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Production Company Case Study

Sophie Jackson, Producers Assistant/Production Manager | September 2016


Sophie is part of a compact production company which allows her the flexibility to work in marketing, development and post production.

What inspired you to enter the film industry?

The first moment I realised I wanted to work in film was when I went on holiday to Los Angeles with my family when I was twelve. We toured the Warner Brothers studios and Universal studios and I instantly knew that the film world was something I wanted to be a part of.

After that I became obsessed with watching behind the scenes features on every DVD I owned and so after finishing my A Levels I went on to study English Lit and Film Studies.

Did you take on any unpaid positions to gain experience, and how do you think it benefited you when applying for paid work?

Yes I took several unpaid positions. Most of these positions I got from My first Job in Film.  My first role out of Uni was as a Communications assistant for the Toronto International Film Festival for three months. I then went on to do some running for companies such as Framestore (where I’m starting work in a few weeks as a Production co-ordinator) and Smuggler as an intern/ assistant with the production teams and also for a short time working in the office at a screenwriter’s agency.

In all of these positions I made contacts who I still keep in contact with today. I think, in this industry, a willingness to learn and enthusiasm for the job is vital. For example, when I took my first work experience as an office runner, I was literally making coffee and tea all day long, sometimes picking up personal errands for the senior staff. But every time I was in that kitchen, I made sure I spoke up and made conversation with anyone who would pass in and out and not long after one of them asked me to work as a production runner on a big budget commercial shoot.

These opportunities are a great way to get noticed and to build future contacts.

How long did it take you to get your first permanent paying job, and what was the path you took to get you there?

I spent a year doing lots of odd jobs and working at a plethora of different companies, I went from a communications assistant to an animation and VFX company, to a commercials company, to a small studio, to my first shoot as a production assistant on a feature film and then a month at a screenwriter’s agency.

My first permanent job was one that was advertised on My First Job in Film. It was a new production company with some exciting credits that was looking for someone to be the Producer’s Assistant. I applied and was called for an interview soon after and there was an instant connection. Once I was hired, I immediately took to the role, although it’s always a bit daunting starting somewhere new, and fell in love with the company and as soon as our first feature was green lit 6 months later I was promoted on the project to Production Manager.

The great thing about being part of a smaller production company is the fact that if you work hard and prove yourself, you can fast track your way up the ladder much quicker.

Before taking on the role, I had done a few months of runner work, office experience at the Toronto international film festival and in a screenwriter's agency, and I had got my first contract as a production assistant on a feature film starring Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman.

The fact that I had previously obtained on set experience was extremely helpful in my current position.

Whilst working in an entry level position what are your responsibilities, and what have you found hardest to master?

Depending on the company, most entry level positions are either running around getting coffees, delivering and picking up all sorts of things and doing lots of general admin duties.

Running is pretty straightforward, it’s physically tiring but it’s a fantastic way to meet people and let your personality shine. There’s lots of interaction and I always found it helpful to ask people what it was they were working on and get as much insight as I could. People love to talk about what they do in this industry!

Admin and office work is a little trickier and can be much more secluded depending on the size of the company. You’ll be given plenty of tasks and then required to hand them in but it’s important to speak up when you don’t understand. Every office has their own way of working and their own organisational systems in place so I always found navigating around this quite tricky, especially in the beginning. Being on set helps a lot because you learn the basics and the lingo quickly so when you’re in a busy production office you can make sense of things in pre-production.

If it’s a busy office, you may have to learn on your feet. I learned the hard way but it’s best to figure out as much as you possibly can on your own and ask for help when it’s something that can’t be looked up on google etc.  

Can you tell us a bit about your current position and what your job entails if different to the above question?

As I’m currently working for a smaller company, my role is very broad. I help the producer and the head of development in all areas of production right from concept level through to post production and marketing.

My daily responsibilities include, providing administrative support for the producer and head of development, writing coverage on script reports, drafting letters, making phone calls, liaising with agents and other producers, managing the schedule, managing the office, arranging business meetings and social events, interviewing personnel and many more. As well as this, I coordinate recce’s, assist with casting, location scouting and filing submissions.

Are there any processes or elements of the industry that have come as a surprise and you would want to pass onto others?

I think in the film industry there are always going to be surprises. One of the best things about working in film is how varied each day is. Every project is different and brings with it, it’s own unique problems. An ability to think on your feet and not get flustered or panicked was the hardest thing that I had to learn. Things will always get stressful, in film there are periods of quiet and then it can go from 0-100 at warp speed! It’s better to learn sooner rather than later that you must always remain composed and not panic about any “disasters” that you might come across.

Another aspect of the industry that can sometimes be tricky is the personalities. I’ve been very fortunate in that most of the people I’ve worked with have been great and I would easily work with again, it’s great being in an industry full of people who absolutely love what they do, but you do get a few more difficult personalities or people who are “playing” at being industry professionals so you have to be quite diplomatic and make sure that you are someone who can embrace the collaborative process with many different personalities.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The highlight of my career so far was being promoted to production manager on our last feature film and then getting to go to our first industry preview screening and see my name on the big screen!

Having gained experience in the film industry what advice would you give to those who are just starting out?

My advice would be to apply to as many positions as possible and keep knocking on doors until someone gives you a helping hand. I’d say not to be put off by experiences that are short term, sometimes they may be only a week long, or be put off by a position that seems to be just making tea and coffee. It’s easy to say “what will I learn getting coffee” but as long as you make sure that you don’t just get the coffee, you find ways to be useful in the environment and make yourself noticed. Say hi to people and ask them about what they do. You never know what it might turn into and who you’ll meet. In an industry that relies heavily on who you know I’d say it’s a key thing to remember. They might just end up saying, we really need a full time assistant, and this person was great, and then you’re in! 

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