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Film and Television Producers


Motion picture cameras were invented in the late 1800s. The two earliest known films, made in 1888 by French-born Louis Le Prince, showed his father-in-law's garden and traffic crossing an English bridge.

More advanced cameras and motion picture techniques quickly followed. In 1903 American director Edwin Porter and inventor Thomas Edison made The Great Train Robbery, one of the first movies in which scenes were filmed out of sequence; when the filming was completed, the scenes were edited and spliced together. By 1906 feature-length films were being made and many talented and financially savvy individuals were making their livings as producers. The first woman to become a producer was Alice Guy, who started the Solax Company in New York in 1910.

In 1911 the Centaur Company, which had been trying to film westerns in New Jersey, moved to California and became the first studio to settle in Hollywood. Many film companies followed the lead of Centaur and moved their operations to southern California where there was abundant sunshine and a variety of terrain.

The film industry began to consolidate in the late 1920s after the introduction of sound films and the 1929 stock market crash. Small and marginally profitable producers were forced out of business. This left the largest companies, which controlled most of the first-run theaters, to dominate the market. Major studios produced their films in a factory-like fashion. With their permanent staff of cameramen and other technical workers, a major studio could produce 40 or more films annually. And because many of the larger studios also owned their own network of theaters throughout the United States, they had a guaranteed market to which they could distribute their films. This stable, mass-produced system gave some studios the encouragement to produce commercially risky art films as well.

In 1945, following World War II, commercial television broadcasting became available in the United States. The television industry experienced phenomenal growth through increasingly better equipment, more TV stations, and larger audiences. By 1949, for example, nearly 10 million people watched the inauguration of President Truman on television. Television producers became an essential member of production teams at small stations across the country as well as at large network stations. Television was partly responsible for a decline in the number of theatergoers, causing financial difficulties for the film studios. An antitrust court judgment against the studios also eliminated their dominance of the movie theater market. But with the emergence and growth of television, and a steady need for new shows and made-for-TV films, television broadened employment opportunities for producers. The major studios experienced financial difficulties in the 1950s, which because of studio downsizing and other pressures, led to a growth in the number of independent producers. Changes in the U.S. tax code made independent producing even more profitable. In response to their financial difficulties, studios began to reduce the number of films produced each year and to rely more on expensive "blockbuster" films to attract audiences.

In the early 1970s the industry again went through a major reorganization. The staggering expense of producing blockbusters had drained the major studios of their profits, and these financially strapped companies began to make films under strict cost-containment measures. This led to an increase of independent producers initiating film projects. Today, while independent movies remain popular, big-budget blockbuster movies produce the highest box office revenues.

Technical innovations have had great influence on motion picture producing. Portable lights, cameras, and other equipment allow films to be made anywhere and reduce the dependence on studio sets. More recently, the emergence of cable television and the growing number of platforms to view movies (such as the Internet, smartphones, and personal computers) have created demand for more content and opened new markets for film producers. Advances in computer technology have also created a renaissance in animation. Animated films such as Frozen, Coco, and Inside Out have been some of the most popular movies of recent years. High-quality animation is also being created for adults. One example of an adult-oriented animated film is Waltz With Bashir, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008.

In recent years, the traditional distinctions between television and movie production, as well as between American and foreign films, have become increasingly blurred. Americans finance many foreign-made films and a number of American motion picture companies are owned by foreigners.

Today the job of the television producer is a complex one. Some factors producers must consider include increasingly sophisticated equipment, enormous salaries for popular TV stars, and a growing number of networks showing specialized programming (such as History and VH1). The producer must have a depth of technical knowledge, the ability to manage large financial sums, and an instinct for choosing projects that will draw large audiences.

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