The jobs and titles we’re going to cover may change from one movie to another - we’ll describe the jobs that are common but know that each movie is it’s own beast and each filmmaker may have a preferred organizational structure.
To begin, jobs are divided into two rough categories based on the movie’s budget top sheet: Above the Line and Below the Line. The jobs above the line are the people that get paid a negotiated set rate or a percentage of gross regardless of how many shooting days or scenes are ultimately required for the film. Think of them as fixed costs. Below the Line are the jobs that contracted out depending on the needs of the production - variable costs depending on script changes.
Above the Line jobs include but are not limited to the Producers, Director, Writers and Actors while below the line is everybody else.
So let’s start with the top boss, the Producer.
People will often think that the Director is the top dog on a production, but it is the Producer that hires the Director. So what does a producer do? That’s a big question. They can be involved with selecting the script or the material to be adapted, picking the director and the cast, raising the money, organizing the distribution - all of it or only some of it - the producer is basically the person that champions a film from the beginning to the end - and that’s the reason why the Producer is the one who accepts the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards.
There are variations of producing credits. For theatrical films, the Executive Producer is the person who secured at least 25% of the financing or played a significant role in shaping the story and script. In Television, the Executive Producer is more of the big upper boss, often the creator of a show.
Associate Producer is a title given at the discretion of the Producer to anyone they feel has played a key role in any part of the production.
A Screenwriter is the person that writes the script.
But not all scripts are created from scratch by a solitary writer. There are essentially two kinds of writing credits - there are story credits and screenplay credits. The story is the plot, characters and themes whereas the screenplay is the execution of those ideas in an actual screenplay with scenes, dialogue and transitions.
When you see a “written by” that means the person wrote both the story and the screenplay. When you see “story by” it means the person either wrote a treatment - that is a prose version of the story of the movie - or wrote an original screenplay that was completely rewritten only keeping the plot, characters and theme. When the story is from a previously published work you’ll see a “based on the novel” or “based on the play” credit. Sometimes you’ll see “based on the Characters by” in sequels or in a long standing character like James Bond or Sherlock Holmes.
Writing teams are designated with an Ampersand (&) whereas writers working separately use the spelled out “and”.
There are lots of rules from the Writer’s Guild regarding rewrites for determining who gets credit for the screenplay and an arbitration process for disagreements. But getting a name on the credits isn’t just vanity, it is also a matter of the author’s moral rights and rights to residuals - that means money.
Once you have a script or sometimes even if the script isn’t totally done, a producer will choose a Director. The Director is responsible for all of the film's artistic and dramatic aspects visualizing the script and guiding the crew and actors toward fulfilling that vision. Now the director may also go back bring in new writers to alter the script and even rewrite the script themselves.
DGA rules stipulate that there can only be one person serving as the director on a film at a time which is why you see Joel Coen credited as director on their older films even though he always directs with his brother Ethan Coen.
Now the Coens have an exemption as a directing team so both names can be credited. Although we may give all the credit to the director thanks to auteur theory - the relationship between the director and the producer is probably the biggest influence over a movie as it can be where a lot of creativity really happens.