Creating Something From Nothing - My Life As Head of Production

Phil Pickard - Head of Production at shortstories
As a producer, you have an opportunity to see the whole and bring people together’. Jake Gyllenhall

What does a producer actually do? What does the job entail? What are the skills required to do the job well? This is my shortstories' experience.

I have been working in theatre, TV, video, films and digital media for thirty years and the fact remains that I am still working out what my job as a producer is. I have worked across various genres: drama, comedy, light entertainment, factual, professional sport, commercial, corporate and educational video.

I have worked for small, medium and large organisations - some famous, others not. I have been fortunate to work around the world with some amazing people and to have won international awards. My experiences have shown to me that the role of the producer is open to interpretation.

The role requires no formal training. People become producers through random circumstances. I know a producer who was once an accountant; another with a Masters degree in modern European languages, one who is an ex-classroom teacher and another who studied fine art. We offer a mixed bag of expertise.

My own roots are in drama - more specifically in acting. Performing in a school play when I was 15 set me on that path. I loved getting under the skin of a character and then showing off in front of an audience. It was a great way to learn about myself, and other people and what binds us all together.

After studying at university and then as a post-grad at drama school, I performed in theatre and TV whilst producing plays and short films. As I grew older, the more my interest in producing developed. As an actor, I had limited influence on anything beyond my own performance, but as a producer, I could take an interest in the whole.

Some great producers I have worked with are mavericks; they add value by coming up with the big original idea at just the right time and making it work. Others have made great programmes by taking a predominantly administrative role: making sure that the crew know where they should be at what time and that they that they had all the kit they needed. 

Some producers see going on shoots as a chore and love the editing process; others are the opposite. There are a myriad of different approaches and styles that can work. There are few hard and fast rules. 

‘It's interesting most people don't really know what a producer does and really the producer is the very first person on-site and the very last one to leave.’ - Carl Mazzocone

Whilst some producing jobs have required me to operate camera, to edit and to provide a voiceover, usually, my job on a project has the following parts to it: 

  1. Liaise with the client from beginning to last and make sure they are happy with how their project is going
  2. Work up the creative idea and approach with a writer, director, Director of Photography and editor
  3. Establish and maintain clear communication channels so the whole team is working towards the client’s goals
  4. Co-ordinate the logistics of a shoot: creating schedules and completing risk assessments
  5. Go out on shoots and direct the camera operator and crew. I also carry lots of heavy equipment and buy a lot of food and coffee to keep the crew going!
  6. Conduct on-screen interviews (on or off camera) and direct presenters
  7. Work closely with the editor to make sure the final cut delivers what the client wants
  8. Responsible for the project being on budget, on schedule and finished to the highest possible standard.
  9. Oversee the work of other Producers and Assistant Producers 
  10. Oversee the financial transactions on a production and make sure the books are balanced. 

As the years have turned into decades,  I have gained a deeper appreciation of how different projects require different parts of one’s skillset. It’s important to respond to these different requirements whenever a new project starts. What best will suit the subject, the people you are working with and the outcomes you are hoping to achieve? Does the project require a focus on the creative, the organisational, the personnel or the technical? It’s helpful to work out the right balance.

The main enjoyment and satisfaction for me remains in creating something that delights and serves the audience. Ultimately that is the point of a video. The beautiful simplicity of this takes us back to the traditional storytelling techniques that have been tried and tested for aeons ever since stories were swapped around campfires. 

When projects become complicated or are taking a long time to deliver, it is always useful to be reminded of the fundamentals: there is an audience, there is a story and storytellers must make it as interesting and enjoyable as possible. As a producer, that’s what I aim to do.


See how we do it: send us an email to if you would like to discuss your next film project.

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