After an eight year stint at Rothco (now Droga5) Margaret (Mags) Levingstone wanted to push herself to the next level in her career and get back in touch with production at a closer level. Leaving agency side to join Motherland in January 2022, Mags brings a wealth of experience and agency know-how, bolstering the team to help drive it forward into an age of disruption and decentralised media.
Leading as head of production, in this interview Mags opens up on what drew her to Motherland, how the company’s hybrid structure is winning business, and where she hopes to take things next.
LBB> You joined Motherland as head of production in January 2022, what was it that drew you to the company?
Mags> For me to leave the agency side, it had to be a role that wasn't a side-step in my career but one that would push me to the next level. It had to be a challenge and a progressive change as it’s very easy to stay in your comfort zone. Throughout my career all my moves have been on that basis, so it had to be somewhere different, and Motherland felt like a really smart move.
When I met Ross and Steven, their ambition, foresight and creativity was so infectious and I got more and more excited about the possibilities. This was driven by the breadth of work that I could get my teeth into and the culture, which felt like a really good fit - I could see they are a very tight knit team. Both culture and the right working environment are really important to me.
LBB> Joining from Rothco (now Droga 5), where you were head of production for eight years, you bring a wealth of experience and vital agency know-how. What was it like making the career jump?
Mags> Once I’d made the difficult decision to move sides, the rest felt easy! I think my years in the business and my experience is what made it so. With experience, comes the lack of fear to ask “stupid” questions and being honest about what you know, what you don’t know and what your limits are. I think people always appreciate you asking for help or knowledge rather than pretending you know it all. People can see through that very quickly. Being honest about your abilities allows others to feel they are in a safe space to also be open and honest about theirs too. It’s also important to me to have respect and to be respectful in return - both have to be earned of course. That’s one of the reasons why the culture of a place is so important. If we are not all pulling together in the same direction then we have a problem and progression will be slower and less of an adventure.
From a work point of view I think the challenges and pressures are very similar. I have a newfound appreciation for the level of work and effort that goes into pitching and producing. The pressures are tough, especially from a time point of view. I quote a good friend’s wise words, who once said, “Clients want to fly to New York in four hours when it physically takes eight hours to get there.” That’s the pressure we seem to be under constantly, but I don’t see that changing. The pressures of faster, better, cheaper means we have to be able to deliver. So you do wonder if we are in a race to the bottom sometimes. There will always be someone who will do it cheaper and faster, but the question is will it be better? Maybe that’s ok for fast, functional, disposable content, but it's creativity that gets me out of bed.
LBB> How does this move benefit you as a producer and what excites you about moving over to this side?
Mags> Moving to Motherland has allowed me to get closer to production again. I’ve been on more shoots in the last seven months than I’ve been in a couple of years as head of production in an agency. I love the process of shooting. It’s still such an adrenaline rush. Seeing what’s possible by so many talented people is very rewarding and admirable.
I also love the time you get to actually spend with agencies and clients. Sometimes it's tense but most of the time it's so enjoyable. After all, these are the days everyone has been building up to, so it should be exciting. We all know that things happen that you can’t anticipate and it's being able to collectively work around them to find a solution. I love the feeling of fixing what can’t be anticipated, and being a calming influence when others are stressing.
I’m kind of unflappable sometimes and I’m sure lots of that is experience and being on some very tough and stressful shoots over my career. All of that makes you stronger and keeps you calm, so moving to the other side, you just carry that ability to see the bigger picture and try and keep a situation in perspective.
LBB> Tell us about Motherland’s production offering.
Mags> Motherland has a progressive and distinct offering. It’s a hybrid production company that focuses on creativity no matter what the platform. We produce commercials, content, documentaries, films and music videos. With our in-house post capabilities it allows us to produce content end-to-end.
In my team, there are four producers and they are an inspirational bunch of people with such a range of expertise, which is what I love about them. And they are all so collaborative and protective of each other. It’s a real team effort.
Laura produces more of the direct client content. She’s an expert on agile and fast content creation and works with global brands like Red Bull, Google and CRH.
Louise produces content, commercials and she’s currently producing a documentary for Red Bull. Last year she produced Ross’ award winning feature doc, “Love Yourself Today” and Tara O’Callaghan’s award winning short, “Call Me Mommy”. So she has an abundance of knowledge across all platforms.
Call Me Mommy
Keith is our senior commercials producer and is also just a wealth of knowledge - everyone loves working with him. He works across all our national client base.
Hannah is our junior producer and co-ordinator. I had the privilege of working with Hannah on my team in Rothco and she left six months before I did to join Motherland. We laugh constantly that I followed Hannah, and let’s face it, she is so amazing at her job that it was most certainly a reason to join knowing she was on the team. She is also our music video expert, producing videos for James Vincent McMorrow, Junior Brother and Sprints among others.
James Vincent McMorrow
LBB> How does the production team collaborate and complement the post production team at Motherland?
Mags> Motherland has its full post production offering headed up by Anthony McCaffery. The difference it makes to have the edit team and VFX team on hand to figure things out from script stage is a game changer. From a pitching process to end-to-end productions, it's just invaluable. Our clients can see how it makes timings more efficient and how we can make the best use of the budget with everything in one offering.
The team in post are really strong, and like the producers, so collaborative - nothing is a problem. Everyone rolls their sleeves up and gets the job done. Our new refurbished office this year has made it a great environment to work in and it’s great having agencies and clients come in for viewings on projects. The office is just alive some days, it's such a great buzz.
LBB> What are some of the top projects you’ve been working on and what was your experience like on these?
Mags> I’ve been across many commercial projects for diverse clients such as RTE, 2FM, Three Mobile, Chef, Red Breast, Whoop and Brown Thomas. The challenges are almost always in having enough time and trying to make the most of budgets to get value on screen.
We produced a TV ad for Sky’s Sponsorship of Ireland’s National Women’s Football team with Core. It was a challenge, as we helped them win the pitch, and then it was straight into production with a really tight turnaround. As you can imagine, because we were working with athletes, their availability was limited and constantly changing. I was working with some ex colleagues which was great, so I knew the boundaries and expectations. The agency and client were a pleasure to work with and made a tough job easy and we all felt we were in it together. Everyone was really happy with the film, so that’s what’s important at the end of the day.
We also worked on a commercial for Irish Rail with our director Sam McGrath. We had to make a singing car with an 80s music video vibe and within a short time frame. But with the incredible model maker Joe Fallover and his team, we shot the ad for real and had no post production element to it. That was an interesting project with a lovely fun film to show for it.
And we signed director Rachel Carey at the start of the year. We just finished her first commercial for KFC which is a funny Irish-humored slant on a bride and bridesmaid stopping off in KFC on their way to the wedding.
LBB> You have a disruptive vision for the future or production. How do you hope to evolve the department over the next few years?
Mags> Yes, I'm excited about where we are headed. Our vision is to evolve ahead of the industry right now. Big brand ads as we once knew them aren’t there as much any more and engaging with the consumer is harder than ever.
Being able to produce multi platform films, we can reach different types of audiences on any screen size. Virtual production is growing hugely and as media becomes more decentralised, targeting consumers from data insights is endless and tech is changing how people consume information and buy things. None of this disruption phases us. We want to make sure we are at the forefront of this and responding with films that can hit all those diverse audiences and formats. The new landscape is vast but with the ambition that we have, it's exciting to be part of it.