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First, almost invariably, the producer is the first person attached to a film project. Whether it's a book or a play the production company (often abbreviated "prodco") has acquired for adaptation, or a true-life story, or whatever, the producer is usually the first person to officially begin work on the project. (An exception might be in the case of a "spec," i.e. an existing screenplay, purchased by the prodco, in which case the writer was obviously the first person involved. Still, the script lands first in the hands of a producer, or, alternatively, the prodco immediately assigns a producer to the project. Either way, the writer usually gets kicked off at the first opportunity, leaving the producer as the sole authority.) The principle of producer-arrives-first is true even when the project is generated by an actor, who may have acquired the right to adapt a magazine article or remake an old movie or television show (usually by "taking an option"), or a director, who may likewise have existing source material or may have written the script him- or herself. In both of these cases, the actor or director usually ends up with a "producer" title on the film in addition to acting or directing, and therefore in a practical sense it can be said that the producer is still the first one on the project.

Second, in the majority of cases, the producer recruits and hires the talent who will work on the project. In the early stages, this usually includes the writer, whose work the producer directs and supervises as the book, play, video game, story pitch, or whatever is adapted into a screenplay. (Sometimes, of course, the script comes later, as for remakes or adaptations of existing movies, television shows, and so on. It isn't as common, though.) Following the completion of at least a first draft, the producer then sets about attracting a director, cinematographer, costumer, art director, casting director, editor, topline stars, and so forth. Exceptions, of course, may crop up if the producer is also the director, or if the producer signs a director who insists on certain collaborators (John Landis, for example, always uses costume designer Deborah Nadoolman on all of his productions). Movie stars can also create complications, as they may bring their own makeup artists or costumers (e.g., Edward Norton almost always demands that his character wear Armani). But even considering exceptions like these, it's generally the producer's responsibility to assemble the creative team that will work on the film.

Third, many producers -- but by no means all -- are a daily on-set presence during and after actual production of the film. They often act in a supervisory capacity (see next paragraph), but on most projects will maintain a low profile, ceding major artistic decisions to the director. Instead, the producer is there as a technical and logistical problem-solver, making practical and procedural decisions so the director is free to focus on the creative work of actually making the film. For example, if the film crew is scheduled for an outdoor location shoot, but the weather looks uncooperative, it falls to the producer to make certain there will be a backup shooting alternative available, and to coordinate all of the crew and equipment required should it be necessary to retreat to the backup location. This active role continues through postproduction, as the producer remains available for consultation on editing, music, marketing, and so on. Again, the relative power and prestige of the producer -- as compared to the director -- will determine which of them takes the lead role and has the effective final say on these decisions. Still, the producer is always in the loop.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the producer is generally regarded by the studio or production company as the ultimate authority on the project, the person who is actually in charge of the film. This may or may not be true in reality; for example, Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy, and Clayton Townsend served as producers on Natural Born Killers, but you don't have to have read Hamsher's very funny behind-the-scenes book Killer Instinct to know that director Oliver Stone was the true Big Kahuna on the project. Regardless, when the studio or prodco has questions or concerns, they call the producer first, not the director. Sometimes, this is accurate, and the producer is in fact the real authority on the film. Enemy of the State, Con Air, Coyote Ugly, and Gone in 60 Seconds were all directed by different men (Tony Scott, Simon West, David McNally, and Dominic Sena, respectively), but the fact that they're all so generically similar can be attributed to their being produced by the same man, Jerry Bruckheimer, a very powerful producer who puts his indelible stamp on everything he does.

At other times, this aspect of a producer's role may be viewed simply as insulation -- in other words, keeping the studio's meddlesome suits out of the director's hair. For example, David Fincher (along with stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton) was the artistic heavyweight on the film Fight Club, but he only directed and did not produce. Above him, the most experienced producer on the film (as opposed to the executive producer, which I'll get to shortly) was old pro Art Linson, who also produced Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, Michael Mann's Heat, and Mike Newell's Pushing Tin, among others. Most likely, Linson used his decades of experience and served the film in an organizational and logistical capacity, leaving all the creative decisions regarding editing, designs, photography, etc. to Fincher and his team. When the studio -- in this case, 20th Century Fox -- started getting antsy about how the Fight Club budget was adding up, they would call Linson to complain, and then it was Linson's responsibility to talk to Fincher to see where they could stretch their dollars or otherwise economize on the production. That way, the director is free to make the movie he wants with a minimum of headaches and interference, and the studio is comfortable that there's an experienced and knowledgeable person who's nominally in charge, and whom they can call when they need to kvetch.

Regardless of who actually wears the big pants on a film, the producer almost always ends up heading the financial and organizational aspect of the production. He or she supervises the budgeting process, approves major expenses, and answers to the studio or production company when there are problems. The producer also has veto power over most of the director's decisions, although in the interest of maintaining a happy set, this is usually not exercised except in crisis situations. (This changes, of course, if the director is powerful enough to have negotiated "final cut" on the film, or other perks.) And when things go wrong on the set -- if, say, on a location shoot, so many local residents have showed up to gawk that they're getting in the way, or maybe the costume truck got towed away by mistake -- it's the producer who's expected to be in charge of fixing the problem.

As mentioned above, the producer's role continues through postproduction, into editing, scoring, and especially marketing and distribution. Most directors will be fairly active while the film is being edited and scored; it's then the producer's job to look at the first cut of the film (done by the director and editor) and suggest revisions before the studio or production company get to see it. As the project marches toward completion, most directors begin to fade out of the picture. The producer usually takes the lead on cutting television commercials and theatrical trailers, deciding on posters, billboards, and other marketing material, and negotiating distribution deals with the exhibitors. The director may still be involved in certain aspects of the filmmaking process (particularly in visual-effects-heavy projects, where some effects shots are being completed two weeks before the film is scheduled to open), but when it comes to actually getting the film onto screens and convincing audiences to go to the cinema to see it, that's the producer's job.


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