The exciting world of the film, documentary,
news, television and video producer
What is a producer?
Being a producer means a lot of different things depending on the project.
Below is a list of the different types of producers in documentary, film, news and video.
Can you guess the difference between a producer and an executive producer?
When someone asks what I do, I generally say that I’m a documentary producer. It’s an all-encompassing answer to mean that I do whatever is necessary to create a documentary or video production. That can mean I do the fundraising, write the script, videotape the interviews, hire the crews, do the editing, promote the film, work with the composer, oversee the budget, negotiate with DVD distributors, etc. My role may be some or all of the above.
My role as producer is often dictated by the budget of the project. The smaller the budget, the more hands-on I am. No money to hire a crew? Ok, I’ll shoot it. No money to hire a lighting expert? Ok, I’ll light it. Would the quality of the production go up if I had money to hire specialized talent? Absolutely. But often the reality in the documentary world is little to no money, so if you want the documentary to happen, you’ve got to get very creative with what you’ve got. No money for lighting equipment? Hey, that light coming in the window will work great, don’t you think!?
What is a producer? A-Number One, it’s to be a PROBLEM SOLVER. If you get discouraged easily, can’t stay focused and don’t have the ability to think outside of the box, this profession is not for you. It also helps if you are very passionate about the subject matter of your project (especially if there is little to no budget), otherwise all the challenges you face will doom your success fairly quickly.
A news producer at a small local TV station will operate differently than a news producer at the network level.
But in general, the news producer is the person behind the scenes at a television station or network who oversees and orchestrates a newscast. They decide such things as what order to place news stories, they are communicating with reporters in the field, they monitor satellite feeds and the Associated Press for national and international stories, they monitor local emergency channels for breaking news, etc.
As a former television news reporter and anchor at a medium-large NBC station in South Carolina, I worked hand-in-hand with the news producers on staff. Being a news producer can be an extremely stressful job. I witnessed one producer whose hair began to fall out from all the stress. The job is not for the fainthearted. There are extreme deadlines and the producer must be able to handle breaking news and make split second decisions on how to handle a breaking news story. Do we go live? If so, who’s available to run the satellite truck? If the satellite feed goes down in the middle of the newscast, what’s next? Roll that tape now!! There are many curse words heard in a newsroom.
At smaller stations, the producer wears more hats, often writing many of the news stories and sometimes even acting as both Anchor/Producer, especially during a slower weekend newscast.
What is a producer?
This is a pretty general term that can include someone who creates industrial/business videos (such as training videos, how-to videos, product videos, etc.). This person may own their own production company or work for themselves as a freelancer. They may also work for a company or organization in the video/film department.
This person may create educational/fundraising videos, event videos (think big screen at baseball game), web videos, PSA’s (Public Service Announcements), infomercials, television commercials, political ads, museum videos, music videos, etc. The list goes on and on. So what is a producer?
Often the producer is expected to be skilled in various aspects of production, including shooting, writing, editing and lighting. Although in large budget productions, the producer is usually the person at the center coordinating the project and overseeing the crew (including the director, lighting crew, videographer(s), grips, actors, musicians, writer, etc).
I was talking with my sister one day who is a home builder/contractor and we figured out that my job as a video/documentary producer is very similar to her job as a home builder. We both oversee the project. We figure out who to hire and make sure they are doing the job right. She hires the architect, the roofers, the brick masons, etc. I hire and oversee the director, the writer(s), the shooters, etc. My goal is to create a video production. Her goal is to build a house. We both often have a “client” who is expecting a certain result (her, a beautiful home – me, an effective video or film).
A television producer, in very simple terms, creates content for television. There is a lot of overlap between a Documentary/News/Video/Television/Movie Producer, because each of those positions may indeed create content that ends up on television. Often, independent producers and production companies will create content that gets sold to a TV station or network. They do not work directly for the network, but they sell their content to them on a case by case basis. When certain producers and production companies begin to prove themselves, networks will often contract them out to produce series and on-going programs for a negotiated fee. So what is a producer in this case?
A television producer can be someone who works full time with a regularly scheduled television program. This may include a reality program such as Survivor or the Amazing Race. Or perhaps a daily entertainment or talk show, such as Oprah or Entertainment Tonight. It could include PBS, the Discovery Channel or The History Channel. Think of any show you see on television and a producer(s) is behind the scenes making it happen. Again, that may include hiring the crew, maintaining quality control, keeping the storyline interesting and entertaining, overseeing the editing and making sure the project stays on time and within budget. This can be an extremely demanding and stressful job.
The movie producer’s role is often all about budget. In a top dollar Hollywood movie, the producer is often one of several people responsible for tracking down investors and finding the MONEY for the movie. The producer may or may not be part of the creative process. Their job is to primarily deal with the business & financial side of the movie making process. So what is a producer when making a movie?
In a smaller budget or independent movie, the producer can be much more involved in the filmmaking aspect of the project and can wear numerous hats. (The director can also be a producer. A producer can also play in an acting role.) In general terms, they are primarily responsible for the nuts and bolts aspect of making a movie. Whatever is needed to make a movie happen, that is their job. Either they do it themselves, delegate it or hire it out. They may find investors to fund the movie, they may track down props, search for filming locations, locate a bomb-making expert for an explosion scene, set up distribution of the film, handle marketing, etc. Whatever the film needs, they oversee and make it happen.
This section could also be divided into subcategories like the producer jobs (news, documentary, movies, etc). What is a producer? The Executive Producer’s job varies on the size/budget of the project and the industry. Typically, the Executive Producer is less hands-on with the day-to-day creative/technical process and more “big picture”. Often, they help guide the overall project and deal more with issues of money, networking and business. Sometimes this title is given as an honorarium to someone who has made a large financial contribution/investment to the project.
What is a producer? Bottom line, it’s the person who makes things happen in a filmmaking or video project. So if anyone ever asks you what is a producer, just tell them it's the guy or gal wearing all the hats. ;)