Hats in Brief, Producer Unit

There are some words in the English language that naturally tend to be obscure. For instance the word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

There are also words in the realm of filmmaking that deserve honorable mention for being in this class: "Producer", "Executive Producer", "Associate Producer", "Co-Producer", "Line Producer" and "Unit Production Manager."

The Producer is the executive who is responsible for assembling or bringing together the following elements: the Script, the Director, Principal Talent, the Finances, the production know-how, and the supervisory responsibility for seeing the film through from conception to distribution. Sometimes the term "Producer" is loosely used to refer to several people in partnership (or a corporation). The partners (or corporate officers) may retain any of the titles herein: Producer, Co-Producer, Associate Producer, Executive Producer, depending on their contributions to the project(s).

The Executive Producer is the executive that represents the finances or is the finances. Many times, he or she has the distribution connections or is the distributor. The General Partnerof a Limited Partnership, or the President of a Corporation, formed to raise all or part of the finances for a project or projects will sometimes retain the title of Executive Producer.

Sometimes a Producer, supervising or causing more than one film project at a time, will use the title Executive Producer.

When the Producer Hat is split up, the Packaging Producer is the Producer or general contractor for a film project who is responsible for bringing together and financing the production package consisting of the following elements: screenplay, director, star(s) and principal cast, top sheet production budget, the Line Producer or production know-how, distribution arrangements. Once a project is in production the Packaging producer gets busy developing and

packaging the next project while the Line Producer takes over daily day to day supervisory responsibilities. The Packaging Producer's main areas of emphasis is the creation of financable, marketable, packaged screenplays. Sometimes the term "Producer" is loosely used to refer to several people in partnership (or a corporation). The partners (or corporate officers) may retain the title Producer, Co-Producer, Associate Producer or Executive Producer depending on their contributions to the project(s).

An Associate Producer is an executive who "associates" with the Producer because he is able to bring to the project one or more of the Elements of Production. Usually this amounts to some of the finances or a technical/administrative ability the Producer does not have and consequently, without this knowledge, the picture could not be made. Such an Associate Producer will usually have "a piece of the action", i.e., he will own a share of the profits (or losses).

When Packaging Producers agree that they have contributed equal amounts of the Elements of Production they will be use the title Co-Producer and be partners sharing all profits (or losses) equally. Sometimes "Co" is left off and just "Producer" is repeated in the credits.

Before one can understand what a Line Producer does, they need to know what the "line" is. Basically, the costs of a motion picture are divided into two major allocations: what's called "above-the-line" costs and "below-the-line" costs. Above-the-line costs include the story rights and script, other development costs, Producers' fee(s), Director's fee and cast salaries. Below-the-line costs include are everything else, i.e., the production staff and crew salaries, equipment rentals (camera, lights, etc.), film and developing, locations and studio rentals, editing, music, transportation, set design and construction, tests and retakes, publicity, insurance, taxes, licenses, general overhead, contingency allowance and a completion bond.

When the Producer Hat is split up, the Line Producer is the producer who is intimately familiar with the nuts and bolts of production. He or she is brought onto the project by the agreement of the Packaging and the Executive Producer. The Line Producer works with the Unit Production Manager, First Assistant Director, Director, Art Director, Editor and Composer in preparing the budget and production schedule. Any and all budgets and schedules have to be approved by the Line Producer. A producer, when he is intimately familiar with all the below-the-line costs (and the most cost efficient people and places from which he can procure these "elements") is known as a Line Producer. The Line producer is familiar with all of the below-the-line elements and costs and is responsible for supervising the production on a day to day basis making sure the production targets are met.

You probably will not see the title "Line Producer" on the credits because more than likely it turned into the title "Associate Producer", "Co-Producer" or "Producer" If the originating Producer could "line produce" in the first place, he or she would not need to hire or go into partnership with a Line Producer, even though he or she might do so anyway to split up the work load. In such case the line producer would probably retain the title of Producer, Co-Producer or Associate Producer depending on the ratio of the value of above and below line contributions to the project.

It would be impossible to prepare an accurate production budget without the knowledge of line producing. It follows that if no budget detail exists, no financial entity is going to be thrilled about proceeding into production funding. Why should an Executive Producer put his money into a black hole?

As an example of the types of considerations a Line Producer must deal with, you might refer to Movie Memos regarding this subject as it pertains to production budgeting.

The Unit Production Manager is an executive who is hired by the Producer and who may serve as the Producer's representative. He works behind the scenes arranging, scheduling and expediting all production elements--cast, crew and equipment--in a manner that is the most efficient. He is responsible for the disbursement of company funds and may use a computer to

perform some, or all, of these functions. The Unit Production Manager serves both the Director and the Producer by striving to get the best quality for the dollar and still keep things on budget and on time. The Unit Production Manager supervises the crew and is in charge of the production office(s). Prepares budgets and cost estimates.

When a film requires that production take place simultaneously at more than one location or for different elements, a separate production unit may be formed and called "Second Unit." A Unit Production Manager may be enlisted to manage the logistics for other units. There can be as many UPMs as needed to manage any third or fourth - or more - units. It is confusing that the Production Manager is many times called the Unit Production Manager - most likely coming from the fact that there may only be one unit connected with such a production.

Evolution of Posts

In the real world of film, the boundaries between these posts are sometimes blurred or even laughable. Nevertheless, it is useful to recognize that there are some guidelines and commonly agreed upon delineations within the Producers' Unit of a motion picture. The above definitions have been itemized by consulting many producer's who have-in-the-field experience on feature films.

No doubt, an organization is stronger when its constituent members function upon an agreed upon pattern of responsibilities.

In the past eighty years, the filmmaking process has added a new ring of growth to the little sapling that now stands as a large oak tree. The evolution of the Posts of Filmmaking has gone from one cameraman pointing a camera at an inanimate subject to giant multi-picture public offerings. Every time a new function is necessitated, it is added to the already existing organization and it forms a new ring to the tree, so to speak. Once upon a time there was no such thing as an Executive Producer or an Associate Producer; there wasn't even a Director, for the Director used to be called the Conductor and the Producers used to be called the Supervisors. Over time the function of the Cameraman had to meld into the functions now known as the Director and the Director of Photography, for once they were performed by the same guy because productions were much less complex.

This evolution moves so fast that it leaves many in the dust. The "new rings" always need to be clarified and understood if they are to become the more stable parts of a dynamic growing art.

© 1988, 1989, 1999 by James R. Jaeger II All Rights Reserved