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WHAT DOES A POST-PRODUCTION PRODUCER DO?

June 2021 | Georgie McGahey

As we focus on post-production this month, Mal Woolford talks us through the role of the post-production producer.

Post-production is varied and multifaceted. Just the same as production, it needs a host of creative and organisational elements to come together and present the finished article. Within many post-houses you will find the editing team, sound design, vfx and bookings, which is now more commonly referred to as post producing.

If you are someone with a keen logistical mind, post producing might be the avenue you choose to pursue when you have spent time as a runner or receptionist. As a post producer you will be engaging with every element of the post production process until you hand over the deliverables on time and on budget.

Mal Woolford has worked in post-production for almost 20 years. Starting out at the BBC, Mal has worked in short form and long form content and can be found currently residing as Senior producer at Platform post-production.

MFJF: What was your first job in the industry?

MW: My way into the industry was through IT. I'd worked on a helpdesk outside the industry and then I realised that every industry has IT, so therefore it would be a good way to get in, to move across.

MFJF: What position did you move into from IT?

MW: I became a bookings co-ordinator. I got to the point where I'd learned enough about post-production that I knew the stages of post- work and why. I was working on music and arts documentaries and so I learned it from there.

MFJF: Did you start as a runner?

MW: I didn’t start as a runner. At the BBC at the time there wasn't a culture of runners in-house. So, I haven't had that baptism of fire.

MFJF:Can you tell us about the role of the post-production producer ?

MW: As a whole, post-production is everything that happens after the camera. If you like, the post-producer has to have a complete overview : you have to know what the very endpoint is and ripple that all the way back.

I agree with the production team how we’re going to tackle the project, I’ll get a schedule together and we'll agree on a budget. Then we’ll work together to make that schedule happen as best as possible. You have the overview, but also it can get very, very micro, down to when does a drive arrive, when does it go out again, when is a producer available to attend specific bookings. Arranging a shoot can be incredibly detailed. Post is as intricate.

MFJF:What is the route if you want to work in post producing?

MW You'd have a post coordinator as the junior position. That would probably be where you go from being a runner. There's a lot of ‘washing-up’ that has to happen when a booking finishes, so, finding out how long did it take, because we charge by time. There's also a route through MCR, the machine room so that you learn your technical aspects well. That's really important.

There's a huge range of working methods in post, working with film, files and live broadcast. If you're curious, there's plenty to find out about. What I like about the industry is that no matter what your skillset is, there's a place for you.

MFJF:It sounds as though you decided early on you wanted to work in post-production...

MW: I was always interested in how things work and so I had a natural affinity for absorbing that information and communicating with people who are on the production side. Being able to communicate complexity without having to talk about the complexity can be really useful. Most often members of production don’t necessarily want to know the detail but need to know that it is going the right way.

MFJF: What would you say the key skills are for doing the job that you do?

MW: I think the really classic skills, it's the knowledge of routes, the workflows, prioritising and always staying steps ahead. Inevitably, you have moments when people want something straight away. You've got to have something up your sleeve. Otherwise, you're having a bad day. (Laughter)

MFJF: Can you tell us about Platform Post?

MW: Platform is a small to medium post-production company and we're based in Soho, in D'Arblay Street. We actually do the whole post-production process in the one building. We have specialists in each area coming together, so we can do audio as well as visual effects, as well as regular editing and onlining and finishing. We’re uniquely placed to do both short-form and long-form work. 

Our short-form work covers commercials, promos, titles and idents. Long-form can involve any programme genre: our recent work includes documentaries, animation and a good amount of comedy, such as Tracey Ullman’s Show, Horrible Histories and Josh. Children's, prime time, post watershed, we cover the whole spectrum. It's not unusual to see breaks on a channel where we've worked on the sponsorship, the promo for the programme, the ad, the promo coming out and the sponsorship going back in, as well as the programme itself. Yes, it's good when we can see that we've pretty much covered everything.

MFJF:What's a typical day like for you when you come in, in the morning? Is there any typical day, or is every day different?

MW: You're constantly available. In the morning you're checking that everything went okay overnight, chasing up anything that needs to be chased up, then looking ahead to the bookings you've got during the day, making sure everybody has got what they need, getting people started, making sure clients have what they need.

As soon as you've done that you're planning ahead. You're looking at the end of today, tonight, and the next three days and the next week and the next two weeks and constantly shifting your focus to look for any points that need a bit of attention, a bit of love. (Laughter) Yes, and then you're looking back and making sure that the deal is working, you're not in an unplanned position.

What's particularly good about Platform is that we have a very good working shorthand with each other. Getting that level of communication and consistency is really important.

MFJF: What would you say would be the most challenging aspect of your job?

MW: I think it is keeping ahead. When it's busy and you're in a reactive mode that's really difficult for everyone. The buck stops with you for making sure that your work is spot on.

MFJF:Post-production coordinator, post- production producer, what type of person do you think it suits?

MW: I think you need to be someone who's outward facing. The ideal is ‘the swan’, paddling furiously but nobody knows. (Laughter)

MFJF:For new entrants coming into post-production, what type of environment are they coming into?

MW: Often you'll find a very good camaraderie between runners, which is great. Progression isn’t guaranteed though. 

Platform has a very good record of bringing people through and you can feel it. There’s a shared sense of purpose, when something needs to be done, it needs to be done immediately. When that's happening, when you can feel the engine running, it's great. 

MFJF: What do you think makes a great runner in a post-production environment, from your perspective?

MW: I think a degree of emotional intelligence and strong people skills; to be able to judge a room when you walk in: "Right, what's the energy in here? What's required? What can I do?” Be positive and confident.  It goes a long way.

MFJF:Would you have any advice for new entrants that want to become runners and progress their career in post?

MW: Have a plan. There's creative work happening in the rooms that you're servicing. Investigate the other roles around you to work out where you fit in. If somebody says to you, "Why are you interested in post?" You go, "Actually, I really love recording voices." Then the universe can fall into place and the path starts to be laid out there. If you like television in a vague way, nobody can really help you. It's that little bit of clarity. Be clear about why you’re working hard for low pay. You’re investing in yourself.  

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