7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer

Managing the pre-production process can vary for each type of production, however many of the same issues and problems you will face as a Unit Production Manager or Line Producer will most likely remain the same. Below I have listed 7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer.

1. Figure out what’s urgent and important

Often I will start prepping a movie and come up with a list of 100 things on the to-do list. Its important to figure out from that list what things need to be accomplished today or this week and which things can wait a bit. I typically like to assign certain tasks to the various weeks of pre-production knowing that many of these tasks will be on-going and overlap.

Example if prepping a low budget movie for 4 weeks:

WEEK 1: setup production office, hire essential production staff, publish crew postings, setup accounting system, secure hotels or housing for out-of-town crew/cast, cast day players

hire crew, background actors casting, finalize budget/schedule, secure missing locations, vendor quotes

WEEK 3: 
secure vendors, finalize travel for cast/crew, finalize signatory paperwork, secure basecamp/parking for each location,

tech scout, production meeting, organize pick-ups, schedule cast fittings/rehearsals, finalize missing crew members

2. Keep the crew and cast Informed

As you get going there can be a lot of changes and updates that will be pertinent to the cast and crew. Its a good idea to routinely send out updated scripts/schedules on a weekly and sometime bi-weekly basis. I generally prefer to not send out updated scripts too often as it becomes cumbersome for everyone involved. One thing I like to do when I hire crew members is to send them a link to the google calendar that they can subscribe to that has important information (tech scout, production meeting, cast fittings, flights etc) along with a 411 info guide (if shooting out of town) with pertinent information. I also create a secret Facebook group that I use to share location photos, 360 photos and videos of the locations so that the DP, PD, Art Director, Set Decorator, Gaffer, Key Grip etc can all be in the loop prior to the official tech scout.

3. Figure out the needs from the department heads early on

To avoid surprises on Day 1 of principal it is a good idea to talk with all department heads and ask them about their needs in terms of crew, supplies and budget. I typically like to have these talks as early as possible so I can avoid last-minute problems.

Example when talking with your sound mixer…I might ask the following questions:

Do you anticipate needing a 2nd Boom Op or Utility on any days during the shoot?
What does your sound package include?  Do we need to rent any additional lavs, comtechs etc?
How many batteries do you generally go through? We have X amount slated for the budget…will this work?
When it comes to sound reports what is your typical work flow?
How do you feel about wiring all the actors? Is there ever a time that this is problematic?

4. Be creative with the budget and look for ways to save money

In an effort to bring the film in on time and under budget you want to be able to be in a good place financially before you begin principle photography. When getting quotes for vendors I generally like to get at least three different quotes for each big ticket rental ie… (camera, g&e package, vehicles, hotels etc). Having at least three different quotes will give me the ability to compare numbers before I go back to the vendor and ask for that big discount or deal. Many times vendors will cut their prices to a number you might never think they would simply because they want the gear to work.  I have occasionally found that renting equipment (especially smaller jobs) from individuals on SHAREGRID can be more cost effective than renting from a big rental house.  Its possible that many of your crew members will own gear…so consider renting their gear at a discounted rate that will be a win-win for both sides.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you stay under budget
-Adjust prep days on all crew members…eliminating unnecessary prep
-Reduce dept size and consider day-playing crew members on more difficult days. ie…adding more electrics on night exteriors
-If hiring non-union crew consider which crew members rates you might have to reduce

5. Keep the ship moving with an on-going to-do list and daily prep meetings

During pre-production I like to have a brief prep meeting at the beginning of each day to talk about the tasks for each day. Having this meeting gives clarity on who is doing what and also gives accountability so no balls are dropped. I like to use a whiteboard so that the tasks are visible to everyone and also document these in an online program like todosit, asana or google docs.

6. Think with the end in mind

Don’t wait to create the credit list till the end of the shoot or you may hate yourself. Begin this document as soon as possible with a separate special thanks section. I also discuss with the producers what the delivery requirements will be in terms of stills, video and social media. Depending on the project you may be allowed to post social media before and during the shoot….although many shows will want this to be off the grid until a distributor is brought on board.

7. Find ways to build relationships and develop the team

It can be easy to get caught up with tasks, to-do lists and paperwork that you neglect the people who are making all this possible. Consider scheduling times where departments can hang out and have fun prior to the shoot. These will be key moments that the cast/crew will not forget and will be essential to maintaining a positive atmosphere throughout the film.

A checklist for traveling and working on location

When traveling to a different state or country to work on a film or tv series there can be a lot to think about when preparing and getting all your affairs in order. I’ve come up with a checklist of things to consider when traveling to work on location.

  1. If going to be gone longer than a month consider suspending your car insurance. This could save you $$$$.
  2. If living alone turn off your breakers except for your refrigerator and remember to turn your air conditioning off when you leave.
  3. If bringing a suit or or have a set of nice clothes consider wearing them on the plane. Doing this will help you not have to worry about wrinkling that nice jacket.
  4. Consider buying a drink holder or neck pillow for your plane ride.
  5. Charge all your devices (phone, laptop, ipad, chargers) before your arrival.
  6. Check the weather.com 10 day and month forecast for the place you are visiting and pack accordingly.
  7. Make arrangements for where you will store your car. Will it be safe in your driveway or the street for that long? Airport parking is typically really pricy for the long haul so be creative and consider a neighbors driveway.
  8. Consider having a remote post office box where you can forward certain bills etc to your new location. You might consider having a friend check your mail every two weeks in some situations.
  9. Ask production for the exact address of where you will be going. Using google find the local coffee shops, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, gyms, etc and create an ongoing google document.
  10. Make sure that any outstanding checks or invoices that may be coming to your old address will be re-routed to your temporary address.
  11. Consider pre-ordering certain foods or things you may need via amazon prime and having them shipped to your new location. I tend to do this for things like protein or hygiene products.
  12. Find a few books at the local bookstore or online that you can dowload onto your ipad/kindle etc.
  13. Buy or bring a few unwatched movies with you.
  14. Consider what office supplies you may want to bring with you that will be hard to instantly get when you arrive. I typically bring my pendaflex and wonderfile with me everywhere.
  15. Bring essential things for laundry and mail. I typically like to bring a roll of quarters, laundry detergent pods, stamps, envelopes etc.
  16. Let your family and friends know about your travels. Consider creating a facebook group conversation and giving them a heads up!
  17. Clean your car and house. I know it sounds weird but do you really want to come back to a messy place?
  18. Get a haircut. You won’t have time once you land.
  19. Find a few friends and go hang out somewhere before you leave.
  20. Research fun things to do in the city you are headed to. Perhaps groupon.com or meetup.com will have some ideas for upcoming events or things to do where you are headed.

How to make revisions to a script during pre-production

In this tutorial video I walk you through the simple steps to make changes to a script during pre-production.  This video can be used to guide a Director, Writer, Script Coordinator, UPM, LP, 1st AD, Producer or whoever may be making updates to a script using Final Draft and unfamiliar with the process or the latest program.

The main thing to remember is that you always want to keep your scene numbers locked to prevent confusion among Dept Heads!


The following items are covered in this tutorial:

  1. Adding scene numbers
  2. Setting up revisions mode
  3. Omitting a scene
  4. Adding a scene
  5. Moving a scene


The following items are covered in this tutorial:

  1. Using a folder structure and staying organized
  2. Updating the title page properly
  3. Using Revisions mode Page Colors
  4. Saving multiple versions (colored, bw, and clean version)