It can be hard to answer the question: what does a line producer do exactly? A producer’s definition can vary—some may be financiers, others bring the project together, another may own the rights to the underlying property.
But the line producer has a very specific job - to be a professional logistics master.
Let’s dive in.
How to Become a Great Line Producer on Set
SO WHAT IS A LINE PRODUCER EXACTLY?
Have you ever traveled with a group of friends and there was that one person who planned the itinerary, booked your rental car, had a backup plan in case your “sun-soaked” boat ride got rained out, and overall just made sure your trip went smoothly (and under budget)?
Well, that person would probably make a great line producer.
What is a line producer? A line producer is a money-conscience, personable, big-picture workhorse that manages the daily operations of a production. If a director is responsible for creating the creative vision of a production, a line producer is responsible for the logistics of achieving that vision.
"How to Become a Line Producer" could be retitled as "Learn the Skills of a Travel Agent"
WHY ARE THEY CALLED LINE PRODUCERS?
A line producer is usually responsible for managing the budget, and that includes knowing the line between above-the-line costs (usually fixed expenses like writers, directors, cast, other producers) and below-the-line costs (basically everything else: crew, equipment, locations, sets, etc.)
If a writer (above-the-line) wants to add an underwater scene, the line producer needs to make sure they have the below-the-line capabilities to do so.
What may seem like a fun, small scene to the writer, may be no easy task for the film’s crew (and wallet). After all, Waterworld was a disaster for a reason—and we’re not just talking about the rumor that Kevin Costner wanted a CGI mane to hide his bald spot.
That’s why line producing involves managing above-the-line artistry with below-the line concerns in order to create the best possible product within budget. It’s a line producer’s responsibility to serve both the people paying for the movie and the people making it.
WHAT DOES A LINE PRODUCER DO?
Unlike with some producer roles, being credited as a line producer isn’t just a prestigious title. It’s intense, hands-on, and rewarding job.
That’s because a line producer’s job description includes a long laundry list of responsibilities that kickoff during pre-production.
Line producing duties may include:
- Breaking down the screenplay
- Estimating costs of each day of shooting
- Breaking down the screenplay into a shoot schedule
- Estimating costs of each day of shooting
- Estimating initial budget
- Overseeing pre-production, including hiring, location scouting, equipment purchases, and vendor negotiations
- Overseeing the day-to-day physical aspects of production
- Delegating production office responsibilities to the production manager and production coordinator
- Controlling budget expenditure
- Ensuring health and safety compliance
- Handling insurance claims
- Leading the production’s wrap
- Sounds like a lot, we know. And that’s not even an exhaustive list!
So now you can answer the question, “what is a line producer?”
You’ve got a clear grasp of both the role of a producer and what a line producer does specifically.
We know what your next question is going to be…
HOW MUCH DOES A LINE PRODUCER MAKE?
A film producer’s salary, much like a producer’s definition, vary from project to project and role to role. Certain producers have extraordinarily high earnings—Adam Sandler earned a whopping $5 million to produce Grown Ups 2 —but that’s not necessarily a normal film producer salary.
So how much does a line producer make? The median annual wage for producers in the motion picture and video industries was $83,760 in May 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Keep in mind that’s a median and not accurate for every line producer salary. Some line producer salaries will be above that number, and some will be below.
SHOULD I BECOME A LINE PRODUCER?
You’re intrigued by the line producer job description. You like the idea of making a film producer’s salary. But is line producing the right job for you?
Line producers must have both a keen understanding of the creative aspect of filmmaking and a strong business acumen. They should be equally comfortable discussing the right camera lens for a certain scene, as they would be handling spreadsheets and budgets.
It’s all about left-brain vs right-brain, above-the-line vs. below-the line, and creativity vs. financing. Think line producing might be for you? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have a head for numbers and a heart for working with different types of people?
- Are you diplomatic and a strong negotiator?
- Can you balance the practical with the creative?
- Do you work well under pressure?
- Are you an effective leader and good communicator?
- Can you handle working long hours and being employed on a freelance basis?
Does that sound like you? If so, you've come to the right place.
SO HOW DO YOU BECOME A LINE PRODUCER?
Most line producers have a bachelor’s degree. You might find it helpful to go to a school that offers film, so you can begin to learn about the industry, but you don’t necessarily have to attend film school.
Another solid idea to take business classes. Try to learn about time management, accounting, finance, and operations.
Everything else will come from experience.
A line producer isn’t an entry-level job or an easy one, so you’ll have to build experience by working other production jobs first, such as production assistant, location manager, or assistant director. You can find roles in TV, film, commercial, and even digital production. Use this time to learn everything you can about the filmmaking process and the departments you’ll hopefully be overseeing in the future.
As with any industry job, you’ll need to have healthy mix of skills, experience, networking chops, and luck to make it. Being a line producer isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a detail-oriented leader, it may be the job for you.
Looking to kick start your career? Click here for a list of line production jobs or other production jobs in your area.
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