What does an associate producer do? It should have an easy answer, but just like everything in production, it can get a little complicated.
Sometimes, the same title will mean different jobs just because every project varies in nature and budget. This is true especially for an associate producer, often referred to as an ‘AP’.
Whether it is in film or TV, an associate producer can be a valuable- if not essential- resource for any producer, but there are as many different associate producer job descriptions as there are projects, and it would be cheating if we gave you a simple, straightforward definition.
Instead, in this post, we’re answering 21 questions about associate producers to give you a better, deeper understanding of what the job entails. For this post, we’ll only be focusing on film or TV associate producers.
Let’s start with the obvious.
The associate producer or ‘AP’ is someone who works closely with the producer and assists him or her in putting a TV show or film together. They serve as their right-hand human and are therefore entrusted to complete a very wide range of tasks.
You can see this position as a “side-kick” character in a superhero movie.
They are not the hero of the story, per se, but they make sure the superheroes can save the town time and time again.
In other words, you are the Alfred to the producer’s Batman.
The question of what does an associate producer do is really up to the producer to decide. The role is defined by the project’s needs and, therefore, by the producer’s needs.
The list of potential tasks and duties is literally infinite. Giana Sobol, discusses her experience as the AP on True Blood.
The associate producer job description can range.
For TV, their duties might look like this:
But we’ll expand on this in a few sections.
The answer to what does an associate producer do can be as broad as “seeing things through” on a production, which can entail overseeing elements through pre-production, distribution, or even packaging.
As an associate producer in film, you’ll may find yourself:
An associate producer in film or TV can even help the producer find money to make the production happen.
While other associate producers, like Jordan Schlansky, prefer to spend their time like this…
The point is, an associate producer’s role changes all time, from project to project and budget to budget. And even from film to television.
An associate producer mostly works for the producer, the ‘suit’ who brings money in and makes all the big decisions.
Depending on the budget range, the title or type of producer the AP reports to may vary.
On higher budget productions, an AP could, for instance, work for an executive producer or for a line producer.
And that’s just for films. TV is a completely different beast, and the associate producer job description can also change according to that medium.
So, what is an AP in TV production, you ask? That’s our next question!
Television associate producer roles vary based on the production.
Most commonly, they report to a producer and work with a production company. In some cases, the title can refer to a consulting writer on the show. Though, the consulting producer title is generally more common for this.
Overall, the breakdown of producer titles is perhaps more complex in television than feature films, because members of the production staff can often wear many different hats at once. In TV, the title of producer usually refers to writers. For example, executive producers are often creators or showrunners.
But regardless, an AP in TV production performs a variety of tasks and duties, and is generally at the bottom of the ladder among other ‘producer’ title-holders.
Seem confusing? We’re with you. Let’s look at it another way:
The role of an AP in television is more like an assistant to the producers, as they will work for the creators of the show.
Listen to how Gianna Sobol, AP of True Blood describes her day-to-day.
They can be asked to perform the same duties as an associate producer in film, but they generally have even less decision-making power. We touched on their duties briefly in a previous section but let’s expand a bit.
Their duties may involve but are not limited to:
An AP in television, many assigned duties pertain to the development phase, but their duties can certainly extend beyond it as well. As mentioned in Sobol’s interview, there are plenty of days she spends on set.
An associate producer in film works with everyone else involved in the project. There is no department an AP can’t theoretically interact with.
For instance, an associate producer in film can be put in charge of writing interview questions for a feature documentary. In that case, they will most likely work with the cast or the director.
The associate producer in TV, meanwhile, will usually work with their fellow APs but also sometimes with researchers, runners, writers, field producers, supervising producers and story producers.
Though their responsibilities are wide-ranging, associate producers are technically members of the production department, whether it is in TV or Film.
The truth is that each production answers the key question- “What does an associate producer do?”- in their own way.
Their role can take on many different shapes and forms, but a good thing to keep in mind is that an AP is more of an ‘executant’ than an ‘executive’.
An executant is “a person who carries something into effect.”
This means that APs are usually a lower-ranking position and are doing the groundwork for the producers above them. They often do not have a say in big creative or financial decisions but are working alongside everyone else for a smooth delivery. They’re usually more like contributors to creative decisions made.
The difference between associate producers and assistant producers can get murky, especially in television. Sometimes they’re the same, and sometimes they’re not.
In many ways, both roles follow the same general idea, but in some cases, the associate producer is more likely to get more opportunities to participate directly in the creative process.
Co-producers are usually just “above” the associate producer, especially on films. Though, with TV producers, the waters get muddier.
Co-producers in television are often writers. But the differences will vary depending on the production. But basically these two types of producer credits go to a person who has a hand in getting the film made but lacks the power of an EP or producer.
From pre-production, to production, to post-production, the associate producer is always busy. But an argument can be made that an associate producer often spends a great deal of their time in development, pre-production, and production.
The sky's the limit in answering, “What does an associate producer do on a production?” They are responsible for getting things moving and can be asked to participate in each and every step of the process.
What is an associate producer’s most sought-after skill set?
The essence of the job is, in many ways, being able to relay your thoughts, opinions and ideas clearly to those around you.
Because you’ll often be asked to multi-task and think on your feet, solid organization can help you prioritize and keep your cool as you’re always working under pressure. You’re also likely to be the one scheduling your producer’s meetings and coordinating their schedules.
For an AP, being industry-savvy is an invaluable skill. Become super familiar with the “who’s who” in Hollywood (or the indie world) so you’re able to quickly suggest talent to your producer. Additionally, becoming aware of who is sitting at the desk of each agency could also give you a leg up. If nothing else, it will make the conversations you have to have happen faster, or hopefully, smoother. This way you can get what you want, or you know...what your producer wants.
Storytelling skills are essential. Whether in TV, film, or even newscast, associate producers will most likely be asked to edit or organize scripts. Typical tasks from real associate producer job descriptions or resumes, will involve writing story outlines, writing interview questions, giving detailed notes, or working with the producer or director to shape the story narrative.
Staying up to date on trends and opportunities is very important for this position, especially in TV Production. Reading up on trends and watching the latest shows and films are your best allies to keep informed and remain an irreplaceable AP.
As seen above, the AP works with a slew of other people. Being able to lead others is critical when executing any project.
Sure, it’s always a question of the chicken or the egg, but the safest answer is yes.
Many APs start out as assistants to a producer. And becoming an assistant might be rough at first, but it's a sure-fire way to get unrivaled experience.
It will quickly become obvious that knowing what your producer needs before they need it, is the kind of experience required to succeed in this role.
You don’t need deep knowledge of how to shoot a scene, but you should know the process for shooting a scene and everyone involved. Knowing who does what and when, comes from this direct experience, quite often as an assistant.
Editing and organizing scripts can sometimes fall under an AP’s role, so having a storytelling background is useful. But again, all of this will depend on which producer you’re working with and what the production demands.
For the purpose of this post, we are focusing on film and television, but the right kind of experience an AP needs varies across industries and projects. Depending on the project, experience working with social media might be necessary. Or if we’re getting into another industry, like say, podcasting, other technical skills might be required. In theater, it could mean heavy coordination - managing your producer’s schedule, scheduling meetings, reaching out to agents to find the right fit for a leading role, etc.
Depending on the field and depending on the nature of the project, many different types of software are used by APs.
These softwares might include Hotbudget, Movie Magic scheduling, Final Draft, Google Suite, Adobe Premiere, and others as necessary. Though, the first one on this list is primarily used by the UPM, line producers, or even coordinators if helping to wrap on smaller shoots.
Others might use a basic scheduling software strictly for organizing their producer’s affairs. Others still, might not use any. But if you’re working across many different projects all of the time, you’ll likely come across a few of these.
An associate producer’s salary primarily depends on if they’ve been hired as a freelancer or if they’re an employee working for a company.
If they’re an employee, the average salary for an associate producer in film and TV in California is around $52,000 per year. But this number could be much higher.
As a freelance AP, depending on the budget, they might have a day rate somewhere between $300-$400. And if they’re a freelance associate producer working on a high budget feature, this could look very different.
Companies might contract associate producers on a yearly basis or offer a week-to-week salary instead.
Some associate producers jobs also come with perks. Certain companies offer medical, dental, vision and life insurance packages.
The vast majority of associate producers are freelance and work from project to project. Many are part of the same production company and together, they all work across various mediums from television to film to commercials.
For an experienced freelancer, jumping from one AP job to the next might offer the strongest financial incentive, if they’re not afraid of putting in the hours.
This is probably going to sound obvious, but more often than not in this industry, jobs are far from being your simple 9 to 5.
Depending on the size of the project as well as the producer and director needs, an associate producer job can either be freelance or full-time.
APs might even have to be prepared to work on weekends, too.
When working for a dedicated tv production, you’ll be working for the duration of that show.
It can sometimes mean being far away from home, and working Monday through Saturday, for months at a time. Though, depending on where you’re working, the overtime laws will vary. And this will also depend on whether you’re an exempt or non-exempt worker.
It all depends on what kind of production you want to work on.
If you want to work in television, try to get hired on a television show. If you dream of working in feature films, maybe try working on feature films.
The more experience you get on one type of production, the more likely you are to be hired again for that same kind of production later on. And the more savvy you’ll become in that particular niche.
But equally important, the more experience you have working with the same producers, the more likely they’ll notice you.
If we take another look at Associate Producer Gianna Sobol of True Blood’s Part 2 interview, she goes into how her relationships landed her the opportunity to pitch ideas to various producers.
Sobol’s new opportunities were a direct result of building and maintaining strong relationships with many of the same producers.
Many different paths can lead to being an associate producer in film or TV.
Like most jobs in the industry, it’s about working your way up. In this case, the best advice is to start looking for production jobs early on and get close to producers, since they’re ultimately the ones who will hire you.
Getting a job as an assistant and working your way up that way is one option. Soaking up as much industry knowledge is key. Building and maintaining good relationships with those you meet either on set or off, is a great foundation to lay for yourself. Breaking into the entertainment industry isn’t easy, but having people on your team so to speak, is a great start.
And if you’re already an AP, looking for more work, you already know that most producers work with people by word of mouth.
But if you haven’t been an AP yet, and you don’t really know anyone the way you think you should yet, don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of AP jobs out there that you can apply to.
And some production companies do actually post associate producer jobs, so keep your eyes peeled and get ready to send your resume.
Which leads us to our next question…
While referrals are more common, having a killer resume can still come in handy.
Whether you’re a producer looking to hire an AP or an AP looking for a job, we can’t say it enough: experience, experience, experience…
Having significant professional TV or film experience is a must, as the associate producer will be required to interact with different key players in the production process.
A college degree (in film/TV, communications, broadcasting, or marketing) is a great start! But know that it isn’t usually necessary.
Most of the time, quantifiable achievements speak louder than the highest GPA. Looking at the specific projects that an individual has worked on can be a good indicator of that individual’s skills as an AP.
For example, if someone’s resume finds its way onto your lap and you notice they have worked on Deadpool or Moonlight, then it’s safe to say you’ve probably hit the jackpot.
As a producer, you want to be able to rely on your sidekick, not show them the way around. Someone with experience in the field and a good understanding of how it all works will allow you to maintain peace of mind as you entrust them with your project.
It all depends on your budget.
If you’re already scrambling to get financing for your next short, hiring an associate producer might not be the best option for you. Unless your trusted friend or partner wants to jump in as a favor and help alleviate some of the logistical headaches that come with producing, you could be better off doing everything yourself.
When budget permits it though, hiring an associate producer in film or TV can save you countless hours of work, so you can focus on your actual job.
Seek recommendations from people you know and trust. As with most jobs in the industry, personal connections can ensure that you find someone trustworthy.
Or, posting on job boards is another way to find someone quickly.
Whether you are scanning IMDB pages, negotiating for your own AP title, or attempting to hire your best friend as an AP on your next short, remember that the role of an associate producer will be determined largely by the size, budget, and exact nature of the specific production in question.
In other words, an associate producer credit can mean just about anything, depending on the credit’s context. The AP credit in the case of True Blood was given to Gianna Sobol for a variety of things - from editing scripts to writing content for the main character’s blog within the show.
Note that a credit as an Associate Producer in film isn’t the same as the “produced by” credit.
An associate producer does a lot indeed. It is a demanding, hour-crushing, intense job that can be highly rewarding in the long run.
If you can handle the heat, jump right in; the associate producer role might just be right for you.
On the other hand, if you’re casually curious about life behind the scenes, working as an AP might not be the best avenue to take.
Regardless, the best advice for anyone is that there is no better way to learn than by doing.
To some degree, each production company or producer will make up their own associate producer description and define exactly how this position can fulfill their needs for a specific project or client.
Being an associate producer is a little bit like being a gardener: you’re not growing the plant but rather giving the plant the environment it wishes to grow in.
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