What to Expect from Production Coordinator Jobs

This article is a guest contribution from Allie Shields who broke into the television industry as a Production Coordinator and now has advanced in her career to a much fancier Associate Producer role. 

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To crate the magic that happens on set, there are a team of people making it all possible from a logistical perspective (Photo courtesy: refinedcreative.com)

As a pre-teen, I was terrified to be caught off guard during a conversation.

Ever the girl obsessed with appearing cool and not the klutzy, flustered hot mess I actually was, I knew I needed to rectify the situation. My solution was to rehearse conversations and different scenarios in my head before they actually happened.

If my teacher asked my opinion on last night’s reading, I would start on my perfectly cultivated review of The Canterbury Tales.

If my classmate asked what my plans were for the weekend, I had an answer prepared for that as well.

Who knew this social preservationist way of thinking ahead would perfectly suit me for a career in television production and coordination?

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The Goal of a Production Coordinator: Stay A few Steps Ahead

When preparing for a big shoot, that’s exactly what I do at my desk as Production Coordinator. I think of every scenario and try to be a few steps ahead.

Check the weather report – there’s a 15% chance it could rain? Make sure production’s rain gear is packed (a duffel bag of umbrellas, ponchos, etc that I’ve prepared in advance), and double check with camera and audio that they’re bringing their rain gear. You never know when you’re going to be 30 minutes from the production office and a freak downpour hits the crew at exactly the wrong time.

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Raining on set? As a Production Coordinator it’s your job to see it coming and be prepared. (Photo Courtesy: NBCUniversal)

Are the lunch location/caterers secure?  Call them to be sure they’re ready.

Do all the production vehicles have enough gas?  If the crew is traveling far or overnight, there’s another laundry list of things that could possibly go wrong – maps to each location, hotel check-in, petty cash availability, etc.

All of these logistics-related tasks fall on your head as the Production Coordinator.

In my mind, the Production Coordinators job is to make the production run smoothly and make everyone’s lives easier (which is easier said than done). If you do your job well, you’re like a ninja in the night – crew members don’t quite know what you do (beyond getting them paid) and you’re rarely called out in flubs resulting from you being ill-prepared.

You’re there to support the Production Manager/Line Producer/Whoever you’re below. This changes on each production, but most often you’ll be working closely with the Production Manager. Get to know him or her; there’s a lot to be learned in that relationship.

The best production team is a calm one.

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Trust me – there are times when literally everything will be going wrong (even if you’re prepared) and you’re putting out fires left, right, and center. The worst thing you can do is add even more stress to an already stressful environment by freaking out.

I’m a creature of practicality – if it has no working use, I have no use for it.  So in the name of efficiency and practicality, here’s a few of the major tasks that come along with being a Production Coordinator.  Every production varies greatly on how they organize their staff/tasks, so expect there to be some variance from gig to gig. television jobs

On the Road Again

Depending on how large your production team is, travel may or may not fall on your shoulders.  If there’s no Travel Coordinator, most of it will.

Secretly, this is my favorite part of being a Production Coordinator. Even though you’re planning business travel for your execs or crew, it’s like a scavenger hunt. Finding the nicest hotels and flights for the best prices and getting unheard of deals with hotel managers is thrilling in it’s own way.

Use what you have as leverage to get better deals. Throw out “we’re in town for a TV production”, but avoid at all costs telling them which production you’re with.

If you’re traveling to small towns, beware of what you tell. Word travels fast, and you ideally want a calm, stress-free environment for your crew instead of a small town full of gossipers in a frenzy.

When planning flights or individual travel, think through everything they could possibly need. Prepare an itinerary with flight numbers, car service confirmation number, etc. Recently, a crew member told me a story of his personal travels without my assistance – “I felt like a kid flying for the first time.  I showed up at the airport bewildered – for the first time in years I had no idea where to go, what to do, etc.”

That means I’ve been doing my job right.

Hold on to the Money!

As Production Coordinator you’ll be in charge of everything money – your very own petty cash float being one of such things. After your initial excitement of holding that much responsibility and money, the panic of holding that much money and responsibility sinks in.

production coordinator jobs roles and responsibilities

Managing the petty cash doesn’t sound like as much fun as spending it

If you aren’t going to set (which is frequent if not always), you’ll check out a certain amount of money to your Field Coordinator or Production Assistant. You should quickly figure out how much money they’ll need per day (and then give them an extra $40). You never want them to be short on funds, because that

  1. Flags you as being ill-prepared
  2. Requires you to drive back to set or
  3. Necessitates your production assistant covering with their own cash

None of these are optimal scenarios, so plan accordingly.

NEVER HAND SOMEONE MONEY WITHOUT WRITING IT DOWN (and having them sign for it)!  If your production doesn’t furnish you with supplies like a receipt book and money bag/drawer, beg for them or purchase them yourself.

At the end of each day, frisk your Production Assistants for their Petty Cash and receipts – they will try to leave with it unintentionally one of these days. If it’s a recurring Field Coordinator that you trust with their own small float, it may be fine.  If it’s a day player production assistant, you’ve just added up to an hour to your day tomorrow to track them down and get your money back.

Whatever happens (and this goes for more than this situation), it’s your responsibility and your fault if something goes wrong.

Breaking in the New People

Day players and new crew members, especially new Production Assistants, see and hear from you before they ever step foot on set.  After booking them, you’ll send detailed instructions on directions, parking, entering the building/production office and anything else special to your production.

Expect the impending “I’m lost” call – this will happen often. When they come into the office you’ll make sure they fill out their start paperwork before doing anything else and pass them off to their respective department. If it’s a Production Assistant, that would most likely be you or another Coordinator.

production coordinator jobs details

In television production your call sheet is your playbook. Follow it.

Although crew who work in the Television industry longer than a hot second will know other people on your crew, you should still make yourself available to these new people.  You are the mama duck to your crew in a way, and you don’t want a new duck getting lost or hating your crew because you’re not hospitable.

The Answer to All of The Questions

The Call Sheet. It used to be a literal sheet of paper, but now is served up electronically in the name of, you guessed it, practical efficiency. It is the playbook of a TV production – address for the set location, when to arrive, where to park – all the essentials.

As with most tasks, this may be a team effort between the Production Manager  and yourself.

Sometimes the Production Manager will create the Call Sheet and you’ll distribute to crew, staff, and execs.  Other times the entire task falls on your shoulders (you’ll work out the schedule along with Producers), and the Production Manager double checks your finalized Call Sheet before distributing.

Biggest rule of all Production Coordinator jobs becomes especially important at this point – TRIPLE CHECK EVERYTHING!

Depending on your shifting crew, there may be a lot of day players you’re taking off and putting on the distribution list.  I highly recommend becoming besties with Mac Mail and creating distribution lists.  That way, you’ll start with your base crew and just add/remove day players with ease. (There it is again, efficiency!)

Getting Everyone Paid

Most likely, this is the only thing you crew knows for sure you do because it directly involves them.

Depending on how your show does timecards, double check everyone has completed their time card correctly, has signed it, and make a copy for those cynical people who think you and the production manager are up to no good.

Never take things like this personally. I don’t blame them – there are some insanely shiesty productions out there, and we’ve all been burned. When paychecks come in, either you or the Production Manager will handle getting each paycheck to crew members – this is usually the best mood you see people in. television jobs

Relationships, Rentals and Negotiating

You’re in charge of sourcing any and all rentals – anything from a green screen, car service, an extra camera or production vehicles for the run of show. You negotiate for the best deal so much people think you get a cut of money you save the production.

Create strong relationships with the reps from each of these companies and keep their info handy (tape it on the wall behind your desk for quick access). You also handle any and all accounting that goes along with these rentals (POs, aka Purchase Orders, Check Requests and/or CC authorizations). Organization is key (again)! Depending on the length and breadth of your production, this grows quickly.

Keep organized files on your computer with copies of everything or paper binders if you must. Paper binders of everything have started to go away (thank goodness) due to the digital age. But at the end of the day, whatever works for you works.

But That’s Not All

Now that I’ve started working in other positions like Associate Producer, my biggest pet peeve is someone saying or implying “That’s not my job.”

If someone has a question, they’ll most likely come to you even if the answer in no way relates to you.

The best thing to say if you have no idea: “Let me figure that out.”

Since you have a hand in everything and every department, you’ll probably know better than the asker where to find the answer. Consider the question a compliment – this person thinks you know everything! Then again as a Production Coordinator, that is essentially your job description…

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Comments

  1. A Johnson says:

    This was an intriguing piece of material to read. I would definitely love to pursue a career in this field. May I ask if it is a complicated career field to get in?

  2. S. Smith says:

    Help! I’m applying for my dream starting job in this field, don’t know if my cv is good enough. I wish I knew how to best sell my skills for the role. I have a lot of general skills and a good attitude but not much hands on experience within the news room

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