How to Get Experience as a Unit Production Manager

Many of us have dreams of breaking into the film world and pursuing a successful career in the industry, but there are many different ways you can begin in the industry and it can be difficult to decide which path is for you or how to actually get your foot in the door.

One way is to pursue the position of a unit production manager (or, UPM for short). 

What is a Production Manager?

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Those who fulfill the position of a production manager fill a more business and administration oriented position on set. 

They are responsible for maintaining order and organization on set and making sure that all tasks that need to be accomplished get completed. 

ProductionBeast defines a unit production manager (UPM) as being “the chief administrator of any film shoot.” This includes being responsible for abiding by the production budget, the film’s schedule, and making sure things remain orderly and productive on the film’s set.

What Does a Production Manager Do?

In simple terms, the unit production manager is responsible for implementing the plans that are set for production. This includes following the budget and the production schedule.

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If you’re a production manager, you aren’t necessarily in a creative role, but you specialize more specifically in maintaining an effective line of communication amongst all departments and you must be able to provide resources and rework schedules when necessary. 

You’re in a role where problem solving is a must. Not only will you be responsible for reorganizing the schedule when need be, but you also must be able to communicate with the director and understand the story you are working to produce so you will be able to help rework the story or the way it’s filmed if necessary.

Many times, depending on the budget, the unit production manager will also work in accordance with a production accountant and a production coordinator. These individuals will be responsible for tracking budgeting on the film and aiding the unit production manager.

Why Become a Unit Production Manager?

On average, the production manager salary is approximately $82,000/year, according to Comparably. Of course, this is just an average number, and there are UPMs who make both significantly more and significantly less than this figure, but $82,000 is representative of a nice ballpark figure.

Pursuing a career as a unit production manager gives you the opportunity to work directly on set and will allow for you to gain experience in the industry and will be particularly useful for making connections and for showcasing your organizational and leadership skills on a large scale.

Becoming the Best Unit Production Manager

Because a unit production manager has numerous important responsibilities, it will be important to make sure you’re being the best UPM you can be.

Here are some tips on how to do that:

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Be open to changes

Be open to changes as they come and understand that a great film is built upon great compromise and great communication among those working on it.

For example, if the director feels that their vision is not appearing on the screen the way they desire, you might have to step in and discuss ways you can change the way you are currently filming.

Be passionate

Be passionate about the film you’re making and strive to make it the best it be. Understand that you can’t just focus on making the film the way you want it to be, but you must be passionate about making the film the best that it can be according to the director’s vision.

Be knowledgeable about film

A unit production manager is a job that requires a concrete understanding of film; make sure you have this before seeking out this position.

Have prior experience in film

Having prior experience in film will be extremely beneficial for your position. In order to operate most efficiently, you should know the ins and outs of set life prior to taking on a role as large as a UPM.

Be firm

As a UPM, you will know what is and what is not feasible when it comes to producing the film. Don’t be afraid to say no and explain why the answer has to be no.

Have a firm understanding of budgeting

A key part of a unit production manager’s job is to follow a budget. Make sure this is something you’re well versed in. You cannot expect to succeed in following a large-scale budget if you have not done this before.

Be organized

A stellar unit production manager must also be organized. They oversee a lot of moving parts on a film set and maintaining organization is at the heart of this.

Be someone that others know they can come to

Sometimes, this will mean being someone who can comfort others, someone who can problem solve, someone who can be affirmative, but make sure you’re able to do these things as a production manager.

Most importantly, be passionate about film.

You’re going to be managing a film set, so you better like it! Being passionate about what you’re doing will make orchestrating the shoot much easier. You’ll also have a natural vocabulary with which to converse on set. But you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if you’re not interested in film. 🙂

How to Get Experience as a Unit Production Manager

Check out job sites like Mandy / Production Hub

Sites like these are platforms which will allow for you to search for open positions within the entertainment industry.

These are extremely helpful sites and will very clearly lay out what positions are available and help you to prepare yourself for roles you might not have had the opportunity to fill before.

Student productions

Research student productions and consider who may be looking for help on their films.

College campuses are great places to look for this. Many schools are filled with passionate film students, yet they have such small film departments that students are always looking for help on their productions.

This position will likely be unpaid, though it will be a great learning experience and prove to potential employers that you have experience and passion for film.

Contact your film commission

If you’re unsure what a film commission is, it’s an organization which promotes the development of film, particularly by trying to bring filming to particular locations.

They can also direct you toward productions that are looking for assistance.

Create your own production and hire yourself as UPM

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If you can’t find a local production looking for a unit production manager, consider creating your own production and filling those shoes yourself. This will prepare you for life on a set that is not yours and help you to further understand what is necessary on a film set in order to have the best and smoothest possible production.

Begin as a production assistant (PA)

Even though a PA job isn’t the same as a job as a unit production manager, it will give you experience working on a set.

As a PA, you will learn the ins and outs of life on a film set and this will give you the type of experience that employers are looking for when they are hiring their unit production managers. You’ll learn about each department and what their needs are. It will give you credibility and help to prove that you have what it takes to fulfill the responsibilities of a UPM.

Be well versed in the film industry where you live

If there are films being shot around where you live, try and inquire about whether or not they need help. If they are short films or low budget, your chances of helping on the project increase.

Even if you are working for free, you are still gaining experience and gaining credibility that will help you in the future when you are job hunting.

If you’re looking to fulfill a role like this and know of a project that is in need of funding, consider entering our funding contest to help you fulfill your goals of breaking into the film industry!

2 thoughts on “How to Get Experience as a Unit Production Manager

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the site! We produce contests through our online contests that you can learn more about here: https://www.thefilmfund.co/contests/. When you enter, you also join a community of filmmakers and producers with whom you can network.

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