Lewis O’Brien, assistant producer at 18 Feet & Rising, on being thrown in at the deep end
The road to a fulfilling creative career can be one of unexpected twists and turns. For former music student Lewis O’Brien, his journey took a change of direction in 2016, when he quit his job in fashion retail to pursue work in advertising. Persuaded by an ex-colleague, he took a chance on a placement at agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty before landing the job of assistant producer at London-based advertising agency 18 Feet & Rising. The move has already seen him work on projects for the likes of House of Fraser and Virgin Media, in an environment where every day poses new challenges.
Assistant Producer, 18 Feet & Rising (August 2016–present)
Assistant Producer Internship, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (2016)
BA Music, Oxford Brookes University for one semester (2012)
How would you describe your job?
I assist in all aspects of a production, from budgeting to arranging a film a shoot.
What does an average working day look like?
My journey takes 40 minutes on the train, then 10 minutes’ walk to the office. Every day is different and unpredictable – there are so many aspects that can change in a second; all of my time is spent making sure all projects I’m working on are running as smoothly as possible. The majority of my work takes place at my desk on my emails, or pacing around the office on the phone. If I could just be shooting every day I would, but every aspect is so important, I take each day as it comes. I think you have to have that attitude in this industry. Stress levels can be all over the place: sometimes they’re non-existent, sometimes they’re through the roof. Production never sleeps, except on the weekends, sometimes.
How did you land your current job?
I was interning at BBH [Bartle Bogle Hegarty], in my first production job. My time ran out there, and luckily one of my colleagues at the time had a contact at 18 Feet & Rising. I put the call in, spoke to some people and now I’m here.
How collaborative is your role?
70 percent of the time I’m assisting my producer, and 30 percent of the time I’m working on my assigned projects. To see the project from start to finish, I talk to a lot of people in a day – internally and externally. I’ve never had more fun than I have working in advertising, you meet so many amazing people who all come from different backgrounds. That’s in the pub as well as on the job!
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
On my very first day at 18 Feet I was on the shoot for the House of Fraser Christmas advert. It was a great experience as I’d never been on a shoot that big. The post-production process was extensive and there were a lot of people that needed to get paid. That really set the bar for me; it’s the kind of shoot I want to be working on in the future.
What skills are essential to your job?
Time management, initiative, patience.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A MacBook Pro, my phone, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Indesign, Adobe Acrobat and Outlook.
“Sometimes I’m a stills producer, sometimes I’m the first assistant director – it’s great!”
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
In chronological order: an RAF pilot, a policeman and a rockstar, before wanting to get into the creative industry.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I only studied music for a semester and then I left. I’m still a musician and I play in a band, writing songs and playing shows – staying creative keeps the mind ticking.
What were your first jobs?
My first-ever job was as a stockroom boy at Ted Baker, then I worked my way up through the management ranks at Reiss. I then quit that for a week’s work experience at £10 a day with BBH; I applied for the internship after falling in love with the work and the culture, and managed to get it!
Was there anyone or anything that helped you at the start of your career?
David White, an account manager at BBH and an ex-colleague from Reiss. He persuaded me to come in for the work experience – little did he know that I’d end up quitting my job completely to pursue advertising.
Was there an early project that helped your development?
The first project I worked on as an intern at BBH was the Usain Bolt film for Virgin Media. It was a colossal job that really opened my eyes to world of advertising.
“I’ve been thrown in at the deepest end in my short time in the industry, so I’ve had no choice but to learn as I do things.”
What skills have you learnt along the way?
I’m still learning. I’ve been thrown in at the deepest end in my short time in the industry, so I’ve had no choice but to learn as I do things. I also think that is the best way – it's an unpredictable industry, especially if you strive for bigger things in your work.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve made a few minor mistakes, but none that have changed the course of a project or my career but it’s early doors!
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Since I didn’t study anything to do with the business, I came into this industry blind. My role isn’t so specific, as there are so many forms that advertising takes now. Sometimes I’m a stills producer, sometimes I’m the first assistant director – it’s great!
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
To keep learning the ways of production, maybe moving into the production-company side to see how both work alongside each other. Essentially to learn the industry.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become an assistant producer?
Persevere, learn and grow.
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on 18 Feet & Rising.
Photography by Jake Green
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Mention BBH London
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Interview by Indi Davies