What Does a Producer (Film, Television, and Theater) Do?

Broadly in charge of planning and executing the making of movies, television shows, and theatrical works from conception to premiere, producers are the high-powered project managers of the entertainment world. Whether working on a Hollywood blockbuster or an indie flick, a cable series or an off-Broadway play, there is no part of the process—creative, financial, or otherwise—that doesn't fall under the producer's purview, making this role one of the widest-ranging in all of arts and entertainment.

Producers must be able to inspire others, foster excellence, and secure funding on the strength of their passion for a project.

Taking the film industry as an example, the producer is often involved in finding the initial material for a movie. This material might come in the form of an original screenplay, a novel to adapt, or a life story that is ripe for the telling. Next, the producer works with licensing representatives to secure filming rights, and then begins to pitch the project to movie studios and production companies in the hope of securing financing. The producer continues by hiring a director and screenwriting staff for the project.

During production, the producer has a new set of concerns: keeping the project on schedule and on budget. To do so, the producer may delegate tasks to a specialized production team, including executive producers, line producers, field producers, coordinating producers, supervising producers, and others. During postproduction, the producer gets the last word on edits, music choices, the soundtrack mix, and any other final decisions. Finally, the producer oversees distribution and marketing of the film project.

Although television and theater producers deal with duties and challenges specific to their mediums, the essence of the job is the same: top-to-bottom oversight and management.

Producer (Film, Television, and Theater) at a Glance

Career Path

Producers come from a great variety of backgrounds. Some start out in the arts as writers, editors, actors, or directors. Others come from the business or finance world, and still others dive straight from college into an entry-level job or internship in the production team—or work as production assistants before climbing the ladder straight to the top. The vast majority of producers work in the theater, TV, or film industries for many years before producing their first project. 

Some producers are employed by production companies, while others are independent contractors.

Finding Work

As with most jobs in arts and entertainment, finding work is largely contingent on networking. The main barrier that producers face in starting a new project is convincing others to finance it, which is where being passionate and articulate come in handy. Although working as a professional producer typically requires a great deal of work experience, connections, and industry knowledge, aspiring producers can get started at any point in their careers by producing indie films, college plays, or web series. 

Professional Skills
  • Finances and budgeting
  • Project management
  • Leadership and delegation
  • Hiring
  • Licensing
  • Negotiation
  • Problem-solving
  • Written and verbal communication
Interpersonal Skills

Producers do it all; a good producer might be an enthusiastic cheerleader one day (while securing financing for a project) and a stern taskmaster the next (while managing the project in production). A producer has to be able to inspire others to commit to a project, so being articulate and infectiously passionate is a big help. There's also the matter of building strong creative and production teams, for which a producer must have an excellent sense of who works well together, and whose creative or managerial talents will make the project the best it can be. Confidence and decisiveness are vital, as is the ability to get along with many kinds of people. 

Work Life

Some producers spend most of their time in conference rooms, taking meetings and making pitches; others spend most of their time on airplanes, in cars, on sets, in theaters, on the phone, or at the bank—cutting deals, pressing flesh, and bending ears. How a producer lives and works has everything to do with his or her industry, budget, experience, and style, but one thing all producers have in common is a high-level, high-pressure job that almost always involves nights and weekends.