What does an assistant producer do?
Despite the name, assistant producers (APs) in unscripted TV are not exactly producers’ assistants. They are more like junior producers – doing similar work to a producer, creating programme content, but without the final say on the big decisions.
The role is the next step up from researcher and they continue to do research work. APs come up with ideas for programmes and write research briefs. On the day of a studio broadcast or live transmission, APs look after the contributors, ensuring they understand what's expected of them. They do this on a documentary too. They also help plan the filming and ensure all the paperwork is complete and filed. Depending on the programme, they may also write short scripts.
Some assistant producers are more like junior directors, in that they often assist on shoots by operating a smaller digital camera. If they shoot, they are known as ‘shooting APs’. They could be working with a producer director and providing alternative shots on a second camera, such as filming a chef’s hands as they cook while the producer director shoots on a big wide shot. Or they could be filming ‘recce’ footage of locations or interviewing potential new experts. A well-shot recce tape can help the director and producer plan the shoot. They also cut this material to show to a series producer.
Assistant producers are mainly freelance and work from project to project, although they are occasionally staff within ongoing productions such as news or sport. Some APs also specialise in certain areas of production, such as casting, where they could be looking for shoppers for a consumer series or participants for a reality show.
What’s an assistant producer good at?
- Creativity: come up with original ideas for programming, know how to craft a story
- Writing: create concise and factual documents that present your research clearly
- Technical knowledge: know how to operate digital cameras, understand the basics of lighting and sound, use various software packages for editing and presentation
- Organisation: work to a tight and evolving schedule to ensure everything the production needs is sourced, written, shot and edited
- Understanding rights: know the different permissions and rights needed to use different materials, access different locations and film individuals