It was a true movie moment that UPM JoAnn Perritano will not soon forget.
"We were up on the Universal backlot, having completely revamped the New York Street set for [The Amazing] Spiderman," she recalls. "And I remember standing there one night, looking around at all these extras and picture cars, and Spiderman flying through the sky, thinking, 'Wow! I actually did this.' "
"This" was a career Perritano first envisioned as a 12 year old, touring Universal Studios on a visit from small-town Massachusetts. "I saw the set for The Bionic Woman and thought, 'People actually make films and TV as a living.' "
It took a degree in television from Emerson College, a three-year internship at Entertainment Tonight, and working for free as a PA in the Roger Corman moviemaking factory before Perritano set her sights on being a unit production manager. Since then she's never looked back.
"Working with David Fincher on The Social Network has definitely been one of the high points for me," she continues. "He's a UPM's dream because he spends so much time in prep, the movie is made before you ever get to the set."
Not that The Social Network was without challenges. "Harvard [University] would not let us shoot there, despite David's intense persistence right up to the last minute," says Perritano. "So I was scrambling to move crew around from L.A., Boston, and Baltimore to shoot at John Hopkins University. I had teamsters from Baltimore meeting teamsters from Boston halfway down. [Due to jurisdiction] one group would park the truck and unload, and the other would reload and drive it the rest of the way."
Such human logistics seemed mellow in comparison to the sheer size and scope Perritano encountered on The Amazing Spiderman. "A lot of the procedures just didn't exist for a movie this size shot in 3-D," she says. "I had no established rate cards for some of the positions, and we had, no exaggeration, 35-40 percent more crew than you would have on a regular 2-D movie. I had to boot crafts services off the Sony stages just to squeeze in all the extra crew members."
Now prepping Iron Man 3 in North Carolina, Perritano says she's becoming "that gal who does the big VFX films."
"Dealmaking is a huge part of being a UPM and I absolutely love that part of the job," she says. "I do my homework on what other films have paid to local retailers. I find out what crew members have made on other movies so everyone involved knows each deal is as important to me as it is to them."
And the lengths Perritano will go to satisfy her crew, the studio, and her director, are without limit. "There was a Social Network scene with a party bus for which David had this incredibly specific vision," says Perritano. "We must have showed him every bus in New England and each one was just a little off—color, windows, interior seats, etc. I finally found a glass guy in Louisiana, who came up on his own time and stayed for three days, changing out every window and decal on the bus. On the day we shot in Boston, I remember seeing a tiny crack in the rubber at the window frame, and, in a panic, grabbed the on-set painter and begged him to fix it. I'm not even sure David would have seen that. But I wanted it to be perfect, and it was."