Film, television, and commercial line producers are the unsung heroes of the professional production universe. Line producer jobs require a potent cocktail of experience, discipline, and insight on a level possessed by only a rare few.
We designed this post to help you level up, focusing on the critical and often overlooked skills necessary to grow in this position.
Below, we’ll give you a breakdown of the essential line producer responsibilities, as well as a rundown of 11 unique ways to become a better line producer.
First, let’s cover the fundamentals.
Line producer responsibilities are rooted in the oversight of a production’s budget, however, a true line producer job description expands outward to cover logistical and operational concerns.
From pre-production to post, line producers shepherd projects forward to completion, paying close attention to how the budget evolves along the way.
The day-to-day details come in all shapes and sizes, but their general characteristics remain more or less the same. To get a better idea of how these details fit into a typical production, let’s take a quick look at how line producers fit into the crew hierarchy.
Line producers report directly to producers and, sometimes, executive producers. The line producer definition is all about transforming above-the-line direction into below-the-line action.
When working with above-the-line personnel, film, television, and commercial line producers are a pivotal bridge between cinematic ideas and production realities.
Technically, hiring below-the-line crew is on the list of line producer responsibilities. In that sense, line producers are at the top of the below-the-line chain of command and could be said to oversee the entire crew.
In practice, however, line producer jobs tend to be slightly more complicated. Running a successful shoot requires line producers to approach department heads and other key personnel as direct collaborators, not employees to be managed.
To understand how this relationship works, let’s unpack line producer responsibilities through the lens of another question...
Film,TV, and commercial line producer responsibilities can run the gamut, depending on the size and scope of a given production.
However, if you were trying to figure out how to become a line producer, there is one very clear place to start---knowing how to manage a budget.
In fact, the title “line producer” itself comes from the task of overseeing each line item within a production’s budget. The job begins with generating that budget and ends with its actualization during wrap.
But it would be a mistake to think that the job is only about crunching numbers.
A line producer salary (or day rate) is earned not by mere calculation but also by management. This role is as much about collaborating with crew to produce a project within a budget’s bounds as it is actually setting the bounds themselves.
If you’re trying to figure out how to become a line producer, gaining logistical and operational experience will be just as critical as your accounting bona fides.
In that way, many points about becoming a better unit production manager can be utilized in figuring out how to be a line producer. On smaller shoots, line producer responsibilities are virtually interchangeable with UPM responsibilities. In such cases, the comparison of “line producer vs. production manager” becomes almost irrelevant.
But there is a difference between the two.
Any line producer job description should point out the role’s authority. A line producer’s salary is significantly higher than most UPM (or the occasional assistant line producer) salaries because the budget buck stops with them. The ultimate burden of budget responsibility falls squarely on the line producer’s shoulders, freeing the rest of the crew to focus on their respective crafts.
Now it’s time for the good stuff. We’re digging into how to become a better line producer across budgeting, logistics, and management.
Let’s dig in.
Like any craft, mastering the basics comes first.
In this case, an aspiring line producer should ask themselves- what is the first thing a line producer does?
What do they do on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis? When do they start working? Is it during pre-production or once they get to set?
While these answers will come through experience, you can always get a leg up now by studying available materials on essential procedures.
And while it may not be stated explicitly in any line producer job description, these producers must be confident in carrying out a slew of organizational tasks. From creating loan-out companies and setting up communications to selecting the best payroll company to ensure compliant and on-time payments, line producers must know how to build a production’s infrastructure from scratch.
And let’s not forget the biggest line producing basic of them all…
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times, but- trust us- it’s worth saying again:
If you want to figure out how to become a line producer, you must learn to budget and to do it very, very well.
Effective budgeting is the core of how to be a line producer and earning that hefty line producer salary.
And what is a line producer’s secret to budgeting? What do line producers do to become more effective at their central task?
The answer is surprisingly simple.
The key to effective budgeting is knowing how much things cost.
There are basics that can be researched (like location permit costs in L.A., NYC, Chicago, Atlanta, or San Francisco), but learning exactly how these costs add up requires experience with practical application.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of quotes and costs, budgeting for film,TV, or commercials requires creativity and a capacity for abstract thought.
One of a line producer’s first tasks is to create a script breakdown and translate it into a rough budget.
A foundational element of how to be a line producer is knowing how to look at the story and figure out how it can be brought to life.
Again, yes, part of that skillset is knowing the cost of a proverbial loaf of bread, but it also requires the ability to see possibilities.
A line producer salary is well-earned by those professionals who can approach their craft with the discipline of a producer but the heart of a storyteller.
If you’re figuring out how to become a line producer, knowing how to design a production schedule is an essential skill.
Because what is a line producer’s greatest enemy?
Oddly enough, it’s time.
A line producer’s salary may be earned by budgeting, but the budget is intensely influenced by a production’s schedule. Extra hours and extra days mean extra expenses. Inefficiently ordered scenes and locations create unnecessary costs.
When a seasoned line producer needs to trim the budget, they know how to examine the schedule for opportunities to do so.
Just like Danny Ocean, one of a line producer’s primary responsibilities is to hire a capable crew.
While line producers spend much of their effort crafting fiscal strategy, the rest of the crew puts that strategy into action, making them critical collaborators when it comes to overall budget management.
A line producer must know how to hire professionals that are competent, communicative, and, perhaps above all, trustworthy.
Because what is a line producer supposed to do if a department head spends irresponsibly? While the individual crew member may be to blame, the line producer who hired them will ultimately have to clean up the mess.
And it doesn’t stop with the crew.
Equipment vendors, location representatives, permitting offices, guilds, and unions can all play an important part in seeing any production through from day one to wrap. These individuals and organizations are just as much a part of your team as anyone else.
So, if you’re learning how to become a line producer, pay attention to even the smallest corners of your network. Strong relationships and proven track records are worth their weight in gold.
The most underrated skills for learning how to be a line producer are those that revolve around leadership.
Situated at the top of the below-the-line hierarchy, line producers are naturally positioned as leaders within the crew. Line producers direct the essential functions of a production.
Leadership is a massive topic, and we won't dwell on its many philosophies here. But there is one individual facet of leadership that anyone learning how to become a line producer should take special care to study:
As a line producer, you must learn how to entrust tasks and responsibilities to your crew. More than that, you have to understand how to empower your crew to operate at the high standard you expect.
What does a line producer do when a department head wants to exceed their budget? What is a line producer supposed to say when asked if such a thing is possible?
They can’t hem and haw, debate, or negotiate.
They have to answer “yes” or “no.”
A typical line producer salary is higher than that of most other crew positions because of the decision-making duties that line producers bear.
As tough as it might seem, knowing how and when to refuse a request with confidence is one of a line producer’s essential responsibilities.
The line producer is one of only a few crew members who must envision a project’s lifecycle from pre-production through the end of post-production. When a line producer makes budgetary choices, they have to consider how those choices might affect the project over the long term.
The most basic component of this big picture perspective is knowing how to connect the production phase with the post-production phase.
Line producers are generally less involved with the day-to-day work of post-production, but they often do set up infrastructure and oversee post from afar. Line producers may need to arrange for post-production supervisors, assistant editors, VFX services, post-production facilities, and other essential non-production ingredients needed to get a film, show, or commercial finished.
Problem solvers are valuable because problems are inevitable.
Line producers are valuable because they’re problem solvers by nature.
Despite all the previous talk of planning and strategies and calculations, the stone-cold truth is that even the best line producers have to improvise occasionally. No budget is perfect, and reality very rarely sticks to a set agenda.
Quality line producers must be able to address problems creatively and calmly, even amidst the many-tentacled chaos that is a production in-progress.
The skill sets required of a line producer can seem intimidating in both number and depth, but there is an effective way to simplify the learning process.
You’ll become more effective if you specialize in a particular type of production.
The worlds of film, television, and commercial production are very different, each with their standards and traditions. A line producer who specializes in one of them will gain a greater depth of knowledge faster.
To demonstrate how that depth of knowledge may prove valuable, just ask yourself highly specific, hypothetical questions:
How much does a line producer make on an average indie feature? How much do line producers make when staffing a television show? How much does it cost to hire a producer on a freelance basis for a commercial? Or, how much do producers get paid when they’ve developed a film through their production company?
These questions may seem silly or unnecessary to an average filmmaker, but the information underlying them can be critical depending on the type of production.
Specialization can give line producers a level of insight that they may never achieve as a jack-of-all-trades.
As you may have noticed by now, the key to becoming a better line producer can be summed up in a single word:
The fact is that a variety of experience in the field is the most effective education for any would-be line producer. The job requires that you have a functional understanding of what almost every other crew member does and why they’re important, which can only be achieved by working your way through many sets.
This is an organic process that must unfold naturally, but you can maximize the value of the process by approaching your experiences consciously.
If you actively seek out experiences that will teach you and attempt to soak up everything you can from those experiences in the process, you’ll be well on the road to becoming a better line producer.
Becoming a better line producer requires discipline and effort, but there are many ways to approach the challenge.
If you’re interested in learning more about other (but related) production positions, check out our post on becoming a better unit production manager.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.