Could you summarise what your job role is as a TV Drama Producer & the role of the First Assistant Director?
As a TV Drama Producer, I am involved from a very early stage such as script development, casting, hiring the Director and HOD’s (head of departments). Then I oversee the project during prep, shooting, and post production to deliver the project on its agreed date with the broadcaster.
As a 1st Assistant Director, I am responsible for ‘scheduling the shoot’. Ie - how many scenes we need to shoot in a day, and making sure that is achieved. I draft the shooting schedule based on the script in our prep period which everyone receives so they know what they are shooting each day. In addition to that, my 2nd Assistant Director will draft a ‘call sheet’ of each day’s work based on the schedule. This document has all the finer details of what is going on each day.
What drew you to the industry?
Talking absolutely honestly here, it was a friend of mine that I was living with Zara, who studied film at Westminster University. She did very well, and got taken on by a commercials production company ‘Annex Films’. I wasn’t doing much at the time and I asked “can I come and work on one of your pop videos, it would be a laugh!”. At the time I was chauffeuring, I had a limousine that I used to drive people around in. Zara said “Well, if you take me to work in your fancy car, then you can come and be a runner on my job”.
One of her first ever jobs was a pop promo for a band called ‘Moorcheeba’, who we all collectively happened to know. So in the end me & my car ended up being in the pop video haha. So that got me in to the industry. I really enjoyed working on Zara’s jobs. I met new people and my world just opened up in commercial production. So I sold the car and I started running on set for a living, which is essentially doing whatever they wanted/needed you to do. It involved making an awful lot of tea, lumping stuff about, moving cables – that kind of stuff. So that’s how it started really.
Was there a point when you realised that it wasn’t just a hobby anymore & it became a real thing?
Once I had been running for 6 months. I realised that actually I can have a really good time doing this, it’s really good fun and I can earn OK, for now. There were really long hours, like really long. But this didn’t really bother me as I just enjoyed what I was doing so much.
It’s a very social industry and when your young, I was in my early 20’s when I started all this, I was having the best time. I got to go away, experience new places and different cultures. I’d recommend it to anyone, If you get offered a job abroad, go! Just take it and have no responsibilities. Because all you’re going to do is get good experience & have fun, I think so anyway.
I started to progress in the industry, there is so much you can do when you’re a runner, you could work in the costume department, you could work with the make-up department, special effects, editing, cameras, lighting etc. But there are so many different areas within film, there is so much you can do and learn.
I went in to the AD’s Department which is Assistant Directing. My department run the scheduling and oversee the shoot to make sure that the actors are there on time, they go through hair and makeup and costume and then on to set.
Everything I learnt as a runner has helped me determine and make sure everything is completed on time. You work hand-in-hand with the director and DOP (director of photography) to make sure that all these different departments are working as efficiently as possible to get the job done. Whether it’s a commercial, music video, TV drama, feature – whatever it is. It’s the same common goal.
Do you have a favourite type/form of media?
If I was going to sit and watch something, I would sit and watch a really fantastic box set because you can stream things now. You don’t have to wait another week for it to play on the TV. A fantastic television series, like the Wire, Breaking Bad or Succession (which I’ve just finished watching).
In terms of my favourite form to work on, for me its long form television. This is things that are a minimum of 55 minutes each episode; for example, Killing Eve. I worked on series two of that which was really good fun & of course The Bodyguard which was also great.
But a particular favourite I’ve worked on which is very close to my heart, and not a lot of people might not have heard of it, is called ‘Flowers’ which is two series and 6 episodes each, starring Olivia Coleman, Julian Barratt from the Mighty Boosh and Will Sharpe who was the Writer, Director and also starred in it. It's about this crazy family down in the middle of nowhere. Flowers is a really dark comedy and we had such an amazing time working on it. It was so special as we had the same team for both series, on camera and off camera and we are all friends. We all went through a very tough shoot but it meant so much for everyone.
There are funny times too like when I worked on something which was an appallingly bad film, I had a really good laugh working on it haha. Basic Instinct 2. It was a terrible film, awful movie, but we had such a laugh on it, the crew were great, Sharon Stone was just hilarious – completely mental! But quite funny as a result
But some of the things that I’ve worked on that have been really well received have sometimes, from a shoot perspective, been some of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. A film I did in 2003 called ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ which was an amazing movie, but it was such a hard shot because of the subject matter and lots of internal issues. But it was so well received and I’m really proud of that, we really pulled something amazing out the bag.
Would you say that is one of your greatest achievements?
I would go back to Flowers, that is what I am most proud of in my career & for me that’s the most important thing. Whether something has done extremely well and millions of people watch it, like Killing Eve, which has done incredible well and a pleasure to work on. But something that is close to my heart is Flowers.
How do you know when something is completely 100% finished?
You’ll have the script and then somebody like me, will put it into a shooting schedule and the producers will then say something to me like ’you’ve got 30 days to squeeze it in’ and then I have to try and find the time. If it doesn’t fit we then go back to the writer and say can you reduce it in any way so we can try and fit it into the budgeted days we’ve got. Then we shoot the schedule, and the shooting crew go home and the director’s, editors & producers go into the final cut.
This is when things start to come together and start to change – for the better or worse haha. Sometimes something written fits on paper but not on screen so we have to tweak it, or it might need something else. In some cases, we might need to re shoot or simply get more footage & material. We also have to have a few days extra for things like bad weather, or the actors being ill which are completely out of our control.
Do things change massively from the original script?
Yes all the time haha. What I’ve just finished called ‘Responsible Child’, what we had in the script was quite complicated. It is based on a true story about a young lad who murdered his step father because of years of systematic abuse. He is only 12 years old and because the minimum age for responsibility in this country is 10, he gets dragged through the adult criminal court system, so you can’t buy a hamster, but you can go to court as an adult – which is ridiculous. How can they expect them to emotionally deal with it? We are talking about a child whose mind isn’t fully formed yet.
What we found when we shot it, and when we came to edit it, was that the script format just didn’t work & it became boring and not very exciting. So that’s when the editor and the director sit down and literally just take chunks of footage and move the story around. I went away for 2 weeks after we finished shooting and I came back and they showed me a really rough cut and I could not believe it! I was like…hang on a minute? That scene has moved to the end of the film, they’ve managed to completely turn it around.
This is part of the industry which I find really fascinating, the way you can adapt and manipulate things to make it more engaging and watchable to our audience. We essentially want to produce a bit of entertainment for 90 mins, we don’t want our viewers getting bored. We want it to hold & retain the interest instead of them turning it off and putting something else on.
If you could, would you go back and change anything you’ve worked on?
There is always stuff you could’ve done better haha. If I were a director, I would have done things slightly differently. I was just on the phone to the director of Responsible Child, he was ringing to ask my opinion see if we could tweak a few more things. You have to make these final decisions & once that has been made, you can’t really retract it. Sometimes I think, maybe I'd of enjoyed It more if I had been working with the camera department, but then I wake up the next and think, thank god I didn’t go in the camera department because some days it can be really tough & every day is different. I think I am happy with what I have done & where I am now. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I could’ve got here a little bit quicker but I suppose that’s the luck of the draw sometimes.
Where there many road blocks when you started?
Yeah, each time I wanted to move up. You think ‘I’ve been a runner now for 3 years, I want to move up in to a specific department’. So I went in to AD (Assistant Directors) but trying to get that person to give you the opportunity (when I say that person I also mean the industry) to give you that little lift up & faith in you can be difficult. Sometimes it was really easy, and without even knowing it, it had happened & you’ll find yourself just doing the job. But sometimes you can wait for ages. It's about taking that first step & seeing faith in the industry and in yourself.
Do you have anything exciting coming up?
Not at the moment, or not anything I can discuss at least. I have a few meetings with a production company coming up. Sometimes what I've found really helpful is that I’ll just meet up with people within industry (and at the end of the day it is a small industry), so when they do have something coming up, I’ll be in the back of their minds! So watch the space!
Is there anyone you would love to work with?
Yes to work with a hugely accomplished Director like Martin Scorsese would be amazing, he is such a big legend in my eyes. Actually one thing about my job which I absolutely love is working with new talent, as much as working with industry established people. The actor in Responsible Child is fantastic, Billy Barrett. He has done an absolutely incredible job. If he doesn't win lots of awards, we’ll all be throwing our teddies out the window haha. He is going to be an amazing actor; he is definitely one to watch. It is so lovely and rewarding to working with people like Billy, when you just go "wow". He is now going on to some big American show & a Christmas Carol which is coming out. He is going to be huge. It is nice that my job has been able to guide and help him along in his acting career.
Do you have a go to pair of shoes?
Definitely, what I am wearing at the moment. Chelsea boots. They are an industry standard haha They are robust & indestructible, waterproof, no laces, they’re warm & they come in lots of different colours haha! My favourites are the WALK London Craven Chelsea Boots, the crepe sole is key for providing ultimate comfort as I am always running about and on my feet all day, I’ll wear a shoe for life.
If you could have tea with any three people in the whole world (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
Crikey, haha. I am going to have to say my Mrs as one, I have to say her because she’ll just moan if I don’t haha. To sit and have a conversation with one of my inspirations like Francis Ford Coppola would be incredible! Some of the films he’s made I have watched to death and watched since I was 12. My 3rd and final guest would be Barrack Obama, he’s a pretty amazing person. I’d like to have tea with him.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting out in the industry what would it be?
Say yes to everything, absolutely. This is what I got advised by countless people over the years, say yes to everything. Even though I’m now fortunate enough to start saying no to things but when you’re starting out and someone gives you an opportunity, say yes. Even if you said yes to three things all on the same day, at least you’ve got a good tricky decision to make as opposed to having no decision to make!