What does a producer actually do?
Updated: Mar 5
I am writing this blog in response to the most frequently asked question I have had so far in my professional and personal lives: what does a producer actually do? In my case, this question specifically relates to a theatre producer, as thus far in my career I have been in the theatre sector. I have created a video which answers this question and other FAQs, and I will also write about it underneath the video.
I perceive the role of the producer to be the CEO of the production. The producer sits across all production departments – cast, creative, technical, business, administrative, and leads them all. There are many different types of producer, and this is where it gets confusing. Producers- for- hire who line- manage the delivery of the production are called producers, as are the highly creative independent producers who are involved in the creative shaping of the production and its delivery. It is the latter I will talk about here, as this is what I am with my production company Hannah Elsy Productions.
1) Finances Financial management is the role most associated with the Producer. It is true that producers raise money for the production and/ or manage. This part of the job is not all a Producer does however and treating a producer like an ATM is a sure- fire way to get into their bad books, as producers also have a lot of creative and busi
ness input on the production. Raising and managing money is one of my favourite parts of Producing. I love aligning the show I am working on with the right partners and funders, as having the right people on board can sink or swim a show. In funders, the Producer will work with people or organisations who are also passionate about building things and are lovers of culture. These relationships are creative and fulfilling.
2) Recruiting and managing the creative team The Producer may decide which creatives (Director, Designer, Lighting Designer) work on the production. The person who makes these decisions could also be the director or the writer, depending on which stage of development in the life of the show the Producer gets involved. Understanding and aligning individual creative styles to make one cohesive whole in a production is critical to its creative success.
3) Developing scripts and writers The Producer of an original production will often work closely with the writer, either to commission a new script or to give advice and guidance on how to bring the writer’s script to the stage. This could include dramaturgical feedback (dramaturgy being how the writers’ story is represented on stage), script editing, or more general advice and guidance to the writer. The Producer of a non- original production, a revival, will hire an already finished script from a writer and deliver a new production of it.
4) Casting The Producer will work closely with the Director and Casting Director to cast the production. The Producer will keep a particular eye on how each actor will be perceived by audiences or in the media. For example, are any of the actors famous or do they have large social media followings? Who are the audiences of the actors and do they align with the target audience of the production?
5) The future life of the production (or, business) If a production is a success, the Producer will be responsible for finding the future life for the production, including nationwide or international tours, and screen adaptations. This work, maximising revenue from the production, goes hand- in- hand with the producer raising and managing the production’s finances, as it is the Producer’s job to report the financial health of the production to investors and funders.
6) Administration Contracts, payroll, petty cash, invoices, financial forecasting, reports. All are essential to the day-to-day running of a production. Either the Producer will do this themselves personally (if the production is small), or if the budget is bigger, the producer will enlist the services of a General Manager who will be responsible for the administration department, which may include Production Assistants and Production Accountants.
7) Marketing, press, opening night The Producer is responsible for getting audiences to the production, which may include hiring a press and marketing team and organising a glamourous opening night or press night. The inner party planner within me loves organising opening night – setting the dress code, the décor, and the drinks. This is a critical part of the Producers role as the number of people who buy tickets correlates to the financial health of the production and therefore the ability for the show to have a future life.
8) Finding a venue and an audience Finding the right theatre for your show is one of the most important decisions a Producer can make. You want to make sure that the show you are producing is aligned with the audience that theatre has already built up. Geographical location and the timing of a production are also decisions which a Producer needs to make when considering how to get their show in front of audiences. I have seen many excellent shows sink because they were not able to play in the right theatre. In the modern era, this distribution also includes the livecapture of a production (think National Theatre Live) and a digital wraparound. Do you livestream the show and how much do you charge for that? Do you have a podcast or blog posts from the creative team which add to the canon of the production? * There is much more to producing than these seven points, but this is a good overview of what the role entails. If you are interested in me expanding on any of these elements, or writing about any other aspect of producing, please let me know in the comments section below.