Fall 2014

Laura Benson

New York UPM

DGA Quarterly Magazine On the Job with Laura BensonUnit production manager Laura Benson, whose impressive New York TV credits include The Blacklist, The Michael J. Fox Show, The Big C, and Ugly Betty, says it was executive producer Jim Finnerty, Sr., who was responsible for her becoming a UPM 10 years ago when she was a production coordinator on Oz. “He saw in me what I could not see in myself. Jim gave me a long leash and taught me everything I know,” she says.

Benson worked as a production coordinator and supervisor before becoming UPM on Ugly Betty in 2008. “The [LA-based] production team described it as ‘a little show about a girl who worked at a magazine,’” she says, laughing. “And that was so far from true.”

For example, Benson had to guide Betty through some once-in-a-career locations: the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, the United Nations, and—in her most challenging day as a UPM—inside Citi Field during a Mets baseball game.

“We were going to have seven cameras running all over the park,” she remembers, “and that morning, the location manager called to say the agreement had not gone through. I was frantically negotiating with MLB [along with the show’s legal team]. We got approval 45 minutes before the first shot. But it was harrowing because the entire day depended on it being a live game.”

Benson’s negotiating skills were tested in a different way after landing in the Bahamas with her New York crew. “We carried our equipment on the plane to avoid shipping delays,” she recalls. “When we [got off], the Bahamians said, ‘That’s going to take three days to clear customs.’ And I said, ‘But we start shooting tomorrow.’ They said, ‘Well, you can pay an expediting fee.’ They started at eight grand and we ultimately settled for $3,500.”

Benson’s current show, The Blacklist, is even more ambitious. She says the action series, replete with explosions, gunfire, and huge stunts, is emblematic of the new normal for TV, “where you’re basically shooting a feature every eight days.”

She cites an episode from last season involving an extended car chase leading into a truck explosion, set under an elevated train in Coney Island, à la The French Connection. “We’re rarely in Manhattan or locations that are really popular,” she says. “We’ll go to Westchester, Yonkers, and places that are more off the grid.

“New York is incredibly busy now, so you have to be very careful about your footprint,” says Benson. “You don’t want to be that show that burns a neighborhood and gets a reputation.”

(Photo: Marcie Revens)

At Work With

Short profiles of Guild members in all categories sharing their experiences at work.

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