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How Executive Producers Work

Becoming an Executive Producer

Executive producers like Debra Marin Chase, shown here at the "Cheetah Girls" premiere, manage television, film and music productions.
Executive producers like Debra Marin Chase, shown here at the "Cheetah Girls" premiere, manage television, film and music productions.
© Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Starting at the top is almost impossible in any career -- and that's what you'd be doing if you started work in the film, music or television industry as an executive producer. As with any other career, you need the right experience and training to move up.

Some of the skills you need to acquire are the same for any type of executive producer. For example, you need to be able to manage the logistics, timetables and expenses of a project, as well as the creative talent, technical and production staff equipment, plus the equipment and materials involved.


Of course, you're not likely to do all that yourself, but you'll need training in project management and hands-on experience in some of these areas. After all, if you're going to make sure other people are doing their jobs, you need to know those jobs. And if you're charged with managing the project budget and protecting a studio or record label's investments, you'll need a college degree in finance or a related field.

Each entertainment industry also calls for some specialized skills and training:

Motion picture producer -- Producing a movie would be impossible if you didn't understand how movies are made. Executive producers of films often focus on a particular filmmaking skill -- acting, writing, directing, editing or cinematography -- before becoming an executive producer. And they start small, usually first with a college degree and then working on low-level jobs in the industry. Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee both started producing and directing short films while they were in college.

Music producer -- Perhaps more than in film, an executive producer in the music industry needs a background as a writer or performer and solid knowledge of an instrument. But you also need to know the business, including the process and the equipment. That probably means getting a college degree with an emphasis on music production, music business or sound engineering. After that, it's a matter of starting at the bottom and working up. Many executive producers, like Puffy Combs or Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, began as performing musicians.

TV producer -- As with movies and music, being a television executive producer requires knowledge of the specific industry as well as an understanding of filmmaking or entertainment. Usually this starts with a college degree in communications or media, with specialization in broadcasting. After that, it's a matter of moving up through television or radio.

For example, Paula Apsell, an executive producer with the "Nova" ­science, television series, started out typing a Boston TV station's daily television logs. She moved to the station's radio affiliate and became a news producer before producing a few episodes for Nova and then joining the staff [source: PBS].

David Shore, executive producer of the TV show "House," was a lawyer who changed careers to write for TV. Before he created "House," he worked on many other shows, including writing episodes for "NYPD Blue" and "The Practice," and working as supervising producer on "Law & Order" [source: House].

As with any entertainment career, your success in moving up depends on your luck, contacts and persistence, as well as your talent, skill and experience. Networking can help you move up the ladder from assistant producer to associate producer, producer and finally executive producer.

For lots more information about executive producers and related topics, see the links below.

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More Great Links


  • All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul." Bogdanov, Vladimir, Woodstra, Chris and Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Backbeat Books, 2002, page 805. (,M1)
  • "The Art of Music Production." Burgess, Richard James. Omnibus Press, 2002, page 168-169. (;dq=%22executive+producer%22+music&sig=ACfU3U0Ar7NehK1ChVT32W_V2cOo6RLwJA#PPA168,M1)
  • "Movie Moguls Speak: Interviews with Top Film Producers." Prigge, Steven. McFarland, 2004, pages 99-100.
  • Producers Guild of America. (
  • "The Real Deal: How to Get Signed to a Record Label." Schwartz, Deanna Daylle. Billboard Books, 2002, page 31. (