What Does An Anime Producer Do?

by Justin Sevakis,

Mikosh asked:

I noticed that anime have different kinds of producers listed in their credits, like executive producers, producers, animation producers, etc. So what is the job of each one of them and in what way each producer impacts the production of an anime?

"Producer" is a frustrating title, because it's almost always the most important job in film and television production, anime included. And yet, because it's not really a creative role (unless they also do something else like write or direct, which is common in film and TV but not in anime), nobody seems to notice them. Most producer credits get ignored by fans and even some professionals. Worse, the title itself gets used and abused, given away sometimes to people who did absolutely nothing on a show as a bargaining chip or as a political move.

There's a reason why when a movie or TV show wins a major award, like an Oscar, it's the producer that goes up to accept it. They are the management of a production, in charge of keeping things moving, everybody working, spending money wisely, hiring, firing, and everything else that goes into making a show (aside from the creative part). It's a big job, and it's usually spread out across multiple people.

There are varying levels of producer. On the top is the Executive Producer (製作総指揮). This is the "money person," and is usually the CEO of the main company producing the film. It's hard to tell how much work they did from the outside, but they were the ones in charge of finding investors, contributing money themselves, and otherwise getting the ball moving. Since each new production is often a consortium of companies (the "production committee"), this is basically akin to starting a new business.

Then comes the actual "producer" (プロデューサー). This is the main person that drives a project forward. This person sets the budget, finds a director, finds and negotiates a rate with the animation studio. They determine the overall thrust of the project: the intended demographic, the sort of people that should be working on it, the style to go for. They're in charge of the overall budgets, all of the contracts with the main staff and all of the vendors, like the animation studio, recording studios, and everything else. The film or TV show is their baby. The producer usually works at a specific production company, and wields a lot of power. It's their job to get the decisions signed off on by the original creator and the production committee.

Getting all of this off the ground is a herculean task. Companies like Aniplex, TMS, Pierrot, Bandai Visual and others have development (企画/planning) departments to assist the producer with all of these things, scheduling meetings and working through pre-production to come up with a staff and an overall plan to get a show produced.

The contracts involved in creating a show, alone, are a full time job. Each major talent has to sign a work agreement, including musicians, directors, designers. Every vendor company has contracts. Every distribution agreement has contracts. Every merchandise deal has contracts. Just the contracts involved in producing a single show could fill a filing cabinet. And each contract carries with it obligations on payment, scheduling, deadlines, approvals, and other provisions. All of those have to be carefully juggled.

After that, you have sub-producers that handle more granular details of the production. You have the Animation Producer, who usually works at the actual animation studio that's subcontracted to do the work. They're in charge of keeping the animation itself funded, staffed, and moving forward, bringing in outside help and subcontracting to other studios when necessary. You have the audio producer, who is in charge of coordinating casting, working with outside talent agencies, voice recording and sound effects. You have a music producer, who has to deal with record labels and outside artists and composers. And so on.

You then have associate producers (which assist the main producer), a line producer (who manages the day-to-day expenses of a production, although this is more of a thing with live action projects), and possibly other similar divisions of labor.

Sometimes producers do get involved in the actual creative nuts and bolts of a project. For example, when a director goes off the rails, the producer's job is to reign them in. ("Hey, maybe cut down this 2-minute long lingering scene of a sunset," to give an easy example.) In extreme cases, when a director is truly perceived to be screwing up, the it's the producer's job to save the millions invested in production by kicking the director to the curb and trying to "save" the film -- for better or worse. While there are stories of this happening in the anime business, all of that happens behind closed doors. I'm told that these days, most anime producers don't meddle too much. They haven't gone to film school, after all, and feel creatively not qualified to challenge the director's vision.

Making all of this much more confusing for anime fans is the fact there was a huge lack of standardization not only in how producers were credited, but how those roles were translated for English credits. I've seen credits like "製作プロデューサー" get translated literally as "production producer," which probably means line producer (I think)?

But regardless, I do think fans should pay more attention to anime producers. They're as indicative of the final product as any creative staff, perhaps moreso.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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