Showrunner vs director vs producer: what’s the difference, really?

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What’s the difference between a showrunner, a director, and an executive producer? Let’s break down the roles of showrunner vs director vs producer and learn who does what.

Showrunner vs director vs producer

On TV shows, the showrunner is the top creative executive. They are a writer and executive producer, and all other creatives on the project–including episode directors–answer to them. They are often the creator of the project, though not always. Famous showrunners include Shonda Rhimes, J.J. Abrams, and Tina Fey.

On film sets, directors are hired by producers to be the top creative and direct the project. While they can be hired (and fired) by producers, when it comes to creative choices, their word goes. On a TV set, the showrunner is above the director, and directors tend to come on board for individual episodes or a series of episodes. Famous directors include Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Greta Gerwig.

Producers wear a lot of hats, and their roles vary depending on the type of producer they are. A producer is essentially someone who facilitates the production of a film or TV show. In many ways, they blur the line between roles. A producer is a problem solver, they are in charge of logistics, and they put in place the infrastructure that the other filmmakers need in order to make a movie. Producers select scripts to be produced. Producers hire the crew, including the above the line crew members like director and DP. Producers make the budget, secure the funding, and make sure everything is running smoothly. Producers are responsible for things like on-set safety and making sure everyone gets paid. One of the most famous producers of our time is Lorne Michaels, who created and produces Saturday Night Live.

As you can see, while these important jobs all represent leadership in the film and television industry, the actual roles are quite different.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi


Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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