Production

What Does an Executive Producer Do?

Assemble

By Assemble

January 28, 2022

If you are interested in becoming an Executive Producer in film, or you’re a filmmaker seeking help to get your project made, you’ve landed in the right place. In this article, we’ll define the role of the Executive Producer and their position in the producer hierarchy. 

This guide explores the roles and responsibilities of the Executive Producer during pre-production, production and post-production in the filmmaking process. Finally, it wraps up with the skills and education needed to become an Executive Producer in the film industry and key takeaways to be successful.

What is an Executive Producer in a Film? Our Executive Producer Definition

Simply put, an Executive Producer’s main role is to source funding for a film production. If the Exec Producer is working independently, they might work with film financing companies, angel investors or film studios.  If the Executive Producer works directly for a motion picture studio, then they would assume the role of executive in charge of production and serve as the production company’s representative on set. These executives are part of the studio’s hierarchy and are present as a liaison between filmmakers and the film producer or production company. 

An Executive Producer’s direct involvement in the production process varies, but they typically supervise from a distance, being available to consult on financial questions and major creative decisions if it might shift the course of the film or impact the budget.

Is the Executive Producer Higher than the Producer in the Hierarchy?

Let's answer the oft asked question of "What does a Producer do"? An Executive Producer is at the top of the producer hierarchy because they secure financing, then next comes the Producer, Co-producer, Line Producer and finally, the Associate Producer. There are exceptions. Sometimes a movie producer hires an Executive Producer. 

For example, Steven Spielberg's job title was both director and producer on Schindler’s List.  His production company, Amblin Entertainment, produced the feature film.  Amblin employed Kathleen Kennedy as the Executive Producer of that film. In this role, she would have been the liaison between the studio in Hollywood and the rest of the team on location in Poland, overseeing the big picture making sure the film has everything it needs to get done and distributed.

Who Hires the Executive Producer?

An Executive Producer is essentially the CEO in charge of production. If working for a production studio, then the studio would hire them to oversee production or a slate of productions. If independent, typically an Executive Producer would be contracted by a filmmaker or producer to provide or secure funds.

It's important to note that the Executive Producer in film and television are very different types of producers.  In the entertainment industry, both are high level positions, but on a TV show an exec TV Producer does not finance the series and their focus is mostly exclusively on the television show’s creative aspects. A television Executive Producer is often the creator, writer, and showrunner of the series, meaning that they not only created the show and help with the script writing, but they have producer responsibilities including running the day-to-day production operations.

So, What Does an Executive Producer Do in a Movie?

In many ways, an Executive Producer acts as a referee between the Director and the Line Producer or Production Manager as the interests of both (for the Director, making a great story and for the project management, making days, staying within budget) are of equal responsibility to the Executive Producer.

It’s a balancing act, however the main role as previously stated, is to provide the needed money for production, either by self-financing or obtaining funding for the film, then making sure the production is completed on time, within budget and serves the filmmaker’s vision. 

Executive Producer Job Description

The Executive Producer plays a crucial financial and often creative role in ensuring that the project goes into production. If you were to break down an Executive Producer job description, at the top of the list would be financing the production. 

However, there are other soft skills to the job that are equally important. Some of these skills are the ability to work with the creative team to ensure everything is provided for the artistic success of the film, negotiating skills, setting budget expectations and possessing an intimate knowledge of all aspects of film production, financing, marketing and distribution. 

The best way to understand what an Executive Producer does is by example. When first-time director, John Wildman, set out to make his feminist grindhouse horror film, Ladies of the House, he found the task of raising money for production daunting. In fact, production was delayed a year as their initial funding fell apart, until an Executive Producer entered the picture.  So, what does an Executive Producer do? In Wildman’s experience? Make it all happen.

“She read the script, we talked to her about the vision for the film, cast, style, approach, etc. and she took the leap of faith on a first-time feature director and a fresh team based on all of that. The bottom line is that we would not have been able to make the film without her support - financial and otherwise. Here's a key example of that: we had a social media Kickstarter campaign for finishing funds, editing, post, etc. And when it came down to the wire, she again pitched in the biggest donation to put us over the top. Let me underline that - without her, it's quite possible the film wouldn’t have happened, certainly not the version that we all know.”

In Wildman’s case, his low-budget independent feature needed an Executive Producer with modest production and completion funds, but what about projects produced by established production companies or movie studios?  How does the role of the Executive Producer differ given the scope of production?

What Is the Role of the Executive Producer in Each Stage of Production?

The Executive Producer's job can vary wildly depending on the needs of the production. For some, the role is simply the person providing or securing the financing. For others, the Executive Producer is involved deeply with the filmmaker providing creative advice and troubleshooting any budgetary issues that might affect shooting.

The Executive Producer roles and responsibilities can best be broken down within the key three stages of production: 

1) Pre-production: The development of the project and planning stage.

2) Production:  Principal photography, when all the actual shooting and recording happens with the cast and crew.

3) Post-production:  Where all the pieces of the film come together, including editing picture and sound, color grading, visual effects driving toward a final mix and final print.

What Do Executive Producers Do During Pre-production?

If the Exec Producer is participating creatively, they will advise on the development of the script. However, the bulk of the responsibility will be in securing financing, attaching talent, hiring producers and finalizing the budget. During this phase, an Exec Producer will:

What Does the Executive Producer Do During Production?

An Executive Producer is rarely on set. They typically are not involved with the day-to-day tasks of the physical production. If hired by a studio, they may visit the set to make sure the interests of the studio are being maintained or to trouble-shoot any budgetary issues.

What Does the Executive Producer Do in Post-production?

The Executive Producer role is winding down during post-production and may already be focused on another project. If there has been creative involvement with the filmmaker or the EP is working for a studio, the executive producer might watch the first cut of the film and provide feedback.

  • Advise on script development: If the Executive Producer is involved creatively, they may make suggestions to the screenwriter or director or may want to make changes for business or marketing reasons. 

  • Secure financing: Either by providing the funds themselves, seeking financing from private equity or financial institutions, applying for grants, crowdfunding, pre-sales, tax incentive programs, or (if working for a major studio) presenting the budget to a studio to gain funding approval for production.

  • Attach talent: An A-list actor or respected director can be helpful to secure funding from studio buyers or financiers. Sometimes you’ll see a marquee talent be given “Executive Producer” credit on a film. This is because their name value brought in financing or attracted other A-list talent to the project.

  • Hire producers: Once funding is secured, the Executive Producer will build
    the producing team. As we stated earlier, sometimes an existing producer on a project will hire an Executive Producer to raise funds, but generally speaking it’s the Executive Producer that hires the physical producers (Producer, Line Producer, Associate Producers) who will do the day-to-day tasks and they report to the Executive Producer.

  • Approve the budget: The Executive Producer maintains the budget. A Line Producer breaks down the script and uses that to create the budget. It is presented to the Executive Producer and Producer for approval. If the proposed budget is more than has been previously raised, the Executive Producer may have to secure additional financing.

What Are Executive Producers Good At? Key Skills Needed

Executive Producers are the most senior positions in film production.  In order to get to such a powerful place in the film industry, here are some specific skills that are valuable to succeed at this level:

  • Fundraising
  • Business acumen
  • Networking Skills 
  • Negotiating skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Creativity

Fundraising:

Raising capital for a film takes a myriad of skills.  You have to be a terrific communicator and good storyteller yourself to sell prospective investors on the filmmaker's vision and your belief that the project will return on its investment. Research, perseverance, determination and resilience are key in achieving your goal.

Business acumen: 

Raising substantial amounts of money comes with great responsibility.  Having the ability to see the big picture, a deep understanding of finances and budget, good leadership and management skills are invaluable to the success of an Executive Producer.

Networking Skills: 

Executive Producers are often required to negotiate contracts. It’s important to remember you are dealing with people and the goal should be to develop a relationship, ask questions, listen and seek a common ground, so that the deal is not a “hard sell” but a conversation.

Negotiating Skills:

Executive Producers are often required to negotiate contracts. It’s important to remember you are dealing with people and the goal should be to develop a relationship, ask questions, listen and seek a common ground, so that the deal is not a “hard sell” but a conversation.

Problem-solving: 

A film production is often a pressure cooker. The Executive Producer’s ability to take initiative, handle difficult or unexpected situations in a calm and decisive manner will give everyone confidence in their leadership.

Organization: 

With so many moving parts, it’s important to be organized and accountable. For example, if the production office is in Los Angeles, but the shoot is across the country in New York, managing different time zones and having an overall system in place that provides effective communication is key to a smooth operation.

Creativity:

Providing or securing the funding for a film can be difficult to obtain. It takes imagination and original ideas to see all the many possibilities to achieve that goal, and often that's working with the filmmaker to turn a good story into a marketable film.

Executive producer Education Requirements

The Executive Producer education requirements are open-ended, there isn’t anything specific or an average salary, as this is a position that is usually negotiated. Many Executive Producers advance into the position after studying film or business in college, then work within the industry or start their own production company.

Here are some recent statistics:

Degree Level: Varies; bachelor' degree common

Degree Field(s): Film, journalism, music production, communication, or related field.

License/Certification: None

Experience: Industry experience is vital

Key Skills: Delegation, multi-tasking, communication, organization, negotiation, and planning skills, basic business and market skills a plus.

Job Outlook (2018-2028):* 5% growth (for producers and directors)

* Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Key Takeaways for the Executive Producer Job

Making a film is a highly collaborative and creative endeavor, but without an Executive Producer to provide or secure the funding, it will never see the box office. This is a high level position that usually requires years in the film industry gaining experience and learning all aspects of filmmaking.  

An Executive Producer needs soft skills such as excellent communication, the art of negotiation and the ability to network and form relationships with both financiers and marquee talent.  Good business acumen and financial literacy, as well as stellar organizational and leadership skills, are a must to excel in this position.

Every story needs a champion and although most Executive Producers don't wear capes, the person in charge of making it happen is most definitely a hero. Whether it's a first-time filmmaker like John Wildman, a TV showrunner , local video production or even a video game production company, there needs to be someone to take the lead to find the funding and make the dream happen.

A helpful organization to check out is the Producer's Guild, which is a non-profit trade organization that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media.

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