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What Is the Role of an Executive Producer? Definitive Guide

executive producer

Of all the positions involved in a film or television production, the most commonly misunderstood also happens to be one of the most important – the executive producer (EP).

If you’ve watched your fair share of movies and shows, you might be familiar with names like Stan Lee, Louis D’Esposito, Shonda Rhimes, and Jerry Bruckheimer. These are all world-class EPs whose projects routinely gross millions of dollars. However, if you were asked to explain what they do and how they contribute to the success of their project, would you be able to?

In the simplest terms, executive producers are the money players, the top-level decision-makers, who ensure a project has enough funding and resources to be made.

While this might sound straightforward, actually wrapping your head around the day-to-day duties of an EP can be challenging. This is due to the fact that their involvement in a film or show is simply less visible than that of other positions (e.g. producer or director) and because their responsibilities fluctuate from project to project.

So don’t fret if you’ve ever found yourself asking:

• What the heck does an executive producer even do?

• What’s the difference between them and a regular producer?

• How much money does an executive producer make? Is it in royalties or a salary?

And if these questions still remain a mystery for you, then you’ve come to the right place! In this blog, we’ll provide an all-in-one overview of the executive producer role.

Let’s get started!

What is an Executive Producer?

The executive producer sits at the top of the production hierarchy as it is their job to source and secure financing for production. Without them, a film or show could never be made as they are the ones who kickstart the project.

Their role goes beyond just getting a project off the ground, however. EPs manage budgets and serve as high-level supervisors throughout the entire lifespan of a project, including its development, production, post-production, and distribution.

What’s more, depending on the project, their role can quickly take on a hybrid quality – EPs often find themselves involved in making key creative decisions, especially if they are personally financing a project.

For an in-depth explanation of the role of an EP, listen to this exclusive interview with Andrew Barnsley, an executive producer on hit shows “Schitt’s Creek” and “Son of a Critch.”

What’s the Difference Between an Executive Producer and a Producer?

In many ways, executive producers are like a company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO); they’re top-level leaders who manage a project’s resources and are responsible for making major strategic decisions.

Meanwhile, producers are similar to a Chief Operating Officer (COO); they’re hired by EPs and are responsible for managing production operations at the ground level.

Formal Executive Producer Job Description

The Executive Producer is responsible for overseeing the overall production process of films, television shows, or media projects from inception to completion. This role involves a blend of creative vision and business acumen, ensuring the project aligns with artistic goals while adhering to budgetary and scheduling constraints.

Executive Producer vs Producer

Despite being higher on the pecking order, executive producers typically have fewer day-to-day responsibilities than producers. They also have far less creative control over a project. Really, when it comes down to it, executive producers deal with big business-related decisions such as:

  • What script to acquire
  • How to finance a project
  • What distribution strategy to roll out

Producers, on the other hand, are responsible for managing a production’s day-to-day logistics. In comparison to EP’s, they are more creatively connected to a film or show’s material as it is their job to ensure that the creative vision of a project is brought to fruition. Accordingly, producers handle the daily creative and operational duties of production such as:

  • Hiring and managing directors, cast, and crew
  • Continuously coordinating and collaborating with multiple stakeholders
  • Overseeing the creative and technical elements of a shoot

For a more in-depth explanation of the role of the executive producer, including their potential career paths and compensation, check out this blog by Michaelangelo Masangkay, the Director of Production for Toronto Film School’s film production program.

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What are the Duties of an Executive Producer?

If you really want to understand the role of the executive producer, you’ll have to understand how their duties vary depending on what stage of production a movie or show is in.

A day in an EP’s life would look quite different during the development stage of a film than it would during post-production.

In light of this, we’ve opted to break down an EP’s responsibilities not by individual duties, but by the three main stages of production: development, production, and post-production.

Responsibilities of an Executive Producer During Development

Development is the first stage of production and includes a number of highly creative and iterative processes including ideation, pitching, script development, audience analysis, casting, and financing. Without a doubt, for an EP, the development stage is the most important phase of the production process.

An EP’s primary responsibilities during this stage typically include

• Sourcing and developing ideas for a film or television show (buying scripts, purchasing rights to IP, hiring writers to develop original concepts)

• Raising funds to produce the film or show by reaching out and negotiating with financiers, studios, or other independent sources

• Reviewing key creative elements to ensure that the project does not pose any legal or financial risks

• Hiring a producer and other key executive personnel

• Assessing and approving the budget as proposed by the project’s line producer

Responsibilities of an Executive Producer During Production

The production phase is when the actual filming or recording of the project takes place. This stage involves the assembly of cast and crew, the setup of equipment and sets, and the recording of scenes.

An EP’s primary responsibilities during this stage typically include

• Maintaining a bird’s-eye view of the production

• Ensuring the project is both on-brand and on-budget

• Keeping external stakeholders informed of the production’s progress, including investors, studios, and distribution

Responsibilities of an Executive Producer During Post-Production

The post-production stage is the final phase of a film or television production. It is when the raw footage is edited and the final product is enhanced with visual effects, sound effects, and music.

An EP’s primary responsibilities during this stage include:

• Ensuring the film meets all legal and technical requirements

• Overseeing and coordinating the creation of promotional materials

• Securing any final distribution deals

5 Key Skills of an Executive Producer

To be successful in show biz, an executive producer must have a unique combination of business acumen, creativity, and industry-specific knowledge.

Here are a few skills you’ll need to be a successful EP:

1. Financial Management: An EP’s most important job is to secure financing and distribution deals. As a result, they must have an expert-level understanding of finance and accounting

2. Market Knowledge: The best EPs possess a deep understanding of the film and television industry and its trending markets. Because of this, they are able to accurately predict the potential success of a film or show and know exactly where it will make money

3. Leadership and Management: EP’s must be strong communicators capable of effectively delegating tasks and leading a large, complex team

4. Networking and Negotiation: Building and maintaining relationships is at the centre of an EP’s job. They must be able to juggle relationships with studios, investors, producers, and other key industry players while negotiating deals and “selling” their projects

5. Creativity and Storytelling: Although EPs are the money players, they require the creative ability to read scripts and assess the overall vision of a story

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How Does An Executive Producer Make Money?

Executive producers can be paid in a variety of ways. Some EPs will be paid a salary by a studio, which will vary widely depending on the scale of a given project.

According to GlassDoor, the average salary of an EP In Canada in 2023 is $124,382.

Of course, this number should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, if an EP is working on a small-scale indie project, they may be happy to work for much less pay. Alternatively, if they’re hired for a major Hollywood blockbuster, their salary range could reach millions of dollars.

Additionally, EPs can be paid in points, which are payments based on a specific percentage of their film or show’s profits.

Do executive producers earn royalties?

Whether or not executive producers earn royalties (payments based on the sales performance of the product) is another commonly posed question.

In film and television “royalties” are referred to as residuals, and they are reserved for the creatives involved in the project. That being said, if an executive producer plays a direct role in the creative development of the script, they may have the right to earn residuals on their film or show.

How to Become an Executive Producer

Career opportunities for executive producers can be found through industry-specific job platforms such as indeed.com, as well as through networking within the film and television production community.

Key Steps to Become an Executive Producer:

  1. Gain Industry Experience: Start with entry-level roles like production assistant, progressing to roles like line producer or production manager to gain essential production management skills.
  2. Build a Professional Network: Engage in networking by attending industry events and joining film and TV associations. Maintain connections with directors, writers, and producers.
  3. Develop Business and Creative Skills: Acquire a deep understanding of financial management, market trends, and creative storytelling in film production.

Fast-Track Your Way to an EP Position

Yorkville University’s Bachelor of Creative Arts is designed to equip you with the business skills needed to level up your career in the creative industries.

The BCA program is for creatives who wish to:

  • Step into a leadership role within their industry (e.g. become an executive producer)
  • Launch their own creative venture as an entrepreneur (e.g. start a film production company)

In addition, the BCA program is a degree completion program, which means it allows you to leverage your diploma to earn a bachelor’s degree in just 15 months.

Sound interesting? Speak with one of our admissions advisors for more information.

Get more info now.

The Executive Producer, Demystified

Although an executive producer is one of the most important positions in a film or television production, their day-to-day responsibilities can remain somewhat elusive. In this blog post, we’ve aimed to demystify the role of the EP by providing a comprehensive overview of their key duties and skills.

If there’s one thing you should remember, it’s that EPs are the top-level decision-makers responsible for financing a project. Without them, there would be no movies or shows!

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Niko Pajkovic
Niko Pajkovic is a marketing copywriter at the Toronto Film School. He’s also an academically published author whose research focuses on algorithms, AI, and their intersection with film and television. Niko holds an MA in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Hon. BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. His freelance bylines include Film Threat, Independent Australia, Film Matters Magazine, and Film Cred.

Niko Pajkovic

Niko Pajkovic is a marketing copywriter at the Toronto Film School. He’s also an academically published author whose research focuses on algorithms, AI, and their intersection with film and television. Niko holds an MA in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Hon. BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. His freelance bylines include Film Threat, Independent Australia, Film Matters Magazine, and Film Cred.

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