A line producer is pivotal to any film project. They handle the day-to-day operations and activities right from the pre-production stage. They are in charge of ensuring smooth execution of all the tasks and availability of all the resources required for the project, and their work doesn’t end until the film is ready and distributed.
There is almost always a lot of confusion when it comes to the different kinds of producers involved in film production and their respective roles. There are executive producers, creative producers, co-producers, segment producers, supervising producers, etc. and then there are line producers. Today we’ll be talking about the last one - who is a line producer, what do they do, what it requires to be one, and how much can one expect to earn as a line producer. Let’s jump into it.
The term ‘line producer’ gets tossed up a lot when talking filmmaking, but their exact roles and duties remain a big question mark even to film professionals who have been in the industry for long now. The general notion about the involvement of a producer is limited to finance and investment in the film project. Little do people know that there are as many as 19 different types of producers in the film biz. And not each of these necessarily put their money into the project. Yes, those who back a project with finance are called producers, but most often than not, they are not the same as line producers. There are, of course, exceptions like in small indie projects, where one producer hones the roles of all. But in most cases, the demarcation is very clear and the duties are assigned accordingly. So, to say, a line producer isn’t (in most cases) the one who finances the film.
Now that we know who isn’t a line producer, let’s understand who is.
Who is a line producer?
First things first, let’s just say that without a line producer, you can try and try but won’t find success in putting your film project together. While a director heads the creative aspect of filmmaking, a line producer is responsible for everything logistical and hence, holds a managerial as well as an operational position and significance. In other words, a line producer oversees the whole film production process, right from its inception till its end.
Thus, we can define a line producer as someone who helps the directors achieve their vision by heading the logistics of the project – hiring crew, securing locations, allocating the budget, making reservations, handling paperwork, taking care of catering, medical facilities, scheduling, renting equipment – basically all the on-ground operations that not only support the director’s vision but practically bring it to life.
One of the most important responsibilities of a line producer is to manage the budget, which includes knowing the line between above-the-line costs and below-the-line costs. Above-the-line costs generally include payment to writers, directors, actors, etc., and below-the-line costs include everything else – crew payments, equipment rents, location rents, catering, etc. Line producers are at the center of both these lines which is why they are called line producers. The knowledge and skills to alter the below-the-line budget in response to a change in an above-the-line expense are what make a line producer a good as well as an efficient line producer.
Now, let’s understand all the duties and responsibilities of a line producer in detail.
Responsibilities of a Line Producer
Making a film isn’t easy and no one knows it better than a line producer. A line producer’s job is one of the most challenging ones. It’s tiresome, exhausting but equally rewarding. Nothing compares to the satisfaction and sense of achievement that come with finishing a project, seeing it turn out good, and knowing that you played a substantial part in it. On the surface, working as a line producer is a managerial job. But when you dig deep into it, it is so much more. A line producer is brought on board even before the film has found a producer who will fund it. In most cases, line producers help determine the overall budget the film would require, on the basis of which a producer is approached. Without a budget in place, it won’t take long for a project to sink. Hence, line producers are some of the most crucial persons in the filmmaking business. As mentioned, their job starts as soon as a script is finalized and ends after post-production. Let’s comprehend by having a closer look at some of the primary responsibilities of a line producer:
Script Breakdown: The job of a line producer starts from the very start. They read the script and break it down scene by scene and shot by shot to determine the budget. Depending on different requirements, they come up with an estimate cost for the project keeping in mind various expenses like crew, locations, rentals, permissions, etc. In cases where a budget is already set, the line producer determines how to handle the costs and expenses in order to stay within that budget.
Recruiting Crew and Services: On the basis of the screenplay, they decide how much workforce will be required, what services will be needed, where to avail these services, etc. and begin the process of acquiring them.
Renting Gear and Equipment: Then comes the technical aspect – deciding on the number of cameras, types of cameras required, lights and sound gears, rigs, drones – whatever is needed in the shoot is arranged by the line producer. They also need to ensure that nothing breaks during the shoot and everything is returned in its original condition.
Securing Locations: This is fun as well as tiring. A line producer has to visit a number of locations – outdoors, indoors, sets, stages - before finalizing the one that best fits the narrative. It’s fun because it involves traveling to a lot of exciting places. It’s tiring because properly scouting each and every location – for look and feel, light, sound, weather, traffic, etc. – takes a lot of time and effort, and physically drains one.
Facilitating Permissions and Agreements: It is a line producer’s responsibility to facilitate all the paperwork which includes permits from the government or private property owners, agreements between the crew, vendors, and basically a written proof of every activity that takes place to further the film production process.
Scheduling and Communicating Day-to-Day Activities: Once some things are in place such as the main crew is hired, locations are finalized, actors’ dates are cleared, the line producer sits with assistant directors and other department heads to make the schedule in accordance with the resources’ availability. It is also on their head to make sure that the schedule is being followed and if not, do the needful to work accordingly.
Coordinating with Department Heads: A line producer is the main point of contact between various department heads. They are responsible for communicating – sending and receiving updates - to and from various departments to ensure a smooth workflow.
Managing the Set: This is one of the most important duties of a line producer during the production stage. They need to ensure that everything and everyone are in their right places, and the actual plan is being followed. And everything means everything! From making sure there is enough water for everyone to ensuring everyone is safe and risk-free, there is too much on a line producer’s plate during the shoot.
Controlling the Budget: Filmmaking is a highly expensive deal – a lot of money goes into it and every single rupee counts. A line producer not only ensures that everything happens at the least cost possible, they also make certain that no money is wasted and every expense remains well within the pre-determined budget.
Ensuring Safety and Health: Often, a number of activities are taking place simultaneously on the set. Sometimes, there are scenes involving stunts and actions too. A line producer ensures that no one is injured during the shoot, a low-risk situation is maintained at all times, and even if anything happens, there are ample medical facilities in place to safeguard everyone.
Facilitating Travel and Accommodation: Some projects require flying the whole crew and cast to a different location and staying there for the duration of the project. In such cases, a line producer is responsible for arranging for travel and accommodation of not less than 50-60 people, in addition to ensuring their comfortable stay.
Accounting for Contingencies: Anything can happen on a set- with so many people, expensive gear and equipment, sometimes in risky environments too – film production is highly uncertain. A line producer has to always account for contingencies, expect the unexpected and be prepared for it. Anything goes wrong on the set and the line producer is the first person everyone comes to.
If you think that’s a lot of work, we’re sorry to burst your bubble but sadly, that’s not it. We are very sure that we have missed a lot of other small duties that a line producer performs. That’s because, as mentioned, film production can be highly uncertain sometimes. And whenever something goes against the actual plan, it is the line producer who needs to fill the gap and make things work. Thus, it is imperative that as a line producer one is always prepared, plans two steps ahead, expects the unexpected, and puts their best foot forward in dealing with uncalled-for situations. We’ll delve into the skills and abilities required to be a line producer a little later in the article. First, let’s talk about the scope of line production as a career.
We read above that being a line producer is a lot of work, a lot! It can be mentally and physically exhausting at times, but in the end, it all pays off. The sheer joy of seeing your name as a producer when the film’s credits roll is priceless. So, if you have what it takes to be a line producer, the opportunities in this field are endless. Working as a line producer is generally a freelance position. Much like other crew members, line producers are also hired on a project-to-project basis. With a big list of responsibilities comes a big earning potential too.
As of 2021, Line Producers in India earn somewhere between Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 50,000 per day. Most feature film projects take a minimum of 35-40 days to complete. Thus, an experienced line producer who has worked on a number of projects can earn a minimum of Rs. 15-20 lakhs per film project. This makes line production an extremely promising career option, not just in terms of monetary gains but also the overall fulfillment that comes with the job.
It has its downsides like no/low job security, lack of a steady source of income or health insurance, little time left for socializing, and sometimes working on weekends. But if you have good leadership skills, a knack for management, excellent communication, negotiation and networking skills, it won’t be very difficult for you to climb the ladder to success and make a good work-life balance. There are so many line producers across the globe who have made it big by hard work, perseverance and their skillfulness. And if you have what it takes to be a line producer, you can too! Now, let’s have a look at your compatibility with a career in line production.
Is a career in Line Production right for you?
A career as a line producer seems exciting to many. It indeed is! If you are someone who is both creative as well as practical, you can have a very promising career as a line producer.
Think of it as going on a trip. If you love to travel and explore new places, plan the trip all by yourself, ensure that you are well within the budget and like to make certain that everything goes according to the plan, you may be heading in the right direction in choosing line production as your career. Because filmmaking is a lot like planning a trip – you have to plan ahead, need to make all the necessary arrangements before the trip begins, be prepared for anything that can go wrong, and be ready to face the challenges that come your way. Plus, in filmmaking, you may actually be required to plan a trip, if the shoot (or a part of it) takes place outside your local region. How great is that? If all of this excites you as much as it should, it’s a match!
The bottom line – if you have the necessary skills and interests, and you can manage to give your best even under a lot of pressure while also managing to have fun in the process, you can be a great line producer.
Now, let’s see which skills are of utmost importance for this career.
Skills to Develop to be a Line Producer
Communication: More than half of a line producer’s duties involve constantly communicating – to superiors, subordinates, union representatives, vendors, location owners – the list is endless. Thus, it is extremely important that you develop not just good, but excellent communication skills. With the right amount of confidence in your tone infused with friendliness, you can go a long way as a line producer.
Organization: Any number of tasks that we list will be understating the role of a line producer. With commands coming from superiors, going down to subordinates, sealing deals with vendors and location managers, as a line producer, you’ll have to deal with so much paperwork you can’t even imagine! So, you need to have organization skills as good as Monica’s (from FRIENDS). Even a percent less, and you are in for some major trouble at work.
Delegation: There is so much work to do, it is nearly impossible to do it all by yourself. That is why there are production assistants, set runners, assistant directors among other crew members on the sets. As a line producer, you clearly need to be aware of your chain of command – what to delegate to whom and when. Moreover, delegation is an art. No matter how much under pressure you may be, you need to maintain your calm and maintain a sense of authority as well as friendliness while delegating tasks. We know it is easier said than done.
Negotiation: A line producer is the main person that bridges the gap between the in-house staff and the people outside. They deal with the vendors, rent gear and equipment, arrange transportation and accommodation, hire crew, etc. Since they are also the ones taking care of the budget, they need to be exceptional negotiators. If you are an Indian, you are probably half way there. But you need to go that extra mile and have the accurate knowledge of industry rates in order to get the best deals possible.
Improvisation: Anything can happen on a film set. Unfortunately, what happens on a film set doesn’t stay on a film set – its impact becomes evident on the film too. Thus, you need to be a good improviser – be prepared for uncertainties and be equipped to deal with them. We may as well go a step further and declare improvisation as a line producer’s best friend.
Patience and Cool Temperament: If improvisation is a line producer’s best friend, patience is a close second. You always need to be patient and you cannot afford to lose calm at any point during the shoot. It can cost you a lot, quite literally. Heading the whole production process is an extremely challenging task. It gets worse if you are not working well under pressure.
A Practical Approach: Sure, filmmaking is a creative process, but the one that needs to be done with a practical approach. While the director is busy handling the creative aspect of it, they rely on line producers to manage everything in a way that gives their creative vision a practical life. And to do practical, you need to be practical. Thus, when dealing with anything, you need to ask yourself if it is logical, achievable, and feasible.
Leadership: Heading a film project is like heading a company. If the employees do not get good direction from their leader, they may get lost in the process and ruin everything. Hence, as a leader, you, of all, need to be very clear of where you are heading, be confident in your approach and guide your subordinates in the best possible way.
Research Skills: A line producer holds a very prominent position right from the pre-production stage. It is this stage that requires extensive research and the line producer is responsible for most of it – hiring crew, searching locations, finding vendors, and the list goes on. So, you need to have your research game strong in order to be efficient at your job as a line producer.
Legal Knowledge: You also need to be well-equipped with all the legal information related to the film production process – labor laws, state laws around funding, agreements with crew and vendors, intellectual property rights, etc.
Filmmaking Knowledge: Last but definitely not least, an in-depth knowledge of the industry you work in is always a major requirement. Even though a line producer’s is a managerial job, it needs to be done with a lot of creativity. Hence, in your mind, you also need to be a filmmaker in order to think like one and act like one.
Where to start?
The best way is to start as a Production Assistant or a Set Runner in whatever projects you get – short films, music videos, digital films, features, documentaries, web series, etc. The more hands-on experience you get, the better you become at your job, and the better you earn. Soon after, you will be able to find work as a Production Manager, who works directly under a Line Producer. And that’s how you can make your way up to being a Line Producer and even a Producer, if you wish to.
Although it is not important to attend a film school to be a line producer, one should watch a lot of films and have an in-depth knowledge of the filmmaking process. While watching films, it is essential that you watch the films closely for various technical aspects – locations, and other details such as the props used, the extras and their roles, stunts and action, if any, sound and lighting among other things. In addition, read about the process of obtaining resources crucial to filmmaking and acquire the skills of a good leader. More than the knowledge of filmmaking, this role requires you to be an efficient manager. So, develop a few important qualities like leadership, decision making and management, and the rest can be learned while working on the set.
How to Get Started?
Searching for a Production Assistant job is mostly the same as searching for any other traditional job. Portals like LinkedIn, Indeed, Naukri, etc will provide you with ample listings to apply to. There are also a number of Facebook groups that specifically focus on Crew requirements. Keep a check on them and apply to the opportunities that you find fit for yourself. Another way is to search for small, medium and big production houses in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad or in your local regions, and reach out to them to inquire about job openings. Even if they don’t require someone at the moment, it’s good to have your resume in their database. If your profile suits them, they may even contact you for their next projects. And that’s how you get started. From there on, all you need to do is work hard, give your best and make connections. Slowly and steadily, you’ll get where you want to be.
You can also register for IFI’s membership and get regular updates about jobs, internships, workshops, and get access to a number of useful resources and information related to filmmaking.
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