Our trainees cover their experience of the online residential training
In April 2021, our inaugural Grierson DocLab In Focus: Production Management training kicked off on Zoom with the online training week. Hear how they got on...
Production Management online training week
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At the first sound of my alarm, I was immediately woken from my not-so-deep sleep caused by the excitement of the week ahead. Despite being held virtually over Zoom, I prepared myself as I would have done in person - ensuring to have my morning shower and a good breakfast before starting the day at 8:45AM! Being let into the room and meeting my peers for the first time instantly removed all nerves and replaced them with enthusiasm to be on this journey together.
After introducing ourselves and covering an overview for the upcoming week, our first two guest speakers were ready to open up the world of Production Management to us! Emily Freshwater from Box to Box spoke to us about working with SVODs, using the highly successful Drive to Survive as a case study. As a Formula One fan myself, it was great to hear all about the challenges and responsibilities of working on a show I regularly watch. Steven Hunt from Studio Lambert then spoke to us about the differences of studio shoots using The Circle as an example – giving an insight on how international formats are often filmed here to save on money.
After taking this all in and enjoying a spot of lunch, the second half of the day was even more jam-packed than the first! We heard about how crucial a good relationship with Editorial is, emphasising the fact that it is a team effort from Emma Scott and Emma Hindley at Brook Lapping. Tony Brown and Sehaj Rathore, also from Studio Lambert, then spoke to us more in detail about responsibilities of entry-level roles – doing background checks, organising hotels/transport, and assisting with anything and everything!
The last session of the day was delivered by Jane Zurakowski from the BBC who gave a detailed breakdown to BBC Studios, the differences of Production Management between types of unscripted programming and top tips to network within the industry. The biggest bit of advice from the day was repeated by every speaker: Never just say no and always offer a solution!
Finishing the day thirty-minutes after schedule due to our appetite to ask questions; it was time to log off, reflect on what we had learnt throughout the day over dinner, and prepare for another fantastically-filled day tomorrow!
With the anticipation of Day 1 over, Day 2 started with an overview of the documentary landscape and the various subgenres from Carol Nahra. We also covered industry lingo (of which there is plenty), phrases like ‘light constructs’ and ‘sizzle’. The morning included fun interactive tasks such as pitching to an industry executive, describing the factual output of different independent production companies and reviewing documentary clips together.
In the afternoon we met guest speakers from Blast! Films who generously shared their knowledge and experiences in Production Management. We discussed what the role would entail on a fixed rig programme such as The Night Bus or elsewhere on an archive-heavy documentary like Epidemic: When Britain Fought AIDs. They stressed how important it is to learn on the job and the ever-changing nature of the role when it comes to handling technology, law, insurance, risk assessments and contracts… Your role as a Production Manager isn’t to know everything but rather to know where to look, call upon resources and check if everything is still relevant!
We then spoke to Nutopia and heard about working on longer-term specialist factual documentaries stretching over years. Speaking to everyone today reinforced what we started to learn on Monday, and it was encouraging to hear more different production companies’ enthusiasm for the scheme.
Today’s session was about pre-production and what is required in the initial stages of starting a new shoot. Our morning session was hosted by the amazing Tina Jaffray and we dived straight into the budgeting – Where, as we have found out, is the place any production should start.
We spent the first part of the morning talking about what should be considered when creating an initial budget and had some great exercises to do. This was important as it got our brains ticking and allowed us to get an initial idea of what will be expected of us when we start our internship. Using some resources provided by Tina, we learned about kit cost and crew rates which will be a great place to start when budgeting. We also learned what the responsibilities would be as a production co-ordinator should we be placed in that role.
Shortly after that we looked at scheduling and got into another exercise that really got us thinking about how we would arrange a one-day shoot with some time sensitive factors. This was really enjoyable as it allowed us to stretch those problem-solving muscles that we are all so proud about!
After lunch, we were treated to a guest lecture from Amy Panesar of Love Productions. Amy is a vault of knowledge and provided lots of insider knowledge for us. Amy’s extensive work on The Great British Bake Off provided us with a good first-hand look of what we can all aspire to be – It was great to have her along on our journey.
Our last exercises for the day consisted of us looking at call sheets and travel information. Sharing information is always key (with paying attention to GDPR of course). I have had lots of experience with call sheets and travel info in the past - both receiving and supplying, but this was a really refreshing way to look at these processes. I am glad there are likeminded people in my group who like to be planning logistics.
The first part of the week has been very informative, and I am looking forward to what the rest of the week has in store.
Wednesday. It’s Day 3 of the inaugural Grierson DocLab in Focus: Production Manager training course. I can hear Big Brother’s narrator in my head! Tina Jaffray, our trainer for the next three days, covered essential ground. I took A LOT of notes. The morning focused on managing the budget as a PM and Prod Coord responsibilities. Whilst the afternoon covered scheduling, Albert - sustainability in production, Movement Order/Travel Document, Health & Safety and risk assessments. Really not as dry as my list might sound! The role of the PM is creative.
Tina’s real-life production anecdotes, alongside exercises helped to put Zoom slides into context. Insights and tips imparted from Tina could easily take months to acquire yet we received a solid foundation to build upon in one day! I felt quietly reassured that I’m on the right track and ready for on-the-job training. Very encouraging that industry professionals have taken time out of busy schedules to welcome & support us, the first cohort of this very cool new training programme. Today’s speaker was freelance TV Production Manager Amy Panesar (the same PM that was on the helpful panel I watched before applying), currently PM on The Great British Bake Off. I was drinking from a pink Star Baker mug (something to aim for)! Ooops. Kept forgetting others can see me when self-view turned off. Is this what it feels like to be on a reality show?! Somehow I escaped Zoom meetings during lockdown! It's been intense staring at my screen all day. Tina's regular breaks kept my concentration from dipping!
Everyone's story is different, so it's invaluable to hear from those working in the industry and their personal career progression. Being a PM is a marathon, not a sprint. Amy generously shared her experiences. Editorial and Production ultimately have the same goal - to make a great programme (doesn’t have to be us and them, I like that). PM’s are always learning and facing new challenges whether it’s a single episode or returning series (when a PM becomes complacent that’s when things can go wrong). Amy also provided an industry reality check, advising us to look after ourselves. No-one can ‘pour from an empty cup’. Good working practices and inclusivity starts with individuals. Only 3 days to go until the final day and the reality is we're all winners. The documentary industry has invested in us. We'll each get a paid Netflix documentary gig to put training into practice. Am I dreaming?! I can still hear Big Brother narration in my head.
After three jam-packed days of interesting guest speakers and invaluable content, it was hard to believe that there was much left for us to learn. Thursday however, proved me completely wrong and turned out to be the most intense day of all! We started off with a quick exercise on health and safety in different locations (who knew there were SO many risks to filming at a train station?), before hearing from the inspirational Clare Voyce who divulged all of the trials and tribulations of filming abroad, and just what goes into creating shows like SAS: Who Dares Wins? It was great to hear first-hand from someone who has been so close to the action and to learn of all of the planning, research and communication that is necessary to ensure the smooth running of a production, specifically that it is imperative to always have a Plan B and Plan C, because chances are, we’re going to need them!
In the afternoon we heard from Ben Green, an expert in all things copyright and clearance, who successfully dispelled the myth that learning about rights and permissions was boring. Ben presented us with a plethora of engaging and thought-provoking examples, like the moral rights that are prescribed to graffiti, the legal ramifications of that monkey selfie, the complications behind the use of ‘Happy Birthday’ in production, and the vast amount of work needed to put together even just a 30 second series of clips of Cilla Black. It was soon apparent that there was so much more to it all than we first thought, and that there is a whole lot more for us to learn.
Last, but by no means least, we heard from Melissa Hameed, a guru in the fixed-rig camera sphere, who gave a really comprehensive insight to the behind the scenes of 24 Hours in A&E, and disclosed probably the most useful tip of the week, that a ‘well fed crew is a happy crew’. (Note to self: always have a steady stream of snacks readily available). Melissa provided a really useful overview of the multifaceted nature of Production Management and all of its nuances, highlighting the importance of practicality and the pastoral responsibilities involved, and confirming that it is more than just budgeting and spreadsheets! Whilst all three speakers were so different, and brought with them a wealth of vast knowledge and experience, all three possessed the same quality; enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for the industry itself, their own roles and careers, and for whatever it is that we all have ahead of us. All in all, a pretty good day!
After three full days of zoom lectures on the Grierson Trust Production Management course, I was expecting to be pretty zoomed out by day four. I was in some ways, as screen fatigue had taken hold at this halfway point of the week, however the personal care shown by the trust members and the invaluable information being chucked our way meant we maintained focused and engaged.
Clare Voyce, Managing Director of Minnow films, immediately drew us in with her insights on filming abroad. From a production point of view, there are many complexities when filming abroad and a minefield of things to be aware of. It became clear that research is key to make an overseas production work well and clearly communicating the knowledge you gather to your crew. Clare pointed us towards vital websites and resources to get us on the right path. Her descriptions of creating SAS: who dares wins was overwhelming to say the least, but it was great to hear the practical elements of what is considered for such an extreme production.
We then split off into groups and were tasked with researching different countries for a production. Myself and Chris were given Israel and quickly discovered the level of detail a production manager needs to be aware of when filming in such high-risk countries. Vaccinations, visas, filming permissions, carnets, insurance, knowledge of the culture and hiring a fixer on the ground are all vital research to begin from before then tackling the more detailed aspects of the trip. Contributor care is also something Clare discussed which I was particularly interested in. It was very reassuring to know that not only does the film industry care about the moral and ethical issues of making the work, but also that working in Production, this area comes under our remit.
Tina then took us through dealing with contributors in more detail and how different access agreements work. Tina’s detailed approach to discussing various topics over the week have been invaluable. We discussed GDPR and how to great release forms which will be such an important part of documentary making. Her advice and practical advice has been so useful in building a better idea of what is expected of us in production.
We were then introduced to Ben Green, copyright and permissions guru. This was a very engaging presentation considering the reputation that this part of production usually has. Ben has such a vast amount of knowledge on all things copyright and really opened our eyes to how detailed you need to be when making films.
We finished the day with Melissa Hameed, Head of Production at The Garden. Melissa was very passionate about what she does and her energy prevented any possible zoom-fatigue among us trainees. We discussed fixed rigs, in particular referencing her work on 24 hours in A+E. This was such a great case study because of the fast-paced production process dealing with sensitive/ personal moments in people’s lives. Melissa spoke about the pastoral aspect of being a production coordinator and how common sense and kindness are the two key traits you need to work well in this type of role.
All in all, Thursday was an inspiring day and I really can’t believe we managed to pack in as much as we did. I felt raring to go for Friday and already started to feel sad that the week was coming to a close! I really can’t thank the Grierson Trust enough for this course. The incredible range of speakers and vast amounts of information we were given has been more than I could ever have expected from 6 days.
Well today started off with a little fear and trepidation as our trainer Tina kicked the day off with a real-life exercise in our break-out rooms. Copyrights. ‘How to clear copyrights for any given program’. My first instinct was ‘I have no idea’. This is one of the only topics that was completely new to me, so I wasn’t sure how much I had absorbed from yesterday’s session.
Alas! Tina was right. We all know a lot more than we think we do. Apart from the technicalities, a large part of production management is common sense, drawing on real life knowledge and problem solving.
After our much-appreciated screen break, we came back to meet two fabulous women from Clear Cut Pictures who promised to demystify the post-production process. Well, I am pleased to confirm that Rowan Bray and Lucy Allen did just that. The session was incredible. It was like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together. I came away with a great understanding of how my role as a production manager fits in with that of a post-production house and its processes. An added bonus being that everyone works as a team and genuinely do their best to make sure that all targets are met, and the best possible product is produced. My fellow trainees asked great questions as they had done throughout the week with Rowan and Lucy taking the time to answer each and every one of them in great detail.
George Randerson, Post Coordinator at Netflix joined us after lunch, taking us through the relationship we would have with his team at Netflix as production managers if we were to be producing a documentary for them, from a post-production view of course. This session was particularly useful because the deliverables and other requirements are slightly different for Netflix. Again, everybody seems to be in this together, with the aim being to produce a top-notch documentary that we can all be proud of. We were reassured that the postproduction team at Netflix would be with us from the beginning of our relationship with them until the end, which was a great comfort to hear, believe me!
We finished the day off with a round-up of the paperwork needed to complete post-production with Tina. An informative session in true ‘Tina’ fashion.
I had totally forgotten that Tina was with us for just three days so her farewell came as a shock. I was gutted. I would love Tina to be a fairy on my shoulder telling me “you know more than you think” during my periods of doubt. She was awesome.
The penultimate day was complete. Half a day to go, then we will have to flee the nest.
To summarise Saturday in one word, I would honestly say it was quite emotional. We had such an intense, fun-packed week full of learning and meeting inspiring people. I think we all felt sad the training was coming to an end and were a bit unsure how to start our mornings without opening our laptops and hopping onto Zoom with our coffee’s!
To tie the week to a close we went over what makes a good CV and covering letter. It’s always useful getting this kind of advice, as I’m sure everyone has found at some point that people often have different ideas and tips on what is best! So to get an array of opinions is always super useful and it gave me really effective ways of improving my CV.
We then got to speak to Danielle Watkeys from North One TV, a Production Coordinator who trained with Channel 4. It was great hearing from someone who is also fairly new to the industry and has completed a training scheme similar to ours. Danielle gave us lots of handy tips and tricks and was very honest about her experience and what we should expect. I think it was a perfect way to prepare us for when we start working and it gave us some inspiration of where we could be in the next couple of years.
The session was only a half day, as it was a Saturday after all! So we finished the day by talking to Audrey Duffy and Alison Small from Netflix, which was pretty cool! I’d say that’s a big part of what this week was, being able to learn and ask questions about topics you’ve always been curious about or hearing from people and production companies you’ve always admired. It’s all just quite surreal.
Saying goodbye for the last time (of the training week anyway) was weird. We all said how we thought the week went and said a BIG thank you to Yen, Hannah and Jane for this amazing experience and opportunity they provided us with. I don’t think anyone wanted to leave the call, but a group chat was made straight after and meeting up in a beer garden was definitely mentioned! We’re all very excited for our role that follows and hopefully being able to meet up in person very soon!
Published: 28 April 2021