Why Line Producers Matter

A tribute to the unsung heroes of the production world.
Production Crew Walking

Every film relies on the efforts of line producers. While artistic crew members receive accolades and as technical jobs become more widely appreciated, line producers, the mediators between both sides, still have yet to be appreciated by those outside the industry. This is because it’s not immediately apparent what they actually do.

Thankfully this video from StudioBinder on the role of the line producer is here to clearly and succinctly explain one of the most important jobs in Hollywood.

So what is a line producer and what are they responsible for? Unlike producers on the creative side of the film, line producers are involved in the nitty-gritty practicalities of bringing a project through the various stages of production. As outlined in StudioBinder’s video, this primarily entails creating and managing the production budget, organizing various elements of the shoot, and overseeing the team “below the line.”

But what is this “line,” and how does it relate to the creation of a film? The line, simply put, is the division between the creative roles “above” that conceptualize a project and the technical roles “below” that are involved in the hands-on process of production. People above the line include the director, producers, writers, and actors. Those whom we more obviously think of when it comes to the finished film. The editors, camera operators, assistant directors, and sound crew, among others, are below the line personnel who keep the actual production running.

Line producers, according to the Producers Guild of America guidelines, directly answer to producers and are the “line” connecting the studio executives and higher up producers with the cast and crew on the ground. They act as the intermediary between the technical and creative sides of production and have to know and account for each element’s budget needs and capabilities on both sides of the line. Line producers have the responsibility to balance and weigh the practicalities of the creative team’s vision with the budget and abilities available on the technical side. It’s a complex and constantly shifting calculation.

The job of the line producer is to know and manage the production’s above and below the line expenses and to have budgetary allocations for any additional expenses that production might incur. But the job isn’t purely a financial one; line producers are also in charge of turning a screenplay into a budget and shooting schedule and keeping all of the people involved in production on schedule and close to the budget.

As explained in the video, the job requirements of a line producer encompass much of the day-to-day practicalities of production. As the head of the logistics of production, line producers have to know every detail and can be involved in anything from hiring the crew and scouting locations to handling the rental and return of important gear. Their job is to keep everything on track and everyone, cast or crew, moving.

Line producers are usually hired by a producer or executive producer and work their way up from the ranks of assistant directors and unit production managers. This ensures that they have experience with time management, the logistics of filmmaking, and the realities of what is (and isn’t) possible on set. Their overlap of experience with other below-the-line workers helps further the collaboration and fundamental understanding necessary for them to do their jobs.

Every shoot is a race against time and money, and as the guardian of the budget, line producers have to get used to saying no. They need to understand what’s necessary for a shoot. Really, they are the project managers that keep the entire machine of production running, and the job entails not only organization and good time management skills but also the ability to clearly and productively communicate with people on both the creative and practical sides of production. But this position is not only practicalities. While not billed as a creative role, line producers have to work closely with creative personnel for production to go smoothly.

Though we may not know the names of these key people in the process of making the movies we love, they are vital to their creation and success. And when producers and directors have worked well with a line producer in the past, they continue to work with them in the future. One example is Robert Watts, the line producer and production manager behind Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, among other well-known films.

Filmmaking is an act of collaboration, and the role of the line producer is to ensure that that collaboration goes smoothly, perhaps making their role the most collaborative of all. While it may not seem like the most glamorous job on a film set, it must get done and be done well for any aspect of filmmaking to happen.

Hannah Payne: An early 20th-century vaudeville performer-turned silent film star in a film student's body. Currently watching too many movies and writing too many essays in Santa Cruz, CA.