Some people set their sights on a job in film production from the moment they get out of school. Others, like New York-based UPM Denise Pinckley, can wake up one day to find they have a career in the movie business without any such expectations.
“I was working as an office manager for a private jet charter company, and the entertainment industry was never on my radar,” she says, sounding almost surprised at destiny’s hand. “I filled in for someone on pregnancy leave in a preproduction office and the show happened to need a coordinator to go out on location. What started out as a favor for a friend turned into a full-blown career.”
Among her two decades of adventures, Pinckley remembers when Hurricane Floyd was bearing down on the Georgia locations of The Legend of Bagger Vance. “The window to make a decision was really tight,” she recalls. She and her team had to move Bagger’s cast and crew from the coastal bull’s-eye of Savannah to inland Atlanta, and then back again. Some of the sets had wind damage after the crew returned to Savannah. “We all just stared in amazement at how lucky we were.”
Luck, however, had nothing to do with the timely deal-making (an aspect of the job Pinckley says she loves) for the sets on Nancy Meyer’s It’s Complicated, which was written for coastal Santa Barbara but shot almost entirely on New York City stages. “The contract I did was for a new stage still being built, so we had to communicate the urgency of the timetable,” Pinckley notes. “Every other stage in the city that could fit a two-story house, with a yard and greenery, was booked, so they really went the extra mile for us. The cement was literally drying when we walked the crew through the door.”
As for hiring a crew, Pinckley says it’s a “matching game” where no stone is left unturned. Whether it’s dealing with a lead change 48 hours before the first day of production, as on The Lovely Bones (Mark Wahlberg for Ryan Gosling), or smoothing over riffs between department heads (“no comment,” she says), Pinckley sees her job as a facilitator who isn’t afraid to make snap decisions.
“I liken production managing to working for a company that’s creating a one-time product,” Pinckley explains. “You put together a development team, find a place to build the factory, bring in the machinery, run off the product, send it somewhere else to be assembled, and then close the whole operation down. A few months later you start again somewhere else with a brand-new product."