The Ultimate Guide to Being a Production Coordinator

 

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As new technologies emerge, the role of being an on set Production Coordinator, or commonly known as a Production Office Coordinator if stationed in the office, is changing drastically. New, powerful tools enable coordinators to take on more responsibilities every day, in both volumes and kind.

As the title suggests, this position is all about “coordinating.” A broad statement to say the least, but an accurate one. Individuals who thrive at communicating efficiently and maintaining precise records excel in this line of work.

No matter what your natural aptitudes are, you can become a Production Coordinator. However, individuals with the following traits tend to have an easier time than others:

  • Clerical Speed: being quick and accurate when reviewing paperwork makes the job of a Production Coordinator a lot easier. Also, having a knack for numbers will help you remember crew rates and perform basic overtime calculations faster.
  • Convergent Thinking: Individuals who rely on logic and organization to organize information and deduct conclusions tend to do well in production jobs.
  • Observation: The ability to notice and remember small details is a must-have for a Coordinator. Think of yourself as a human-computer that the crew will often query!

If the project is big enough, an Assistant Production Coordinator may be added to the production team. They report directly to the Production Coordinator and take on part of the administrative duties outlined below.

 

What does a Production Coordinator do?

A Production Coordinator supports and reports directly to the Production Manager or Line Producer. The bulk of their responsibilities are to facilitate administrative operations once a deal has been made. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Sending and reviewing start paperwork, such as deal memos, NDAs, and payroll forms
  • Filling out vendor forms, such as contracts and check authorizations
  • Coordinating travel (flights, car rentals, hotels) and location scouts
  • Reviewing, coding, and submitting time cards and invoices to production accounting
  • Collecting, reviewing, and batching credit card receipts
  • Actualizing budgets and creating expense reports

Production Coordinators also hold information and distribute it to the appropriate parties. This can include:

  • Creating and distributing call sheets
  • Updating cast, crew, and vendor lists
  • Creating “Sides”, distributing scripts, schedules, and itineraries
  • Creating and distributing daily status reports
  • Distributing checks and troubleshooting payment issues

Finally, a Production Coordinator can manage the physical aspect of a production office:

  • Ordering and organizing office supplies
  • Taking food orders down and ordering lunches
  • Setting up conference rooms for script reads and production meetings
  • Issuing “drive-ons” and other security clearances to gain access to the production office
  • Managing Production Assistants who either work in the office or who report to the office at the start and end of their day

 

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Skills Needed To Be A Production Coordinator

By now, you hopefully have a sense of how varied and widespread a Coordinator’s duties are on set. To perform at the highest levels, you need to excel at the following skills:

  • Communication: whether it’s oral or written, the way you communicate makes all the difference as a Coordinator. You will be the source of information for the entire crew. Learning how to format correspondence, informational documents, and reports should be at the top of your to-do list.
  • Basic Accounting: there isn’t a single day where you won’t have to draft a deal memo, review a time card, or code an invoice. Understanding payroll and accounts payables principles are key to a successful career in production.
  • Technology: The amount of information a Coordinator deals with can be staggering. In addition to being organized, coordinators often rely on software to automate their work, such as creating documents, maintaining databases, and distributing information. If you are considering this career, you should be well versed in spreadsheet software (used in scheduling, budgeting, reporting) as well as tools specific to the industry.
  • People Skills: Although coordinators mostly interact with the crew via phone and email, knowing how to interact with human beings is very important. Resolving payment issues specifically requires a lot of tact and diplomacy.

How To Become A Production Coordinator

Coordinators often learn the ropes by starting as Production Assistants. Office experience is most valuable but set experience shouldn’t be discounted either. If you are currently working as a PA, we recommend that you do the following to familiarize yourself with the Coordinator’s duties:

In the office
  • Learn about payroll forms. Filling out an I-9 form correctly is an easy skill to acquire, yet many Production Assistants remain clueless about the process.
  • Take a look at time cards and pay stubs. Overtime rules and tax deductions are not the most exciting of subjects, but they are of the utmost importance.
  • Know your vendors. Whenever you go on a run to pick-up or return equipment, making a connection is important. As a Coordinator, you will interact with these vendors daily.
  • Take a look at “Wrap binders.” Make notes on how they are organized.
  • Learn what a “PO” (Purchase Order) is.
  • Learn how to make “Sides.”
  • Many tools that require licensing often allow multiple users. Take advantage of this by asking a Coordinator or Manager if they can let you use their software, or even better, teach you the basics. If you haven’t yet, take spreadsheets seriously with a free online course.

 

On Set
  • Read the call sheet. This may seem like a no-brainer, but reading a call sheet in detail will reward you in countless ways.
  • Ask if you can manage the start paperwork. On any set, start-paperwork needs to be completed before it is handed over to the production office. Traditionally done in a multi-step paper process that requires a detailed review to check for missing information, dates, and signatures; this can now be down digitally through apps like Castifi and help you appear as a super PoC on set. 
  • Each department has a “paperwork person”. It can be the Best Boy Electric, the Assistant Camera, or the Art Director. Interacting (without distracting) with these crew members will make you more familiar with the administrative aspects of a production.
  • Make note of the big “milestones”. Paying attention to the “First Shot”, “Last Man”, “First Shot after”, and “Camera Wrap” to the point where it becomes second nature is a valuable skill.

 

Career Path for Production Coordinators

Given the nature of their responsibilities, Production Coordinators get to interact with almost every single person on any given production. This makes them very well rounded individuals and enables them to choose from almost all career paths. However, there are a few key players that they work with most:

 
Production Managers / Line Producer

Given that they are a Production Manager’s right hand, it is easy for a Coordinator to become a Production Manager. As with any industry, Managers often need a second set of eyes on a budget or someone to discuss options with when a tough decision needs to be made.

Since Coordinators are facilitating the administrative side of every deal, they are privy to all decisions. They may not be told directly why these decisions are made, but a little deduction work, combined with the right questions, is sufficient to get a good understanding of a production’s inner workings.

 

Assistant Directors

A Production Coordinator and a 2nd Assistant Director represent two sides of the same coin. On large projects specifically, they work hand in hand to communicate with the entire crew. Both parties operate at the same level, interacting with every department, gathering information, which can then be used to solve all sorts of logistical problems.

However, it is essential to note that Coordinators get very little “on set” experience. They tend to work from the confines of an office (this could be a trailer at basecamp), which makes them great at written and phone communication, but lack direct personal interactions. Unless you plan on becoming a “career 2nd AD”, you may be in for quite a ride, as things on set tend to be more hectic and 1st ADs often rely on overheard conversions and subtle body language cues to take the best course of action.

 
Production Accountant

A lot of a Production Coordinator’s duties are adjacent to that of the accounting department. For example, Production Coordinators are often tasked with reviewing time cards, coding invoices, distributing petty cash, and reconciling receipts.

 
Directors

Production Coordinators are one of the earliest crew members to join the production office team, often ahead of other department heads. This is in part because they are relied on to create start paperwork! Combined with the visibility they have on all pre-production matters, this gives Coordinators the chance to learn how creative decisions become actionable plans.

As we mentioned earlier, since they interact with every single department, Coordinators pick up a variety of information. Knowing how to talk with specialists is a very important trait to acquire and a key skill for a Director.

 
Career Production Coordinator

Not everyone needs to become something else. Just like some Camera Assistants choose not to become Operators, some Coordinators excel at their craft and become sought after. Some of a Coordinator’s duties can be considered tedious by many people, which means less competition at a high level.

It’s also worth considering that the skills required to be a Coordinator or Manager are quite different, and the transition is not for everyone. Finally, and as mentioned above, Coordinators work on projects from early pre-production to the late wrap. This stability, combined with the comfort of a production office, can be attractive for a lot of individuals.

 

Pay-scale and Union Membership for Production Coordinators

Non-Union Production Coordinators’ pay range from minimum wage ($200 for 12 hours) to $300/12h on average.

Union rates depend on the production’s budget. The Theatrical Low Budget agreement reveals that Coordinators make $33.95 per hour (just under $500/12h).

Production Coordinators belong to the I.A.T.S.E. (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). You must have either 30 paid union days or 100 paid non-union days (verifiable through pay stubs) to join the union.

 

Recommended tools for Production Coordinators

Automating tasks and managing information is key to becoming a great Production Coordinator. Below you will find some of the industry’s known resources. No matter which tools you choose to work with, staying up to date on industry software is a shared interest of most Production Coordinators.

  • Google Sheets and Excel (we can’t stress this enough)
  • AirTable - Database tool
  • Acrobat - PDF management and editing
  • Movie Magic Scheduling - a desktop scheduling and breakdown software 
  • Scenechronize - Script management and distribution
  • Poco 5 - A bit old school but specifically created for Production Coordinators!
  • Castifi - Production management tool that keeps track of all digitally executed documents and reports 

 

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Summary

Production Coordinators are the administrative heavy lifters of the production office. They take on the task to distribute, organize, and communicate with every single department. Although their responsibilities can be seen as tedious by some, they are incredibly valuable to every production as the less “action” oriented and more meticulous individuals of the entertainment industry. They benefit from great stability, a comfortable work environment, and a variety of interactions that makes every day a new adventure.

At Castifi, we are all about Production Coordinators. We noticed that the industry is becoming more and more digital every day, but not every individual can be a software whiz. That’s why our user experience team works hard to create tools that are simple to use yet adaptable to the complexity of production work.

If you found this post helpful, please share it with your favorite coordinator so they may suggest us new and interesting tools, or simply correct our typos! Subscribe to our newsletter for more content like this, as well as upcoming events, product updates, and new product features.

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