Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Behind the Scenes 4: The Production team

I landed up in Production completely by default, and though it's not the glamourous end of film-making, it's certainly made for an interesting career.

We're the office workers of the film unit, and our job description includes everything from communication, admin and budgeting, to logistical planning. The production team is built like a pyramid, with everyone working together to make things happen. The people at the top make the decisions, the people further down make sure those decisions happen.

How big the department is depends on how big the production is. The majority of the TV ads I work on these days, there are just three of us: a producer, a production manager and a coordinator (see more on those job descriptions below).

The head honcho in the production department is the Executive Producer. This is usually the owner of the production company, the wheeler-dealer who put the whole shindig together, or on very rare occasions (if you're JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer) the original author. In TV this person might also be the show's creator, often known as the Showrunner. This is essentially the person (or people) calling all the shots.

Beneath the Exec Producer, especially on feature films, is a batallion of Producers, whose job is to manage the finances, oversee the above-the-line costs (director and actor fees, scriptwriting costs, book options) and make the big decisions. The Producer(s) will often be assisted by Associate Producers and/or Co-Producers.

The Exec Producers and Producers might oversee several productions at once, and so they hire in a dedicated team for each project, which is headed up by the next down in the food chain, the Line Producer.
He or she is responsible for creating and managing the budget, hiring and managing the below-the-line staff (ie. everyone except the talent, writers, director and producers), negotiating with suppliers, and overseeing the day-to-day operations. Aside from juggling figures and bringing the show in on budget, their biggest task is to prepare for the worst and hope it never happens.

From the Line Producer down the pyramid, the production team members have no input on the creative aspects of the film. These are freelancers who move from project to project, work longer hours than almost any other department, and who work on location, travelling wherever the film unit goes. They're also the people most likely to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at their desks.

The Line Producer might also be known as the Unit Production Manager (UPM) or on larger productions, the team will have both a Line Producer and a UPM. In the latter case, the UPM works closely with the Line Producer and co-ordinates between the crew on set and desk-bound people in the production office.

Below the Producers are Production Managers (that's me!). We're the worker bees who oversee preparation of the call sheets, book flights, liaise with hotels, book film equipment, ensure the right crew are booked for the right days, that suppliers are paid on time by the Accounts department, arrange freighting, and pretty much anything else that might be delegated down from above.

We liaise closely with all the other departments, and ensure the crew has everything they need to get their jobs done (assuming the Line Producer signs off on the expense!).

A good Production Manager (PM) is able to juggle many balls, has an eye for detail, good communication skills, and excellent organisation skills. And loads of lengthy To Do lists.
But one of the most fun aspects of this job is that no two days are the same and you never know what you might be researching or organising on any given day.

The Production Manager is assisted by a Production Coordinator (or Coordinators) and Production Secretary, who have less responsibility and less fixed job descriptions, and who do pretty much whatever they're delegated.

The bottom-most level of the Production team is the Production Assistant. This is an entry-level position, the person who gets to run around making tea and coffee for everyone else, does the photocopying, runs messages, and does the all-important lunch pick-up. And if they work for me, they might get sent out to buy Magnum ice creams.

If a PA has an ego that can handle taking orders from everyone else, keeps smiling in the face of everyone else's grumpiness, and is still willing and eager to help out after working a 14 hour day, then they have a very promising career in Production ahead of them.

This is not a department for sissies!

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