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From Masterclass to Managing Director: 7 Stories of Production Success


Seven MDs of renowned UK production companies reflect on how the APA course laid the foundations for their careers

From Masterclass to Managing Director: 7 Stories of Production Success

The APA Masterclass is an intensive one-week course covering an overview of producing a live-action commercial. Once a year in London, students focus on a mixture of campaigns from extremely established to newly signed talented directors and producers, all producing content in the last year. They take a deep dive into what it takes to actually deliver these commercials through a mixture of creative discussions and practical know-hows, watch-outs and general knowledge and training to help any producer succeed in this industry.

Each day runs from 9am – 6pm. On the final day, a budgeting workshop is held with over 25 top producers guiding the students in an interactive, all-day session. 
Students also undergo the Masterclass exam two weeks after the completion of the course in their own time, before receiving their certificates.

The five-day intensive course (standard value of £200) has been a foundation for many successful commercial producers and is a thorough exploration into all elements of the advertising production process.

Here are some of the great testimonials from managing directors of renowned production companies who started off as students at the Masterclass.


Lindsay Turnham: MJZ

How has your career evolved since attending the masterclass?

I probably had quite a normal production trajectory from PA, to PM, to line producer and then producer. I was able to follow that path mostly in-house (Jane Fuller Associates and Rose Hackney Barber) before being flung into the freelance world, working with companies such as Knucklehead, Rogue, HSI, Academy and Sonny. After many freelance years, I was offered the head of production role at Sonny and MJZ (another learning curve), before accepting my new role of MD here at MJZ. I've been fortunate enough to have had some great mentors along the way who've taught me a great deal, and have had a lot of luck too. 

What projects are you most proud of producing since attending the masterclass? Who did you work with?

I know it sounds naff but I'm sort of proud of them all. I learnt something valuable from each and every project, even the terrible ones!  I’ve worked with numerous agencies and clients and been lucky enough to film all over the world, from Chingford to China. Some of the directors I’ve produced with are Daniel Barber, Joe Roman, Steve Rogers, Si & Ad, Malcolm Venville, Chris Sargent, Johnny Green and Siri Bunford to name but a few.

What would you say the masterclass has taught you?

The Masterclass is simply the foundation you need for production. It gives you a really good grounding in all aspects, with access to crew and companies that are out there working at the top of their game. My overriding memory is of being inspired by some great speakers who were just so passionate about what they did. They were serious about the work, but importantly were having fun too. It cemented in my mind that production was what I wanted to do.

Tom Webb: Park Village

What would you say the masterclass has taught you? 

I was part of one of the first Masterclass groups (maybe even the first?!) quite some time ago! Learning from some of the industry’s most experienced producers gave me  invaluable knowledge regarding budgeting, scheduling and general practical approaches to taking an idea from script to screen. Whilst the industry continues to rapidly evolve, budgets get tighter and schedules compress, the basic principles and learnings are still as relevant and useful as they were back then.

What projects are you most proud of producing since attending the masterclass? Who did you work with?

I'm most proud of a project I worked on last year for Greenpeace which highlighted how much plastic waste the UK exports on a daily basis. Working with Greenpeace direct and our incredibly talented directors Sil and Jorik of Studio Birthplace, we were able to visualise in a way not seen before the sheer scale of waste the UK sends abroad each day. The campaign went viral, won a host of prestigious awards but most importantly had a direct impact on the UK's plastic waste policy.

What advice would you give masterclass students?

I’d advise the students that you’ll get as much out of the classes as you put in so do your best to immerse yourself in the course. And get to know your peers as it’s a tight-knit industry and you might well be working with them further down the line.


Ruben Mercadal: Droga5

What would you say the masterclass has taught you? 

Both the APA and IPA courses provided invaluable training and gave me a great understanding of all the fundamentals of being a great producer. Since then, I have been able to work at many different agencies and production companies.

What projects are you most proud of producing since attending the masterclass? Who did you work with?

The work on my reel highlights some of the projects I am most proud to have produced and worked on. Some highlights include Hennessy, Axe, Johnnie Walker, Audi and the New York Times. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing creatives, directors, production partners, clients, and agency teams.

What advice would you give masterclass students?

The importance of being a diligent, detail-oriented and creatively driven producer that can make a difference with the quality and impact of work that as producers we make.


Paul Weston: Blink

What would you say the masterclass has taught you? 

It feels like a very long time ago I did the masterclass and I worry this answer is going to be very long!

I was a PA at Partizan when I did the course and in the years following I steadily progressed up the ladder, production managing for a few years then I became a Producer up until the point I left when I was also running my own dept. 

During the 10 years I was at Partizan I was really lucky to work on a lot of really big successful award winning ads and music videos with some of the top names in the business at that time. Directors like Antoine Bardot-Jacquet, Traktor, Michel Gondry, Michael Gracey and Daniel Wolfe to name a few.…

I absolutely loved every minute of my time at Partizan and during those 10 years I really benefited from a very nurturing, supportive and fun environment. The people I worked with there really shaped my whole attitude and way of working in the industry.  

The ethos of the company rang true to me in that it was like a big family of people who were all incredibly talented in completely different ways and just wanted to try and make cool things. I learnt a lot about the different personalities and skills different directors have, and how to really help them develop and realise the ideas they had in their heads. 

AI knew after my time at Partizan I knew that I wanted to continue to be continuing along those lines, really working closely with directors, and in particular trying to harness the potential of young directors into the world of commercials.

So after 10 years I decided it was time to leave home and I took a job as executive producer at Somesuch. At that time they were very much in their infancy and the opportunity to be in a different style of production company and being an early part of how that business started and evolved was invaluable experience. As it was a company just starting out, I was able to really use everything I’d learnt at Partizan to bring up a lot of their younger directors into advertising. I was there for two years and the work we made was really good and I got a lot out of my time there. 

Generally, though, I was yearning for a slightly freer and more eclectic environment. I wanted to have the freedom to really try and create something that I could have more ownership over and it was at this point I met James and Michelle at Blink. I think I knew pretty much instantly that the opportunity they were giving me, their ethos and the creative environment they had built over the years at blink was the perfect fit for me. 

I’ve now been at Blink for nine years and am a managing partner, running the live-action side of the company. I feel like all my experience and the advice and lessons learned along the way up to this point has got me to a place where I’m still excited about making good work and I’m confident about what I’m doing which is all down to the people I'm lucky enough to work with.

What advice would you give masterclass students?

Honestly I can't remember specifics – it was 18 years ago! – but I do remember I had been a PA on some pretty big jobs when I did the course, and was slightly bratty about it, thinking I knew everything already, so why did I need to do it.…. But that obviously wasn’t the case! Firstly, it was good to have things I thought I already knew confirmed by someone who really knew what they were talking about. Secondly, the insight you get from hearing experienced people talk about various processes of production or how to solve certain problems is really useful. I remember taking a lot of the info from the talks on board. 

I would also say to anyone junior in the industry who has the opportunity to do the course, absolutely take it. 

Take any opportunity to be around experienced people and absorb any information you can. A lot of new starters in the industry seem unable to admit that they need to take their time and learn on the job thinking they can fast track to becoming a producer purely through self belief alone. I'm a big believer that you are never too experienced or too grand to take advice from someone or learn something new. Every job in production is different and has its own challenges, so if you have the opportunity to learn a base level foundation of producing it will be invaluable. That basic knowledge is definitely a solid base which if built on over time, can ultimately equip you to take on all kinds of opportunities. 


Sorcha Shepherd: Caviar TV

How has your career evolved since attending the masterclass?
Rather substantially! When I did the masterclass I was a directors’ rep at a production company. Since then, I have gradually gone up the ranks at several different companies, in several different job roles, but always with the eye on becoming either an EP or MD. From directors’ rep I became a head of sales, then a new business producer (which is essentially overseeing the creative element of pitches) then I became an EP and finally managing director for Caviar.

Without the knowledge I gained at the masterclass I don’t think I would have had the confidence to go from being sales to production. It’s a hard transition without that grounding.

What projects are you most proud of producing since attending the masterclass? Who did you work with?

Oh gosh, there have been so many that I have loved but a special few are: 

Virgin Trains ‘Very Fast Chair’ – directed by Keith Schofield for Anomaly. Not only was it hilarious, it was one of those special projects where I got to watch Keith’s incredible brain in action. All of this was shot in camera so it was quite the production to pull off!

Football Beyond Borders ’Abi: Being Black and 6Teen’ – directed by Lainey Richardson with Dark Horses. This was a total passion project for all involved and was the first time I got to create anything with the amazing Lainey. I’m still so moved when I watch it.

Bumble ‘When Dating Met 2020’ directed by Cloe Bailly. The hilarious Cloe and the amazing HBC, what’s not to love?

I was also incredibly proud of our lockdown series called ‘Caviar Connects’ . I still get people telling me that it helped get them through the madness of those first few months in doors.

What would you say the masterclass has taught you?

I think it gives you an overview of so many different sides to our industry that in turn gives you options about possible career paths. And of course, it opens up your network as the people you meet could become your peers as you grow in the industry which is such a help when you want to bounce ideas around.


Medb Riordan: Academy Films

How has your career evolved since attending the masterclass?
Since attending the masterclass in 2009, I went on to be a production assistant, production manager, producer, then EP at Academy, working with directors like Jonathan Glazer, Seb Edwards, Frederic Planchon, Martin de Thurah and Ian Pons Jewell. In 2018 I became co-managing director and co-owner of Academy. This year, I produced my first feature film, the A24/Film4 financed debut by writer/director Savanah Leaf, through Academy Films.

What projects are you most proud of producing since attending the masterclass? Who did you work with?

On the commercial side, I have so many that I'm proud of. Some mean a lot to me due to the challenges we had to overcome to produce the film, such as Frederic Planchon’s 2017 campaign for the British Army out of Karmarama. On this production, the director broke his shoulder on the first shot of the first day of a five-day shoot, which, after four months of prep, was quite a situation! 

Commercials I produced with Marcus Söderlund are very special to me, as we always found ourselves in amazingly beautiful but challenging environments, creating really emotional films. For example, the underwater shoot in Maldives for Kuoni, or a film for Canon about skijoring, shot in Patagonia. 

Films with lower budgets are always the most rewarding though, whether music videos, short films or charity films. It is a wonderful feeling when you can say “man, how did we pull that off?”. One project in particular was a commercial for this year's D&AD Black Pencil winning Hopeline 19, directed by Novemba, out of adam&eveDDB. With amazing producer Gemma Priggen (Masterclass alumnus) and PM Cara Mills (masterclass alumnus!), we created a moving film highlighting PTSD in frontline workers. 

On music videos, I have so many highlights, but top of the list was finally getting to work with my hero, Robyn, in 2018 on her first music video for eight years. And yes, I made a total fool of myself in front of her, complete fangirl. Thankfully she was a total legend and laughed it off!

What would you say the masterclass has taught you? 

The masterclass is beneficial to anyone wanting a well rounded insight into production. It is one of the best educational tools for commercial production that I have come across. I believe to be really successful in this industry, to reach the top of commercial producing, a person needs to take the same journey: from PA to PM to pProducer. Whether you’re straight out of GCSE or you have a PHD in astrophysics, there is no skipping ahead, if you really want to be top of your game. Putting the time in is essential to rise above. Knowledge is power. The APA Masterclass is one tool that can really help you lay a base for that education and set you on your path to success. And hey, maybe some day you’ll take my job! 


Prudence Beecroft: Odelay

How has your career evolved since attending the masterclass?

I joined the Masterclass in 2016 which was in the first couple years of Odelay's formation. We had been running productions using our own processes, budget templates etc. but decided to sign up as APA members that year and felt joining the masterclass would be helpful to really understand what the APA has to offer and align with industry best practice. I am a huge advocate of being a 'student of life' so any up-skilling or training is important to me to keep my knowledge fresh and relevant. Since doing the course, I have been able to implement what I learnt from the course into how we run productions and I am always eager to send any new starters on the course too. I see it as a valuable training and I look for it on CVs - as it indicates someone with a full-rounded production knowledge. 

What projects are you most proud of producing since attending the masterclass? Who did you work with?

Odelay has expanded massively since 2016 and we have seen the scale and scope of our projects increase in this time. We’ve worked with some awesome talent, from Stormzy and Ed Sheeran to Katherine Ryan and Vic Reeves - that’s always such a privilege. We’ve also been very lucky to work with some great brands - Glamour, Dyson, Toyota, Adidas, Samsung, Coke to name but a few. When you work in production you have an amazing opportunity to work with causes and tell stories too. Some of the work I’ve been most proud of have been aligned with our values and serve to help a greater cause too. We took on a slightly more edgy campaign highlighting social injustices for Lush, did a series of films for Libresse raising awareness for Endometriosis and our campaign for Calm and H&M was around modelling healthy male mental health practices. All of which are more challenging projects as the budgets may be more modest but when we believe in a cause we will do our best to support in the ways we can- by providing brilliant visual storytelling! 

What would you say the masterclass has taught you? 

The course teaches a fantastic knowledge base - almost an A-Z of production from bids, budgets, insurance, how to best collaborate with music companies, post, VFX and edit houses, when to involve the police in pre-prod and to the limitations of filming with children etc. It's both a recap of best practices for more experienced producers and a superb introduction for newer ones. However, personally my biggest take home was learning that you are supported by a wide network of experts across the industry. Every production will have new challenges – you won't know what they are until you are in it. From finding a way to shoot in a remote location or a higher-risk shoot – it depends on what is in the creative vision and it's never consistent. With the support from your APA course peers and the wonderful community that exists around the APA members – it just helps ensure the best possible shoots and outcomes while still making the magic happen. 

The APA is currently taking applications for the upcoming Masterclass 2023 taking place in the second week of February (6-10th). Applications close on November 30th. 

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Advertising Producers Association, Wed, 16 Nov 2022 12:01:31 GMT