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Meet Your Makers: The Art of Producing with Helen Hadfield

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Snapper founders on good collaboration, mastering new challenges and why there is no 'right' way

Meet Your Makers: The Art of Producing with Helen Hadfield

(Photographed with Director and Co-Founder Joanna Bailey)

Helen Hadfield started her career in advertising answering the telephone at MPC and became a producer there. She co-founded her first production company in 1992. It felt huge. Snapper is her fourth , it still feels like leaping off the cliff. She has been producing for 30+ years and loves it.

She has been very lucky to work with some very talented directors and produced some work she is proud to have been a part of and that’s very nice.

She founded the boutique production company - Snapper Films - with the very talented director Joanna Bailey to create the future they wanted, break down a few barriers, have a lot of fun and produce work across all the disciplines.

She has sat on the APA Council, been ranked in the top 20 advertising producers ( generous) and loves being a lead tutor on the APA training course for future producers.

She believes in change, is a big fan of the present and likes to chat.. ( a bit too much) . Her friends, family and colleagues are hoping she is  learning to listen more but she's a work in progress. 


LBB> What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?

Helen> I love a story, fictional or factual. 

I knew nothing about filmmaking and no-one in the film Industry but loved the idea of working in it. I moved back to London, bunked in with my cousin and set about finding a job. I rang and met as many people as I could. I needed a union ticket to get a job but I had to have a job to get a ticket. Catch 22. However I interviewed for the receptionist job at MPC and they offered it the same day, I took it, got a ticket and it took me into advertising production. 


LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?

Helen> A receptionist at MPC. I couldn’t have had a better training Sharon Bowden, our head of reception, personified and taught grace under pressure. Keep calm, remember to breathe and smile, be brief but never sound busy. MPC is now an Oscar winning global brand of excellence in post -production in film, TV and advertising. Sharon was integral to that growth, MPC was a talent nursery and the industry is full of their lucky graduates. They attracted very talented people, watching them work with unswerving commitment, deal with continual challenges, create opportunities and say yes when no would have been easier was invaluable. It taught me everything is possible if you look for the solution and I try to always remember to channel my inner Sharon. Thank you, Sharon. 


LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?

Helen> Luck and enthusiasm. I graduated to being the production assistant working with all the producer/director teams and each producer did the job slightly differently, it was a great way to learn about producing. There’s no 'right' way, just the way that works the best for you and I learnt a lot from each one and then they made me one too. 


LBB> Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?

Helen> My first experience of big scale filmmaking was an ad for Quantas with a budget the size of a low budget feature. I worked alongside a dear friend and outstanding producer. It proved to be a great learning experience. Finding the right location where we could film for Quantas proved tricky, the director arrived and rejected every proposal previously explored and liked by the Agency & Client and then the National Trust did a volte face, and said no after yes and the client had seen the location choices. With sheer single-minded dedication we outsmarted the odds and finally put 100+ children from The Australian National Choir on the very top of Wellington Arch singing their hearts out, with an entire troop of the Queen’s horse guards trotting underneath while capturing the moment with a strada crane in the midst of Hyde Park Corner. Every time I go round Hyde Park corner I think about it. 


LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Helen> Agree, it’s sits within the same skillset. The art of developing as a producer is to keep learning how to master new challenges and invent the rule book not get stuck in it. 


LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?

Helen> Challenge and variety.


LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?

Helen> We have had a digital and technological revolution which has massively impacted the whole nature of filmmaking, the way we communicate and the world we communicate in. I started off filming on 35mm film and creating a print and look where we are now!  The internet literally changed the world. When I started we had no email and one huge mobile phone which we lugged round on the shoot and I typed the call sheet on a type writer. 


LBB> And what has stayed the same?

Helen> The script is always the thing that matters. It is the most important foundation for the film no matter its length and no matter it’s platform. That never changes. 


LBB> What do you think is the key to being an effective producer - and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?

Helen> I think most of all it’s about never jumping off the learning curve, the steeper the curve, the more effective the learning, and the more we learn the more we develop and the more effective we become. 


LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?

Helen> Can I have three? Good things come in three’s. The first Ad I produced for John Howard Davies  who was Head of Comedy at the BBC (Fawlty Towers and Monty Python) for IBM, it was funny and brave and got into D&AD. The short film Sweetnight Goodheart with the director Dan Zeff for the BBC in 2005, a very early if not first screen role for David Tennant. Terrific script, terrific cast. And the Cancer Research Campaign I produced for Joanna Bailey for AMV, the humbling bravery of our contributors as they faced a life changing diagnosis was unforgettable and the collaboration was a really special experience. The whole experience was a real privilege.


LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?

Helen> I loved being involved as EP on Gabriel B Arrahnio’s short film The Devil Inside, a commission he won from The Francis Bacon Trust. Winning the commission was pretty thrilling, making it happen challenging. The producers, the director and the crew overcame all obstacles in freezing cold conditions, so when it recently got into the London International short film Festival we literally all whooped with joy! 


LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?

Helen> Discovering that the film equipment had been left sitting on the runway on a small island in the Caribbean when the plane with the crew took off without it and having to re-unite it with the crew, who were deposited on a different island because they couldn’t land at the correct destination as by the time they took off (late and leaving half the equipment behind) there were no landing lights on that runway, the missing equipment was picked up by a 2nd world war pilot who owned a cargo plane and a charter rescued the crew so we could start filming the next day as planned. 


LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?

Helen> To find and create the opportunities for the exciting talent I represent and make the films we like watching with them.   


LBB> As a producer your brain must have a neverending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?

Helen> There’s nothing like a book, a walk, a swim in the sea, time with family and friends and dogs. Dogs are great.  


LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?

Helen> Life.


LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?

Helen>  Try it. You never stop learning and you will never be bored. 


LBB> From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?

Helen> Good collaboration. Trust, hope and belief. 'Teamwork makes the dreamwork.'


LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?

Helen> Trust and respect. 


LBB> One specifically for EPs: Producers are naturally hands on - they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?

Helen> Attempting to be there when I’m needed and not interfere when I am surplus to requirements. As one of my brilliant producers gently suggested to me be the flame not the moth. Still working on it. All advice gratefully accepted. 

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Snapper Films, Fri, 26 May 2023 17:07:52 GMT