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While other jobs in the film industry are well defined, such as actor and writer, the job of the producer is a bit ambiguous. The difference between producers of indie films and producers of studio films lies in the resources and goals of indie and studio pictures. Whereas studios are more bottom-line focused, willing to scrap a flick on a second's notice if profit isn't easily visible, independently produced movies focus more on artistry. Without the funds of a studio, indie producers usually raise the money to create the film on their own, taking on extra duties in the process.
Types of Producers
The types of producers are the same in independent films as in Hollywood. Executive producers are the heavy financiers of the film. They procure at least 25 percent of the budget and may own the rights to the book the film's based on. Executive producers usually remain off set, far away from creative and technical procedures. Co-executive producers are studio executives or distributors who also have a financial stake in the film, albeit a smaller one. The co-producer helps with casting and in post-production. Line producers are always on the set supervising the budget. They have little to no creative input. The associate producer ensures the production runs smoothly along schedule, handling all problems that the production faces. Of these producers, there are essentially two types -- business and creative. Business handles the money; creative works with the director.
The producer gives birth to the project. He does this by acquiring the financing for the film. Sometimes he hires the director, oversees casting and assembles a crew. Producers may occasionally come up with the idea or the story of the film. While procrastinating on writing "The Dark Knight Rises," for instance, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan conceived "Man of Steel." Goyer told Nolan his idea, the two of them expanded on it and Nolan called the studio on the spot to get the green light on producing the film. Depending on the extent of their involvement, producers may also dabble in post-production work, such as editing, music score and promotion. The most important difference between indie and studio producers is independents assume legal, business and financial responsibilities, while studio producers have the luxury of letting the studio shoulder those burdens.
Added Responsibilities of Indie Producers
Independent producers take on several additional functions compared to studio producers. Indie producers act as business managers, dealing with dozens of rules, regulations and forms necessary to close deals to get their movies made. They develop their projects by writing or supervising the screenwriters' progress and acquiring the rights to the material. After completing the screenplay, the producer packages the film by presenting potential financiers with the script, director, producers and cast. Producers find sources of financing, usually from family, friends, equity investors, banks and distributors. After the financing is in place, producers have to set up production, including hiring employees, setting up accounting and payroll and finding locations. Once the film's finished, the producer must find a distributor. When the deal's in place, the producer then has to deliver the film and all its physical elements, including sound tracks, masters and stills, and paper elements, including copyright registration, rights documents insurance and talent agreements.
Salary and Finances
Independent film producers make varied salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, producers and directors earn a median annual wage of $68,440. Studio producers often receive a salary upfront from the studio, but independent producers don't get their money this way. Their salary depends on the contract they negotiate. It may help if they have Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists membership. SAG-AFTRA negotiates the best wages and working conditions for actors and other media professionals. The amount of money indie producers earn depends upon the deal they negotiated and the film's gross.
- Screen Writers Showcase: The Truth About Self-Production - Mad Money and Vanitas
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Outlook
- Slate: What Does a Hollywood Producer do Exactly
- Filmmakers: The Film Producer Part I
- Collider: David S. Goyer Talks About How He Got Involved with Man of Steel and His Reaction to Seeing the Film
- The Crimson White: The Two Biggest Differences Between Studio and Independent Pictures
- Grant Land: What Do Movie Producers Actually Do? A Movie Producer Explains
- PBS: The Mainstreaming of Indies
- Media Lawyer: The Independent Film Producer's Survival Guide
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.