Film: home or away?
Claire Stewart left Northern Ireland to pursue a career in the media. Now a Production Coordinator for an independent company in Glasgow, she has been lucky enough to work with Channing Tatum, travel around the world and gain vital experience in her field. With the sector expanding back here, we asked if she would ever consider a return to home.
Why did you decide to leave Northern Ireland?
I left to go to university. I was always interested in the media – especially TV and film. Although there were uni courses available in Northern Ireland, I always knew I wanted the opportunity to live in another city as I had grown up in Belfast. I wanted to broaden my horizons a little. I went to Glasgow for a weekend and fell in love with it.
What does your role involve?
I am a production coordinator for an independent production company, based in Glasgow. Basically, I facilitate filming in whatever way is required. Most of my job is logistics – getting the people and the kit they need to the locations they need to be in, at the time they need to be there in order to make the programme. This can be as simple as booking a hire car for someone or as complicated as getting a filming permit in Mozambique (in Portuguese – which I don’t speak – from the Tourist Office in Maputo that only opens for 5 mins at 3pm every other Tuesday.)
You need to be good with people (sometimes quite difficult people) able to think logically through logistical problems and have the patience not to give off when the schedule gets changed at the last minute and you have just confirmed everything. You generally have a plan A, plan B and plan C just in case. You check details thoroughly and repeatedly. You also don’t panic if there is a blip in the plan – everything is fixable. Although sometimes you have to gently remind people around you that you are making telly, not delivering an organ for transplant so everyone should just calm down.
I am normally based in the office but every day is different so I don’t get bored. During shoots, it involves long hours and lots of last minute problem solving. It is not a 9 to 5 mentality. It can be stressful but there is a good sense of pulling together to get it all done. Once filming is over, we have the edit and voice-over records which normally run right to the wire. Then we deliver to the channel and I am responsible for doing the paperwork that the channel require for the finished programmes which can be a bit repetitive but normally makes a nice relief after the craziness of filming.
What has been the best part of your job so far?
Working on big projects like the Sony Paint commercial or with Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell in ‘The Eagle’ sound the most exciting but actually I like watching the finished programme on TV with a glass of fizz and thinking – phew! We managed it!
What qualifications and work experience did you have before finding this position?
I went to Glasgow Caledonian and did a BA hons in Communication and Mass Media, then did a MSc at Stirling University in Media Research. I found both these courses really interesting and don’t regret doing them – however they were not necessary for this job. After graduating in 2003, I did a few weeks work experience, then started working as a production assistant for a commercial production company in Glasgow making adverts for clients like Irn Bru and Tennents. I worked there for a couple of years before taking some time out going travelling in South America, south east Asia and working in New Zealand and Australia. When I came back I went freelance and moved into drama as a production secretary – which was relatively easy because in those days, commercials had all been shot on film anyway so it was very similar. I moved up the ladder and started coordinating. Then about 2 and a half years ago, I moved into Factual TV. There is a lot going on in Glasgow and not very many coordinators so I was luckily never out of work. Pretty much everyone in this industry is freelance so when I got offered a permanent job by the company I was with last year, I was really surprised. After being freelance and in control of what I worked on for most of my career it was a bit of an adjustment but RTRP is a great company and really supportive with training etc.
Was this the path that you hoped your career would take?
Initially I wanted to do drama and film because it comes with a lot of job satisfaction – there can be 60-100 or more people in the crew and it’s exciting to be part of a big project. And the money is good! However after a few years, I realised that working 12 hour days (or 13 or 14!) and 6 day weeks leave you exhausted and wondering where your life went at the end of a 3 month job. Which is fine when you are young and super keen but I ended up resenting it when I realised work had taken over my life.
When I moved into factual TV, I discovered that although the money wasn’t as good, I was working on average 12 hours less Mon to Fri so felt it evened out. It gave me back the balance I had been looking for.
What are your future plans for your career?
I will keep working in production for as long as I enjoy it but it seems like there are no old people in telly for some reason. Maybe I’ll pack it all in and buy a hostel in Argentina some day.
Does the increase in production activity taking place in Northern Ireland make you consider returning home?
I thought about it when I came back from travelling but I have made my home in Glasgow. I know a lot of people who have relocated from Scotland and it’s great for local industry. The money spent on hotels, transport, extras all filters down to the local community one way or another and will encourage tourism. The studio space available in Northern Ireland is such a great amenity. However, the problems that still exist in our society do slightly put me off – last year we had to cancel filming in Belfast because of the ‘Fleg’ issue causing chaos. I think I am in Glasgow for the foreseeable – sure it’s only a 30min flight to get home anyway!