Unscripted TV

Production manager (Unscripted TV)

Also known as: PM

Production manager (Unscripted TV)

What does a production manager do?

Production managers are responsible for the day-to-day financial running of an unscripted TV production and all the admin involved. They work on location and in the production office. They plan. They schedule. They troubleshoot. They problem solve.

They manage the programme money, invoice, pay bills, keep petty cash floats, book crews and prepare staff and contributor contracts. During filming, they liaise with local authorities for permits and permissions, oversee location searches and release forms, create filming schedules, supervise call sheets and manage health and safety. They are responsible for ensuring the production adheres to data protection guidelines during the entire process. 

Production managers are mainly office-based, but during production on an outside broadcast, for example, they might go on location to ensure the production is running smoothly and the crew and production team are properly equipped.

Production managers set up edits. They book edit facilities, ensure rushes are logged and loaded and all copyright material like music and archive is cleared for use. They create edit schedules, allocating staff for certain periods to initially cut the content and then polish it, organising grades, sound dubs, voiceovers and final playouts. 

Production managers are generally freelance, although some larger production companies may offer a few staff positions.

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What's a production manager good at?

  • Prioritisation: know what requires immediate attention and find quick solutions to enable the smooth running of a production, adapt to a fast-paced, changing environment
  • Financial management: organise, manage, monitor, forecast and implement a budget, plan schedules and staffing accordingly, be responsible for escalating risks and concerns
  • Negotiation: be confident at negotiating and managing a wide range of deals and contracts, ensure everyone understands what needs to happen, when and why
  • Knowledge of law: confidently manage health and safety, data protection legislation, contractual rights, compliance and copyright requirements, ensure paperwork is in order
  • Technology: keep informed of new technologies and advancements and identify the most efficient and cost-effective ways of working

Who does a production manager work with?

Production managers report directly to the production executive or head of production, but on larger productions may work to a line producer. They lead the production coordinators, production assistants and production runners. They collaborate with the series producer throughout a production and liaise with edit producers regarding the use of archive or copyrighted material.

How do I become a production manager

You need several years of experience working in TV production to become a production manager. A good way in is to start as a runner, receptionist or personal assistant, specifically one that works in the production management office, and then progress through this department. You can then get to work as a production assistant and then a production coordinator before becoming a production manager. This is a good role for people who have acquired business or project management skills in another industry and who want to move into TV.

At school or college:
A-levels or Highers in English, media studies, maths and business studies are particularly relevant to this role. Or you might just want to study whatever interests you most.

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • OCR Technical Diploma/Extended Diploma in Business
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Business
  • AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting
  • Diploma in Production Accounting for Film and Television
  • IAO Diploma in Accounting
  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media 
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production 
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology

Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. You might be able to find a production manager apprenticeship within unscripted TV. Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in television.  If you can’t find a suitable apprenticeship,  it’s worth looking for a job as an apprentice in an industry that uses similar skills such as project management, business or accountancy. You can then transfer into TV production management at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly.

Get a degree:
It is not essential to get a degree in order to become a production manager, but if you’d like one, you might want to take a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in film and television production to see some relevant higher education courses. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the unscripted TV industry. Courses in accounting, business or finance may also be helpful with a view to being able to manage budgets.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.

Look outside the industry:
Get project management, business or accountancy experience in a different industry. This kind of work will provide you with skills you can transfer to the role of production manager, such as budgeting, planning and organising.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in accountancy and budgeting by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is a relevant one. Also, get qualifications in health and safety. Filter ScreenSkills’ list of training courses by ‘health and safety’ as listed under ‘subject’.

Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in...

Being a line producer, production executive, series director or series producer in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a production manager, line producer or producer in the film and TV drama industries, or being a VFX producer, games producer or producer in the animation industry.

Further resources