4creative’s senior producer Fiona Wright on finding your place in the working world and keeping an eye on the bigger picture
With a degree in fine art and a wealth of experience in the music industry, Fiona Wright has been able to apply an invaluably broad skill set to her role as a senior producer at 4creative. Beginning her journey in Soho as a runner, she made endless cappuccinos at a post-production house before working as a PA, working her way up the production ladder ahead of joining the ranks at a music label as a creative manager. Over the course of a career path she describes as being “far from straight”, she has collaborated with many independent production companies, as well as the BBC, Sky Creative, RKCR/Y&R and 4creative, where she went full-time in September of last year. In a job that ranges from precise budgeting to sourcing just the right talent, her varied background has truly come into its own. Here Fiona discusses finding your place in the working world, focusing on the bigger picture and building a good set of valuable contacts.
Senior Producer, 4creative (September 2016–present)
Freelance Senior Producer, 4creative
Off-Air Production Lead, Sky Creative
Freelance Producer, BBC Creative
Production Lead, BBC
BA Fine Art, Glasgow School of Art (1989-1993)
Postgraduate Degree in Electronic Imaging, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (1997–1998)
How would you describe what you do?
As a senior producer I’m involved in the creative development of a campaign through to completion. Since 4creative is a creative agency and a production company I work on both sides of the fence – for the agency and on shoot production. My role is to estimate budget, logistics, manage a production team, find the best people for the job at hand – such as director of photography, production designer, post house, animator, photographer – and to practically and financially work out the best way of making the idea in time, to budget and to the expectations of the creatives, director and the channel.
What does a typical working day look like?
Each day varies depending on the projects at hand, from being more office-bound whilst projects are in development or completed, to pre-production on shoots where there will be location recce-ing, meetings with key crew, shooting in studios or on location, to being in post-production houses to deliver the campaign.
How did you land your current job?
I had worked at 4creative for a long time as a freelancer. I came into the department as a freelance production manager, initially though a freelance colleague I had worked with elsewhere. Production work very often comes as word-of-mouth recommendations, especially in freelance roles. I worked off and on over a period of 10 years, moving from work as a production manager to a producer. I also worked in many other production companies so I had gained experience in many places during that period.
When a staff producer left last summer it was the right time for me to apply for a staff role. I always enjoy the nature of the work at 4creative, as it encompasses on and off air and I enjoy working for a national broadcaster with a relevant and special place in society. You always have to consider the bigger picture, and being a part of the channel collectively.
“You have to find your place and your own balance, which can be hard – it can have as much to do with luck and chance as perseverance or hard work.”
I may have had an edge over other candidates as I had worked in the department for a while, but I also had experience of many different types of jobs – not just TV promos, but also off-air and photographic, experience. This can be seen as a pretty separate discipline and knowledge in the industry, and there aren’t many producers who have experience of both.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
As a producer, almost all of my work involves a computer, phone and email, inside and outside the office. The majority of work is in the office but again, dependent on the project, I may work from a studio when shooting or on location, or in a post house [for post-production work]. 4creative is a busy but relaxed environment, with a good approach to collaboration, teamwork and a general like-mindedness.
How collaborative is your role?
It’s a very collaborative role. Internally at 4creative I work with executive producers creatives, directors, account managers, project managers, production assistants, designers and within the channel, I work with the marketing team and media planners. This varies depending on the scale of a project. On shoots I’ll engage a production team who will work with me at 4creative, and externally I work with post-production companies, animators and design agencies. As a senior producer however you also need to be autonomous, be self-motivated and get on with stuff.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
For me, the most enjoyable part is being involved at the ideas phase, and working out how to make the idea the best it can be, as well as working with the wide range of people a project can include, both internally and externally. The least enjoyable part is processing invoices and spreadsheets of deliverables!
“I think most people would see fine art as having no bearing on the role of producer, but you’re still helping create a bigger visual picture.”
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
That would be the Humans season 2 campaign. After producing the very successful Humans season 1 campaign the year before, we had to match or better it. Second time around we had a far bigger team. Collectively we had creative directors, an on-air director, on-air producer (myself), off-air producer, art director, creatives, project manager and designers. It was a 360 campaign like the year before, covering on air, off air, DOOH [digital out of home] and various stunts.
What skills are essential to your job?
Being calm, patient, having an ability and enthusiasm for getting on with people across the board, being able to see the bigger picture and having a good knowledge of Excel!
Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance?
This is a busy, reactive role; there are fast turnarounds, tight deadlines, high expectations, high-profile projects and you have to maintain channel awareness on a national level. This can make for a stressful workload, but with the right experience and with foresight, good production, creative and marketing teams it can be plain sailing – with just a few storms to manage! 4Creative and Channel 4 has a more balanced approach to work, but I look back on many hours working well into ‘after hours’ at production companies, with hardcore turnaround times and tough budgets with huge, often unrealistic, expectations for tough clients; so this is also a variable role. You have to try to find your place and your own balance, which can be hard – it can have as much to do with luck and chance as perseverance or hard work.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I use a desktop PC in the office – unfortunately! Channel 4’s internal systems, my own Mac laptop, an iphone and an ipad. Production work is done primarily on Office – Word and Excel, and I always have a notebook and pen (preferably Muji or paperback Moleskine).
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A private investigator!
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I studied Fine Art: Printmaking and Photography. I think most people would see fine art as having no bearing whatsoever to the role of producer, and I would very often agree, however you’re still helping create a bigger visual picture. Having a visual background as a producer, especially somewhere like 4creative to in the music industry, helps in understanding the creatives’ and directors’ visions, sourcing the right creative people for the project and the ability to see beyond budget.
What were your first jobs?
My path to my current job role is far from being a straight one. Throughout art school in Glasgow I worked at the Glasgow Film Theatre, almost like a secondary degree in film, which planted the seeds I guess. A few years after art school I felt I needed grounding in practical, transferrable, industry-related skills – hence the postgraduate course. So I started in this industry late. An internship would never have been an option though.
After my postgraduate course it felt like London was the right place to be. I started as a runner in a Soho post house as I needed to get a foot in the door, on a salary, to try to survive in London. So I made endless cappuccinos, collected many lunches, dispatched tapes and answered phones! I then gained some running experience on shoots and eventually got a PA job in a music video company. It was a very small company with a very prolific pop promo director who shot all the time, so I gained a lot of experience very quickly, shooting in the UK and abroad.
“Do your research, be curious, ask questions, and try and do what feels right for you at the time.”
Was there anything in particular that helped you the most at the start of your career?
I moved to London from Glasgow to start my career path alongside friends from my postgraduate course. We all started as runners and, to be honest, helped each other out with jobs we heard about. I wouldn’t say one person in particular helped – it was many people offering advice and contacts.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Working your way up from the bottom of the ladder you learn the most basic practical things, such as always thinking on your feet about the bigger picture. You also soon learn that you need to develop a relatively thick skin to be a producer in this industry! The skill set shifts as technology progresses, and this has been significant over the last 15 years, especially with the shift from film to digital, as well as increasing personal experience in other media, such as off air and digital.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
The first Humans campaign was a big challenge, due to the 360 nature of it. This included taking it on air, to print, DOOH, branding work and taking over a shopfront in a prime London location – in addition to the overall integration with the digital team and their collaboration with Microsoft. We were a relatively small team who fortunately worked really well together, but time and scale were a challenge. However, it became the most successful campaign in 4creative’s history, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it; plus it won a BAFTA for digital creativity!
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I think my biggest misconception was how long it takes to move up each step [in your career], and that it is dependent on luck in so many ways. You cannot always be in the right place at the right time, that can be very rare…
“Try to make independent creative projects alongside the work – keep that part of you active so you are not always aiding others before yourself.”
What would you like to do next?
It would be nice to get involved in creative independent projects across art, design or film outside of the commercial and TV arena.
Could you do this job forever?
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
The next step from senior producer would be to become an executive producer. As a senior producer, it would be to work on bigger projects, and possibly more 360 campaigns.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a producer?
I feel the industry is a lot more fluid now, and hopefully there are more options. I always wanted to find a company that embraced various disciplines and media, but it just didn’t seem to exist before. I would say to try and start in the right area of production, whether that is advertising, features, drama, content. Often, as you progress, it is hard to shift areas and you really need to avoid going backwards. It’s best to get that experience early on. I’d say, do your research, be curious, ask questions, and try and do what feels right for you at the time. It is a lot to juggle work with paying your rent! If you’re creative and working in production, try to make independent creative projects alongside the work if possible – keep that part of you active so you are not always aiding others before yourself.
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on 4creative.
Photography by Kieran Pharaoh
Interview by Indi Davies