EP NowEP StoreAcademySupportCommunityProducts by Country
Blog Home

Meet the Executive Producer

A conversation with Mike Drake ('Just Mercy') on the path to becoming and EP, and the role of social responsibility in the evolution of storytelling
February 8, 2022
meet-the-executive-producer-just-mercy

Executive producers have been frequently called the CEO of a film or television production, because of the significant role they play in steering the direction of a project. The role can, however, sometimes be an unclear and complicated one for those not in the know. What’s more, with Hollywood’s push towards greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, the significance of their role requires an evolution to see better representation on screen and behind it. We spoke with executive producer Mike Drake (The Whole Nine Yards, A Simple Favor, Just Mercy) about what an EP does and how to be a successful one – especially when faced with the need for greater social responsibility.

What does an executive producer do?

“Basically, you're either one of three roles,” explains Drake. “You are either paying for it, had a hand in developing it (or are partnered with a talent who did), or make it. You can do one, two, or all of those things at once.” What do those three roles look like in action?

If an executive producer is financing the film, then it’s pretty simple: their bank account becomes the production’s. However, an EP doesn’t always directly fund a project. Sometimes, instead, they work towards securing funding, approving and monitoring budgets with producers and line producers, and liaising with financiers where needed.

If an EP is involved in developing a project, that typically means they have nurtured an original story idea, acquired adaptation rights to existing material, purchased a script, or paired themselves with A-level talent to work on a narrative they’ll try to sell to studios.

Lastly, if an EP is overseeing the making of a film or television series, they can be a critical part of several elements of production. They can be involved in everything from overseeing the script, to bringing talent (actors, directors, producer) on board, hiring the crew, monitoring production, providing notes during post-production, and can even be a part of resolving any legal concerns or marketing the project.

mike-drake-crop.jpg
Executive Producer, Mike Drake

Drake compares his EP approach to being like “a fancy version of a line producer.” He likes to be the go-to person for the financial, logistical, and creative aspects of a project. “I'm the one that's going to drive the production plan and have a big say in how it gets made: when, where, at what time, and [for] how much money,” he says. “I'm the one that everyone turns to ask, ‘How are we going to do this?’ and can respond, ‘Let me figure it out.’”

How do you become an executive producer?

Because of the wide range of responsibilities an EP can (and cannot) have, it’s understandable that there are no academic programs dedicated to learning the ropes. That said, it’s not uncommon for EPs to have studied filmmaking, creative media production and technology, or business management in school. But from there on, there isn’t an official, clearly defined, road map. Some (privileged with time and money) pursue material to turn into a film, and the connections to realize it. Some work their way up through the industry, exploring positions like production coordinator or line producers first.

Drake did the latter. After earning a degree in screenwriting, he pursued internships in the parallel industry of commercial production. (A path others, like editor Randy Bricker, have found themselves taking too). He first started at a visual effects company, before moving to an internship at Steve Golin’s video production company, Propaganda Films, where filmmakers like Spike Jonze, David Fincher, and Antoine Fuqua cut their teeth.

It was an anxious time for Drake. “I didn’t have a mentor or anyone that could say, ‘Hey, you know, those internships will lead you into production, and these internships lead you in development,” he says. It could lead to feelings that will undoubtedly resonate with aspiring EPs today too. “You're petrified that you won't even be able to work in the business. It seems impossible."

As I've gotten older, I've been more focused on having a specific intention, when the opportunity presents itself, to get involved in projects that I think may help shift the narrative of how we see ourselves as humans.

Despite the obstacles, it wasn’t impossible. Even if Drake was unsure of his future, he was gaining valuable experience, and quickly, thanks to the fast-paced world of commercial production. “The cycle turns over so quickly - like within weeks, as opposed to months or years,” he says. He went from intern, to production coordinator, to production manager, in a short span of time. And this acceleration gave him enough confidence – at 24 – that when a college friend who was making low-budget movies at Showtime, asked Drake to work together, it was an easy decision. Soon, he was working his way up fast, yet again – line-producer, associate producer, co-producer, and then executive producer.

Drake says he accomplished this by being willing to learn, and to be of use. “It's paying attention and trying to be helpful,” he says. It was especially critical – through roles like line producer – to study how a project coheres from top to bottom. “A lot of people gravitate towards production based on the fact that it’s cool to make a movie. They don’t understand the scope of the business and how all the pieces come together,” he says. Also important? Some elbow grease. “I worked until my fingers were bloody and I did not stop moving,” he says.

What makes a successful executive producer?

Beyond the cultivation of relationships, hard work, strong management skills, good storytelling abilities, and more, what makes a good EP is understanding that filmmaking is a mercurial process. Screenwriter William Goldman famously wrote that in Hollywood, “nobody knows anything” and Drake agrees with that wisdom. “Filmmaking is like life - an imperfect, messy process,” he says. “It doesn't matter how many films you make or how long you do this, you'll never know everything. That's just the simple truth.”

What’s also true is that valuable lessons can nonetheless still be learned from the messy process of filmmaking. Which is why Drake offers one critical piece of advice: “Try to quietly pay attention to what worked, what didn't work, and why it didn't work,” he says.

Drake also stresses that what defines a successful executive producer has changed in the last several years. “Filmmaking is a business and it's escapism,” he says. “But sometimes you have to make something that may make a bigger impact.” That means accepting social responsibility and doing more to ensure the diversification of subject matter, cast, and crew.

Just-Mercy-Michael B Jordan-Jamie-Foxx-Courtroom-1kpx.jpg
Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, 'Just Mercy' / Warner Bros.

It’s why, for example, Drake was passionate about making Just Mercy, a film starring Michael B. Jordan about a civil rights attorney looking to free a wrongly convicted man. “As I've gotten older, I've been more focused on having a specific intention, when the opportunity presents itself, to get involved in projects that I think may help shift the narrative of how we see ourselves as humans,” he says.

It’s also why Just Mercy became a powerful milestone in the push towards normalizing the adoption of inclusion riders to ensure more diverse cast and crews. Changing the industry in that way needs to fall in the purview of the EP, Drake believes. “I’m the one that generates the hire,” Drake says. “You can think about who is the best person for the job while also being mindful of a very simple ratio. Trying to make sure that half the film [crew] is women, a person of color, or a person of LGBTQ.”

Taking charge of that push towards greater diversity will require the same elements that make becoming a good EP possible. “It’s the passion of telling stories,” he says. “And it’s largely about perseverance.”

Topic: Spotlight

Related Content

Streaming platform on tablet device

The Evolution of Residuals: How Streaming Changed the Model

8/11/2022
Understanding how residuals payments are calculated for new content on streaming platforms.
Topic: Residuals
More
dollar signs representing digital crowdfunding

The Beginner’s Guide to Crowdfunding

7/26/2022
How filmmakers can leverage the power of social networks and online platforms to build buzz and secure...
Jennifer Liscio

Spotlight: Jennifer Liscio, VP of Tax Incentives and Legal Affairs

5/31/2022
Meet EP's Canadian legal affairs and tax incentives domain expert, Jennifer Liscio, and learn how she’s...

7 Things Production Finance Teams Need to Know for Budgeting in 2023

1/25/2023
Mark Hammond, VP of International Finance & Ops, shares some of the key factors production finance teams...
Virtual Production

The UK Invests in Virtual Production as Content Boom Continues

1/10/2023
The UK is doubling down on Virtual Production infrastructure; learn how and why they’re leading the charge...
Topic: UK
More

Hawaii 2023 Loan-Out GET Tax Rule FAQs

1/5/2023
Productions seeking a Hawaii tax credit must withhold and report general excise tax (GET) on loan-outs in...

Meet the Music Supervisor

1/4/2023
Kasey Truman ('Grey’s Anatomy,' 'The Sandman,' 'Fire Country') on the art of creating cinematic...

Production Incentives Update: December 2022

12/27/2022
A look at changing film incentive programs across the US, Canada, and Czech Republic.
tax

Hawaii Production Tax Incentives Notice

12/22/2022
Hawaii announces new rules and procedures for reporting and paying loan-out HI General Excise Tax (GET)...

Budgeting and Forecasting Film and Television Residuals

12/13/2022
What production accountants need to know to confidently budget and forecast for residuals.
Master Series Budgeting 2023

Budgeting for 2023: Federal, State, and Incentive Considerations

12/9/2022
Learn what Federal and State payroll tax changes are coming in 2023, plus tips for setting up your...

UK Production Incentives All Producers Should Know About

11/17/2022
Don't miss out on the UK's tax incentives, special programs, and national and regional funding...

Behind the Boom: Why the UK is a Hotspot for Production

11/17/2022
Explore the generous industry incentives, talent, and infrastructure available to productions filming in...

Meet the Script Supervisor

11/15/2022
A conversation with Rachel Connors Phillippe (‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ ‘Only Murders in the Building’)

Production Incentives Update: November 2022

11/1/2022
Don't miss these US incentive programs, accepting applications now!

The Production Accountant’s Guide to Year-End Payroll

11/1/2022
A step-by-step breakdown of how to navigate pitfalls and fix production payroll errors for a smooth year...

US Production Incentives Special Alert: Hawaii

11/1/2022
Hawaii amends Motion Picture, Digital Media, and Film Production Income Tax Credit

Preparing for Year End: Focus, Find, and Fix!

10/28/2022
EP's payroll tax experts share best practices to identify and resolve payroll tax errors for a smooth year...

Special Report: Entertainment – A Hollywood Education

10/24/2022
It’s the best of times and the worst of times for employment in the entertainment/streaming industry.

Special Report: Entertainment – Soundstage Gold Rush

10/24/2022
Hollywood is experiencing an ongoing boom that fills its Los Angeles production hub to overflow levels.
EP Blog_SQUARE_Creating a development budget

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Development Budget

10/18/2022
Before you start the filmmaking process, learn what basics you need to budget for to get your idea off the...
EP Blog_SQUARE_Streaming service

Streaming Services Expand to Latin America and New Audiences

10/11/2022
SVOD providers look to Latin America as a gateway to global stories and new subscribers
Western Canada

Production Tax Incentives in Western Canada Every Producer Should Know About

10/4/2022
Alberta and Manitoba offer film and TV productions competitive tax incentive programs and versatile...

Film Industry Booms in Buffalo

9/20/2022
Western New York draws top filmmakers with expanded tax incentives, new soundstages, and architectural...
Changes to UK right to work checks

Important Changes to UK Right to Work Checks

9/20/2022
On September 30, 2022 the UK rules around right to work checks will change. Here’s what productions need...
Topic: UK
More
EP Blog_SQUARE_New York

NY Convenience Rule Impacts Remote Production Workers and Film Incentives

9/13/2022
How remote employee payroll taxes apply to New York-based productions and if an employee’s physical...
Master Series Square Thumbnail-Film Financing-Crowdfunding

Film Financing Explained: Crowdfunding

9/8/2022
Emily Best (Seed&Spark), Stacy Bradford (Indiegogo), and producer Zach Fineblum join us to discuss the ins...
EP Blog_SQUARE_1st AC Matt Sanderson

Meet the First Assistant Camera

9/7/2022
A conversation with 1st AC Matt Sanderson ('Everything Everywhere All At Once')
EP Blog_SQUARE_US Expanded Incentives 2022-2

A Record Number of US States Expand Filmmaking Incentives in 2022

8/25/2022
Your guide to the latest news in production incentives and film programs to come from the 2022 legislative...
EP Blog_SQUARE_New US Incentives 2022

New US Film Incentives Introduced in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, and West Virginia

8/23/2022
As production continues to boom, new tax credits and other programs welcome industry to new locations...
Los Angeles Times logo-sq

Hollywood production in U.K. soars to record levels as crews complain of burnout

8/22/2022
Spending on film and high-end television shoots reach record-breaking amounts as production activity...
EP Webinar Panelists - US Production Incentives Update

US Production Incentives Update: New and Expanded Programs in 2022

8/19/2022
Film commissioners Colleen Bell and Sandy Lighterman, and production executives Jay Roewe and Ashley Rice,...
EP Blog_SQUARE-Atlantic Canada Expands Incentives

Atlantic Canada Expands Film Incentives in 2022

8/16/2022
Enhanced production incentive programs attract industry to Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, and...
EP Blog_SQUARE_Penka Kouneva-2

Meet the Composer

8/2/2022
A conversation with award-winning orchestrator and composer Penka Kouneva (‘Revenge,’ ‘Pirates of the...
Mount Hood, Oregon

Building on Oregon’s Cinema Legacy

7/19/2022
How improved tax Incentives, job training, and production infrastructure is expanding the filmmaking...
5 Master Series panelists discussing Atlantic Canada production incentives-square

Production Incentives Update: Atlantic Canada

7/15/2022
Learn how productions can benefit from newly expanded incentives in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador,...
EP Blog_SQUARE_Wes Hagen

Meet the Location Manager

7/7/2022
A conversation with award-winning location manager Wes Hagen ('Ozark,' 'Hidden Figures.')
EP Blog_SQUARE_filmmaking in new mexico

Forging the Future of Filmmaking in New Mexico

6/29/2022
As the film industry expands in the Southwest, New Mexico leads the region as top destination thanks to...
EP Blog_Jesse Wente

Supporting Indigenous Storytellers of Canada

6/21/2022
How the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) offers advocacy and funding for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis...
Topic: Canada
More
Sian Richards and Queen Latifah-square

A Face Kit for Every Skin Tone

6/14/2022
Hollywood makeup artist Siân Richards is transforming the makeup industry for actors of every shade.
EP Blog_SQUARE-Pitching Reality Tv-blue

Pitching and Financing Unscripted Television

6/7/2022
Ready to sell your big idea for a reality TV program? This guide will help prepare you for the road ahead.
EP Blog_Residuals and the streaming model

Residuals and the Streaming Model

5/24/2022
How residuals apply to historical content on new media platforms.
EP Blog_SQUARE_World Revenues_global currencies

The Beginner's Guide to World Revenues, Foreign Sales, and Senior Debt

5/17/2022
Learn how shopping your project around the world to secure funding commitments for distribution rights can...
EP Blog_SQUARE_Fighting Hollywood Stereotypes-TTEI

Fighting Stereotypes and Rethinking Representation

5/10/2022
How TTIE is advancing authentic storytelling in Hollywood by empowering historically excluded writers and...
Oklahoma route 66 sign

A New Frontier in Filmmaking

5/5/2022
Oklahoma is becoming a production destination, thanks to new incentives and infrastructure programs.
contracting-in-a-covid-19-world-LC

Contracting in a COVID-19 World  

5/3/2022
The pandemic has affected how UK production companies contract crew. Here’s how to reduce the impact of...
terms-to-include-uk-contracts-LC

Terms to Include in UK Crew Contracts

5/3/2022
Common terms which studios and production companies include in their UK crew contracts.
Topic: UK
More
uk-gdpr-and-how-productions-reduce-exposure-LC

The UK GDPR and how Productions can Reduce their Exposure - Q&A with Sheridans

5/3/2022
Sheridans’ Associate Krishan Neelendra answers key UK GDPR questions from production companies and...
Topic: UK
More
KJ Lamb and Simon Donovan

Empowering the Next Wave of Production Accountants

5/2/2022
The EP Production Portal team was delighted to participate in the biannual Netflix Assistant Production...

Payroll & Finances

PayrollResidualsSmartStartNew SmartTimeProduction PortalEP On LocationSmartAccountingEP LiveSmartPOCASHétPayPaymaster Rate GuideEP Residency

Manage Multiple Productions

AssetHubSmartHubSmartHub Vault
Subscribe now

Be an industry insider with EP's
newsletters and alerts

LegalPrivacy NoticeSecurity
© 2023 Entertainment Partners. All rights reserved.