Production coordinators perform a critical role in the creation of any professional film, television show, or commercial. And their role differs depending on which one of those productions they work in. So it makes sense that even veterans in the industry might find it difficult to pin down exactly who production coordinators are, what they do, and why they’re so important.
But regardless of the medium, a coordinator's core function ---to ensure a smooth production--- remains the same.
We acknowledge duties will be different for a commercial coordinator compared to a film and television coordinator, and while we will make appropriate distinctions when necessary, this post breaks down the 21 most asked questions that pertain to the role in general.
Let’s start with the basics.
A production office coordinator job description can be wide and varied.
But essentially, a production coordinator is someone who coordinates all of the moving parts of a production to ensure its success. The role differs whether working in film, TV, or the commercial space, but the overarching goal is the same.
Bailey Phillips, TV coordinator on the hit comedy series, Portlandia discusses her experience below.
A production coordinator is someone who makes sure things get done. And while that’s a great start for our production coordinator definition, let’s dig a little deeper into its implications.
Any good production coordinator job description would mention, in some form, that the coordinator’s work is centered around the production office, (especially the film coordinator). And based on that same job description, you might be tempted to think of the film coordinator as an office worker, someone who deals mostly with paperwork and e-mails.
There is some truth to that idea---but it’s missing something critical.
While a production coordinator job description might place the film coordinator deep in the center of the production office, it’s important to remember that the production office itself is deep in the center of the entire production.
Every department- and, therefore, every member of the crew, regardless of their specific position, is connected to and through the production office. It is the nerve center of any shoot. It keeps everyone going in the right direction at the right pace, at the right time.
And if we accept that the production office is the center of the entire production, maybe we should ask our initial question just one more time.
What is a production coordinator?
Well, you could say the production coordinator is… The Center of The Center.
In all seriousness, a production coordinator in film, television, or commercial production is an absolutely invaluable figure because they tie the rest of the crew together-- they enable them to do their best work as a filmmaking unit.
Whether it's a film coordinator in an office or a commercial coordinator securing material resources and managing the only PA, coordinators sit at the center. And because of this, their responsibilities often vary, whereby an adequate "production coordinator job description" is often hard to define.
But- plot twist- the shortest and most accurate job description has been right in front of us the entire time. The best job description is in the job title itself.
A production coordinator is someone who, that's right, coordinates a production.
But how exactly do they accomplish that?
It's important to note that a film and television coordinators' duties do differ than that of a commercial production coordinator because the needs are different. Film vs television too, will often differ---tasks will ultimately depend on what kind of project they're working on.
But even still, all coordinators are active from the earliest days of prep all the way until the project is wrapped. And each of their tasks are constantly evolving throughout that process.
More significantly, let's take a look at how the production coordinator job description shifts through each phase of production.
During pre-production, production coordinators are busy preparing anything and everything to get their production up to speed and ready to shoot.
Or just about anything else you can imagine a production might need before cameras roll.
In film or television, production coordinators may spend a great deal of time coordinating multiple schedule changes according to unexpected shifts in: locations, cast availability, and other constraints. Of course, commercial coordinators also spend some of their time playing schedule tetris, but this kind of management is usually not nearly as involved as film or TV due to the short length of a commercial production.
In the tighter prep periods of commercials, however, coordinators are often more focused on locking in equipment, personnel, craft services, and other material resources. Comparatively, bigger budgeted shows and films often designate individual workers for securing certain resources. For example, a large budgeted film will likely have a designated craft service person or company. While the coordinator may have to coordinate their presence on set, there might be less to manage.
*These responsibilities can also differ between film and television coordinators. For instance, schedule changes for a television show may be more intricate than that of a film. Or, a TV production coordinator may be able to delegate certain duties out---while those same responsibilities fall solely on a film coordinator working on a particular movie.
Whether it’s a commercial, feature film, or episode of television, production coordinators are firefighters during production. One way or another, if it’s a problem, it usually finds its way to the production coordinator’s desk.
In other words, on a good day, the work of a production coordinator is ample and heavy, but also relatively normal.
On a bad day, however, things can get… weird.
You may, to reference a real-life example, have to coax a family of raccoons out of your lead actor’s hotel room.
In short, on a shoot, a production coordinator has to be prepared for anything.
Once they’ve survived production and entered post, production coordinators focus on the process of wrapping the project out.
For production coordinators in film and television, wrap times can vary according to many factors. *Note: This is different from a post-production coordinator, which we’ll get to later in this post.
In commercials, however, the process of wrapping out tends to happen as fast as possible, requiring long hours, hard work, and lots of coffee.
So if you were asking yourself, “What does a production coordinator do after post-production?”
The answer is simple:
For more information on the tasks performed by production coordinators, check out IATSE Local 871’s full production coordinator job description.
In feature films, commercials, or television, production coordinators need to have a mix of in-depth knowledge and broad professional skills.
We’ll talk more about the in-depth knowledge later, but, for now, here's brief list of valuable skills for production coordinators in film, television, or commercial filmmaking.
Some of these skills are required in the office, and some are vital on set.
For a production coordinator working in film or television, time spent on the shooting set tends to be extremely limited.
Once principal photography begins, a production transforms into something like a bullet train. It has to move forward at all times, building momentum and focusing only on the work of the present moment. If a crew fails to do that, they risk mucking up the entire shooting schedule and the film or television show they’re making right along with it.
To prevent such train wrecks, the production department is constantly working days or even weeks ahead of the crew, solving problems before they happen and making sure that the right amount of track is laid for the metaphorical train to get wherever it’s going.
The production coordinator- who runs the production office- is, therefore, chiefly occupied with matters of the future until the picture wraps and is involved only indirectly with whatever is happening on set at any given moment.
Production Coordinator jobs in commercial filmmaking tend to play out over shorter timelines and in closer proximity with work on set. However, even then, a production coordinator’s on-set involvement is generally experienced through the delegation of tasks, rather than the personal performance of them.
And that brings us to our next question…
You could argue that a production coordinator works with every member of the crew.
But, while that’s technically true, it’s slightly misleading.
Production coordinators work primarily with personnel filling two crew positions: production assistants and unit production managers.
Coordinators delegate work to production assistants, assigning them concrete tasks both large and small to keep the production on track.
Unit production managers (UPM), on the other hand, are the ones who manage production coordinators, providing them with big picture guidance and strategy for keeping the production on track.
For anyone new to production, the general responsibilities of UPMs and production coordinators may seem to overlap, leading them to wonder…
To start, it’s a mistake to compare the two positions as “production manager vs. production coordinator.”
Because the phrase “production manager vs. production coordinator” emphasizes a contrast between the two roles, whereas the best way to understand them is by first focusing on what they have in common.
Both UPMs and coordinators are concerned with matters of production management. They work in tandem to execute the production plan as conceptualized by members of the above-the-line crew.
In that way, their roles are complementary. They are two (or more) professionals working separately toward a single goal.
As we’ve discussed, production coordinators focus on minutiae.
They’re “the go-to folks who help make it happen,” putting together all the individual pieces that make up a production puzzle.
Unit production managers, meanwhile, are decision-makers and strategists, working with assistant directors and other department heads to manage budgets, schedules, and any other processes necessary to get the show made. A large part of that job involves collaboration with coordinators to make sure physical elements are in place when and where they need to be.
Ultimately, the relationship between coordinators and unit production managers is simple:
Production coordinators report directly to UPMs. And UPMs direct production coordinators in prioritizing their work.
If coordinators are the ones who put together individual pieces of the production puzzle, unit production managers are the ones who work to make sure that the puzzle matches its picture on the box.
A production coordinator salary can vary dramatically.
With a few exceptions, production coordinator jobs are freelance and gig-based, meaning that an annual production coordinator salary is determined by the sum of their day rates.
And a production coordinator’s day rate will change according to the type and size of a given job.
In commercial filmmaking, a typical production coordinator day rate ranges in the ballpark of $400/8 or in the past and in states excluding California, $400/12 (that is, $400 per 8 hours, or $400 per 12 hours). In some states and even in the past in California, overtime incurred after the 12-hour limit, though today, California and most unions operate on an 8 hour day. And the only thing guaranteed in California is the 8 hour call, but not necessarily overtime. Additionally, that number, $400, is far from guaranteed. It can swing both higher and lower, depending on the circumstances of a given production. The wages are are subject to negotiation between the coordinator and the commercial producer, though any agreement they make must be in compliance with prevailing state or federal laws.
In feature films, production coordinator day rates may be lower, but the shoots themselves tend to go on for longer periods. If you’re working a national commercial production, you might only be guaranteed a week or two of work. But if you’re working on a major feature film, like The Lord of the Rings or Eyes Wide Shut, you might be guaranteed work for a full year or more.
The point is that the production coordinator salary is not a static number. It depends on both the amount of work you’re willing to put in as well as the kind of work you’re doing.
If you’re figuring out how to become a production coordinator, and salary is a priority, it’s important that you carefully consider what kind of production coordinator you want to be.
Speaking of which…
The best way to become a production coordinator is to gain experience and build relationships from the ground up.
If you’re trying to figure out how to become a production coordinator, start by becoming a production assistant or, better yet, a production office assistant.
Working as a production assistant can often be grueling and thankless, but it’s by far the best way to gain an in-depth understanding of how a production functions.
In the beginning, it doesn’t matter what kind of job you take so long as you have one, but it would be wise to eventually begin tailoring your job selections according to the type of productions on which you’d most like to work. Which leads to the next question...
If you want to learn how to become a production coordinator for feature films, it’s best to work as a production assistant on feature films as much as possible.
This is true for two reasons.
A variety of experiences is never a bad thing, but a commercial set, for example, is simply not run in the same way as a feature film set. Different kinds of productions have different needs, rhythms, and priorities. As a production coordinator, you’ll need to be able to anticipate those elements for your own sets, which means you’ll have to understand the characteristics specific to your production type intimately.
When you try to make the jump from production assistant to production coordinator, chances are that you’ll be given your first opportunity to do so through the recommendation of a production coordinator that you’ve formerly worked under. If that production coordinator works mostly on commercials, chances are that the opportunity they offer you will also be to work on a commercial.
If you’re trying to figure out how to become a production coordinator in commercials, that opportunity will be fantastic news.
If you want to work in feature films, however, it’ll probably still be great news, but great news accompanied by a slight pang of anxiety because you know you’re at least one more big career jump away from doing what you want.
It’s certainly not the end of the world, but the point is that, as is always the case in filmmaking, your network is important.
To further illustrate that fact, let’s talk about our next question.
Production Coordinator jobs are given out by recommendation.
Coordinators recommend one another or capable PAs when they are unavailable for a job, and unit production managers recommend their favorite production coordinators to other unit production managers when they’re trying to staff up a job.
There’s no harm in preparing your resume and submitting it to job boards, but the key to a sustained career as a production coordinator will always be your network and the opportunities presented through it.
But just waiting around for a recommendation can, of course, be agonizing. Fortunately, there are at least two things you can do to improve your odds.
Work ethic and ambition go a long way.
Work hard. If you do a great job, your supervisors will know that you are capable. They’ll be more likely to hire you back for your current role, and you’ll be at the top of their list for recommendations to other roles in the future.
Let your ambition be known. In the freelance world, most people want to help people who’ve helped them. If you work hard and you’re open with others about wanting to become a production coordinator, you’ll likely find that people are willing to mentor you by showing you the ropes or opening doors.
It’s important to be tactful, but sometimes the key to getting what you want is to simply ask for it.
The best way to find and hire a production coordinator is by reaching out to production professionals you’ve worked with on previous shoots.
Whether it’s a line producer, UPM, or even another coordinator, they’ll have the ability to either recommend personnel for you directly or put you in contact with someone else who can do so instead.
While most coordinator hires will occur through direct recommendations, it is possible that a producer will have to review a resume on rare occasions.
If that’s the case and you’re willing to take your chances by hiring out, look for any sign that the candidate can multitask and has strong communication and computer skills. While it may be hard to tell just from a resume, if they’ve worked on many projects consistently, especially with the same producers, that’s probably a good sign.
Based on their past experience, have they ever been responsible for managing a team or a group of people? This is an important aspect of the production coordinator’s personality - the ability to manage people and tasks efficiently.
No matter the type of production, if you’re a coordinator, you manage everything. Automating what you can when you can will save you so much time and energy.
Excel and Google Sheets may be antiquated in other industries, but they go a long, long way when it comes to coordination. From managing all of your vendors, purchase orders, and even creating your call sheets, there will likely always be a reason to use one or the other.
Other software to be familiar with may include Movie Magic Scheduling and Hot Budget. These programs are usually used by production managers, producers, and assistant directors, but coordinators should have at least a basic understanding of how they function.
If you’re trying to hire crew, especially those you’ve already worked with, you’ll likely want to start with your own film crew lists.
And if you use Wrapbook, that task will be a breeze.
Wrapbook meticulously organizes a directory of film crew personnel each time you run a production. You can search all of those directories at once whenever you need.
If you have Covid-19 Waivers, NDA’s, or any other startwork for your crew to fill out, you can upload all necessary documents to Wrapbook, or even build them in the software, and digitally distribute.
But the real glory comes when you need to onboard and pay your cast and crew. If you’re union, Wrapbook now automates timecard calculations according to AICP commercial contracts for IATSE & Teamsters Local 399. And if you’re not union, never fear. The software can manage calculations for non-union productions and always stays tax compliant.
Check out the demo to learn more.
Even though commercial, film, and television production coordinators may perform slightly different tasks, the fundamental nature of their role is absolutely essential to any production, regardless of size or type.
In other words, yes, you definitely do need a production coordinator.
The required labor behind producing any shoot dictates that someone somewhere perform the duties typically assigned to the production coordinator. The simple reality is that if no one is doing the jobs that a production coordinator does, then the shoot will not happen.
And no one wants that.
Of course, there are rare occasions where hiring a production coordinator is not possible.
On virtually any professional shoot, a coordinator will have been budgeted for and hired long before any other below-the-line crew.
On microbudget shoots, however, that’s not always the case.
Every indie producer has faced a similar situation at least once in their career. And, rest assured, if you cannot afford a coordinator, there is one- but only one- tried and true solution:
You’ll have to find someone else to do their job.
Said a different way, everyone becomes a coordinator.
You might have to spread out a coordinator’s responsibilities across whatever production staff you can afford. Sometimes, a producer will have to handle crew paperwork directly. Other times, an office PA might have to issue COIs.
Not having a coordinator on your crew is less than ideal, but you can make it work. The key is to make sure someone (or a team of someones) is filling the production coordinator’s role, even if it doesn’t match up with their job title.
It may be necessary to hire multiple coordinators if the scope of a production grows beyond a certain limit.
A production’s overall budget is often a strong indicator of whether or not that limit has been breached. If it’s obvious that you can afford multiple coordinators, then it’s probably not a bad idea to do so.
However, the size of a production’s budget is only a symptom of a more important factor that underlies a film’s financing.
In truth, whether or not you’ll need more than one coordinator comes down to the type, volume, and complexity of work that a production requires. Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry rule for making that determination, and only experience can provide a producer with the necessary perspective.
But the bright side is that producers don’t have to rely on their experience alone. It’s important to remember that every department on a production operates with some degree of autonomy, which can sometimes work to the production department’s advantage.
It’s common practice for many departments to hire coordinators for their exclusive use.
Art and wardrobe departments, for example, will work with their own coordinators whenever budgets allow.
In such cases, the decision is made by the relevant department head, alleviating the producer of at least some small measure of responsibility.
Let’s be honest, the lifestyle of a production coordinator can be tough. The job is often characterized by long hours, high stress, and a lack of balance.
But for the right kind of detail-oriented movie-lover with a passion for production, it just might be a perfect fit.
For the right person, those long hours will be spent building relationships and making memories.
That stress will be associated with the thrills and excitement of filmmaking. And any lack of balance will be irrelevant, because the right kind of person will be doing exactly what they love.
Yes, the lifestyle of a production coordinator can be rough, but is it worth it?
The answer to that particular question is entirely up to you.
Production coordinators and post-production coordinators fill similar roles, but they’re not the same. Before we wrap up, let’s take a moment to clear up any confusion between the two.
As the name suggests, post-production coordinators work exclusively in post-production, and their expertise matches that level of specialization.
While a production coordinator is busy assisting in the wrap process during post-production, a post-production coordinator is ensuring that the final product of a film, television show, or commercial is coming together without a hitch.
Post-production coordinators may be asked to perform a wide range of tasks.
On a given day, they may have to:
Unlike production coordinators, post-production coordinators can be employed on either a freelance or full-time basis, depending on the nature of their specific production field. They often work more traditional hours on a standard Monday-to-Friday schedule.
In theory, the jobs of production coordinators and post-production coordinators are similar.
In practice, however, they’re very different.
In many ways, production coordinators are the glue that holds a production together. They make sure that everyone on the crew gets what they need when they need it to do their jobs as efficiently as possible.
Did we miss an important coordinator question? Feel free to drop us a line.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
Sign up for the Wrapbook monthly newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.