Q. I have a question about producers. I’ve noticed that, in the credits for many series, a large number of actors are named as producers of some kind. For instance, in the last season of “Homeland,” both Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin were listed as executive producers. Do they actually do anything to produce the show, or are these honorifics?
A. Surely you are not suggesting that Hollywood actors need to have their egos and their purses filled with vanity honorifics. Why that would be absurd!
Yeah, it’s often the case that an actor is renegotiating his or her contract on a show that has become successful, and they want more money along with a credit. They don’t actually perform producing duties, on or off the set, but a credit validates the value of their presence on the show — and can enable them to make extra money as a producer and not as an actor (so that other actors don’t feel they should get more, too). In a few of those cases, the actors who’ve gotten producer credits can actually participate in some of the show’s important decisions, including casting actors and choosing directors.
Other times, an actor is actively involved in developing a property early on, making all kinds of creative and financial choices along the way to getting made (including taking a smaller-than-usual payday or raising funds). They want to have control over their careers and they don’t want to sit waiting for appropriate roles to come to them. In those cases, they have truly been producing from the beginning, and the show will arrive with their producing credit.
Some, like George Clooney, Kerry Washington, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Brad Pitt, start production companies in order to be pro-active about roles, although — if you can believe it — some do produce shows for other actors or for the culture at large and not just for themselves (think Will Ferrell and “Dead to Me,” “Succession,” and “Eastbound & Down”).
There are all kinds of deals, of course — as many deals as there are ambitious actors.