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.

26 thoughts on “March 3, 2017: What does a producer do?

  1. Hi Joe
    Clap, Clap, Clap.
    I like the fact you trust your team, give them direction and watch the results come forth.


  2. BOOM!

    You’re one busy man Joe… also exceptionally talented and capable. In my opinion, you wear your Executive Producer title, Showrunner title and show Creator title very, very well.

    I really enjoyed today’s post. Thank you for writing it.

    Next time, add how you and Akemi are among the best and compassionate pup parents ever. How’s Bubba, Suji and Lulu today?

  3. Whew, what a whirl wind explanation! I’m speechless! I for one appreciate your imagination and perseverance! You have earned that title and wear it well. I don’t know any Executive Producers who rock the socks and ties the way you do!

  4. Thank you for the detailed explanation. No wonder Dark Matter is so very excellent; the effort which goes into it is most definitely a labor of love. Much appreciated.

  5. Agreed – you obviously love what you do, and it shows. New to Dark Matter (found it courtesy of Netflix and a terrible case of the flu), but mainlined the show in a matter of days, and I’m now anxiously awaiting the next season! That is a tremendous amount of work that you do, and I’m impressed that you take time to blog on top of everything else. Appreciate all the fun tidbits and insights into the creative process. Keep doin’ what you do!

  6. Definitely one your best rants, ever!
    Actually sounds an awful lot like one of my typical never ending days. (Which I’d gladly share but I’m so fricken exhausted after reading yours here I seriously need a nap, eh!)

    Hugs n kissies to sweet Bubba, Lulu, n Suji
    and to my lovely blog fam

    ‘nightey- nite all. xo

  7. That’s a wonderfully thorough description. Thanks! I honestly don’t see how you have time for social media after all of that, but I’m glad you do.

  8. And all I do is sit on my rump and enjoy the show! Thank you for all your hard work! It shows!

  9. Just reading it was overwhelming… even more so knowing that in addition to that you are the best of dog owners, keep up this blog, maintain friendships and relationships (in other words have a LIFE beyond your profession). Professionalism, commitment to quality. I suspect being a masochist helps. 🙂

  10. Great explanation! It’s got to be exhilarating though? Sounds like my dream job! I’m working on my TV series concept, “Enter Entropy”. I have a development proposal, character and story arcs for a first season of 13 episodes. Now just looking for a writing partner and trying to make it a tangible reality!

  11. Wow, thanks for that insight. From the little I know, I’d say you do way more than most. And a mighty fine job you do Sir.

    A question I’ve been wanting to ask for ages: Was it always your plan to kill off One at the start of Season Two; or was the actor no longer available so you had to write that in?

  12. Debra: Did you get my message from yesterday? If not, Carbonite makes a rebuild easy.

    Did someone devalue what you do? Wonderful rant! Thanks to your day to day blog, we know you’re very busy. We appreciate what you do!

    I hope the Pups and Akemi are all ok! Have a great weekend!!!

    I’m working another karate tournament today. Wish me luck please!

  13. And that is why it works!! in a big nutshell.. you,. I am happy you have a well oiled team, is that a good description,, but yes, a super team to pull it all together and make it work, the magic we see on the big screen, thanks to all for the effort, well deserved.

  14. Thanks for the insight! I’ve always wondered how the writing works behind the scenes 🙂

  15. Wow ! Wow ! Wow !

    @Thogar Not just having time for social media, but to personally meet up with fans – and on the only day off you have that week #lovedthatday 😎

    @Tam Dixon Good Luck 👍

  16. I’m watching Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and this episode is about restaurants in Vancouver. Have you been to Tojo’s? Some of the rolls created looked interesting, very colorful and inventive. They’re made so deftly!
    Now, another spot serving Japadog, from street carts, food trucks. You’ve had them in various combinations, right? Now ‘salmon candy’ as prepared by First Nation’s People salted in brine, layered in brown sugar and sesame oil, marinated. Gee, I don’t think I could handle that.

    Glad all is going well with Dark Matter. Getting very excited anticipating the S3 premiere!

    We need a pupper update. Continuing prayers all around.

  17. ‘I don’t micromanage my team’

    One of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for is a guy called Brian Johnson. He would gather a great team of people around him, sometimes from other fields. discuss/show what was required, then leave it to us to work out how to recreate his vision. He would pop in regularly only to check our progress and answer any queries, then leave us to continue. Because he believed in us we would work really hard, push ourselves to our limits (and then some), to justify his belief in us. We did good stuff because of his attitude and respect. Plus, it was great fun to work for him.
    That’s what I see in all your BTS photos of cast and crew …. And in the results that is Dark Matter.
    …. and I bet you make all your hard work seem effortless too.

    PS Ah,
    So … you’re ‘not a director’ then … 😉

  18. Wow! That is quite an intense day and job. I know it doesn’t seem like a job when you love what you do, but it certainly makes me feel like a slacker being just a pet sitter. But that definitely sort of describes my days during holidays. I have to truly love what I do to work from 5:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. on holidays.

    I appreciate all you and everyone in the production does to bring us such a wonderful series. I am confident it will go the full 5 years.

    @TamDixon I hope things went very well for you today.

    @Maggie L80 I visited Cherokee when I went to Asheville to visit my sister. I loved it there. Such rich history. I wished we could have spent another day there.

    Sorry to have gotten behind again. Stressful times in our house. Remember my Puggle client? He died Monday morning. He almost made it to 17. They found a large mass in him a few weeks ago. I was set to watch him this upcoming Friday for a week. I’m glad though if he had to pass he was with his owner and it didn’t happen while I was caring for him. Not that I wouldn’t have handled it with dignity and respect and love, but because it is just better the other way for both concerned.

    And Patrick is having some rough times right now. He is having a serious regression. The last time it happened, it took him a little over 2 years to come back from it. He’s like a different kid. And the only thing I can describe it is like a brain shift. Up is down, down is up, black is white, etc. He can’t discriminate between frozen dinner and yogurt (pictures) on his IPad when he was 100% fluent doing this for almost a year now. They are seeing wild fluctuations in his behavior at school (data graphs of it). He’s had behavior issues at home. Some times he is eerily quiet (very not normal for him; he usually is in a constant state of vocalizations). He isn’t sleeping well again. He is overdue for a breakthrough seizure. Things he loved to eat he hates now. It was like a flip switched. When his case supervisor asked me at a school meeting on Wed how long it took the last time to get back to normal I said a little over 2 years; we only have 17 months left at his school. He just can’t leave there without his communication program being SOLID. I’ve been crying a lot this week.

    Jeff is heading off on a business trip on Tuesday & Wednesday. You KNOW Patrick is going to have his breakthrough seizure on one of those days. I’ll have to get with my clients about backup plans if I’m called to meet them at a hospital after one (if he has it at school).

    This of course is among the other stressors that have happened since mid-January — the lost of his case supervisor for his behavioral health agency (but ultimately got her back). Then the change in the state sponsored insurance plan that we use as a secondary plan. Found out I can opt-out with the permission of the ombudsman but I have to write a letter that pretty much says how this is a life and death situation. I may have to provide evidence of that. Lots of phone calls, a part-time job full of hours involved. I have to compose that letter and get the process started (of course I also have to do receipts for taxes which I know will be late this year; I might as well just fill out the extension now–I don’t owe so it shouldn’t be a problem). And of course Peter. He started his chemotherapy and radiation on Thursday of this past week. He is doing a bit better today.

    And our state legislature is in session (they only meet every 2 years). Lots of bills that will affect Patrick that I’m calling my representatives to express support or dissent (depending on the issue). The advocacy part of my job being Patrick’s mother.

    Monday we will be seeing a tour of another group home — the company that we like and pretty much have decided upon — but we need to see one and they need to meet Patrick and Jeff. And we are about to prepare for the last big IEP meeting for Patrick’s school career. On the flip side I’m kind of grateful he will be out of the public school system (paying for the private facility) because it sounds like things are going to change radically and I don’t know how that would have affected Patrick.

    So lots of things going on here. A local blogger wants to do an interview with me about challenges families with children with autism face. Fortunately she is open to me doing it by email.

  19. Respect to Jay and Joe; I love how tight DM’s plots are, how they interconnect and how little details pay off down the road.

    This week I enjoyed the first zombie project that didn’t give my nightmares (so far!) The Girl With All the Gifts.

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