What is a Line Producer?
Expenditures on every film or television production are divided in two segments: above the line and below the line. Above the line refers to writers, producers, directors, and actors (including extras). Below the line refers to everything else: that is, crew, sets, equipment rental, insurance, and so on. In the middle of that division is the line producer—the line. He or she is hired by the executive producer(s) to oversee the production from a business standpoint. Whereas the creative control of the film or show is the director’s domain, the logistics, labor, and financial concerns rest in the hands of the line producer.
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The line producer is brought on during pre-production and first must dissect the script to estimate costs based on personnel, locations, equipment, and all other requirements of the project. This cost estimate is presented to the producers to raise funds for filming. He or she will work closely with the director, production manager, and other department heads to create a budget and shooting schedule. The line producer will participate in below-the-line decisions like hiring crew and renting gear based on the budget he or she has established and that has been approved by the producers. During filming, the line producer will act as the eyes and ears of the producer to ensure the production runs on schedule and on budget. This person is a troubleshooter on set and has the authority to make decisions that will affect the schedule or budget.
To keep the production running smoothly, the line producer will implement a cost monitoring system as well as conduct a health and safety assessment and deal with any insurance concerns, including regulatory compliance. While it is the production accountant’s responsibility to handle payroll and track invoices, the line producer establishes departmental budgets for salaries, expendable materials, and equipment. Additional labor hours or materials require the approval of the line producer. At the end of a film shoot, the line producer oversees the wrap of the production and conducts a preliminary audit of costs in cooperation with the accounting department. In television the line producer may also serve a variety of functions and take on tasks similar to those of a production manager, remaining in this role through the life of the series.
Skills & Education
There’s no specific college degree that trains you to be a line producer, though an extensive knowledge of every aspect of the film and television industry is a must. If a script calls for the hero to evade his captors by hijacking a cigarette boat from a Miami marina, you need to be able to quickly estimate the associated costs. Education through a college-level film/TV production program is beneficial, as it will give you a firm foundational knowledge of production. You can build your experience through student films, independent productions, or internships with production companies. Breaking in to bigger productions is possible by working as a PA or administrative assistant in a production office. The best experience for becoming a line producer is experience as a unit production manager. Courses in accounting, finance, or business administration are helpful as the line producer is expected to have excellent skills in quickly creating cost estimates and scheduling large-scale projects.
What to Expect
The line producer is most often an industry veteran who has worked in a variety of positions, gaining a well-rounded knowledge of production. Expect to work for several years to reach this level. This is a freelance role, so there may be long periods of inactivity between gigs. You should frequent film festivals, industry seminars, and workshops for opportunities to network. Resourcefulness, diplomacy, and efficient decision-making skills are invaluable for a line producer. You must be comfortable moderating compromises between members of the crew and be able to stand behind your choices. You will be working in a highly collaborative environment, but are also a leader and at the end of the day are responsible for the cost of a project. You are entrusted with potentially massive financial investments, so attention to detail is crucial and failure can mean huge losses for the studio and producers. Expect long hours and daily fires to put out. This can be both a professionally and financially rewarding career for those with strong problem-solving and leadership skills.