What Does a Line Producer Do?
A line producer oversees all logistics and operations for a film, and they’re considered the head of any production. As a key component of any production team, a line producer manages the budget for a film, though they may also manage the day-to-day physical parts of a production. Line producers do their job on location, so they work on only one film at a time.
The name of this role comes from the fact that line producers can’t start working until they know the “line” between above-the-line and below-the-line costs. Line producers estimate costs for each day of shooting and create a provisional budget after doing a script breakdown and creating a film shoot timetable that demonstrates how long shooting will take for every scene in a production.
At that point, the executive producers and producer can work to raise the required money, and then the film can start pre-production. After generating the budget, the line producer reviews the budget line by line.
Further reading: Here are some tips for staying under budget.
Responsibilities of a Line Producer: Job Descriptions and Duties
Line producers have a role in all stages of production.
- Recruits services and personnel
- Manages the budget
- Sets up the production company
- Schedules shoot dates and locations
- Works with director, art director, first assistant director, production manager, and other heads of department to prepare the production budget and schedule
- Oversees daily production
- Communicates with the 1st AD and unit production manager
- Coordinates equipment rentals
- Helps with last-minute scheduling changes
- Serves as a liaison between producers and crew
- Tracks deadlines
- Manages budget/salary for composers, editors, sound designers, and VFX
- Communicates with post-production supervisor
- Tracks/meets needs for distribution
- Creates schedule for deliverables
- Guides delivery to unions, guarantors, sales agents, and producers once components are complete
A line producer will work with just about everyone over the course of a film shoot, including:
- Special effects
- Executive producer
In short, the line producer acts as a bridge between above-the-line roles (such as writers, producers, directors, and actors) and below-the-line roles (crew, sets, equipment rental, insurance) on film shoots. A line director manages the production and reports to the producer.
Line Producer vs. Producer
A producer puts a project together, acting in more of a behind-the-scenes role. Producers take care of details outside the production, while the line producer works on the front lines of a production every day.
Skills and Personality
A line producer needs to be level-headed to deal with the daily stresses of a film shoot. Essential traits and skills include:
A line producer will need to have basic knowledge of every department they oversee. This includes:
- Set design
That’s in addition to knowledge about how movies are made and in-depth knowledge of budgeting, scheduling, and technical and physical processes. You’ll also need the ability to balance the creative ideas of artists and directors with financial resources. Additionally, you’ll need to know about union requirements such as meal penalties (Screen Actors Guild meal penalty guidelines are different from IATSE regulations).
Qualifications, Experience, Education, and Training
Practical experience is the most important background for this demanding job. You’ll need to gain industry experience by doing the work. You’ll also need to take the required safety and health courses, and it helps if you attend film school.
Employment and Advancement: Moving Up the Ranks as a Line Producer
Though there’s no one way to become a line producer, working with a respected, experienced mentor will get you experience on set. Most line producers start off as production assistants and work up to production coordinator positions. Working as a production assistant or producer’s assistant will give aspiring line producers key experience working with unit production managers and production coordinators. Line producers may get their start in film, music videos, commercials, or television.
Should I Become a Line Producer? Salary and Lifestyle
Line producers need to be comfortable working long hours, including weekends and evenings. As this is a freelance management position, line producers need to be able to manage their own time while managing others, including directors, screenwriters, and crew heads like key makeup, key hairdresser, gaffer, key grip, director of photography, and production designer.
A line producer’s salary depends on the project’s budget. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for directors and producers in May 2019 was $74,420. When traveling, line producers also get per diems as mandated for productions outside the 30 Mile Studio Zone (TMZ).
Production Management Software
Staying organized and efficient is key to become a successful line producer. You’re going to need to solve a lot of problems, and staying on track with production management software like Jungle Software is a big help. You can find demos of software for Macintosh or Windows to learn the basics.
Invest in production management solutions to help you stay on top of aspects of your production like:
- Scheduling the production and assigning tasks
- Integrating contacts
- Building and logging call sheets
What to Expect as a Line Producer
You’ll do a lot of work before production even starts.
Set Up a Production Company
Before shooting starts, you’ll need to set up a production company. First, figure out the best company, whether that’s an LLC, S Corporation, or Limited Partnership. Then you’ll need to complete these tasks:
- Setting up a bank account
- Getting a phone line/email address
- Finding a production office
- Talking to an insurance broker
- Getting a lawyer and payroll company
- Tracking all production paperwork
If you’re working with unions, this will also impact your budget. Important unions include:
The 1st AD assists with breaking down the script and figuring out a shooting schedule.
Create the Budget
In order to break up the budget into ATL (above-the-line) and BTL (below-the-line) categories and account for budget contingencies, you need to learn how to budget a film and allocate funds correctly.
Hire a Casting Director
You can work with casting directors you’ve worked with in the past or look for options on Casting Society of America. You’ll also become a union signatory — Teamsters Local 399 offers forms and resources.
Find a Crew
First, hire a production team. You can hire a production manager if you have the budget, or you can do that role yourself. Other individuals to hire include:
- 1st AD
- Production coordinator
- Production assistants
- Storyboard artist
If your director doesn’t want a storyboard artist, you should ask them to make a mood board for the heads of department (HOD) that you’ll hire, such as:
You can find HODs through agents. Resources include:
You can find and hire the production crew using ProductionBeast.
Scout Shooting Locations
Consider the scenery and settings your project requires. Some places you can use to find locations include:
Secure Film Equipment
Get quotes and discover the best deals for equipment like:
- Grip trucks
- Chairs and tables for meals
Your departments can help as well. The camera department may reach out to Panavisionor Arriflex, grip and electric will have a list for Quixote, and the costume department will have items selected from Western Costume Rentals.
Having a good grasp on production insurance is an integral part of your qualifications as a line producer. You may want to talk to a broker. Check out Film Emporium and submit an online application to get started.
Manage the Production
A lot of line producers work in a dual role as a production manager as well, which means you would need to understand call sheets.
Prepare for Post-Production
You’ll be setting up post-production before and during shooting. Always have deliverables in terms of distribution and marketing in mind. You can also use ProductionBeast for post-production hires like editors, sound designers, and composers.
Wrap Up and Onward
As a line producer, you’ll oversee every aspect of production. You’ll ensure delivery of the final product, and then you’ll move on to your next job.
How to Get Started
Here are a few steps you can take to kick-start your career as a line producer:
- Start working on sets, especially as a PA on large jobs (even music videos or reality shows), to learn how things run.
- Work on student films, where you can practice and experiment while still taking on more responsibility.
- Work as an assistant to a line producer.
- Start networking! DPs and directors can help you get work in the future.
If you’re interested in becoming a line producer, you can learn more about film and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute here.