the one supervising the creation of (digital) marketing and promotional content for a project. When you consider the promotional budget for a modern tentpole movie might reach 200 million dollars, you’ll realize that’s quite the responsibility.

 Understanding the Nuances

While the titles may vary, the essence of production remains the same: to bring creative visions to life. Each type of producer plays a unique role in this process, contributing their skills and expertise to ensure the success of the project.

What most of my days actually look like: meetings, meetings, meetings, calls and sitting behind the computer to schedule and check everything.

Here’s a closer look at how these roles differ and complement each other:

Executive Producer vs. Producer: The executive producer often deals with the broader strokes of a project, such as financing and overall strategy, while the producer handles the day-to-day management and creative decisions. Also, hierarchically the executive producer outranks the producer. So if the two have conflicting views, the executive producer will usually have the last say.

Line Producer vs. Producer: The line producer focuses on the logistical and financial aspects of production, ensuring that the project stays within budget and on schedule. In contrast, the producer oversees both the creative and logistical sides.

Show Producer vs. Content Producer: Show producers specialize in live events and broadcasts, managing the complexities of live production. Content producers, on the other hand, focus on digital content, navigating the online landscape to create and distribute engaging material.

My personal experience is that in practice you’re expected to do the job of different types of producers, regardless of your official title. This is especially true for smaller projects with less than a 100-person crew and in companies where rules aren’t strictly set (which is quite frequently the case in the entertainment world). Often, I’m an executive producer, who turns into a line producer during the process and who also takes on the role of content producer when audiovisual content needs to be created, only to finally end up as the show producer during the last stage of the production process. 

It’s important to understand these nuances and to know what your responsibilities are. At the same time, you’ll need to be as flexible as you can manage. So you might ask: is it fun to wear all these different hats, often all at once? For me, it sure keeps things interesting. It means I get to do something different every day and forces me to develop a diverse set of skills to handle the various challenges I will face during a production. Sometimes that can be difficult, but I like it that way. I want to grow as a person and as a professional. And that can only happen if you’re challenged and pushed beyond your comfort zone.

The Synergy Between Producers and Creatives

When bringing a project to life, the relationship between producers and creatives is pivotal. While producers (including executive producers, line producers, and others) focus on the logistical, financial, and strategic aspects of a project, creatives (such as directors, writers, and designers) are the heart and soul of the creative vision. 

By becoming deeply involved in the creative process and participating in the making of creative decisions, a producer can significantly aid the work of a creative by providing a broader perspective that balances artistic vision with practical considerations. This involvement can lead to a more cohesive and achievable project, as producers can guide creatives towards solutions that are both in line with the intended artistic vision, yet also feasible within budgetary and logistical constraints. 

Creatives conceive the ideas, stories, and artistic elements that give a project its unique identity. The producer’s role is to support and realize this vision, ensuring that the creative ideas are feasible within the constraints of budget, time, and resources. This dynamic requires a delicate balance: producers must sometimes challenge creatives to adapt their visions to the practicalities of production, while also advocating for the creative integrity of the project. Possibly, the biggest challenge of the producer is to keep everybody happy and find the right balance between commerce and creativity. 

Producer and director sitting next to each other as they watch a scene being filmed.

However, it may also pose challenges, as it requires creatives to make compromises and adapt their visions to align with the producer’s insights and the project’s broader objectives. More than once, the creative and producer won’t see eye to eye and it’s not uncommon for creatives to step out of projects due to irreconcilable differences. Ideally, though, this dynamic can foster a collaborative environment where creative ideas are refined and optimized, leading to a final product that is both artistically fulfilling and commercially viable. 

Effective collaboration between producers and creatives involves clear communication, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to the project’s goals. By working together harmoniously, producers and creatives can navigate the complexities of production to create compelling, impactful work that resonates with audiences.

If you want to know more about the tension between the creative process and market-orientated views, you should read this blog.

 Conclusion

The world of production is complex, with each type of producer playing a critical role in the creation of media and entertainment. Understanding the distinctions and responsibilities of these roles is crucial for anyone looking to navigate the industry.

Whether securing financing, managing day-to-day operations, or creating engaging digital content, producers are the often invisible people behind the scenes, who turn creative visions into reality. As the media landscape continues to evolve, the roles of producers will undoubtedly change as well, but their importance in the creative process will remain paramount.

This article has been created with the help of AI. Edited, rewritten, modified and adjusted by me.

Leave a Reply