Coronavirus: A Producer’s point of view Posted on


Written by Katie Colhoun, Producer at MullenLowe in London

There’s a lot of talk of “we were” or “I was” going around… Plans that have been scuppered due to Coronavirus and lockdown and our new ‘normal’. A time of “unprecedentedness” as most brands have told us.

I was going to graduate at The Mill on 16th April, glass in hand, people gathered together – a successful year of the APA Masterclass (a week-long intensive course on “How to be a production company producer 101”). Not a single pupil failed out of 112. The first time that’s ever happened.

Instead of our in-person graduation, we had a virtual graduation via Zoom. Another first for APA Masterclass grads. We were all gifted mortarboards – hand-delivered to our doors via Amazon.

I was going to write a piece on why – as an agency producer – it’s beneficial to get yourself onto the APA Masterclass. There are a plethora of reasons; from the more practical things like understanding budgets more comprehensively, networking with peers who’ll move up the ranks with you, an opportunity to learn and hear from departments you’re removed from, to the more important things – benefits like future proofing yourself, fostering compassion, and getting comfortable talking in front of a room full of people when the tutors roam ‘round with mics and questions. It was a genuinely fun week that I have blabbed on about to more people than I can count.

If my research is correct, it would have been another first – the first time that an agency producer has publicly declared how important the course is to turn yourself into a bit of a hybrid dream. But that’s not what this piece is about.

This piece is about how the APA Masterclass taught me more than just the basics of being a good producer (communication, anyone?). It’s a piece on how doing the masterclass also gave me the skills to let our production partners tackle productions more creatively and collaboratively during Covid-19.

Since doing the masterclass, I’ve learnt to be more understanding of the needs of our production partners while they work out new, safe, and creative ways of tackling briefs. The new complexities of shooting during lockdown need time, attention and a creative approach to achieve any sort of final product that has legs beyond lockdown.

Everyone at MullenLowe has been WFH since 11th March. And while it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing noteworthy in my personal life during lockdown, there have been a fair few professional wins. In that time, I’ve been on set with the Chief Medical Officer and the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the smallest possible crews to make some incredibly important public service announcement ads happen. From shooting the CMO at 7:30pm Monday to having a finished graded, mixed online in the Prime Minister’s inbox for review at 7:36am Tuesday, to creating a strategically sound, lovely campaign for Persil navigating from “Dirt is Good” to “Home is Good”, to now working on a piece for a Unilever client that will involve casting dancers being worry-free about a specific household chore.

We’re currently undergoing treatments from three directors who want to cast worldwide – something that has all of a sudden become available given existing parameters for self-shooting. We’re still very much going to treat the process the same, but there are little hurdles at each stage: we’re now going to have to consider the cast’s home as part of our casting process instead of a location search. Our stylist will oversee a wardrobe fitting… of what’s in the cast’s closets (and only if time permits supplemented with online purchases). And once we get a camera and tripod delivered, a recce involving art department and DOP will be similar to ‘normal’ process, except this time it will be over Zoom. Our cast will be required to not only dance and perform, but also work with HODs to ensure their jobs are looked after too.

There’s been a desire from clients over the last nine weeks of this pandemic to get their messages to air as quickly as possible. Much faster than a normal production process – especially in the case of the government’s Coronavirus campaign. So being able to help the client understand how things work and why they take the time they do has been beneficial in a sea of ads that are hard to tell apart. As much as I’d like to think I had this skill before the masterclass, the ability to form a team with production partners to get the best possible output for the client has never been easier.

Originally published in Little Black Book here.