So you fancy a job as a Production Manager in television? Then you need to know what it’s all about. The PM is – in my opinion – the hub of the production and I don’t envy the balance they have to achieve between facilitating the creative ideas (“I need a helicopter for the establishing shot!”) and balancing the budget! But as it is one of the few jobs in television I haven’t done, I’ll let an expert fill you in on The Real Life of a Production Manager.
Answering my questions is Sue Davies, a production manager of many years standing and Vice Chair of the Production Managers Association (PMA):
So – what does a Production Manager in television do?
A TV production manager has overall responsibility for delivering a project on time and on budget. That’s the headline – the reality is a broad and very interesting role which can involve every aspect of production from recruitment to post production and delivery and everything in between. From a single camera long running documentary to a live multi camera show – there are so many different areas you could be involved with.
What is the most common career path to this role?
Typically starting as a runner or production secretary through to a production co-ordinator which in many cases could be called an assistant production manager. Occasionally it can be a sideways move from a Location Manager or Production Accountant.
Do PMs really need specific training or it is common for production coordinators/assistants to learn on the job and get promoted?
Training is most normally on the job but great to have a background that includes english and maths. You need to have a natural aptitude for problem solving and a common sense approach to trouble shooting and be an excellent communicator. You’ll be negotiating at every turn and dealing with everyone from the Commissioner to the runner.
What personal skills does the job require?
You need to have a very practical approach to everything – particularly relating to scheduling for instance. Are you being reasonable in what you’re asking people to do? Have you thought about the health and welfare of individuals on the production – given them enough time to get their work done and enough time to get from A to B? Do have the right kit and the location? Have you got signed off risk assessments and release forms correctly? Communication and understanding are key throughout.
You don’t have to know everything about everything BUT you do have to know the right person for the job and the right person to ask if something goes wrong. On a multi-camera outside broadcast for instance, you don’t have to know all the technicalities but you have to make absolutely sure that the right people have been employed with the appropriate skill set and that they are all communicating with each other. Has the camera supervisor been talking with the lighting director so that they know they have the right lenses? Has the set designer been speaking with the lighting director and the director about the look of the show? Has the engineering manager sought parking permissions? All those little tie-ins, if not done properly, can cause many knock-on problems and so the approach should always be to think ahead – talk to people until you have satisfactory answers and remember – there is no such thing as a silly question. If you are unsure if something has been done or sorted out – ask.
What is the most difficult part of a PM’s job?
One of the most difficult parts of the job is to maintain communication between everyone on your team and not to worry if you sometimes feel like you are the Complaints Department. You will typically be the only PM on a project which can feel a bit isolating – that’s where the PMA comes into it’s own (see below). Trying to forecast and avoid potential problems – that’s the key to the whole job. It’s greatly satisfying when it goes well.
Would you recommend doing a media degree to students wanting to become a Production Manager?
(if you’re interested in more opinions on this subject then check out other articles in this section of the site: Do you need a media degree to work in TV?)
What is the best part of a PM’s job?
It’s at its best when you’re on time, one budget and can afford to throw a good Wrap Party!! Personally speaking I think it’s the best job ever – and I do believe you really do have to enjoy it to do it well!! You need people to respond well to you if you ask them to do something or to give you a good deal. If you get a kick out of problem solving, this is for you.
What does the PMA do?
The PMA is a group of highly experienced PMs and line producers – it’s a wonderful place to network and we have events and training courses (new technologies for instance). We have many sponsors in different industry areas and they offer help and discounts to the membership. The Forum is our invaluable email group and you can ask any question of your fellow PMA members – someone has probably been there and done that before you so such exchanges of information are priceless. We also offer an availability list from where potential employers can take their pick of the membership.
You can get more information on the PMA on the website at www.pma.org.uk.
The PMA is running a course in October entitled So You Want to Work in TV (why am I not on this course??!) which offers an introduction to TV and will also look at how programmes are commissioned, what it costs, who does what in the hierarchy of roles and much more.
Thanks to Sue for that useful guide. If you found it useful please share it! Any questions or comments, we’d love to hear them so don’t be afraid to leave a comment below.