In American fiction feature filmmaking, the producer's work begins with the development phase of a production. The producer's work is first of all conceptual: he or she decides that a particular story and genre will prove profitable or at least attract a wide viewership. The story for the film can be an original idea or a pre-sold property (the Harry Potter series, the long-running musical The Phantom of the Opera ) to which the producer obtains the rights to make a film version. The producer works with a screenwriter to develop a treatment (a relatively short prose summary) as a basis for gaining initial financing and getting stars or actors to commit to the project. If the producer is not working with the backing of a distribution company or studio, she or he also must raise the funds for the production after estimating a budget for the project. Hence, the producer's work is also financial in nature. When financing is secured, the producer typically works with the screenwriter on developing and completing the script. As an alternative to initiating a script, the producer can option a completed screenplay for possible production; even in this case, the producer may work with the writer to revise the script.
During the pre-production phase, the producer chooses the above-the-line talents for the project, most importantly the director and principal cast if they are not already associated with the project as a package. (If the producer is working on a studio-backed production, the studio executives also have a say in the choice of director and the casting.) The producer and director agree on the lead and supporting role casting, hire the below-the-line talents (the crew, including the cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, editor, special effects team, sound crew, composer, unit production manager, and casting director), and together scout locations. Many times these choices are based on the talent and crew's prior work and their skill in filmmaking within particular genres. Finally, the producer and director (and, if appropriate, studio executives) approve the final shooting script, the final budget for the film, and the timetable for realizing the film. The budget decisions in particular affect many major aspects of the project, particularly its casting and its visual design. Conversely, getting the interest of a major star early on may enable the producer to develop a bigger budget for the project. Whatever the cost, if a film goes over budget or over schedule, the producer is held responsible. (In the case of a film produced for a major studio, the director and cinematographer may also assume fiduciary responsibility.)
During production, or principal photography, the producer supervises subordinate or co-producers, troubleshoots problems that arise on the set, and keeps track of how closely the production adheres to the budget and schedule. During principal photography, the producer typically can review the rushes (uncut footage of the day's shooting) with the director; he or she may or may not be present during the shooting on set. The producer can also negotiate between the demands of the studio financing the film or other financiers on the one hand and the needs of the creative talents on the other. Ideally the producer fosters a creative atmosphere in which the talents can work. She or he can also make concrete suggestions to the writer if a scene needs new dialogue or action; direct particular scenes if for some reason the director cannot; and troubleshoot problems on the set whether they involve personnel or technical difficulties.
Throughout post-production, the producer confers with the director and the editor on cutting and recutting the film for a first rough cut to show to the film's financial backers. The producer also consults with the director about, or directly confers with, the music supervisor and the composer and with the sound crew (which redubs dialogue for clarity and mixes sound effects, music, and dialogue). Beyond sound and editing, the producer can confer, again typically alongside the director, with the special effects team. The producer also ensures the proper credits are on the film, in accordance with union requirements. (If the project is a studio financed film, company executives also review the credits.) When a final cut is completed, some producers arrange previews with audiences that might affect the film's final form (that is, audience comments could inspire the reshooting or recutting of certain scenes or the addition of new ones, such as changing the ending of a film). Some directors also have a right to hold previews of their final cut. When they finance the film, studios typically require several previews with audiences of different demographic groups, which can be arranged by the studio's marketing department. The producer also works with the director (recutting if necessary) to earn a contractually agreed-upon rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); often, this is a rating that ensures that the largest possible audience can attend the film without age restrictions as appropriate for the film's content. (For example, the producers may strive for a PG-13 rating rather than an R rating, or an R rating instead of NC-17.)
As the film takes its final form, the producer can work on its marketing and distribution by participating in the decisions made for the film upon its initial theatrical release. In this case, the producer confers with the film's distributor on release patterns (limited or saturation booking) and marketing plans, specifically its publicity and advertising for theatrical, broadcast, and home video distribution. Here, the producer can suggest which aspects of the film should be emphasized in posters, trailers, television spots, and so on. The producer can also confer on these aspects of a film's marketing for ancillary (post-domestic theatrical) venues such as foreign markets, airline screenings (for which alternative shots have been taken of potentially offensive scenes), pay or free cable or satellite television channels, and home video. This arena of distribution now extends to video on demand via cable television and the Internet.
Thus the film producer's functions are creative, conceptual, financial, managerial, administrative, and promotional, and they extend across the entire filmmaking process into marketing and distribution. Moreover, the producer's work can be defined and subdivided further. A producer's credit today, according to the PGA, means an individual has "taken responsibility for at least a majority of the functions performed and decisions made" in the various phases of the film's production and distribution, in terms of the film's creative and financial features. An associate producer has fulfilled one or more of the producer's tasks (conceptual, financial, organizational, managerial) in the course of a film's production, but this type of credit is notoriously applied so freely that it may be assigned to an individual who has done something as minimal as finding a shooting script. The PGA defines the executive producer as a producer who has made "a significant contribution to the development of the literary property" for the film or has facilitated at least a quarter of the film's financing, or both. In practice, the executive producer may bring one or more elements of a project package to the table, introduce above-the-line talents to each other, give the director feedback, or even just be willing to back a film without actually doing so. The executive may simultaneously be the film's line producer. A line producer oversees the actual production and post-production phases of a film project that has been packaged, financed, and is ready for production. The specialization of the producer's function in filmmaking further testifies to its multifaceted, complex nature.