June 14, 2023
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How to Work With Your Line Producer to Stay on Budget

Chris Cullari
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Line producers have an essential job, but a stressful one. They manage every aspect of a production’s budget and often find themselves at odds with the creatives who hired them. 

To avoid frustration and conflict, it’s essential to understand how to find the best candidates for the job and the best ways to collaborate with them to bring your project to life. That’s why we went to a line producer who’s been in the trenches to help you build the best relationship you can with your LP.

Meet Tina Densmore Bell

To help, we interviewed Tina Densmore Bell, a line producer who has worked on shows such as Hulu’s This Fool and Comedy Central’s Corporate, as well as commercial production company Hungry Man.

She filled us in on what a line producer does, how to find the right one for the job, and best practices for building a working relationship with them once they’re hired. 

What does an LP do?

Line producing is a managerial position. They develop and oversee a project’s budget, line by line (hence the job title). They also oversee all operations and logistics for a film, from the pre-production phase, through hiring, through production, to delivery of the completed work. 

According to Tina: 

“You're dealing with the directors, you're dealing with the writers, you're dealing with the cast, with the crew. You're basically getting your hands on every single part of the project that you could be because you're the person bringing it all together and then sending it off into the world.” 

Hiring an LP

If you’ve never hired an LP before, it might seem like an intimidating task. Where are you going to find someone you can trust with the oversight of your entire project‌? And how can you be sure they’re the right person for the job?

To start, you have to have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for. 

Determine your budget and needs

By the time you start talking to candidates, you should know the status of your project’s budget, how much cash in hand you have to pay your line producer, and how much work you’ll be asking them to do. 

Of course, sometimes you need a line producer to come on to develop your project’s budget in order to get financing. And if you don’t have financing, you might not even have money to pay a line producer yet. 

That’s okay! Tina says that at these early stages, everything is negotiable. 

“I've done everything from, ‘Hey, will you do this for free, and then if we get this off the ground, you're the person I would bring on.’ Sometimes you negotiate a higher title, right? Like, ‘Hey, will you start this budget, get on, and I'll also make you an executive producer, and then we can talk about an executive producer fee.’”

What’s essential is to define what you’re looking for. Do you need someone who will accept a consulting fee to develop the budget so you can secure financing for your project? 

Are you already financed and looking for someone to come on board and shepherd the film through production? If so, will they be getting a weekly salary? A flat fee?

To be clear: just because some LPs will be comfortable with a delayed payment arrangement, not all will be. It’s your responsibility to be honest about your situation. There may be room to negotiate on how much and when you pay them - but no one wants to feel lied to. 

Next, track down candidates

Once you’ve determined what you’re looking for, your next hurdle will be finding candidates to interview. Assuming you aren’t working with a studio or commercial house that has candidates on call, Tina suggests trying networking first. 

“If you're making a movie, you probably want to talk to some of your other friends who made a movie in the same range of what you're looking for and say, ‘Hey, I'm looking to make an indie movie. Who did you work with? Is there anyone you recommend? Do you know anyone hungry who wants to do this?’”

If you’re trying to keep your costs down, Tina suggests tapping your creative network for production supervisors who are ready to take a step up to LP seat. It may be easier to work a deal for a low budget project with someone who is passionate about advancing their career.

If you don’t have a network to lean on, you’ll have to hit the internet and do some digging. Social media is always a good place to start, but for a more targeted approach, try industry oriented job sites. Online platforms dedicated to freelancers and professionals in the entertainment industry, such as Mandy.com, EntertainmentCareers.net, and LinkedIn, offer access to a vast pool of people. 

Finally, if you sign up for Wrapbook’s All-Crew Database, it’s easy to keep track of the people you’ve worked with in the past. Simply review your personal crew database of everyone who’s worked on your productions.

If you’ve hired a line producer before and decide you want to work with them again, Wrapbook makes that even easier. We’ll store their information and re-enter it for you. All with a few clicks of a mouse.

Working with Line Producers - Wrapbook - Crew Database
If you’ve worked with a great line producer before, our All Crew database makes it easy to hire them again.

And if you still need a little more guidance on crewing up, make sure to check out Wrapbook’s guide on how to crew an indie production

Interview candidates

When it’s finally time to sit down and interview your candidates, Tina has some guidance for what kinds of questions to ask. 

First, ask for a resume and references so you can see if other people had a positive experience with your candidate. Someone can give a great interview and be a nightmare on the job. This hopefully won’t happen if you track down their past employers and ask what their experience was like. 

Second, get a sense of what kind of budgets your line producer candidate has worked with in the past. As Tina puts it,

“If I give you $10 million, can you handle budgeting that much money? Does that intimidate you? Does that scare you? If I give you $10,000, does that sound impossible to you because you're used to working with $2 million?”

You’ll want to ask what kinds of projects your candidate has worked on in the past. Working in TV is very different than working in movies is very different than working in commercials. They all come with their own unique challenges, rules, and practices. 

Similarly, has your candidate worked mostly union or non-union? If your show is union and they’ve mostly worked non-union jobs, the learning curve can be difficult.

“They need to know what the union rules are. They need to know how to budget for unions. They need to understand how P&W works and wages and all the different union fringes and little things that you then have to add to the budget because you're working with the union instead of nonunion… [ultimately,] they don't necessarily have to have the experience, but you at least want to make sure that they have the confidence that they can figure it out.”

Build a strong working relationship

Once you’ve hired the right candidate and agreed on how they will be paid, you have to build a positive working relationship with them. From Tina’s perspective, this starts with a key ingredient of any relationship: honesty.

Be honest

“My number one thing is always be open with your producer about everything. Your line producer becomes your partner, your line producer becomes the person holding the keys to making this [project] happen successfully. And while the line producer isn't a creative role, I always suggest you involve them in the creative process.”

Some creatives might shy away from this. They might see the line producer as a “no” person, or someone who needs to be worked around so they don’t throw cold water on their ideas. That’s not the case in a healthy relationship between creatives and production. 

For a cringe-inducing example of what can happen when a director and their line producer don’t get along, look no further than Season 4 of HBO’s Project Greenlight.

But not every project has to be this way!

As Tina says, 

“I'm trying to pull off everything you want. I can't figure that out if you don't tell me. So tell me everything you want and then let's problem solve it together.”

Share information

Information sharing is critical. The best line producers are more than just money managers.  They are information hubs that keep the gears turning between departments.

“The best thing you can do is be a gatherer of information and then share all that information. I like to tell everyone everything always, because information is power and information is what leads to success.”

Tina, and LPs like her, can’t be that fountain of knowledge if they don’t know what your plans are. And if they can’t share that information, it can get in the way of your set operating smoothly.

“All of those things from the top down have a relationship. So, wardrobe has a relationship with the set design. Often you want the colors to match or the vibe or the character. The same thing happens with both producer and creative. You want production to reflect what the creative is.”

Be collaborative

Good camaraderie can set the tone for the entire shoot. As you work together to make the best hires and plan the best way to schedule the shoot, the process will naturally become collaborative instead of combative.

“Some creatives like to keep it really close to their chest and they say, ‘No, I'm the director. It's all in my head. I have this vision.’ Or ‘I'm the writer. I can't involve anyone else in this process.’ But when you bring [the line producer] into it, it gives them a sense of ownership. They're not just making phone calls and playing with numbers. Suddenly, the project becomes theirs.”

As the production process continues and problems arise, it can be tempting to avoid having certain conversations that you feel might become tense. 

What if you want a stunt in your movie that you know you can’t afford? Or you absolutely must find a way to shoot an extra day. But you’re not sure you can give anything up to pay for it?

Don’t ignore these problems until the day of. Don’t approach these conversations as a foregone fight, with creative at cross-purposes from production. Remember that you’re in it together and you will get the best out of your line producer.

“Those are the projects I do the best on. Those are the projects I care the most about. Those are the projects I'll stay up late at night and give all of my energy and time to because then I have a sense of shared ownership. I made this, I helped make this happen.”

Wrapping up

Your relationship with your line producer can make the difference between a successful shoot and a stressful disaster. By following Tina’s advice, you’ll be sure to start your journey on the right foot. 

For more information on crewing your film, check out our Essential Guide to Crew Positions, or for another lesson on line producing, check out our article on 11 Ways to Become a Better Line Producer.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Chris Cullari

Chris Cullari is a writer/director based out of Los Angeles. His most recent film, THE AVIARY, is available for streaming on Paramount Plus and Showtime. You can find him tweeting about monsters, pro-wrestling, and horror movies.

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