EP NowEP StoreAcademySupportCommunityProducts by Country
Blog Home

Meet the Unit Production Manager

Carrie Holt de Lama ('The Bear') and James McAlister ('Power Book IV:Force') on how the UPM guides the filmmaking process
February 8, 2023
EP Blog-WIDE-Meet the UPM-The Bear-Power Force IV

Behind every rolling camera are a crew, actors, and a location that was meticulously planned through the skillful coordination of a Unit Production Manager (UPM). Their role is to make sure that every production runs smoothly – from the hiring of crew members, to monitoring that every department stays on budget, to adjusting schedules when inclement weather arises.

Seasoned UPMs Carrie Holt de Lama and James McAlister stepped away from each of their respective production offices to share how they bring the artistic integrity of a production to life while keeping it on schedule and on budget.

Carrie is currently in prep for the second season of ‘The Bear’ (FX) and works primarily in Chicago, as does James, who just wrapped the latest season of ‘Power Book IV: Force’ (Starz) starring Joseph Sikora and Isaac Keys.

The many skills of a UPM

The UPM brings the right people together for the needs of the director or showrunner, setting the tone for the complete set experience throughout production. This tone impacts everything from the performances of the actors to how the crew members show up each day to set.

“One of the assets of a UPM is how they draw from the set of tools that they’ve honed in whichever department they came up in that led them to their current position. With that background, they can adapt, and problem solve based on that previous experience,” James explains.

James McAlister first entered the film indsutry as as an intern at the Chicago Film Office. From there, he transitioned to locations working as a location scout, and eventually worked his way up to the position of location manager on productions including ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Public Enemies.’ With 30+ years of location department experience under his belt, James understands how to balance both the creative and logistical elements involved at the very earliest stages of a project and brings that experience to his role today as a UPM.  

Carrie Holt de Lama started out in theater, building large-scale video installations with the goal of pursuing a career in museums. But soon she found her passion as an independent producer; this brought her out to The LA Film Festival, which kickstarted her film career.

“I think one of my greatest assets is finding the right artists who can work together well. Finding a crew that will meld together with the right personalities is so important,” Carrie says. When selecting the individuals who will crew her productions, personality and passion for their craft are top of mind. “I want everybody to care, because once everybody cares, you have a much better project and a better time!” she says, “So, I really am very precise about who I choose to be on my crew, because I want the best attitudes. I want the people who will always give 100% and who really want to make an excellent product.”

Crafting the vision

The UPM is usually one of the first crewmembers to be hired on a project. They begin by reading the script to understand the story and needs of the project. As Carrie describes it, “When I read a script, I see the whole vision in my head instantly. I don't know if that’s everybody, but for me, I see it." Working towards that vision, she explains "You end up being a bridge between creativity and production. Creatives write all these amazing things and then the production says what they can and cannot do based on budget.”

Once the vision between the director or showrunner with the UPM is solidified, then the next step is hiring. When the crew and actors are finally contracted and the deal memos signed, then it’s off and rolling with scheduling and budget.

The UPM works closest with the production accountant and line producer, who create the entire budget for the production including a plan to forecast potential roadblocks throughout production; once that plan is mapped out, the UPM puts it into action.

Navigating scheduling challenges

Scheduling is a significant part of the job for a UPM. An intricate dance between creative goals and production timelines, they must ensure important cast members and crew are available, all while keeping the budget parameters of a project in mind.

“I first look at the script creatively and ask, ‘How do we give everybody what they want?’” says Carrie. “When it comes to scheduling, you can produce the best plan on how to do something. And then when you find the people that you want to do it with, oftentimes, everything that you originally planned gets thrown out the window because their schedule doesn’t work with how you planned. Then, it’s back to the drawing board to do another iteration.”

Making multiple schedules is nothing new to the UPM. By the time a production begins filming, they may be on their 10th internal schedule as notes come in from tech scouts and production meetings. “It's constantly a work in progress,” says James. “We'll put a schedule out right before a final production meeting and maybe another one before shooting, but hopefully, by then we're able to stay on track.”

With COVID-19 impacting productions over the past few years, schedule changes were constant with conflicts arising left and right. Regardless of the circumstances, though, a seasoned UPM knows how to stay calm and pivot accordingly. As James explains, “You address the problems as they come up. If an actor gets sick, then you might have to double up on another day, which we’ve had to do a few times.”

Carrie Holt de Lama-crop.jpg
Carrie Holt de Lama, Unit Production Manager, 'The Bear' / gettyimages

On, 'The Bear,’ the cast is considered an ensemble, meaning they are repeat characters that can’t be replaced because they are an integral part of the story. As Carrie explains, “In season one for ‘The Bear’ we had the same dishwasher come every day. They might not even have a line, but you needed them to create the consistency of a small sandwich shop.” Knowing this, it became imperative to organize the schedule in such a way to ensure all the ensemble cast members would be available for filming.

Another scheduling challenge often is connected to inclement weather. As James recounts, “We had an instance with lightning and then a tornado warning and had to find shelter in place until the whole storm passed. We lost probably three hours.” When storms or other natural disruptions arise, it’s up to the UPM to navigate how to get the production back on track and get the shots they need. “We did everything we could to finish the day, but we knew that we were not going to finish all of the shots we needed for the day” James explains, “and so we tacked on additional days to do some visual effects on a stage. This way, we didn’t need to come back to that location which would have significantly increased our budget.”

Balance budgeting and artistic integrity

Communication is a key function of the UPM position. They need to be consistently communicating with the director or showrunner and department heads, to know when things are worth spending money on and when it might be worth pushing back to protect the overall budget health of the project.

While 'on budget and on time' is always the goal, Carrie and James are dedicated to the artistic integrity of every project they work on because storytelling is their passion. This means balancing budget decisions with the line producer and accountant, while also helping the creatives, such as the director of photography or production designer, succeed in realizing their vision. As they have found, the UPM is often negotiating on how to make creative adjustments to reduce the budget of original designs, and sometimes in the end, those constraints can lead to better solutions and creative breakthroughs for the story.

James McAlister-The Dark Knight-Hong Kong-800x450.jpg
James McAlister on location in Hong Kong for 'The Dark Knight' / courtesy of James McAlister

What are some of the ways a UPM can help a production cut costs with subtle design changes? 

On his productions, James might recommend subtle modifications to the set drawings to help the production designer trim back on construction labor costs. He might also talk to the locations department and advise on picking a location where filming can take place on the first floor instead of the second, which wouldn’t require additional wiring and labor.

Similarly, with the location's department, he may weigh in on choosing a location to utilize windows for natural light to save costs with the lighting department. The goal isn’t to drastically alter any department’s plans, but rather, recognize the small changes that can add up to significant savings.

Location, location, location!

Speaking of locations, choosing the right one can make or break a budget. The UPM is often tasked with working in partnership with the locations department to coordinate the right environment for the story while also sticking to the budget. Weather, logistics, and authenticity all play an important part in this decision.

For the filming of ‘The Bear,’ UPM Carrie Holt de Lama had to merge two locations into one. “We used a working beef shop for the pilot, that the story was based around, and they're only closed one day a week,” she explains. “So, we had to buy out the restaurant, and we could only afford to do that for one week. As a result, we shot all the exteriors and then we shot three days at a different kitchen in a different location, but they merged beautifully. You can't tell the difference!”

Once the show was picked up for an entire season, Carrie took on the job of building an actual working kitchen set at the Cinespace soundstage. “The kitchen was so small and claustrophobic on the original set, so we added four inches from behind the counter on the set kitchen,” she says. “But the biggest challenge was how to build a walk-in freezer! You can't have it live on set because it's cold. However, the sound stage is under sea level, so it doesn’t drain properly. We worked with the studio, unions, and various tradespeople to help us put together a safe and working kitchen.”

In addition, there were food challenges involved as well. Carrie had to oversee six celebrity chefs preparing food for the show, as well as the disposal of the food. “Some things you can donate, some things you just must trash, but you can't put it in the regular trash because it's all food,” she explains. “You must have a special dumpster, so it gets picked up regularly, because otherwise you end up with rats. We made all the food that you see on site. It's especially important to us to be as authentic as possible. And I think people got a taste of Chicago culture – both the heart and grit of it.”

Food, lighting, tornadoes, schedules, snow, budgets, locations! Guiding a production through what may seem like impossible circumstances sounds exhausting. But for a dedicated UPM like James or Carrie, they thrive in their role as the problem solver. With passion for stories and people, they are compelled to see a project through to the end. Both are relentless in their “get it done” mindset as they guide productions through uncertainty and obstacles, ready for what may come along the way.

Topic: Spotlight

Related Content

Los Angeles Times logo-sq

Hollywood production in U.K. soars to record levels as crews complain of burnout

Spending on film and high-end television shoots reach record-breaking amounts as production activity...

The Future of Streaming and Production Growth in Africa

Streaming services lead a promising wave of African productions set to entertain local and global...

Meet the Music Supervisor

Kasey Truman ('Grey’s Anatomy,' 'The Sandman,' 'Fire Country') on the art of creating cinematic...

Behind the Boom: Why the UK is a Hotspot for Production

Explore the generous industry incentives, talent, and infrastructure available to productions filming in...

Meet the Script Supervisor

A conversation with Rachel Connors Phillippe (‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ ‘Only Murders in the Building’)

Production Incentives Update: November 2022

Don't miss these US incentive programs, accepting applications now!
Western Canada

Production Tax Incentives in Western Canada Every Producer Should Know About

Alberta and Manitoba offer film and TV productions competitive tax incentive programs and versatile...

Film Industry Booms in Buffalo

Western New York draws top filmmakers with expanded tax incentives, new soundstages, and architectural...
Changes to UK right to work checks

Important Changes to UK Right to Work Checks

On September 30, 2022 the UK rules around right to work checks will change. Here’s what productions need...
Topic: UK
EP Blog_SQUARE_1st AC Matt Sanderson

Meet the First Assistant Camera

A conversation with 1st AC Matt Sanderson ('Everything Everywhere All At Once')
EP Blog_SQUARE_New US Incentives 2022

New US Film Incentives Introduced in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, and West Virginia

As production continues to boom, new tax credits and other programs welcome industry to new locations...
EP Webinar Panelists - US Production Incentives Update

US Production Incentives Update: New and Expanded Programs in 2022

Film commissioners Colleen Bell and Sandy Lighterman, and production executives Jay Roewe and Ashley Rice,...
EP Blog_SQUARE_Penka Kouneva-2

Meet the Composer

A conversation with award-winning orchestrator and composer Penka Kouneva (‘Revenge,’ ‘Pirates of the...
Woman looking at working schedule on laptop

Types of Working Days in the UK HETV Industry – And What They Mean

Key types of working days to be aware of if you’re producing scripted TV in the UK.
Topic: UK
INDUSTRY NEWS_EP at Sundance Film Festival 2023

Entertainment Partners Hosted Incentives Panel at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

EP's Joe Chianese led an expert panel of film commissioners from across the globe discussing incentives,...
INDUSTRY NEWS_SQUARE_uk flag_big ben

Update on UK Film and TV Tax Relief Consultation

A look at how the UK government aims to modernise existing tax reliefs to better serve film industry...
Topic: UK

UK Employment Law Changes Production Companies Should Be Aware Of

The UK government is considering a suite of legal changes which – if passed into law – will affect your...
Topic: UK
EP Blog_SQUARE_London Background Actors

London Productions: Key Things to Consider When Working with Background Actors

Is your production filming in or around London? Don't overlook the special rules that may apply to your...
Topic: UK

Illinois’ Historic Film Scene Grows to New Heights with Expanded Tax Incentives

For over 100 years Illinois has supported the film industry and thanks to recently passed legislation, the...
Master Series: SB 1162 Panelists

SB 1162: What Studios Need to Know about the New California Pay Data Reporting Law

Learn about California’s new expanded pay data reporting law, SB 1162, and how it applies to the...
Topic: Legal

Production Incentives Update: February 2023

A look at changing film incentive programs across Illinois, New York, Puerto Rico, and Spain.

Allowable Mileage Changes in 2023

Driving to and from set? Here's what production workers need to know to maximize allowable mileage...

New York Gov. Aims to Boost Film Tax Credits to $700M As New Jersey Rivalry Heats Up

Since 2020, at least 10 productions chose to film in New Jersey or other jurisdictions instead of the...
EP Newsroom-Netflix logo-Thumbnail

Netflix and Entertainment Partners to Train Next Generation of Production Accountants

Netflix, in partnership with Entertainment Partners, is calling for applicants to participate in a...

7 Things Production Finance Teams Need to Know for Budgeting in 2023

Mark Hammond, VP of International Finance & Ops, shares some of the key factors production finance teams...
EP Newsroom-Thumbnail-PGGB

6FT From The Spotlight Wins Inaugural Earl of Wessex Award at PGGB Talent Showcase

Film and TV industry charity 6ft From the Spotlight were awarded The Production Guild of Great Britain’s...

Entertainment Partners and Netflix Pledge £500K ($608K) to New PGGB Talent Development Fund

Production Guild of Great Britain (PGGB) Talent Development Fund will support the development and...

New Union Agreement for Engaging Crew on UK HETV Takes Effect

Pact/Bectu 2023 agreement makes a number of key changes to the terms and conditions for engaging crew.
Topic: UK
Master Series square Thumbnail Pact Bectu Agreement

Understanding the New Pact/Bectu TV Drama Agreement 2023

Your comprehensive overview of the new Pact/Bectu TV Drama Agreement and how key changes will impact...
Topic: UK
Virtual Production

The UK Invests in Virtual Production as Content Boom Continues

The UK is doubling down on Virtual Production infrastructure; learn how and why they’re leading the charge...
Topic: UK

Hawaii 2023 Loan-Out GET Tax Rule FAQs

Productions seeking a Hawaii tax credit must withhold and report general excise tax (GET) on loan-outs in...

Production Incentives Update: December 2022

A look at changing film incentive programs across the US, Canada, and Czech Republic.

Hawaii Production Tax Incentives Notice

Hawaii announces new rules and procedures for reporting and paying loan-out HI General Excise Tax (GET)...

Budgeting and Forecasting Film and Television Residuals

What production accountants need to know to confidently budget and forecast for residuals.
Master Series Budgeting 2023

Budgeting for 2023: Federal, State, and Incentive Considerations

Learn what Federal and State payroll tax changes are coming in 2023, plus tips for setting up your...

UK Production Incentives All Producers Should Know About

Don't miss out on the UK's tax incentives, special programs, and national and regional funding...

The Production Accountant’s Guide to Year-End Payroll

A step-by-step breakdown of how to navigate pitfalls and fix production payroll errors for a smooth year...

US Production Incentives Special Alert: Hawaii

Hawaii amends Motion Picture, Digital Media, and Film Production Income Tax Credit

Preparing for Year End: Focus, Find, and Fix!

EP's payroll tax experts share best practices to identify and resolve payroll tax errors for a smooth year...

Film Community and Industry Jobs Grow in Washington State

Thanks to new funding and a continuous effort by Amy Lillard, Executive Director of Washington Filmworks,...

Special Report: Entertainment – A Hollywood Education

It’s the best of times and the worst of times for employment in the entertainment/streaming industry.

Special Report: Entertainment – Soundstage Gold Rush

Hollywood is experiencing an ongoing boom that fills its Los Angeles production hub to overflow levels.
EP Blog_SQUARE_Creating a development budget

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Development Budget

Before you start the filmmaking process, learn what basics you need to budget for to get your idea off the...
Changes to UK Pensions Act

Proposed Changes to the UK Pensions Act Could Impact Production Budgets

Reintroduced bill seeks to give UK government the power to extend pensions auto-enrollment to young and...
Topic: UK
UK Gov Growth Plan

Mini Budget; Big Changes: What the UK Government’s Growth Plan Means for Production 

UK Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announces new Growth Plan (aka the “mini budget”) and a big shake up of the...
Topic: UK
EP Blog_SQUARE_Streaming service

Streaming Services Expand to Latin America and New Audiences

SVOD providers look to Latin America as a gateway to global stories and new subscribers
EP Blog_SQUARE_New York

NY Convenience Rule Impacts Remote Production Workers and Film Incentives

How remote employee payroll taxes apply to New York-based productions and if an employee’s physical...
Master Series Square Thumbnail-Film Financing-Crowdfunding

Film Financing Explained: Crowdfunding

Emily Best (Seed&Spark), Stacy Bradford (Indiegogo), and producer Zach Fineblum join us to discuss the ins...
EP Blog_SQUARE_US Expanded Incentives 2022-2

A Record Number of US States Expand Filmmaking Incentives in 2022

Your guide to the latest news in production incentives and film programs to come from the 2022 legislative...
EP Blog_SQUARE-Atlantic Canada Expands Incentives

Atlantic Canada Expands Film Incentives in 2022

Enhanced production incentive programs attract industry to Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, and...
Streaming platform on tablet device

The Evolution of Residuals: How Streaming Changed the Model

Understanding how residuals payments are calculated for new content on streaming platforms.
Compliant crew contracting panel-square

Compliant Crew Contracting in the UK

Learn how to ensure your crew contracts are compliant with UK regulations and why the Production Portal is...
Topic: UK

Payroll & Finances

PayrollResidualsSmartStartNew SmartTimeProduction PortalEP On LocationSmartAccountingEP LiveSmartPOCASHétPayPaymaster Rate GuideEP Residency

Manage Multiple Productions

AssetHubSmartHubSmartHub Vault
Subscribe now

Be an industry insider with EP's
newsletters and alerts

LegalPrivacy NoticeSecurity
© 2023 Entertainment Partners. All rights reserved.