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Anna MacDonald on the Mental Aerobics of Production


The executive producer at Framestore tells LBB’s Zoe Antonov about her latest project, time spent running around Soho with rolls of negative, and why VFX supervisors and directors should work in ‘sync’

Anna MacDonald on the Mental Aerobics of Production

Anna MacDonald, who is today executive producer at Framestore, started her career in the industry through the classic route of becoming a runner and standing behind the reception desk back in the early ‘00s. Her fascination with production and the creative industries came out of the blue. While at school, she didn’t really realise the possibilities were out there (especially in terms of the VFX world), and was more interested in becoming a fitness instructor. Rather, it was while she was looking for the most appropriate university course to pursue that career that she found out what else is out there. “This is when I suddenly decided I wanted to be a TV presenter,” says Anna. So, she applied for a media and communications course, and subsequently  found her love for editing and all things VFX.

Straight after university, at the age of 22, Anna landed her first job as a sales team leader at the BBC, but quickly decided to leave the job and become a runner, as she knew this was the most reliable route towards turning her passion into a career. “People thought I was slightly bonkers and told me I’d be working crazy hours as a runner, but I knew what I had to do.” What followed was a string of CV sendouts and applications to various companies, which painted the full picture for Anna of how competitive the industry actually had become. 

Finally, when met with the opportunity to go to an interview for a runner position, she turned up in a suit. “This was when I realised that very few people in this industry wear a suit… but I still got the job!” The rest is history - “I continued up on the ladder. Not in a suit.”

These were the days where runners actually ran quite a lot - besides the usual tea making duties - delivering physical tapes containing master commercials as quickly as possible across all of Soho to make TV playout deadlines. Transporting rolls of negative on trolleys across town and trying to stop the cans from falling off and rolling onto the road was just one of the challenges Anna had to face during that period of her career. But, she saw it through, and after three months of running at a company called VTR, she was fortunate enough to move up to reception, and from there, into bookings. “Following that, I secured a position at Smoke & Mirrors as a production assistant, even though I wasn’t used to wearing heels and fell down the stairs at my interview - another faux pas - and worked my way up to producer and senior producer.”

From those early days of Anna’s career, she harnessed some lifelong lessons. “It is super important to work with people that you like and respect,” she says. “A company is nothing without its people.” This and the motto of working hard, being positive and staying enthusiastic are what helped her through all the crazy running, falling, chasing and starting all over again. And, of course, the passion that fueled the entire machine.

Running was also an opportunity for Anna to get to grips with what actually are the roles in the world of VFX, one she had been fascinated with for quite a while, but was not yet accustomed to what it fully entailed. “Even if you have a degree, in the industry, everyone starts out on a level playing field and it’s all about exploring the different avenues and possibilities ahead,” she explains. “It’s about working hard and finding out how much you want something!”

After going through a few companies, Anna found herself a senior producer role at Framestore where she spent almost seven years of her career, before becoming executive producer - her current job. “Naturally, there are challenges and curveballs that crop up on projects, but it’s about navigating and handling those situations in the best way,” she explains, when speaking of the twists and turns of the profession. “You need to always be striving for the best creative results and a happy client!” 

For Anna, every day on the job is different, as many producers would agree. Similar to a shoot, one might think they know how their day is going to pan out, but it might end up taking quite a different twist along the way. “I also enjoy the variety of advertising,” she adds. “The variety of projects and the variety of people that I meet along the way. Also working with clients and the teams at Framestore who are all so talented, passionate about what they do and fun to work with.” 

During her time at Framestore, Anna has also hosted VFX sessions for the APA and IPA courses, getting involved in educating, encouraging and nurturing younger talent coming up through the industry.Speaking on this, Anna’s advice to juniors is clear - you need to be organised, a good communicator and have the ability to juggle multiple tasks at once. “Helen, our head of advertising at Framestore, says that our job is like ‘brain aerobics’,” she explains. “ I love that phrase, as it’s so true. Our day often involves needing that ability to switch focus from one task, in order to be completely immersed in something entirely different, before moving quickly straight into something else.” 

While everybody is different and has to play to their strengths, support in a team is what is most important to Anna. When speaking of seriously paramount relationships within the team, she does not miss the director-producer one. “It is important to have a relationship built on trust, and that people are a good fit personality wise too.” Anna reminds that the director’s relationship with the VFX supervisors is crucial as well, especially their ability to keep ‘sync’ throughout the project. “VFX supervisors and producers need to at all times be understanding the director’s vision to allow for the most successful creative collaborations and true craft of these VFX masterpieces together!”

Recently, her most challenging project, where teamwork and all her producer skills were put to the test, was her work on ASDA’s ‘Elf’ Christmas campaign, where Framestore collaborated with Havas London and director Danny Kleinman (Rattling Stick). The team was tasked with extracting Buddy the elf from the classic film and seamlessly integrating him into the new ASDA environment (check out LBB’s peek behind the scenes here). 

“We knew we had a lot to achieve in a challenging time frame and, with it being a Christmas commercial, we knew that the deadline wasn’t movable,” she says. “We were aware from the outset that we would have approximately three and a half weeks from receiving a locked offline edit to final comp so meticulous technical planning was crucial.” The script was also really exciting, so the teams were keen to embrace the challenge and create a commercial for everybody to be proud of. 

Otherwise, Anna has lately been involved with a project that embraces new technologies head on, however she can’t say too much right now. She refreshes us on one of the first projects she did with Framestore - “Shortly after arriving at Framestore, I produced the UEFA Champions League rebrand project, which from conceptualisation through to delivery, spanned over a couple of years. We created a broadcast tool kit containing TV title sequences, various fully CG sequences, animations for the LED screens on the stadium, a hero starball asset rendered at a resolution of 30K and assets for print, totalling around 150 deliverables.” All she reveals for now is that while she learned a lot on the UEFA project, she also came to find out that if something is due to air from 2018 to 2021, we might have the pleasure of seeing it on air in 2023!

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Framestore, Wed, 05 Apr 2023 15:57:07 GMT