As co-producer and unit production manager for the CBS Paramount series Numb3rs, half of Christine Larson-Nitzsche’s week is spent poring over, well, numbers. She whittles down budgets laid out by each department head in an effort to make the “pattern number” the studio lays out per episode. “I like to tell people I work in the banking industry,” she quips. “I can’t even count how many times I sign my name in any given day.”
The myriad of paperwork—everything from equipment rentals, deal memos and purchase orders—is a far cry from Larson-Nitzsche’s past life as a 1st AD. She says the adrenaline rush she once experienced on the front lines has been replaced with more pragmatic management skills such as ordering pizza when the crew is still shooting at midnight, or getting in between a director and DP who are in a heated argument over how to cover a scene.
“Whenever there’s a conflict between departments, I’m sort of the parental unit who calmly listens to each side,” Larson-Nitzsche explains. “I remember once when I was a trainee, one of the leading actors on the project pretended not to hear anything anyone else said to him, except for me. I basically became the on-set interpreter. Every time one of the ADs wanted to communicate with this person, they went through me.”
Larson-Nitzsche says experiences like that helped hone her managing skills once she became a UPM. Series television is her strong suit, having worked shows like Arrested Development and The L Word. Her most challenging job, she says, was on The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire where she had to hire three different crews and negotiate separate IA and Teamsters contracts.
But Numb3rs has been her most satisfying job. That’s because she gets to share the workload with co-producer/UPM Michael Attanasio. “It’s the first time in my career I have a partner. We alternate episodes, which means I get to spend eight days on the set on every other show. It’s gratifying to be close to the creative process.”
Although it’s been eight years, Larson-Nitzsche still vividly recalls her first day as a UPM. “It was a completely different vibe than two months earlier when I had been an AD,” she recalls. “I wasn’t one of them anymore—I had crossed over to the dark side.” But it didn’t take her long to learn the most important things. “Renting the right amount of air conditioners or heaters and having enough food. If you miss either of those two elements, the crew will hate you. And there’s no defending yourself.”