What Is a Unit Production Manager? Job Description, Salary, Responsibilities + More

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Crew > Production 

Unit Production Manager Job Description: What Does a Unit Production Manager Do? 

The unit production manager is a crucial administrative player when it comes to the “business” part of show business. Hired by the producer and reporting to/assisting the line producer, their main responsibilities are to keep everybody on budget and task, prepare and monitor the shooting schedules, approve call sheets, review and update production reports, and manage the day-to-day operations of production. Although this may sound similar to the line producer’s job, the UPM is generally more hands-on and present on set, ensuring that everything that goes into shooting runs smoothly without a hitch, while line producer is more focused on the “big picture” and logistics of the budget and schedule; basically, the line producer makes the plans and the UPM executes them. 

On some smaller productions, it’s common for these positions to be consolidated to one person.

While their main tasks may vary depending on the project, the UPM is primarily in charge of the script breakdown (organizing all technical and creative elements needed to make each scene happen) and the below-the-line crew: hiring, making important budgetary decisions, signing off on any and all checks for crew members’ petty cash and/or vendors needed for the set, making sure the shoot is adhering to the schedule and mediating/making changes to ensure an efficient production. They’re heavily involved from pre-production through principal photography, bouncing back and forth between the set and office.

Unit production manager Heidi McGowen (“Blackish,” “Silicon Valley”) says she’s the one “who hires the crew...all the different technicians [and] craftsmen, who actually work on the television show and put it together, so camera operators, artists, makeup artists...prop people...there are many, many divisions...and I am the person who hires them.

“I also manage our operating budget [and] I allocate where that money goes to and which departments. I have a lot of people who help me do that….I also help the  assistant directors manage our sets, so when the actors come in to work, we give them a schedule of what it is that we’re going to, what we’re going to shoot, and I help the assistant directors, the directors...it’s a whole team of people...I help them make decisions about what it is we’re actually going to do.”

During the shoot, the UPM is referred to regarding financial questions, monitors the entire day’s work so they can later write up detailed production reports, and gauges what crew members need to do their jobs.

Department

Production

Alternate Titles for Unit Production Manager

UPM, production manager, production supervisor

Crew Hierarchy

The unit production manager reports to the line producer, producer, and EP, and works especially closely with the director and 1st AD. Since they oversee budgets and monitor status across the many departments, they’re in constant correspondence with all crew members. Unit production managers supervise the production coordinator.

Unit Production Manager Salary

The average annual wage for an industrial production manager on a multi-million dollar studio film in 2018 was $103,380, or $49.70 per hour. And a 2006 report by Forbesfound a UPM could expect roughly “$3,500 to $4,800 per week.” Though keep in mind that these earnings ranges encompass everything from low-budget independent productions to a multi-episode TV show to big-budget blockbusters.

In the United States, unionized unit production managers are represented by the Directors Guild of America, which provides members with set rate minimums and benefits.

How to Become a Unit Production Manager

Pretty much every unit production manager starts out as a PA, which makes sense since, through that job, one learns the ins and outs of each and every department and establishes a rapport with crew members, which makes up a majority of the UPM position. Through many, many years of accruing experience, working extremely hard, and networking, the gradual advancement includes becoming a key production assistant, 1st AD, line producer, and production coordinator before landing the gig. It should be noted that, while this is the common track, it’s not the be-all-end-all.

For McGowen, her standing as a successful and sought-after unit production manager came about through simple curiosity and asking lots of questions. She was an intern at CNN, pursuing the field of journalism with her sights initially set on becoming a hard news reporter. During a drive home from work at an ABC affiliate in Atlanta, she chatted with a production assistant who was blocking a street for the filming of a movie, which “planted a seed” in her head. 

“I started taking classes at the community college [in Atlanta] and learned more about film production,” she says. “Eventually, through one of the classes, I met a production manager...and I asked her if I could interview her. I did and went and talked to her and asked her a bunch of questions about what it was that she did and what her job was, and she recommended me to a production coordinator to work as a production assistant...so I ended up quitting my job at ABC and working on a movie.”

That gig led to more and more PA jobs on more and more movies. “As I went through that process, I learned that there were people that were in the DGA...I pursued that. I got into the DGA and became a 2nd AD. I worked on a variety of projects….television, multi-camera film...I did just about anything and everything you can think of, and from that, I became a 1st AD very briefly because I had learned about production managers and producers and I thought, ‘Well, that’s what I would like to try.’”

Unit Production Manager Required Experience + Skills

The job of the unit production manager is, first and foremost, that of an organizer. They must be able to work and communicate with a large amount of people in each department at once, dealing with different personalities, moving them around, and getting everybody from point A to point B. It’s on their shoulders to keep paperwork and contracts in order and they have to know how to stick firmly to a schedule. Being a logistical person is mandatory.

It’s also crucial for a good UPM to be excellent with numbers; they have to be able to look at the budget and the project at hand, and accurately determine how much everything needed for it will cost, broken down to each department. They should have a vast knowledge of film production and how a set is run. For those who aspire to take on this position, it’s encouraged to have undergraduate and/or graduate degrees, or extensive background, in film, film business, finance, mathematics, accounting, and/or statistics.

For more on how to get work on a film crew, visit Backstage’s crew hub!

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