What actually is an Executive Producer?

Producer credits on films can be curious things. But are any as curious as that of Executive Producer?

Few credits on a movie are vaguer than that of a producer. In theory, a producer is the person who initiated a project, recruited acting talent, writers, a director, and got someone to pay for it. But even that doesn’t always hold.

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice has two named producers: Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder. As Roven told us back when he was promoting Man Of Steel in 2013, “you see a lot of names of producers on a movie. If you have the idea, if you oversee the development, if you oversee the production, if you help package the movie, you sell the movie – you can be a producer”. He made the point too that Deborah Snyder is a producer who tends to work predominantly with one director – Zack Snyder, whilst Roven himself tends to juggle lots of projects, and is a little less hands-on. Both are producers, though.

But far more mysterious is the Executive Producer credit. And this can mean all sorts of things, without one consistent approach to it.

In theory, the clue is in the word Executive. The Executive Producer role deals with the business side of things. They’re not hands on, they leave the key creative work to the filmmakers, and often, an Executive Producer isn’t a filmmaker at all. Thus, the executive at a studio or production company gets an Executive Producer credit on a movie.

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The Producers Guild of America defines the role thus:

“An Executive Producer supervises, either on his/her own authority (entrepreneur executive producer) or subject to the authority of an employer (employee executive producer) one or more producers in the performance of all of his/her/their producer functions on single or multiple productions. In television, an Executive Producer may also be the Creator/Writer of a series.”

Let’s leave television for the minute, though, and stick to film. Just that definition above suggests that an Executive Producer either put the money in, or is an executive at the company behind the movie in question.

So far, so good.

But let’s go back to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. In fact, right the way through the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker have been credited as Executive Producers. The pair were instrumental in getting Tim Burton’s original pair of Batman movies to the screen. Whilst they’re not believed to be utterly remote from the more recent Dark Knight adventures though, theirs appears to be a legacy credit. They are, after all, even listed as Executive Producers on the Batman animated movies that have been regularly heading to disc over the past decade or so.

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Using Batman V Superman again, the film has seven Executive Producers listed. Emma Thomas produced The Dark Knight trilogy for Christopher Nolan, although it’s unclear how involved she is this time around. David S Goyer co-wrote the script, and has been a clear influence on the story direction of Warner Bros’ DC films. Geoff Johns, meanwhile, is chief creative officer at DC Comics, and you can’t imagine a film based on a DC property pressing ahead without him having some input.

Wesley Coller, meanwhile, is a long-time Zack Snyder collaborator, from 300 onwards. And then there’s Bruce Moriarty, although it’s unclear whether his final credit will be Co-Producer (which in itself is defined by the Producers Guild of America as “two or more functioning producers who perform jointly or cumulatively all of the producer functions as a team or group”. He’s new to the world of DC, and has served as first assistant director on the movie as well.

But we’re still not done.

The other flavour of Executive Producer credit is the movie star one. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, was credited as Executive Producer on Last Action Hero, but then that reflected his influence over the production. Schwarzenegger was actively involved in the choice of director, in calling Shane Black and asking him to do script work, and even voicing his opinion on the poster design.

Oftentimes, though, the star getting an Executive Producer listing is what’s called a ‘vanity’ credit. They might not do anything, short of acting in the film concerned, to justify it. But it may be a sweetener in a contract, or simply something to make them happy. Some star Executive Producers are more involved than others, let’s just say that.

In television, though, the Executive Producer tends to be far more powerful. The Executive Producer is often the showrunner, in charge of the creative direction of the show. Here, the Executive Producer often comes from a writing background too, in a marked contrast to how movies tend to turn out.

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However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other Executive Producers. As John August again notes, if a TV show is based on a film, for instance, people involved in the movie may get an Executive Producer credit, without having to be very hands on with the production itself (if at all). Furthermore, whilst directors tend to have less clout with television, it certainly helps if they’re involved enough to attain an Executive Producer credit too.

Then there are Executive Producers who remain listed, even after their involvement with the show has ended. The late Sam Simon, for instance, was credited as Executive Producer on 576 episodes of The Simpsons, even though he departed the show in 1993.

Producer credits, then, are a variable beast, with many productions often listing a dozen or more producers of one form or another. Bottom line: to be an Executive Producer, you need money, power, creative talent or to have your old work picked up for telly. You do not need all four of these things…

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