Production managers are important players in Hollywood – but what is a production manager? We’re going to get to the bottom of that question by looking at the production manager definition, as well as production manager examples in film. By the end, you’ll know what production managers do and why they’re important.
Production Manager Job Description Explained
Why are production managers important
Production managers are important because they handle the day-to-day administrative/managerial tasks producers are typically too busy to do. But that assertion may be misleading; truthfully, production management is a skill in and of itself. Production managers are the ones in the trenches from pre-production to post-production. For a complete guide to the major roles in film production, check out our ultimate guide to film crew positions.
There’s no doubt about it: production managers manage a lot of tasks. We’ll get to those tasks in a bit, but first let’s formally define the production manager job description.
PRODUCTION MANAGER DEFINITION
What is a production manager?
A production manager is the manager of below-the-line personnel on film productions. They are responsible for day-to-day tasks such as budgeting, transportation/facilitation, and scheduling. The Directors Guild of America refers to production managers as “unit production managers.”
This next video answers the question “what does a production manager do?” by following a day in the life of a real film production manager.
Production Manager Job Duties
What does a production manager do?
It may sound trite to say, but the goal of every film is to get from point A to B; that is from beginning to end, or pre to post. Some films employ thousands to get from here to there; others employ less than ten.
So, although every film project wants a production manager to handle the logistical/managerial tasks related to getting from point A to B, not every project is able to afford one. In the case of small-budget films, directors/producers are typically forced to execute those tasks themselves.
But what are those tasks? Let’s break them down.
PRODUCTION MANAGER FILM BUDGETING
Budgeting, budgeting, budgeting… or I should say the “let’s get real” moment. Budgeting is the great equalizer in film productions; simultaneously the place where dreams are made and dreams die. On big productions, budgeting is managed by a wide breadth of people, including but not limited to: the financier(s), the producer(s), the director(s), the production manager(s), and in the case of re-writes, the writer(s).
For more on film budgeting, check out this next video.
Production managers may not be the chief judicators of a film’s budget, but they are the chief enforcers. Once a budget is set, production managers are expected to keep to it. That means outlining the cost of crew, talent, props, etc.
PRODUCTION MANAGER FILM TRANSPORTATION/FACILITATION
Remember how we talked about how films revolve around getting from point A to B? Well, I didn’t just mean that in a metaphorical sense. Quite literally, filmmaking is about transporting/facilitating cast, crew, and equipment from location to location.
Sometimes, those locations are centralized in a studio lot. Other times, they’re separated by hundreds of miles. Whether reality be the latter or former matters not to production managers.
Check out the next video to learn more about how film locations give character to film productions.
Production managers are responsible for facilitating/supervising the transportation of cast, crew, and equipment – but they are not location scouts. They may suggest, and or travel to location sites – but they typically do not have much say on the final location decision.
PRODUCTION MANAGER FILM SCHEDULING
Oh, scheduling, what an arduous task you can be! Nobody on film sets – from talent/directors to grips – wants to worry about scheduling. That’s why it pays to have an 11/10 organizer on your production. Oftentimes, production managers are tasked with scheduling – but even they struggle to maintain organization for cast and crew.
That’s where StudioBinder comes in. StudioBinder’s software makes it easy for even the biggest productions to stay on schedule. Here are links to all of our scheduling applications:
And check out our video on how to create a shooting schedule using stripboards below.
Nowadays, it’s certainly easier to be a production manager than it was fifty years ago. That said, modern technology does present some challenges; mainly in the way of connecting with personnel. In a world where people are constantly bombarded with messages, ads, etc., it can be difficult to differentiate the essential from the advertisement.
But using a software program like StudioBinder can help keep everything organized in one place.
What is a Production Manager’s Path
How to become a production manager
If after everything you’ve heard you still want to be a production manager, then congrats, you might have what it takes. Production management is not a job for the ease of heart – but it is a rewarding profession.
In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that industrial production managers earned a median salary of $108,790 per year. Although hard to verify, I can say with confidence that film production managers certainly don’t make that much. That’s because film production managers are often contract employees who are not rewarded with consistent pay; at least in the beginning of their careers.
Career paths for becoming a production manager include:
Being a production assistant
Working with (or for) film production studios
Managerial work outside of the film industry
There are a lot of different ways to become a production manager – but all of them require years of experience in related fields. And don’t forget, production managers need to be part of the Directors Guild of America to work on union film sets.
What is a Production Coordinator?
Want to learn more about the road to becoming a production manager? Check out our next article on production coordinators where we break down how Production Assistants move up to Production Coordinators; then eventually to Production Managers. By the end, you’ll know the pecking order of production teams like the back of your hand.