My first real job in television was as Production Coordinator for Nickelodeon’s Slimetime Live, a daily, live, interstitial TV show that usually ran in 4-hour blocks between normal afternoon programming on Nickelodeon for 7 seasons, 5 days a week. It was in that role that I learned all roads lead to the Production Manager.
A Production Manager is responsible for leading an entire production from script to screen – pre-production to post-production – on any given feature film or TV show. Whereas the term Production Manager exists mostly in television, it is also a role I have found on non-union feature films as well.
A Production Manager will usually be hired soon after the Director and he or she will be in charge of developing and managing the budget, crafting the entire shoot schedule, hiring most of the crew, organizing shoot days, spearheading important meetings, and managing the time cards each week to make sure crew is paid proper straight time, overtime, and potential meal penalties.
A Production Manager is the logistical leader and he or she must have strong organizational skills, a keen sense of crew temperaments, an in-depth understanding of all departments and their duties, and must be very good with budget numbers and line items in the budget.
While it’s true a Line Producer may also be part of the production management department and also exclusively “produce” the budget (create it and maintain it), Production Managers have also been filling that role, especially in TV.
The most important skill set a Production Manager must have beyond budget and logistical organization is that of a Therapist. It sounds a bit crazy, but everyone on the crew will go to the Production Manager with every single issue from crew concerns, scheduling issues, logistical fires, and problems in payroll.
The PM is the eyes, ears, and mind of the production and he or she will listen to all of the department heads and crew members and troubleshoot a myriad of concerns and issues that may arise.
According to Seattle Supervising Producer and Production Manager Nin Robare, “A good Production Manager is cool and calm when shit hits the fan. It doesn’t matter how much you know or how things are done.
If you are calm when things go crazy and listen to all sides and come up with options to deescalate the situation(s), then you pretty much got everything under control.”
The Production Manager is the backbone of the production and, while often under-appreciated, a PM can either make or break a project.