So You Say You’re an Associate Producer?
Most positions in the film world follow a strict hierarchy and set of tasks, usually because that is how most people understand a film set to work and what the union and legal regulations will allow. An assistant director will work on scheduling and run the set, but will never tell the director of photography what to do. The director will make all the creative choices about the film, but will not do the budgeting because this would interfere with the work of the line producer. Some film jobs, however, are less determined ahead of time and are more up to the interpretation of the specific project. The question "what does an associate producer do?" comes up quite a bit, and the answer is that their specific tasks, payment, and even employer will depend on each project they are working on.
General Things an Associate Producer Does
The associate producer is still one of the film jobs in the producers department, so it usually works on the overall completion of the film rather than one specific technical element.
The producer oversees the production of the film itself, approving budgets, organizing production, and everything else in this area in a high level fashion. An associate producer is not going to have this kind of power generally, and will often instead work at one level of this organ making sure certain things get done.
An associate producer may only work in the office of the production company overseeing the production and may end up doing several producer functions on several different projects at once. They may also just work on a certain part of the project, such as when shooting on one location during a narrative production or on a certain segment of a documentary film. Perhaps they oversaw the script development, post-production, distribution deals, or some other subset where the producer's department had to be there but the lead producer could not be there. They may even just serve the function of an assistant producer, providing support to the main producers in their jobs.
Whatever the determined role is, the associate producer will not be a full producer and will likely not be a participant in the production, meaning that they will not receive above the line profit sharing. If it is a union governed shoot they may or may not have to be part of the Producer's Guild, but usually an associate producer will not, and will be hired to only do tasks that other union positions do not have to do. Oftentimes, a co-producer will do the same functions of an associate producer, but they are still above an assistant producer on most sets.
An associate producer position is usually separated from an executive producer position, though what an associate producer does may often be similar to what an executive producer does. An executive producer often provides funding, acts as an intermediary for a distribution outlet, or simply did one great thing for the producer. An associate producer will likely do regular tasks, though the title is negotiable. For example, if one individual provides a large sum of funding they may request that they are credited as an associate producer credit so that they add this to their filmography. It is these kind of allowances that make it hard to say what an associate producer will do in a production because it is strictly determined by each situation.