What is an executive producer?

In a nutshell

  • Executive producers are vital in managing both the creative and financial aspects of media projects, overseeing everything from funding and budget to key creative decisions.
  • The role of an executive producer includes managing legal and contractual obligations and influencing the project’s narrative and creative direction.
  • Becoming an executive producer requires a diverse skill set, including creative insight, strong leadership, and business acumen, often gained through various roles in the industry.

There are many jobs behind the scenes on a film set. One key role is that of the executive producer. This article will help you understand what an executive producer does, as well as the skills needed for the job.

Background of executive producers

Executive producers play a crucial role in the media industry. The position originated in the early days of radio and was later adapted to television and film. In radio, the executive producer often oversees the overall vision of a program, manages budgets and works closely with advertisers. With the advent of television, the role expanded to include tasks like securing funding, hiring key personnel and making final creative decisions. In film, executive producers may also be involved in tasks ranging from script development to distribution deals. 

While the title executive producer might imply a single individual, it’s actually not uncommon for multiple people to share the role. This is particularly true for larger projects. For example, it’s common in the film industry to have various executive producers who specialize in different aspects, such as financing, creative input, distribution and legal matters. An executive producer’s role has continued to evolve with the rise of streaming services and digital media, but the core responsibilities of overseeing both the creative and financial aspects of a project remain.

What does an executive producer do?

The responsibilities of an executive producer can vary depending on the medium and specific project. The common thread across all mediums is that the executive producer usually has the final say on many aspects of a project. They also work to ensure a project’s commercial and artistic success.

Financial aspect

An executive producer plays a crucial role in the financial aspect of a project, often overseeing the overall budget and ensuring that funds are allocated effectively. They are responsible for securing initial funding, which may include negotiating contracts with investors, studios, or networks. Once the project is underway, the executive producer also monitors expenses and ensures that the production stays within budget constraints. They may work closely with line producers and accountants to track costs and make financial decisions that impact the project, such as hiring key staff or approving major expenditures.

In addition to budget management, the executive producer is often involved in revenue generation for the project. This can include negotiating distribution deals, merchandising opportunities and ancillary rights. Ultimately, the executive producer works to make the project financially successful.

When it comes to ensuring production complies with laws and contractual agreements, the executive producer serves as a key figure. They are often responsible for finalizing contracts. This includes outlining terms related to compensation, intellectual property rights and deliverables. Executive producers may also be involved in securing the rights to copyrighted materials used in the production. 

The executive producer also works to mitigate legal risks that may arise during the project, such as coordinating with legal advisors to safeguard the project and its stakeholders from legal disputes and potential financial loss.

Creative responsibilities

Executive producers often have significant influence over key creative decisions and can shape the project’s overall vision. Some executive producers can even change the narrative direction if they have the authority. Some collaborate with their project’s writers and director to refine the script.

Although the director usually has control over the day-to-day creative decisions on set, the executive producer may have the final say on larger issues that impact the project as a whole. For example, they might approve major changes to the script or decide to extend production to achieve a specific creative goal. By actively participating in creative discussions and decisions, the executive producer looks to align the project with its intended audience and market, thus increasing its chances for commercial and critical success. 

Differences between a producer and an executive producer

Both producers and executive producers are vital to the success of media projects. However, the two roles differ in scope and responsibility.

A producer is generally responsible for the day-to-day operations of a production. This includes tasks such as hiring crew members, overseeing set construction and coordinating schedules. They work closely with the director to ensure that the project stays true to its creative vision while also remaining on schedule and within budget. Producers may also be involved in the creative process, such as script development and casting.

In contrast, an executive producer has a broader, more strategic role, often overseeing the entire project from inception to distribution. An executive producer’s responsibilities typically involve securing financing for the project, whether from studios, investors or other funding sources. In television, the executive producer often maintains long-term oversight of a series, sometimes also serving as the showrunner. Showrunners are the head writer and manager of day-to-day production. They may also be instrumental in hiring key creative positions and, in some cases, have the final say on casting. 

How to become an executive producer

Skills

An executive producer should possess a diverse skill set that combines both creative and business awareness. A strong understanding of script development and the creative process is essential for guiding a project’s vision. Experience in project management — including budgeting, scheduling and resource allocation — is crucial for ensuring that production stays on track and within budget.

Strong leadership abilities are also key, as the executive producer needs to oversee various departments and manage a team of professionals, often with differing viewpoints and expertise. As the industry continues to evolve, staying updated with new technologies is increasingly important for success in this role as well.

Lastly, communication skills are paramount for an executive producer. They must effectively collaborate with the entire production staff. In addition, they must communicate the project’s status to investors, studio executives and network representatives. Negotiation skills are also important, especially when dealing with contracts, financing and distribution deals. An understanding of marketing and public relations can be advantageous for promoting the finished product, increasing the chances that it will be a commercial success.

Qualifications

To become an executive producer, one generally starts with gaining experience in various roles within the industry. For example, some may start as a production assistant, and other may work as a writer or directors, or even all three. This allows executive producers to have a global understanding of the production process.

Educational qualifications can vary, but a bachelor’s degree in film, television or a related field is often considered beneficial. Additionally, building a strong professional network on sites like LinkedIn and garnering credits on smaller projects can help in landing the role of an executive producer. 

A vital role in the production process

An executive producer is key to a film’s success. They handle money, contracts and much more. If you have a love for film and business, this could be the job for you. It’s a big job with many parts, but it can be very rewarding.

Kyle Alsberry is a multimedia producer and audiovisual technician at California State University, Chico.