Grad Series: Film Production Assistant

Screenshot from Netflix.

‘Half of who I am is built by real people I know, and the other half is built by movie characters’.

This week I hung out with Natalie, a girl I met through one of my best friends and who likes to call me Holly (yet decided to name her sausage dog Eve). Natalie sailed her way through Storm Frank to spend NYE with us, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity to grill her about her ridiculously cool job. 

Natalie’s educational backstory is simply that at school she discovered she was really good at business, and since the Producer is essentially the business brain of a film, the career seemed perfect. But why movies? Why not a kickass businesswoman dominating the boardroom? One answer: ‘life is like a box of chocolates’.

Photo of Natalie Coleman.

Name. Natalie Coleman

Studied. Business and Marketing at The University of Edinburgh

Occupation. Production Assistant

Location. All over

What inspired you to get into this line of work?

I branched out from watching movies for entertainment and started watching coming of age stories and loved how personal they could be. I started to want to be a part of film making, and Forrest Gump was the turning point from films just being a pastime to being something really special. You can go on a big long journey without leaving your room, and in doing so you can learn a lot about yourself. I knew I couldn’t act, write or direct; but I remember googling what a Producer did and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

How do you learn a lot about yourself?

From watching movies and seeing how characters deal with situations. Half of who I am is built by real people I know, and the other half is movie characters. You meet more people through films than you do in real life. You can spend an hour, or an hour and a half with them; you do more with them than you would do in the real world.

What character do you find yourself relating to the most?

There isn’t just one; I’d say it’s more an amalgamation of characters. There’s a handful of characters that have shaped me. Lester Bangs from Almost Famous (2000) is a character who realises that, “the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with one another when you’re uncool” – it means conversations aren’t 100% real because you always worry about what people think about you. So you should always try to find people who don’t judge so that you can have a heart to heart with them. Once I learned this through this character, I stopped hanging out with the people I realised I didn’t really like. I started pursuing things I really wanted to do and in doing so I found people I could have more meaningful conversations with. So in that way, Lester Bangs is the character who has probably shaped me the most.

Is there one Producer in particular that has inspired you?

The greatest producer is probably Kathleen Kennedy because she produced a lot of the Spielberg movies, so she shaped many people’s childhoods. But I would more like to be like Brian Grazer. He created his own production company called Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard, but he also produces his own movies which are more like character studies. They range from all different genres and aren’t like big action movies (well some of them are) but most are like character pieces. If I could have the success I wanted it wouldn’t be to make big blockbuster movies; I would want to do small indie movies about people.

How did you get into production?

I made shorts with people at university as part of a society to begin with. The Isle of Mann (where Natalie lives) have got a lot of tax breaks, so we don’t have as many films or film crews come over as they should. My first paying gig was this summer, and a bit last summer, and because there aren’t many crews it’s a bit easier to get onto a film.

What’s the most challenging part of the role?

It depends, it’s really varied. You’re basically helping anyone that needs anything. The challenging parts could be tracking something down; sometimes it’s the long hours; sometimes it’s dealing with people who feel more entitled. I’ve never been someone who treats someone differently because of who they think they are, I’m not into ass-kissing. But really I don’t see the job as challenging because I love it – and when you like something it kind of raises the bar in what’s tricky.

Photo of Natalie and friends.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into production? Do you have to go to university?

You definitely don’t have to go to university, it’s all experience based. My degree was a complete waste of time really, it’s all about experience and credits. You can keep track of your credits on IMDb or on your CV (a credit is a completed production). Your CV is basically your skills and your credits. It’s really a learning on the job type of career, although you could do Film Studies, but the practical stuff is the most important and you learn by doing.

My advice would be to stick your neck out and email as many people as you can. Subscribe to things like Deadline which is a website which gives you new movie updates; IMDb Pro where you can check out movies coming up and receive updates by email. Network! Keep track of all the line producers you work with because they will be the ones that hire for the next movie. Email and ask them to keep you in mind. It’s difficult for me because I’m shy. You just need to remember they started off at the bottom one time so no-one really minds about being emailed like that. You can be applying every single day for jobs for months before you get anything, so stick at it.

Is it a creative job?

Yes, it’s varied because you can work in any kind of area. This summer I worked in accounting, but you can work with hair and makeup, in the art department, or closely with the Director or Producers. When you’re assistant, you’re helping everybody. It’s a mixed bag and no two days are the same. It’s the best thing really.

What did it feel like to see your name on the credits for the first time?

It was pretty incredible. I thought back to when I was deciding I wanted to be a Producer at 13 and thinking it was never going to happen because it’s one of those jobs that you wonder how anyone can really do it. Even though I was only Production Assistant on a small feature, the time and effort and the long shot of it all made it really satisfying to see my name on the credits and to think I was actually getting somewhere. It’s great to see it cemented there, especially when people have told you in the past that you’re not going to get a job.

Was there anything unexpected about the role?

Not really because I did a lot of research and I listened to podcasts all the time that specifically had filmmakers on them. It was good to learn about how hard they struggled and then to see how much of a big shot they became. It does help to keep your mind focussed; but listening to all those kind of told me all the weird and wonderful things to expect. But you do sometimes get thrown curveballs where they might send you on a weird errand to find a specific kind of shoe.

How many famous people have you met?

I’ve met a few people, like Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley who were on a film I worked on in 2014. This year there was Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh and Simon Farnaby and a few others.

Who would you love to work with?

I don’t care much about actors, but I would kill to work with the Coen Brothers or Tarantino. I’m more of a Director person, actors don’t really bother me.

Natalie

Do you think you would be into working in the film industry?  Leave any questions or your own advice in a comment!

 

 

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