What is a Unit Production Manager, and What Skills Do They Use on Set?
The Unit Production Manager works with the location department to provide assistance to the location manager and the assistant location manager. These individuals liaise between the location and the film crew staff making sure that individuals that reside on the property as well as owners or landlords are kept informed of the production events and are satisfied with the relationship that is occurring between the production staff and the location.
The unit production manager ensures that filming progresses in a timely manner and takes the necessary steps to keep disgruntled residents at bay. Should things like noise complaints by residents or other problems arise that may impact the shoot schedule, the Unit Production Manager or UPM is responsible for de-escalating the situation and resolving the problem with minimal impact on the schedule.
These individuals also work to ensure that parking and vehicle positioning is correct. This includes parking crew cars and facilities trucks. The UPM organizes trash collection and ensures that any waste materials that cannot be collected by the local Waste Management are properly disposed of. They also work to ensure that the Unit Base is properly running in a way that ensures all trucks, vehicles for hair, makeup and wardrobe, and any other facilities are in order. This includes the set up of facilities and toilets (otherwise known as Honey Wagons) are in place.
Unit Production Manager Job Duties
The job duties of the unit production manager generally begin about a month prior to the shoot. During this time, the UPM will work closely with the Heads of Departments for several days to ensure that technical recces are in place and locations have been visited and double-checked to validate that they meet the department’s needs.
While undergoing technical recces, unit production managers aim to establish positive working relationships with the individuals that own the location as well as anyone that lives at or near the location or is in charge of the location such as landlords, tenants, residents, etc. The UPM will make note of any necessary technical aspects associated with the location including the need to change fixtures, fittings, lights, or other elements of the property. They also note whether any rigs or other adjustments are required to light the location set.
This is a demanding role that usually works on a freelance basis. Unit Managers perform several duties during pre-production to ensure that locations facilitate the timely production of the film. They often develop Movement Orders that offer directions to and from the location to the crew members. They also take care to properly measure dimensions of trailers, trucks, and other vehicles or equipment that is to be brought into the location to ensure that all will fit and there will be no surprises on the first day of the shoot.
Unit Production Managers place traffic cones out to arrange parking and manage lots on location. They also are often seen liaising with security staff that guard vehicles on location and take note of any issues that arise. Their role includes taking every necessary precaution to check the location and parking areas to ensure that everything is clear for the crew when production shooting begins.
When the film crew arrives on location, the UPM will be seen working closely with the 1st Assistant Director and other crew members to ensure careful preparation of the location and parking areas so that the crew can safely, conveniently, and in an organized fashion arrive on the location. This sometimes includes de-icing driveways, clearing the parking area or setting cones, working with Electricians to rig lighting for safety, and standing by after the crew arrives to ensure these elements continue to operate smoothly throughout the shooting day.
Unit Production Managers work with the location owner, local residents, and anyone else that is responsible for or involved directly in the location to ensure they are satisfied and that there is minimal inconvenience to them on shoot day. When shooting commences each day, the UPM takes a final check to ensure the location is in proper order and ready for the crew to again arrive the following day. When shooting is wrapped, the UPM is responsible, alongside the location manager, to ensure that the location is properly cleaned and restored to its original condition. They then coordinate “thank you” notes to be set to the owners.
Unit Production Manager Job Skills
Several essential job skills are necessary for a unit production manager to succeed in this demanding film crew role.
The most common skills include:
● Knowledge of film crews and locations.
● Knowledge of how locations work.
● Ability to communicate with others.
● Strong ability to remain calm and tactful in challenging situations.
● Ability to approach work with a practical view.
● Ability to troubleshoot and solve problems.