Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here with this week's lovely dip into filmmaking fun with an insight into the world of Unit Production Managing. This week we take a gander behind the scenes at a position that exists well before any sets are built, film's wound, or gaffers are hired! In case you're curious: "Muldoon, just what the hell is MEET THE CREW?" Well, this is my little slice of the internet where we take a moment to appreciate the individuals who bust their butts behind the scenes to bring us our favorite films. This is a small dip into what all it takes to make a movie and for the AICN readers out there who simply want to know more than what the folks on a press tour might get into. This week we talk with William Greenfield, a UPM based out of New Orleans. Below is a brief Q&A with the gentlemen as he describes what exactly his job entails.
WILL GREENFIELD - UNIT PRODUCTION MANAGER
So what exactly is a Production Manager? What types of things are you responsible for in terms of the filmmaking process? In general, when is a UPM brought on board for a given film and what are the first things you typically have to tackle?
A Unit Production Manager is responsible for managing the below the line crew and the below the line portion of the film's budget. When I am hired on a production one of the first things I have to address is hiring a Production Coordinator, Accountant, and finding a location for the production office and or stage if a stage is needed. If we are shooting on a stage then my goal is to find a stage with an attached office space so we can all be in one place. It helps bridge the communication between all the departments.
Out of all of your responsibilities, what are a few things you find most enjoyable about that specific position? I take it you’re pretty knowledgeable about the different departments, so what keeps you happy as a UPM? Alternatively, what are a few basic tasks that aren’t all that fun, but have to be done – and it’s your job to do it?
One of my favorite things about being a UPM is supporting the crew and working with them on how to achieve the director's vision while being responsible to the budget. It has been great to develop friendships with the crew over the years and to keep hiring the same people that are great at what they do and creating a film family while doing that.
The thing that keeps me happy as a UPM is being able to deliver the director's vision of the script through good communication with the crew. If a crew member is not getting the help they need it's great to have a short hand with them and to be able to respond to them when they are happy and even when they are not. I can't serve everyone in the best way if they don't let me know when things are good bad. I am there to work and serve the crew, not to have them work and serve me.
One of the things that is not fun is having to tell a director that he cannot have something he wants due
to budget constraints. I've had to do with the director's that are famous and it's not the easiest thing to do
but in the end we still carried on a good working relationship.
What’s your core crew around you, like in your department – how many people do you typically work with on a daily basis, perhaps even share an office with? Is it your job to hire these folks?
My core crew around me that supports me directly is the Production office staff. The Production Coordinator, Assistant Production Coordinator, Production Secretary and the office pa's. Without their support I am nothing. I also want to praise the Accounting staff because without them the movie literally would not be able to function.
Did you go to film school? Better yet, can you give me a little insight into the path you took from being a film fan to a filmmaker? What would you consider your fist big movie/TV show and how did you get on that production?
I did not go to film school. I grew up in a small town outside of Louisville, KY and my parents and I were very poor and I did not have many opportunities. I got a degree in Broadcasting from a small college in KY and worked in local news for four years after college. During these four years before the internet is what it is now I postal mailed hard copy resumes to New York City for over 2 1/2 years straight. At the same time I would try to work on anything that would come to KY. I was lucky enough to find out that Seabiscuit was going to shoot in Lexington for a few days at Keeneland racetrack. I got the production office address and the name of the Assistant Coordinator. I showed up at the office and ask for her and she came out to speak to me whom she didn't know or have to speak to me. I gave her my best pitch and handed her my resume. A month went buy and they called me to work as a set pa for one day. At that time it was the best day of my life. I had never seen a real movie set, I was so excited and I remember that feeling to this day. I made a color copy of the check and framed it and it hangs in every single production office that I work out of to this day. Basically you could say that the Assistant Office Coordinator on Seabiscuit gave me my first break. She probably doesn't even know this but I've always been in her debt and I hope to meet her and find her someday to thank her in person.
Was there any one in particular who helped give you your first break?
I partially answered this above but I owe a great deal of my career to Matt Leonetti Jr. He gave me my first break as a Unit Production Manager when I knew nothing. He gave me this break because he had faith in me. He is now a Production Executive at Sony and I have been lucky to call him a friend.
Is there a shot/sequence/moment that you can point to and say, “It’s that way because I was there and had it of been anyone else, it would have been different.” Not necessarily good or bad, but possibly something a lot of us movie fans would have seen and can find a little more appreciation out of.
There is a shot in Django where Blood Hounds are released to chase Jamie and Kerry's characters. On the day we were to shoot it QT decided he wanted Blood Hounds in the scene. I got a call from set asking if there was anyway I could have Blood Hounds on set in two to four hours. I was able to make this happen which shocked myself and the producers. I'm not saying I am the only one that could have made it happen but It's a shot in the film that gives me a smile when I see it.
From just casually glancing at your IMDB page I noticed you worked quite a bit on a reality show. How is shooting reality different than scripted? Sure there are the obvious answers like “Well, in one you have a script….” But I’m looking more from a logistics standpoint, crew size, etc…
Reality is very different than a scripted feature. The reality show industry has much smaller crews than features do. Most of the reality shows are non union so you can have crew members sharing duties more than you can on a film set.
What is a “typical” day in your life like while you’re working on a movie?
A lot of my work is during pre-production. Putting the crew together, location scouting and helping build the film from the ground up. During Principal photography it is a twelve hour day of trouble shooting and putting out fires.
Can you share any stories from the trenches? Do you have any crazy stories that you for sure thought “this is the end…” or perhaps anything where a film had to shut down?
I was doing a film in New Mexico and we had a sand storm blow through the set while we were trying to shoot a biker bonfire scene. We had to file an insurance claim and re-shoot the day. Since I work in Louisiana mostly that was a first for me.
I was on a great film once called "The Kennedy Detail" and I was prepping it while I was wrapping a movie in Atlanta. The day before I was supposed to fly home and be there physically for pre-production the movie lost it's financing and shut down. My office staff had been working for three weeks but everyone got paid and treated very well as we wrapped it up so it wasn't the worst things.
If by chance you weren’t in film, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
Something where I could lead or manage people and or a business.
Lastly, do you have any advice for potential filmmakers in the AICN audience? On that same note, any thoughts that might help zero budget filmmakers?
My advice is to never give up and to do whatever you have to get your foot through that first door. I've slept in my car, on couches and lived in a 300 square ft apartment in Harlem, NY with 5 adults to get through this door called the Entertainment Industry. If you are not willing to sacrifice you wont' be able to succeed.
Zero budget filmmakers need to hire great line producers because those budgets ride a fine line. Another important thing is that they need to know if they are going to be a union or non union film. Some cities with a lot of crew are better suited for union shows and some better suited for non union shows. Even though your film may require a specific location you may need to adjust for that if you are a non union film versus union.
BAM! And there we have it ladies and gentlemen, a brief Q&A with a busy Unit Production Manager, Mr. Will Greenfield. I'd like to take a moment and truly ive thanks to Will for taking the time to answer my rather drab questions with some pretty insightful answers. I hope you fine folks enjoyed the Q&A. I'll see you all next week with yet another glance behind the scenes with other creative folks who help bring our favorite stories to life.
If you work in production, in any aspect (truly!) and would be cool enough to give us film fans a glimpse into the innerworkings of your world, please shoot me an email at Mike@aintitcool with the subject line: "MTC - (Your Name) - (Your Position)"
This column is relatively new and while I'd love it to be an "every Sunday" kind of thing, it all depends on who is willing to chat with me. The more folks I can talk to, the more consistant I can make MTC. Hopefully you ladies and gents got a kick out of today's highlight. I'll see you fine folks later. (Now go out and make something awesome!) Be sure to check out past articles:
- Mike McCutchen