Have you ever wondered what the breakdown of an AD’s day looks like? What’s the most appropriate way to find a Producer for a project? When it comes to planning shots with a DOP, what’s best practice? This is the first in a series of interviews where filmmaker Anniina Kankaansivu talks with women from different areas of the industry about their careers and their respective roles.
“I don’t think that just because you’re a PA you have to sit quietly in the corner”
Ruth Coady is a producer known for Siege of Jadotville, Darklands and My Salinger Year.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started in DIT doing film and broadcasting and worked as a PA and runner for a number of years in Parallel Films. I did a couple of movies as a producer’s assistant and fell in love with the whole process and the magic of that world, the creativity and the collaboration. Then an opportunity came up to move to Australia where I worked as a production coordinator and a production manager in commercials.
I was lucky to get onto a few bigger gigs like The Pacific which took me on a brilliant journey for a couple of years. It was a huge, serious production shooting in a different style from the independent films that I’d been working with prior to that. I did that for five years and decided I didn’t want to stay in Australia mainly for personal reasons but also because, much like Ireland, I knew it was a small indigenous industry with some visiting productions from America. I felt like I wanted to experience a more international viewpoint of the industry, so I came back to Ireland for about a year and worked on a couple of movies before moving to London where I was for about 11 years.
The move to London was sort of the beginning of my producing career. When I worked in production, I realised that what I really wanted to do was to be part of the inception and the delivery of the whole process. Reopening the Parallel Films London office was a brilliant opportunity to be at the forefront of financing film and television.
One of the great things about Ireland is that you can very easily make film and television. There are some brilliant grants and government funding available but when you get into the big movies, the sales agent conversations and that broader world outside of an indigenous industry, it’s great to have some experience in physically being where a lot of that business takes place. Now it’s not to say it’s necessary at all. I also wanted to live in a bigger city and then I fell in love with London and I was very lucky in that everything I produced I got to bring back to Ireland in some shape or form – whether it was that I shot something here or did the post here, which meant that I got to be in Ireland a lot of the time.
You have worked across different roles from Executive to Associate Producer and Producer. Could you explain the differences between the various roles?
I think the strange thing about our industry is that there isn’t one forged route that anyone has to follow. I had a reasonably traditional beginning in that I started stirring cups of tea and working as a runner, then a PA and a producer’s assistant, and then I became an associate producer, which essentially was just beginning to broaden your responsibilities without actually producing yet.
Once you get to producing film, if it’s an independent film, as a producer you’re the person who is there at the beginning drawing it together, bringing the finance together and more than likely bringing some of the top name cast. You’re attaching the director and the writer if one is required and if a work needs to be optioned. You’re also responsible for securing production finance and, ultimately, you’re responsible for delivering the production to your financiers.
Now in independent production, which is what I primarily have worked in, you’re very likely to have a co-producing partner which is great because you have someone you can collaborate with.
If you end up crossing over to television – which used to be something that people didn’t do and obviously now that line is very blurred thankfully – the role of the producer becomes more like that of an executive producer. The executive producer oversees the scripts being written as well as the financing and all of the production and then you would have an on the ground producer on the production itself.
When I started out Irish producers were making both film and television because you had to in order to make a living, but elsewhere it wasn’t that common. You were either a film producer or you were a television producer. At that point television didn’t exist to the same extent that it does now. The series structure was different and the platforms available were different and much more limited. It was a very different kind of business to film at the time. Now those lines are becoming more and more blurred and there are fewer people working only in television or only in film so that to a certain extent explains why I do both.
How do you go about finding a co-producer?
There isn’t one particular route, but when you’re setting something up, you’re trying to find a territory that you can collaborate with and someone who you can work with very closely. In a way, that relationship is a bit like a short-term marriage and you both have to have huge trust in each other and get on and ultimately have the same goal. So, you’re looking for the right person in the right territory.
The right territory is a balance between creatively being the right territory that works for the project and for the director. Particularly for independent films, you’re also looking for a territory that can bring finance through tax credits, local funding or through equity plays or whatever it might be.
The finding of an actual partner can come in a lot of different ways. It can be almost like a dating process where you get introduced to three or four producers from a territory and you speak to them and see how you get on – or it could be someone who you know from being at the festivals or someone who knows someone.
It’s a bit like finding any business partner, but I will say that when you go to festivals, it’s good to go and meet other producers even if you don’t have a project at the time that you want to discuss. Just to meet them and hear about their experiences, what they’re interested in doing and what they’re open to or what they’re not open to. In a few years’ time you may well have a project you can collaborate on.
You produced Siege of Jadotville for Netflix. What it was like working with the streaming giant?
I worked with Netflix at a time when it was very early days for them as a film financier and television commissioner. I was a co-producer on Siege of Jadotville. Alan Moloney was the producer and we were in Berlin pinning together the final pieces of a very traditional patchwork quilt independent structure, and Netflix were beginning to sniff around looking for interesting projects and interesting filmmakers.
They were in particular looking for films that could speak to a number of their territories and our film was this extraordinary true story. It had an exciting first-time director, a great cast with Jamie Dornan already attached at the time and it spoke to the Irish diaspora all over the world. It spoke to France, it spoke to Belgium and to a lot of other territories. It can be challenging to find a film with the potential to cross over in that way, so they boarded very quickly, and they were awesome.
They were just the most supportive, the most proactive, the most encouraging gang of people to work with. It’s obviously a different system to independent film but they were brilliant. They trust their filmmakers and they trust their producers. They are as hands on as they need to be and as hands off as they can to be to allow the film to evolve and they were with us every step of the way and I would work with them again in a heartbeat.
What speaks to you in a project?
While the kinds of projects I might have wrapped my arm around ten years ago may have changed, I think the fundamental driver hasn’t changed, which is to evoke powerful emotion. That’s how I got into this business in the first place. I used to sit and watch films and found it to be one of the most emotionally involved, powerful experiences and I loved the potential with the stories.
I think as I’ve become more aware politically, I have taken on a greater responsibility in any project that I do to be as active as I can as the producer in that diversity conversation that we all have to be proactive in.
Up to now that conversation has been a lot about women and obviously I’m a woman working with a lot of female directors and writers. I’m driven by female stories and connect with them greatly and I’d like to do more of them, but I think that for me that diversity question has to continue to be pushed and addressed and should be about diversity at large as well as the female conversation.
When I take on projects now, I’m looking at it from that place of what will this project do that’s going to be different to something that’s come before and not to try to rework the wheel but to look at characters and stories and make sure that they’re unique.
What kind of skills or qualities do you look for when you’re hiring assistants?
At that level I’m looking for someone who really leans into the process. Someone who is proactive and takes ownership of that role because it’s not something that you spend a very long time in. It’s an opportunity to show that you have passion and drive, that you can think on your feet and think outside the box – all of those sort of skills that you can hone, but that I enjoy seeing on display early on.
I don’t think that just because you’re a PA you have to sit quietly in the corner. I think you can be part of the room and part of the collaboration. It’s great when people start to get their hands dirty. I think loyalty is super important. You have to show up for the project and the team. I look for people who are hardworking because we all work very hard so if someone on the team isn’t that’s challenging. Ultimately, I look for someone who wants to have fun and enjoy it, because it can be very serious, and there needs to be a bit of fun, so anyone who can bring that to the room is very welcome.
Any advice for people starting out?
You have to be willing to put yourself out there – call people, call them again, reach out. The great thing about our industry is that you make one good impression and doors open, so all anyone needs is one little crack in the door and then kick that door down and always seize the opportunity. I think Ireland as a production community is a very friendly, open place and so is the UK. I think the challenge is just getting those connections and being involved with a couple of key people.
Finally, how do you see the industry evolving in Ireland?
The key piece for Ireland is going to be the studios because what Ireland has right now is a really, really talented crew base who are brilliant and who are at the same level as any of the best in the world. That crew base is only getting bigger and more experienced. Internationally, people want to come and work here. Ireland is English-speaking, very easy to get to from America, London or mainland Europe and we have a very solid tax credit, so it’s a very attractive place to come to and people like working here.
The challenge right now is that we don’t have the space for those big productions that need stages, but that’s being addressed and I think the sooner those stages get built, the more we can unlock in terms of Ireland being a really strong industry with continuity.
One of the challenges in Ireland is that to a certain extent we lack continuity for crew. In the UK, there’s an overflow of productions. I’m being called all the time as are all the other producers by international productions looking for stages, and quite often we have to say no, so they end up going somewhere else. We have so much going for us here and the last piece to unlock that potential is more stages to accommodate those big productions.
About Anniina Kankaansivu
Anniina Kankaansivu has an MA in Broadcast Production from the National Film School and has worked across various roles from researcher and script editor to production coordinator. She is passionate about producing high end drama for film and television and is currently developing a feature film directed by Mirko Mastropasqua. Before changing careers, Anniina worked in sales looking after international client accounts. Originally from Finland, she lived in France for nearly a decade and speaks fluent French and Finnish.