A unit production manager (UPM) is responsible for the administration of a feature film or TV production.
A line producer is a type of film producer that functions as the key manager during the daily operations of a feature film, television film or an episode of a TV show.
I was honored to sit down with a veteran in the industry who simply knows how to put all of the right pieces together to make a great film. He’s been credited on working as a Line Producer and/or Unit Production Manager on over 40 productions, which, anyone in the biz will tell you, are the toughest jobs in the Film/TV industry. The amazing part of that is that he sometimes does both jobs at once in a single production.
Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked on over 50 productions in the last 35 years, do you have a film or two that you’re most proud of?
Alton Walpole: “Crazy Heart” (no extraneous talk about how “good” it was, just everyone doing their job the best they could) and “Rx” (extremely challenging budget).
Matthew: You started off in the lighting department and also dabbled in camera, editing and art direction. How did you move into the world of Production Management and Line Producing?
Alton: First jobs were Prop Maker (Carpenter), Prop Master and Grip. Did a lot of other jobs as years progressed. When I was asked to work on “Koyaanisqatsi” as an Asst Editor the first part of the task was coordination & management, so I got involved with “reshoots” and budgeting….this led to involvement in Line Producing (primarily budget estimates) and Production Management (implementing the plan, including hiring and organization).
Matthew: You’ve worked on many documentaries, including the magnificent “Baraka (1992).” Are docs something you have a strong passion for?
Alton: Yes, I still have a large curiosity and interest with “real life” events and the drama of “reality” that surrounds documentary film making.
Matthew: Tell us about the film industry scene in New Mexico? I hear the state is very close to your heart and that you’re the man to go to if you want to film there.
Alton: New Mexico had the first state managed film office in the US. Now all states have a film offices. The rebate program in New Mexico was also very “thought out” and organized. The legislation, although it has gone thru several minor revisions, was very thorough, equitable and constructed for the long run. It is a very fair program for both state residents, government and the financiers. I do all I can to support this.
Matthew: What is the difference between a Line Producer and Production Manager?
Alton: A Line Producer generates the budget estimate and production plan, A Unit Production Manager implements it. If you do both there is no one else to blame for any error.
Matthew: What are the key personality traits needed to be a good producer?
Alton: Understanding the large financial investment of a financier as well as the working conditions and fairness to each employee….so I would imagine the main trait is always trying to be fair to all parties involved.
Matthew: You work hard on a movie for months and you never know how it’s going to be perceived by the audience, or how much the studios are going to market/push it. Is there a film or two that you’ve worked on that you’re shocked wasn’t that successful? I’m thinking “The Spirit”. Such a unique film that seemed to have come a few years too early, before that type of style became a trend. If that film comes out in 2012, it’s a monster hit.
Alton: This is true. The idea is to make a film within the budget restrictions….there is never enough time or enough money…..and not sacrifice the story or content of the proposed production. There are many other factors that effect the final film….editing and of course promotion by the distributor…..trick is not to “over sell” or “under sell”.
Matthew: What’s the key difference when working on a major studio film like “The Book of Eli”, or “The Magnificent Seven”, in comparison to a smaller budget film like “Crazy Heart” or “Job”?
Alton: Main difference is that there are more people involved in the reports (studio executives, financiers, etc) … the process of actually making the film is the same for all budgets.
Matthew: What personality traits are you looking for when you hire your production team?
Alton: The job is hard enough work, so people that are efficient with the work is always first but a very close second trait is people that are “easy” to work with….kind & honest. So the work environment is not a burden and a place you like to go each day.
Matthew: What film, besides the films you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?
Alton: “Lonely Are The Brave” remains one of my favorite films. Have always been a film buff, member of many film clubs and watched lots of relatively obscure films in my youth……still like independent films that are personally made with lot’s of enthusiasm.
Matthew: Do you a have mentor?
Alton: My primary mentor was Sebastian Schroeder (from Switzerland). He was a guest architectural design professor I had in college at the University of New Mexico when I was a student studying architecture. My first involvement with film production was with him in the summer…a documentary on mobile home p arks..16mm….titled “When The Chips are Down”…..played a lot in Europe. Have stayed in contact with him, in fact he just visited me a month or so ago. I remember him always saying “do not drive a small nail with a large hammer”.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.