Monika Wagner is the head of production and EP at OTO Film. Though she’s fairly new to the company - she joined in June 2023 - she has close to two decades of experience in the craft itself.
Monika got her taste for production when she was a student and the Polish TV market was experiencing huge growth; she started with reality TV productions before moving into documentaries and working her way from a runner through the ranks, all the way up to the senior leadership role she holds today. For Monika, “working your way up the ladder is key” as it provides invaluable learning and training opportunities.
Helping others to learn and develop plays an important role in Monika’s approach to being the head of production at OTO. It’s vital for her to match people with the right jobs and clients while pushing them to grow beyond what’s comfortable; in this she also finds that she continues to learn and grow herself.
Today we caught up with Monika to chat about her approach to production, find out which projects she’s most proud to have worked on, and why relaxation involves a good dose of adrenaline.
LBB> What first attracted you to production - and what was your first role in the production world?
Monika> In 2001 the Polish TV market was booming. Endemol had just licensed the format to [Polish television station] TVN and it became a massive hit. I was a student, and my part-time job was as an assistant on set and helping to manage the local contestants. These contestants along with the show grew to fame and that was my first glimpse into reality TV and production in general. I was hooked and knew this was going to be part of my future career in some way. I graduated from film school in Warsaw and although I initially worked as a photo producer I quickly moved into the TV commercial world, starting as a production manager in a local production company and, 13 years later, becoming head of production and partner in that same company.
LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?
Monika> On one hand, yes, I know a lot, but I’m still learning! Every project is different, even if they seem obvious at first glance, there’s always new insight to be had or some nuance discovered from the process or experience. I’m always feeling in a constant state of readiness or alertness for something unexpected.
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?
Monika> Absolutely agree. Working your way up the ladder is key. In other words, significant experience as a runner, PA, PM, producer and EP. Practical knowledge of every step helps the transition of working from one medium to another. People skills are vital of course, and managing expectations. Regardless of format or medium, it’s often about juggling budges and timings.
LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?
Monika> There’s a documentary I was PM on that was so significant and unique… a story about couples who got married during the famous Warsaw Uprising in 1944 when the Polish resistance were fighting the Nazis. At the time of production, these couples were in their late '80s or early '90s and they were still very much in love. Of course back then they were young and wanted to be loved and love each other in the toughest of times. It showed me that no matter the circumstances, we are all human and want to live normally and want to fulfil commitments to each other even in a time of total hardship and uncertainty. And here they were in front of us, on camera, as if it were just yesterday. It was such a meaningful and outstanding experience in my career.
LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?
Monika> For me being the head of production is unlike being an EP or PM. I’m trying to build and to lead a team of individual producers, each with their own skill set and personalities, matching them to the right job and client. Part of that role and ambition is to provide the support needed for everyone to develop and push forward. This kind of feels larger than the job description itself, it’s actually a pretty big deal, and in that process I’m progressing too and growing in my own journey.
LBB> As a producer your brain must have a never ending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?
Monika> Motherhood. Honestly, it’s an equally demanding role but it does help me switch off from the business world even if it involves other to-do lists. Having home duties with a small child in tow does help keep me grounded and focus on what’s important in life. Otherwise, I can be a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I love bungee jumping and parachuting. Throw in a little meditation and some yoga and I’m good to go.
LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?
Monika> Be ready for an intensely different lifestyle than most other professions. Especially in the earlier stages of your career, making personal commitments to people or events ahead of time will be close to impossible. Working hours are day and night all year round and sometimes in faraway places. Your diet and sleeping patterns will fluctuate and your life patterns and experience will change as a result of that experience. The profession becomes a lifestyle. Embrace it!
LBB> Can you tell us about a particularly bad day you’ve had, and how you got through it?
Monika> Some time ago I had a day where lots went wrong. This doesn’t happen so often, thank goodness, and as producers we’re all problem solvers, but this was different. In short, I found myself in a hard place politically between the client and agency. It happened for several reasons which I eventually understood to be out of my control, but still, I went home that day at 10pm, feeling so angry, exhausted and beyond drained, mostly thinking I could have or should have or may have said and done things differently to make things better. Of course, at night such thoughts are amplified beyond reality and praying for sleep felt like rock bottom. The morning after though was a lot more zen, that’s for sure. I think I just went into work that day with a more accepting mindset and I let nature take its course rather than insisting on a particular outcome, all while remembering to keep the always essential diplomacy.
LBB> From your experience, what are the ingredients for a successful production and a successful production-client relationship?
Empathy: understanding what your clients need.
Trust: knowing that your clients understand they are in good hands.
Provision: being able to provide.
That’s the formula to a successful partnership.