They’re at the heart of the filmmaking process. They’re the people who go up on stage to receive the award when the Oscar for Best Picture is announced. Ask around, though, and you’ll find that most people have little idea what a movie producer actually does. If that’s you, you could be missing out. It’s one thing to pick the movies you plan to watch based on who stars or directs, but you might find that quite a few of your favorites also have producers in common, and that paying attention to who’s producing helps you to find movies you’ll love which you would otherwise overlook.
Producers pick the people
The easiest way to understand the difference between the role of a producer and that of a director is to note that while directors handle the creative side of a filmmaking project, producers handle the business side. This does not mean, however, that producers don’t have a creative role. The way they support directors makes a big difference to what those directors can do, and though they sometimes receive criticism for intervening, it is also their job to keep directors on track and many directors welcome that. What’s more, they play a key role in getting the creative team together in the first place.
Producers usually participate in the casting process, sometimes starting it before a director has even come on board. They’re also involved in choosing key crew members like cinematographers, sound designers and editors. This isn’t just a matter of finding talented people. It’s about building up a team of people who can work effectively together. Subsequently, producers deal with problems if individuals in that team don’t get along.
Producers set the tone
Although viewers are not always aware of it, every movie production process involves making decisions with a social or political impact. At the stage where cast and crew are being selected, this might involve positive discrimination in favor of under-represented minorities, for instance, or it might involve deciding not to work with an individual who has an impressive profile but has been accused of harassment. Decisions like this affect the mood on set and the way the movie develops, as well as having a wider impact on the industry.
Alongside this, producers contribute in many other ways to the atmosphere on set, which in turn affects how the creative professionals there are able to do their jobs. For example, producers can be involved in organizing things like accommodation and catering. They can make a filmmaking team feel like a family, boosting confidence especially where inexperienced individuals are involved, or they can set a demanding pace, so that everyone understands the need to work hard, and nobody fails to pull their weight.
Producers set the standards
If you look at several movies from the same producer side by side, you’ll immediately see similarities in quality, not simply in terms of whether a movie is good or bad but in terms of what has been prioritized within it. The films of Katharina Otto-Bernstein have a shared thoughtful, journalistic quality which stems from investment in research and a patient approach to editing. Those produced by Steven Spielberg have a highly polished look due to a focus on using high-quality equipment, and so on. Keeping track of who’s in production helps you to choose films based on the qualities which are most important to you. If you don’t know much about filmmaking, you will probably still have an unconscious sense of this, affecting how appealing you find different movies at a stylistic level.
Producers shape promotion
One of the factors which people outside the industry find confusing is that there are so many producers on some films. That is because managing a big project involves a lot of work and it’s sometimes useful to divide that between multiple people. Different producers can also contribute different skills. Executive producers sometimes come on board after the bulk of the production process is complete, to lend their names and place their seal of approval on a movie. This can make a big difference to which theaters – be they chains or independents – are willing to consider screening it, which other platforms it screens on, and which critics are willing to write or talk about it. The right producer, even late in the day, can be a factor in determining how, or even whether, a movie reaches the public.
Producers may not, as a rule, become as famous as directors, and their work may not seem as glamorous, but they play an important role in how movies develop. They also choose which movie projects get the financial support to be made in the first place. Understanding the role of producers will enrich your appreciation of movies and help you make better decisions about what to watch.