You can become a unit production manager (UPM) by applying for assistant-level jobs on film and television sets in the entertainment industry and working your way up by virtue of excellent job performance and networking. The skill set you need to do the job can be obtained through experience, by attending film school, or by entering an industry training program. Jobs in the entertainment industry are few in number and high in demand. Ultimately, obtaining any position is more a matter of persistence and luck rather than any specific set of credentials.
A unit production manager handles the overall budget, schedule, and contracts that are part of a film or television project. He is hired by the producer, supervises production assistants, and coordinates operations in conjunction with other project departments. The UPM is a union member of the Director's Guild of America (DGA). Line producer is the analogous title used by non-union UPMs.
Each television show or film is organized like a separate business entity. You are contracted to each production for as long as it lasts. At the end of the production, you apply to work on a new project, submitting your credentials and interviewing for a position. This makes the desire to become a unit production manager highly reliant on networking and your ability to make a positive impression that will get you recommended for jobs on new productions.
To become a unit production manager, you have to be willing to take any entertainment industry job that comes your way and work towards the position. Many people start as a production or location assistant. Take any position that will enable you to get your foot in the door, even if it seems below your skill set. Since positions in the industry are in high demand, there is a presumption that anyone who wants to enter or advance needs to “pay dues.” Paying dues often entails doing a level of work that you may consider menial, abusive, or below your capabilities.
It can be helpful to have an undergraduate degree to become a unit production manager. Pick a major that strengthens your ability to handle a budget or manage people. There are also proprietary film schools that offer certificate-based curricula for project management. The DGA and entertainment commissions in certain cities also run training programs to help people break into the industry.
Whether you go to school, enroll in a training program, or rely on tenacity to get that first job, you have to develop sources to let you know when productions are hiring. Keep a close eye on trade publications and industry websites. You will likely need to locate to a city, such as Los Angeles or New York in the United States, that has a robust filming schedule to put yourself in the best position. Contact the city film commission to keep informed of upcoming shoots. Use networking and referrals to advance from assistant positions to unit production manager.