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How many producers does it take to make a movie?

Outside of the industry, few people have any idea what a producer does. They may know that they’re important to the production process but are more likely to jump to the Hollywood stereotype (portly, loud, cigar chomping, etc) than appreciate their role in the actual filmmaking process.

It doesn’t help that there are all different types of producers, from the executive producer on high budget productions, down to the mysterious associate producer who must have done something for someone at some point (although not always everybody knows what that was exactly).

To try and get a clearer idea of how many producers it takes to make a film, I looked at the producer credits on the highest grossing 100 films of each of the past 20 years.

In summary…

  • In 1994, there were an average of 5.8 producers credited per film. By 2013, that grew to 10.
  • The number of executive producers has doubled since 1994.
  • Warner and Disney films have more executive producers than ‘standard’ producers.
  • Major independent films tend to have more executive producers than Hollywood films.
  • The number of associate producer credits has barely changed in 20 years.
  • Larger films don't have more producers than smaller films.
     

The Ten Commanders

In 2013, the average film had 10.1 producers in total. That’s 3.2 producers, 4.4 executive producers, 1.2 co-producers, 0.8 associate producers and 0.5 other types of producer. This is almost double the number involved with films made in 1994 (5.8 per film).


 

Revenge of the Executives

In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were an average of just under 2 executive producers per film. In 2000, the number jumped to 2.5 (more than the number of ‘standard’ producers) and it has been rising ever since. In 2013, there were an average of 4.4 executive producers per film, compared with 3.2 ‘standard’ producers.


 

What is a producer, anyhow?

The exact title given to a producer is not regulated by any union or guild, unlike writers and directors in the States. The end result is a whole cavalcade of producing titles and no agreed standard. While some people may be credited as co-producer on one project, the same responsibilities might receive an associate producer credit on another. Each company or studio will have their own rules but they don’t seem to match up with each other.

Generally speaking, I’d say that producing credits break down as follows…

  • Producer – The main person running the whole production (like a CEO)
  • Executive Producer – A powerful person, normally related to the financing and/or the studio behind the project.
  • Co-producer – Someone significantly involved in the making of the film. Also encompasses a local producer when a film is a co-production between multiple companies and/or countries.
  • Line Producer – The person planning the actual filming process.
  • Associate Producer – What you give your secretary instead of a raise.

Ok, ok, the last one is only half true. The associate producer credit has been devalued over time and in many quarters it’s seen as a worthless credit given to those who you need to placate in order to make the movie. That 'secretary' joke comes from David Mamet’s glorious film State and Main, which follows a huge Hollywood production shooting in a small town.

Interestingly, the data shows that the average number of associate producers per film has barely changed in 20 years (1994 = 0.9 per film, 2013 = 0.8 per film).
 

Studios of producers

Films at Warner Bros. and Walt Disney have more executive producers than ‘standard’ producers. Taking into account the questionable nature of associate producer credits mentioned above, they are rarer on 20th Century Fox films than they are on Disney films.

The independent sector, (defined as films made without backing from one of the six major studios), hires the most executive producers (on average 3.3 per film, compared with Hollywood's average of 2.6 per film).


 

Do larger films have more producers?

No. There isn't a correlation between the size of the budget and the number of producers.


 

Do more producers mean a bigger box office?

No. But to be fair, nor does it appear that more producers are a hindrance. I cross-referenced the number of producers with the gross box office performance of the films and found no clear pattern. I also looked at the 'budget to box office ratio’ to rate films based on how well they performed in relation to their budget, but still no pattern emerges.

This is not surprising - clearly it’s the quality of producers that matters, not the quantity.
 

Credit where credit is due

Within my 2,000 films there were 202 producer credits that didn’t fall into the main types listed above. Some of those included…

  • 3D producer
  • IMAX producer
  • Co-ordinating producer
  • Contributing producer
  • Supervising producer
  • Creative executive
  • Transmedia producer
  • Entertainment producer
  • Delegate producer
     

How many producers is too many producers?

In my article about department sizes on Hollywood films a few weeks ago (based on the top grossing 1,000 films 1994-2013) I listed the five productions with the largest number of producers. In my study, Lee Daniel’s The Butler has no fewer than 39 producers credited, including Bob and Harvey Weinstein (pictured) as executive producers. The total list includes 5 producers, 17 executive producers, 6 co-executive producers, 4 co-producers and 7 associate producers.
 

Epilogue

This data is based on publicly available information, such as Opus and IMDb and so there may be some reporting bias, especially towards the older films.

I'm aware that this article might elicit some good producer jokes so I thought I'd get in there first. I've previously tried to find the collective noun for a bunch of producers (A crook? A scourge? A pride? An ostentation? A cluster-fuck of producers?) so let's end with some old school gags...

Q. How many producers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 
A. Producers don’t screw in lightbulbs, they screw in hot tubs.

Two producers are sitting on a park bench. A beautiful girl walks by. The first producer says: "Man, I'd like to screw her". The other producer says: "Out of what?"
 



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