Detroit native Kathleen McGill says she's proud to have started her career as a number cruncher. In fact, her early years in production accounting (after managing New York City's famed Circle in the Square Theatre) cleared the path for her success as a unit production manager.
"I tell young people all the time to get any job they can in this business when they start out because it will lead to something else. I started in accounting, where I learned about everybody's rice bowl in every department of production. How a casting agent, for example, could strike a better deal with an actor if they understood scheduling. Finance was where I learned how to be a true team player."
And, as McGill describes, there's no better team leader in the industry than her longtime boss, director and producer Ron Howard, with whom she's done six features.
"Ron and his executive producer, Todd Hallowell, take every moment of prep so seriously," McGill says. "They are meticulous about who they hire, and it really matters to Ron that everyone gets along well.
"He's a giving director who solicits everyone's input," she continues. "And that kind of mutual respect for everyone on the set is why my crews always tell me, ‘That was the best experience I've ever had in this business.' "
That respect includes everyone on the set, not just the crews. McGill recounts caring gingerly for thousands of elderly extras, wrapped in thick robes in the hot California sun, for a scene on Angels & Demons. On another occasion, even the film's leading man, Tom Hanks, pitched in when a location shoot in Rome derailed. "We were shooting outside the Pantheon," McGill recalls, "when the location manager said, ‘There's a wedding they didn't tell us about. We have to shut down so the bride and her wedding party can come through.' After much discussion with the Italian officials, Tom offered to escort the bride in, which the media loved, and our day was saved."
Describing the UPM job as "chief cook and bottle washer," McGill says she makes the
movie twice every time out. "Once in preproduction, where the locations, budgets, casting, etc., gets all the creative juices flowing," she says, "and then again for real, when the machine takes over and it's all about deal-making and staying on budget. Those are two distinct phases and I enjoy them both."