What does a Line Producer do?
The first question nearly everyone asks me is what I do for a living. When I explain I am a Line Producer, I almost always get a blank expression in return after a pause I then get the question delicately asked, as if not to appear ignorant “what do you actually do? All I ever see when driving past a set is a whole bunch of people standing around the craft table talking, eating and drinking.” I usually start my opening line with what my Father keeps impressing upon me, “Laura, go get a real job!!” – My response always “There’s no other life I can imagine.
Even the casual movie fan knows Line producers are important figures, L.O.L but, as to what we actually do in the production well, let’s just say in explanation: we do everything short of holding a camera or yelling action, although we are often seen doing those jobs too!
On a more serious note, it is our responsibility to oversee every element of the production; it comes down to us, to get all the disparate elements of pre-production, budgeting, location shooting and post-production in the bag. To provide a little more granular understanding of what we do, we support the Director’s vision but do not usually have direct influence on the creative expression or narrative of the production at hand.
It could be argued that through our ability to influence certain aspects of the production, like allocation of resources to certain departments, we can change important aspects of the production that have creative consequences. For example, we can affect the projects look by influencing the choice of locations, while the Director is in charge of all purely artistic decisions, we will help them to substantiate their creative ideas by taking care of logistics and related issues.
My responsibility as a Line Producer is to take charge of all the business aspects of the physical production. We are called Line Producers because we cannot start work until we know what the ‘line’ is between the ‘above-the-line’ costs, which relate to writers, producers, directors and cast, and the ‘below-the-line’ costs which include everything else, crew salaries, equipment rentals, development costs, locations, set design and construction, insurance, etc.
We are usually recruited onto the production team during the later stages of development. Given the script and asked to assess the likely ‘below the line’ cost of the production which involves breaking down the screenplay into a schedule – a timetable for the film shoot that shows how long it will take to shoot each scene. From this schedule we can accurately estimate the cost of each day’s shooting, and produce a provisional budget estimating the total amount of funding required.
I may have just put the fear of God in you concerning the enormous responsibility you take on when accepting this position on a production and lo and behold you don’t deliver. However, it’s not all doom and gloom – the exhilaration in my blood every time, even after 22 years, of getting confirmed on a production, is so high that not even a wolf could pin me down!! There is the hiring of crew that you work with regularly and when you are re-united on a production you become like a family – watching each other’s backs and supporting one another in our individual roles. There is the excitement of being on location and watching the 100+ crew arrive with all their gear, it’s thanks to you, that they are all there. That brings about another very important aspect of being a Line Producer…..respect your crew and what they do and the reward will pay off on every production you are a part of.
So how do you become a Line Producer?
We mostly learn from the proverbial ‘school-of-hard-knocks’. Trust me; it’s not something you can learn at Film School. No qualification can prepare anyone completely for this hugely demanding role. You must have considerable industry experience, which can only be acquired by working for a number of years in production. Individuals usually progress to the role of Line Producer by working their way through a variety of roles and many start their careers as runners or production assistants.
Get as much experience as you can working your way up from the bottom. Find a mentor and stick with them, even if it seems hard to do. It’s the only way to learn everything you need to know to be an effective Line Producer. Learn all you can from every department from camera to catering. The more you know the better prepared you will be to handle any scenario that might come up in your career. It takes a ton of knowledge about a variety of fields to climb the mountain to becoming a Line producer.
You must possess an in-depth knowledge of scheduling and budgeting, and of all the physical and technical processes of filmmaking. You need excellent industry contacts, and must command the respect of the production crew as mentioned before. Exceptional communication skills are required, as well as the diplomacy to balance the creative expectations of the Director, artists and creative personnel with the financial resources available.
You always need to plan for the worst, while simultaneously being able to inspire others to excel in their work. Unlike producers, Line Producers are not responsible under health and safety legislation for setting up health and safety procedures however, they are required to carry out risk assessments according to regulatory requirements. They must therefore know how to identify the hazards in the production environment, to assess the level of risk, to recommend action, and to carry out a review of their assessment.
As mentioned before we are very rarely involved in the development of the project, but supervise the preparation of the productions budget, and the day to day planning and running of the production. We are usually employed on a freelance basis and expected to work long hours but the role can be very rewarding financially as you are contracted from project to project and the Executive Producers do not need to concern themselves with the ‘permanent staff’ requirements (i.e Medical aid, pension fund, UIF, etc)
Now, having just said that, a Line Producer still needs to be very vigilant with their earnings, keeping their yearly breakdown income and ensuring they spread it evenly over the 12 months of the year. Career advancement as a Line Producer is based on experience and reputation. Keep that in good standing always!! With the right combination of intelligence, people skills and tenacity, I definitely believe you can make it happen!
Some might say it’s not creative! Do it for a while and you will see it’s about the most creative job you could have on set For those of you with a love of the set, the balance of confusion and order is a tight rope, and central to it all is – bring it in on time, on budget – or get out of the way!
I just had a thought…maybe I should send this to Dad.
With love from the desk of
Laura Diana Macleod