What does a producer do?
I get this question a lot and the truth is: it really depends. A producer’s duties can range from almost everything to absolutely nothing. The title can be a distinction that accurately reflects an individual’s contribution to a particular production, or it can be little more than a vanity credit offered to placate shiftless idiots.
Producer titles come in various shapes and sizes. There are Producers and Associate Producers and Assistant Producers and Supervising Producers and Line Producers and Co-Executive Producers and Executive Producers. And, perhaps some day, we’ll also see Accomplice Producers and Appendage Producers and Almighty Pansophical Omniscient Producers.
I can dedicate an entire blog entry to these various producers titles, but let’s keep it personal. My name is Joseph Mallozzi. I am an Executive Producer on Dark Matter as well as being the show’s creator and its Showrunner. THIS is what I do –
Prior to the commencement of prep, I will come up with a season-long story and individual character arcs in addition to as as many stories as possible for the upcoming season. I will then convene and oversee a writers’ room in which we attempt to break 13 stories – each a teaser, five acts, a tag, and every scene and narrative beat. On days when the room spins its wheels, unable to gain traction on a story, I will go home and work on it myself, returning the next morning with a fresh tack and, if I’m lucky/inspired, a complete beat sheet. Along the way, I assign scripts and, eventually, provide notes and direction when the writers deliver their outlines. I also provide notes on all scripts.
I write 5 of 13 scripts every season. My writing partner, Paul, writes 5 as well. I will do passes on every script, and these will range from tweaks to uncredited complete rewrites. As we go through prep, I will make adjustments to these scripts, incorporating notes from Executive Producer Jay Firestone, input from the cast, losing or amalgamating scenes to ensure we are able shoot the episode in our allotted time, adding scenes if the episode is timing short, making adjustments to scenes to address actor availability issues.
In short, I start writing once one season ends and stop writing – well, technically never, but for the purposes of a single season – long after we’re finishing shooting, occasionally scripting extra or alternate dialogue for ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) as needed.
The goal is to have as many scripts ready as possible by the time we go to camera on our first episode. I like to aim for 9 of 13. This gives our various departments time to prepare and also offsets the possibilities of nasty surprises or mad scrambles down the line. This seems like common sense and yet…
So much time and money is wasted on productions that fly by the seat of their pants, with writers scrambling to write scenes to be shot the next morning or productions prepping off outlines. Sadly, these aren’t the exceptions but the norm in this business. Having even 5 episodes before shooting begins is a luxury most productions don’t have. Why not? Various reasons but I’d say the two biggest are: a) Ineptitude (hiring people who don’t know what they’re doing who hire people who don’t know what they’re doing), b) Not Giving a Shit (people assuming this is the norm and who cares anyway?).
Why is our production different? Because Jay Firestone, the President of Prodigy Pictures, the company that produces Dark Matter, will actually risk the money to pay for a writers’ room and scripts before that elusive official pick-up, thereby ensuring that if the show does get the greenlight , we’re in a position to run an efficient production and make the most of our talent and resources. The result is a happy work environment and a better-looking show because our money is spent on sets and visual effects instead of being frittered away on last minute scrambles.
At the beginning of every season, I will oversee early prep as the production gears up, go over our budget, and generally make certain we have all our ducks in a row before we actually start shooting. I’ll interview directors, put together a list with Jay and our Line Producer Norman Denver, go over potential recurring guest stars with our casting director Lisa Parasyn, cast any recurring guest stars with Jay, answer any questions the various department heads may have, and interview replacements for anyone we lost during the hiatus.
Once we get into prep on the individual episodes, I will sit in on every meeting, starting with the concept meeting and ending with the production meeting, but including every meeting in between (Art Department, Hair & Makeup, Wardrobe, Background Casting, Playback, Stunts, Special Effects, Visual Effects, and Props). I don’t micromanage my team. They are all incredibly talented, creative people and my job is to give them direction, not orders. I trust them to deliver the goods and they do, time and time again.
In addition, I will tweak and sign off on casting breakdowns, cast our episodic guest stars, sit in on the cast read-thru, have a tone meeting with the director, and answer any questions anyone may have about the script.
Since we work on a staggered schedule that sees us prepping an episode while another is being shot, I entrust on-set supervision to Co-Executive Producer Ivon Bartok who is there from crew call to wrap, a 12 hour day that usually starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m. Occasionally, we start earlier. All too often, we finish later. I’ll usually come in early and set-sit until my first prep meeting, relinquishing my supervisory duties to Ivon who will deal with any issues or concerns that may crop up during the shoot. If any do, I’m only a text away.
My days tend to consist of early mornings, prep meetings, writing, rewrites, countless approvals, and sporadic set visits. As the season progresses, my duties may also include dealing with any network requests.
Once an episode has been completed, I will do my edit. While many producers will go in and spend the day in the editing suite, I don’t have the time. Instead, I will download the cut and watch it when I get home at night, once straight through, then a second time for notes. I provide the editor with copious notes, anywhere from 25 to 100 and, once they’ve been addressed and a new cut is output (usually the following night) I will repeat the process, sending significantly fewer notes on my second pass. The next day afternoon, I will go into editing and spend maybe 2-3 hours with my editor, completing my Producer’s Cut.
As post-production continues, other pieces of the puzzle are assembled: mixes (music and sound effects), color timing. With VFX Supervisor Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, Paul, and Jay, I will approve the visual effects through its various stages, from concept to finished product.
Of course, while all this is going on, I continue to prep, write, rewrite, edit, and approve. From start to finish, almost six months.
And when the last episode has been shot and the final episode locked, I will switch gears and start thinking about next year, coming up with a season-long story and individual character arcs as well as as many stories as possible for the upcoming season.
Oh, and in addition to all this, I try to get word out about Dark Matter, doing interviews, updating a daily blog with photos, videos, concept drawings, and insights. Our fans get to choose episode titles, quiz our cast and crew, and are given access and insights unlike those offered on any other show.
My plan is to rest after Dark Matter‘s fifth and final season, then start all over again with a new series.
That’s what THIS Executive Producer does.