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Calling All Aspiring Producers: Let Your Passion Shine!


Seasoned producers from across the industry give their best advice to those who need to find a way to get their foot in the door of filmmaking, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

Calling All Aspiring Producers: Let Your Passion Shine!

As ‘The Fablemans’ attests, the allure of a career in filmmaking and production is an enduring one for many. But as of late, this has, understandably, become an increasingly difficult one to start in. There are a range of questions that aspiring producers and filmmakers must ask themselves before even beginning to plan for a career in the business. 

From where and what to study, to how to afford moving to creative hubs such as London and New York in a time of economic crisis, a young producer’s head is like a beehive of questions. Running is great and an obvious start for many - but some aren’t quite sure how one gets to the point of becoming a runner on set. A lot of people looking towards production know that networking is king, but they might not be sure how to even find the people worth networking with. Diversity on screen has gained speed, but behind the scenes, things are yet to change for the better.

We at LBB are all about helping young people trying to get their foot in the door in the fast-moving world of commercial production. This is why LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to industry specialists to get a mixed bag of the best advice they could give to juniors. How to get the best out of the smallest opportunity, how to write a good email, how to curate your reel, what to study (or what to do if you don’t want to study) and more is all down below.

Ash Lockmun

Producer at Academy Films

When I first set out to break into the industry in 2006, I was met with countless closed doors and dead ends. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to secure any leads or contacts. However, fate intervened one day while I was strolling through Soho. I was approached on the street and asked to be an audience member for a quiz TV show. Little did I know that this chance encounter would alter the trajectory of my career forever. As I watched the production team in action, I was captivated by their skill and unwavering commitment. My curiosity got the best of me, and I began to ask questions and learn more about their line of work. To my surprise, my enthusiasm paid off, and I was offered a job on the spot. It just goes to show that sometimes the best opportunities come when we least expect them.

Although my journey began with a stroke of luck, it was my determination and hard work that allowed me to flourish in the industry. Over the past 17 years, I've had the privilege of collaborating with some of the most gifted directors and crew members in the world, honing my craft and establishing myself as a reputable producer.

One of the things that I am most proud of in my career is the work that I have done to promote diversity and representation in the industry. As a person of Mauritian heritage, I have always been passionate about telling stories that reflect the experiences of underrepresented communities. I believe that film and media have the power to shape our collective understanding of the world, and I am committed to using my platform to amplify voices that are often overlooked.

Today, I am honoured to hold the role of producer at Academy Films, a position that allows me to continue to work with some of the best talent in the industry and to bring new and exciting projects to life. When I think back on my journey, I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had and the lessons that I have learned along the way. 

Looking back to the start of my journey as a person of colour, I was taken aback by the lack of diversity in our industry. However, now that I have established myself in this field, I am committed to promoting crew members from diverse backgrounds. For me, it's crucial to provide opportunities to individuals who may not have the means or knowledge to break into our industry. While there is still much work to be done, progress has been made, and I'm pleased to see that changes are being implemented.

I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to learn and grow as a filmmaker. I am also thankful for the support and encouragement of my family and colleagues, who have helped me to overcome the many obstacles that I have faced along the way. 

Glenn Paton

Managing partner at Leagas Delaney

Passion creates progress and it shouldn’t really matter what you study at school. However, it pays to start finding your way around the industry during your spare time whilst at school – joining film clubs, linking up with similar-minded friends to make movies together, and watching as many films (and documentaries about films) as you can to start honing your appreciation of what’s involved. All experience is experience. 

Whilst university won’t be for everyone, there are some really good courses which will provide a good grounding in the basics of the industry. I studied BA (Hons) multimedia journalism which offers a wide range of skills, whereby you learn different aspects of TV, press, online and radio. It enabled me to experience different aspects of journalism but also opened the door to multimedia studies - not just how to write a logline. A course like that encourages you to articulate yourself, whether in writing or in filming, and to give a balanced response to everything you do – which I think can pay dividends later down the line when you really start focussing on what your passion is. Bournemouth, Southampton and Lincoln University offer some truly comprehensive courses. Find a course that branches out from good roots. 

If you’re struggling to get your first job, try to get another kind of work experience. Tap up any family friends in the industry, but don’t be disheartened if you don’t know anyone. Offer work experience. Just meet as many people as you can. Recruiters helped me find runners’ jobs around London. Or, just email me! I’ll offer you some work experience if you are keen to work within production. Flex that charm and charisma.

Being young and exclusively WFH can place a handbrake on growing and gaining experience so commuting and travelling near to cultural hubs like Manchester and London is important.

Hopefully the friends you make at university will all have the same aspirations as you. Move in with them or move back in with parents – like I did – whatever it takes. The commute was three hours every day in total, but it was worth it. We are a communications industry and I believe that surrounding yourself with like-minded people in the office truly helps so work hard to bridge this gap.

If you’re looking for networks to help, the IPA Talent and Diversity Hub is a great place to start. This provides an extensive list of initiatives and services that can link you to employers. But don't rely on anyone or anything. Find the email addresses for heads of film and heads of production within our industry. Ask to come in and offer help.

Once you do get an opportunity, embrace it. That doesn’t always mean that you have to be the first one in and last one to leave, but application is important. You have to dig deep and work hard. I promise it gets easier, but those first three years are the hardest. It goes back to my original point; passion creates progress. Have the faith in yourself to keep pushing and keep passion front and centre.

Dana Klyszejko

Executive producer, Makers

It’s always hard to say what those interested in a production career should study. This is truly one of those professions that doesn’t require a formal college degree. It requires skills such as problem solving, and recognising talent and opportunity for collaboration. There are far more relevant courses now than when I went to university, but there isn’t one specific degree that will transform you into a turnkey producer. 

I studied German linguistics and environmental studies before landing my dream production role. My advice is, don’t be overly concerned with what to study; instead, follow what inspires you and stay passionate. Employers in all fields will seek out passionate candidates, regardless of whether they’re an expert in the subject matter related to that position. I’d also suggest taking a few business and finance courses, because producers in some roles are accountable for managing budgets. 

When it comes to getting your first job, start with an area of the business that fascinates you the most. If you love being on set, the role of a production assistant can allow you to gain experience across many areas of production. If you like to work in teams and be closer to the creative, look at agency or production company roles such as production coordinator. Apply everywhere, get your name out there.

Since covid-19, production is thriving outside of the big city hubs. Technology has expanded the realm of possibilities and removed many geographical barriers. My advice would be to seek out a great idea or opportunity. Bring the best people together and get it made. There are no failures in production, only learnings! There are also many remote roles becoming available in every walk of the industry. Post production is an area that’s seen incredible technological advancements to cloud based workflows.

It is important to also follow creators and industry leaders that you admire. LinkedIn is a great platform to learn from, and stay up-to-date on people you look up to or want to work with. Get in on the conversations happening online, and attend any and all events that you can. Seek out production companies and partners that embrace and promote diversity on set - right through to post production. One of our founding principles at Makers is ‘creativity through diversity’. We all come with different knowledge and experience - great things happen when it’s all combined.

When you get that first job, show up and care a lot. Impress them so much that when you walk away, you know that if someone ever called them for a reference, they’d remember you. EPs and producers are always looking for candidates with ‘fingerspitzengegefühl’ (intuitive instinct). If you form a bond with a crew or company, keep in touch with them. Let them know when you have availability coming up. Stay pleasant and professional, and stay top of mind. Production life moves so fast, never assume you’ll be the first person they’ll call.

Jack Goodwin

Executive producer at KODE

I think you should study whatever is enjoyable and accessible to you. For some that might be going to college or uni, for others it might be watching how-to videos on YouTube, and for others it might be picking up a camera phone and making your own short films or music videos and learning through trial and error. As a producer you will always be looking to surround yourself with talented people, which has been true for me from the first time I made a film, all the way through to now. So, however you find it best to learn, I would always encourage someone to do it with others around them. Go find some friends, share your ideas, watch things that inspire you, and make something together. Then review it together, critique it, and go make something else. 

It might feel like an overwhelming challenge to get that first job. I suppose so much of it is about being seen, and at the right time. Don’t be afraid to contact exec producers, producers, production managers and production assistants and ask for an opportunity. Be bold, keep your emails brief and polite, and don’t be afraid to follow up a couple weeks later if they don’t reply. It’s also important to keep making stuff by yourself, with your friends – because eventually that will help you to be seen. 

The internet is a brilliant place to share the work you make as well as to reach the people you can’t reach in person. I started producing music videos with my friends in Weymouth, Dorset. We’d make videos for local bands, share them online and then contact other bands across the country to see if they wanted to collaborate too. Soon enough they were covering our expenses to travel the country and make videos for them too. 

Staying connected is paramount as well. A few networks which I would recommend would be Just Runners, Trans on Screen and LGBTCREW+. Plus, I would always advise keeping an eye on the APA website as they host networking events throughout the year which are always worth going to. 

Most importantly - don’t ever be afraid to ask questions and be present the whole time.

Andrea Allen

VP head of production at DEFINITION 6

Just say ‘YES’.

I am often asked, ‘how did you get into this business?’ or ‘what should I do to get my foot in the door?’. First, go to college. Anywhere. It does not have to be a big fancy-name school. If not for the classes, then the experience. It’s a major part of your development as a person. 

Second, what you study is less important than what you do with the resources. TV and film is a competitive industry and inroads like internships are scarce and highly coveted. So, make your own opportunities. Simply put: you need to have the desire to be in this world.

There are innumerable ways to start learning about production without drawing a paycheck. Blog, vlog, edit, design, put on a play, or work at your college radio station – the most valuable asset you have is your ability to communicate clearly and offer creative solutions. That’s the foundation of any career in this industry. Let your passion shine through.

Another effective way to get in the ‘biz’ is to network constantly and generously, in person and via digital B2B platforms, such as LinkedIn. You never know who will be in a position to coach you, mentor you, or simply get on a one-on-one informational interview.  Whatever you do, just say ‘yes’ as often as you can. 

That said, entry-level jobs are tough and often don’t pay well. Endure what you can but know your worth. If you volunteer your time, be intentional and know what you’re getting out of it. 

When you get your foot in the door – any door – make yourself indispensable! Be on time, be courteous, and don’t ask what time you will be done. In other words, give it your all and ask for more work. Ask questions, return calls, honour commitments, avoid typos, and always say ‘thank you’. Don’t sit on your phone or scroll without a purpose. People will love it if you ask, ‘how can I help you?’ or ‘do you need anything?’.

And when you do make it and you’re working, share the wealth – and the spotlight. Credit is currency in this biz. Karma is real and the kid you give some shine today may be hiring tomorrow. Work hard. Find purpose. Have fun. Be nice. Play fair. Just say ‘yes!’.

Gary Gimelfarb

Head of production at Performance Art 

As you’re getting started, it’s important to learn as much as you can: read, watch and listen to everything you can get your hands on about the industry and the production side of things. If possible, study film production at school – and definitely find a mentor in the business. You need someone in your corner to help who will guide you through learning the ropes.

From there, it’s about networking. Get to know the well-known commercial directors and reputable production companies. Look at who’s behind the commercials people are talking about and work that you personally admire. Networking is a great way to find your first job - attend industry events and festivals, join professional organisations, connect with production and post-production professionals on LinkedIn and ask them for advice. Many commercial production companies offer internships, look for office production assistant roles and set production assistants. It’s an excellent way to gain experience, educate yourself, build your network, and get your foot in the door. If you don't live in a production hub like New York or Los Angeles, don't worry. Consider starting with smaller production companies or content creators in your local area. Breaking into the commercial production industry takes time, effort, and persistence. Networking and gaining relevant experience are all key steps to getting started.

Tara Holmes

VP of commercial services and executive producer at Assembly

I've tackled this question in various iterations over the years, but post pandemic, my answer has evolved. Remote is great, hybrid is better, nothing compares to being in person. If you are given the opportunity to go into a studio and learn by shadowing an experienced producer, artist, assistant, you should! I have concerns for our next generation of talent. I think a lot can be done in a hybrid setting, but we are losing mentorship at its finest - the kind that can only really be experienced in person. This doesn’t mean you can never work from home again; it just implies that while learning, it is valuable to have in person collaboration and connection. A huge part of a producer’s job is gaining the trust of your clients. In my experience, that’s done through the personal connections I garnered in earlier years with fellow assistants and coordinators who are now running some of the top studios. I guess what I am saying is: if you have the opportunity to go in, GO! It’s worth it. 

In addition to that, I will give the advice I have stood by for the last 10 to 15 years - be prepared! Be eager! Say ‘yes’ whenever you are given an opportunity and do all your homework so you can shine! Never say ‘that’s not my job’, because even if it’s not, it’s usually an opportunity to learn something that will benefit your future. You never know what your next job will entail.

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LBB Editorial, Mon, 03 Apr 2023 15:24:31 GMT