The Post-Production Producer - Commercials

I started working in the industry on reception. I worked for a commercials production company in my school holidays, doing a bit of running and working on reception for a bit of cash.


When I didn’t get the grades in my ‘A’ levels that I needed for the course I was going to do, I went for an interview and was offered a job as a receptionist at a post-production facility.


I was there for about three years and after the first 6 months I was promoted up from reception into bookings. From there I moved to another smaller company doing bookings and I starting to produce.


I worked there for a further three years. I then moved here, a long time ago as a producer, when I think the company was only about thirty people strong, and we now have about six hundred people!


And in that time when you were working on reception did you know that post-production producing was something that you wanted to get into?


I think initially I just enjoyed working in the industry. I wasn’t that particular about working on the post side, it was just a job that came up at the time and it felt like a good place to be because it was quite a big company and a lot of production companies which is where I thought I wanted to be, were actually all quite small.


So I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I’d like to be in a bigger company because it gave me a sense of security and an opportunity to find out about all the different areas, especially on the post side.


I thought it would be a useful grounding. Also, all of their clients were agency people or production company people and they did quite a large array of commercials, music videos, corporate videos and some TV broadcast work, so they had quite a good range of work and I felt that from working on reception there I would meet lots of people to possibly move into other areas.   


How do people get to become post-production producers? Is there a conventional career path?


Not really. Here we try to promote internally, so the kind of more ‘usual’ career path I suppose, are people who start off quite junior as runners, PA’s or on reception and then they do a bit of grounding in the general production office – helping out as an admin type assistant or just answering phones or booking stuff in and it goes from there.


On the TV and features post side they tend to do it slightly differently to commercials. They go from being a runner to being what we call a production co-ordinator, which quite often means going out on a shoot and taking camera information or logging shots as well as logging in the telecine all the effects shots and tracking the progress of the media within the company.


So it’s a very different route to commercials where it is more client handling, quoting, admin, invoicing and all that sort of thing.


So the role of a post-production producer is very different within TV, commercials and film …


Yes I think on the film side it is more organisational because there is so much material. There are many hundreds of shots in a film or a TV show, which means that there are a lot of practicalities to look in to.


On the commercials side you are dealing more with clients, changes, and having to adjust the budgets and schedules and things like that. In commercials there is definitely more emphasis on the client compared to the film side where they are not responding to changes and the many layers of client approvals.


It is also more technical - moving massive amounts of data around, processing animation and render farms, all make the process very complex. 


Do you need to be quite technically minded to be a post producer?


I think it definitely does help. I am not particularly technical, but I think the thing to remember is that in big facility houses there’s certainly always a technical backup of teams of engineers & systems guys to support you.


The operators themselves on the Flames, Smokes and telecine have to be quite technical for their job, so as long as you understand the processes, methods, how long it takes and what is involved then you don’t need to know quite how it works if you know what I mean! And you come to learn all of that.  

      

How does the role of a post-production producer differ from a regular production producer?


Ten years ago they would have been quite different, but these days because a lot more is done in post-production, especially in CG, you are producing content far more than you traditionally were and so I think they are getting closer actually.


A post-production producer used to take over after the off-line edit was finished - that was the point where you would first see the job, schedule it and quote it. These days you tend to be involved much earlier on in the process, so you are seeing scripts and storyboards in the initial stages very much like a production company producer does.


You might be producing half the content in CG – in fact I am working on a job at the moment where literally all they have shot are background plates and all the character action is going to be done on computer. So you are far more involved at that level and earlier on in the production process. 


What do you think makes a good post-production producer?   


I think generally the most important thing is the client handling. You need to be able to deal with people.


We are at the end of the chain in the production process so we tend to have the shortest amount of time to work in because everybody else has used up the time and the deadlines tend to be immovable.


There is quite often a lot of managing people’s expectations and trying to get people to prioritise what they need to be doing, and nobody likes to be told they can’t have anything. You can find yourself in a position where you have got the agency, clients, creatives, production company, producer, director and off-line editor…everybody coming at you all at once, so if you are calm and you can get on well with people then I think they are probably the main things. The rest of it is the experience - you can learn all the technicalities of it and the processes.


You also need to be able to keep the budgets in check, because as I mentioned earlier, we are last in the chain and people tend to spend the money as they go along so that by the end of it there is not always that much left over! Then they want to make extra changes etc, so there is quite a lot of negotiation in terms of money going on and you need to be competent at that. 


Is there that anything people should be aware of before considering a career as a post producer? 


That’s a good question. I don’t think many people know about this job actually. It’s not something people consider that often. I think certainly the people I interview when coming out of college just think of all the technical jobs, especially when coming to a post house like ours.


They want to be animators or compositors or whatever, which is fine, but they consider production as one big job when actually there are quite specific roles within that job title, such as animation producers, co-ordinators, traditional post producers, line producers etc and these roles are becoming far more defined.


So I don’t think people are aware of the different areas of production and how you can be suited to some areas better than others in terms of your own personality. 


And I suppose by working as a runner or on reception you work all that out…


Yes absolutely. Also different sets of clients have different expectations. The music industry people who come here doing pop videos are quite different from commercials ad agency people, or if you have clients who are making a viral etc - they all differ in terms of their expectations and their time scales and sometimes their manners…


Again something else to be learnt! What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get started in the industry with a desire to eventually becoming a post-production producer?     


I think try and get experience in as many different areas of the industry as you can, because it is all really useful. Don’t pin yourself down to early on - I think it is beneficial to be working in a place where you get to see a bit of the industry. I certainly thought that working as a receptionist in quite a big company early on was very good for that because you do see all of those different avenues to go down.


Having said that I do think the chances of moving up quicker are probably greater in smaller companies and although there is nothing wrong with that, you do tend to get channelled one way or the other into doing the type of work that a particular company does.  So keep an open mind I think!


Finally, you mentioned before we started talking that you are going to be employing some runners soon. What kind of thing do you look for when interviewing or talking with runners?


We have been employing runners constantly because the company is so big.  Between our three sites we employ twenty-four runners and most of them move up quite quickly to junior positions between probably six to nine months of running.


I think what we find from interviewing runners who are normally coming out of film or animation school is that their expectations are quite high as to what they are going to be walking into as their first job. I think it is quite a shock to the system to come out of college where you might have been a ‘superstar’, to then be running and making tea for clients for a while. But however hard that is I think it is a useful time to spend. You get to see how the company works, how jobs get put together and follow the production pipeline. You are in a great position to go and talk to all sorts of different people with different talents and see how they fit in the scheme of things and how much creative control they have over what they are doing or how much they don’t have.


That is always a bit of a shock for people too, certainly with the animation side where they expect to have quite a lot of creative input into what they are producing, and that is because they don’t always realise we are working for people who are paying us - we have clients and we have to produce what they want rather than what our creatives want to do necessarily.


So that time spent as a runner where you get to see the processes and how the approvals work between the director and the film studios, or between the advertising agency and their client, and the time scales in which you have to get approvals done and the changes after that, I think all of that is a great experience if you are new to it all.  


Does having a degree help?


Yes I think it does. Personally I haven’t got a degree, but I think it is more difficult to get into the industry now without a degree, as there is more competition than when I first started.


Certainly it does help especially on the more technical roles where people come and do animation or compositing, engineering or any of those jobs.


On the production side it is not something we insist on. We would certainly look at people without degrees, as it is more about personality and common sense as a producer - in fact probably our production office is half and half of those with a degree and those without, which is quite a good ratio.

 


But I think due to the amount of competition to get into the industry these days, any kind of qualification helps.   






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