Header of Production (Passion Pictures) – Jessica

Describe your job in couple of sentences:

I run the film company and work as a producer or production executive across 6-7 feature documentary films and various development projects.

When did you know what you wanted to do?

When I left University I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do and I felt rather panicked out by this given a lot of my friends seemed to have grand plans for their careers and very sure ideas about what direction they were headed in. But if you read on you’ll discover it turned out okay for me in the end…

I studied History, Art and English – I’ve always had an interest in human stories, people, their lives and a curiosity about what was happening in the world.

Did you go to university, go straight into the workforce or do an apprenticeship?
What did you study?

I did an art foundation course at Chelsea Art School for a year and then I did a degree in English literature at the University of East Anglia. Since working, I’ve done a few vocational courses – learning how to use a digital film camera, a production management course at the National Film and Television School, a drama production management course…

Have you done other jobs in your life – if so what were they
Did they have any influence on what you do now?

While at school doing my A-levels I had a Saturday job teaching ballet

I worked in the office of my parents small event company – taking bookings, doing admin, organizing parties. This experience was really useful as it taught me how to communicate with “clients” – the client is always right as they say. It also taught me how to behave in an office and gave me a good grounding in admin skills.

After school and during my University holidays I worked as a “runner” on drama sets and commercial shoots. This gave me insight and a better understanding of how this industry works and what peoples jobs are.

When I graduated from University I worked as a secretarial temp at various random companies including the Girl Guide Association and a rather corporate accountants office in Victoria. At the time I was a bit despondent about temping as I didn’t enjoy it very much – the places I worked in weren’t very ‘me’.

But, it was through temping that I ended up working in my current industry. I got a job as a temp receptionist at Passion Pictures, covering for their full time receptionist while she was on holiday, for only 10 days. I must have made a good impression because at the end of that period, Passion offered me a job as a PA to John Battsek who’d just won an Academy Award for ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER. This was my big break – without doing all those other rather dull temp jobs, I might never have ended up where I am now.

Over four years I worked my way up through researcher, production management and associate producing roles to coproduce documentaries with John at Passion. I then left to produce on a freelance basis for 14 years, working at a variety of different companies. Eventually returning to Passion Pictures permanently in March 2018 as their Head of Production

How did you find out about your job (how it existed)?

Through working in the industry in more junior roles

How did you get the job you wanted- steps and process?

See above– over 20 years or more I have acquired experience

What qualities do you need to have to be successful in your field?

Being super organized,

Paying attention to detail, but also seeing the bigger picture

Ability to multitask A LOT.

Strong work ethic / tenacity

Willingness to travel and work long hours

Friendly, positive, helpful, enthusiastic can-do, problem solving attitude

Maintaining calm approach to work when incredibly busy – knowing how to prioritize work.

Ability to collaborate with people and work with different personalities, including sometimes difficult people. Having a sense of which individuals would work well together collectively to make a good team. (some personalities get on better with others)

Understanding business, legal, financial aspect of production as well as creative and editorial aspects of production. So both ability to get to grips with and scrutinize numbers, excel spreadsheets and legal documents and strong creative / aesthetic sensibility and interest.

Having a genuine interest and passion in area / industry you chose to work in, and being realistic about whether your unique personal skills or talents lend themselves to a particular job – this is the key to thriving in any job and also enjoying it, which is super important given how much of your time you’ll spend doing it!

Give 3 tips for someone hoping to follow in your footsteps:

Watch lots of documentaries! Read about how they were made

Keep up with the news high-brow and low-brow: know what’s going on in the world, what trends are, what’s the latest zeitgeist.

If you make films, keep making them. They may not be nominated for an Academy Award, but practice is the best way to learn

Write very good, but concise, cover letters and emails when approaching people for work – get your family or friends to proof read / check them before you send out. I get sent a lot of emails by people asking for work experience or junior jobs and the first thing I notice is the punctuation or grammar. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t always get a reply – keep knocking on doors. I get masses of people asking to do work experience at my company and unfortunately, I don’t always get time to reply to them all. If you haven’t had a response after a week or two, email again… then again.

Try and get as much work experience direct or indirect in the field you want to work in or in jobs you might acquire the skills knowledge you need.

Accept you may have to start at the bottom and take a bit of time to work your way up to the top. You might have to do more menial work than you’d ideally like to, but if you’re working in a good company, you never know when, like me, your break might come. As Sir Alex Ferguson says in a film we’re currently making – “don’t miss a big opportunity”. Sometimes you simply have to be in the right place at the right time.

Make yourself indispensable in whatever you’re doing and smile – who doesn’t like having someone really helpful and nice around?

Don’t give up! Your friends careers might be taking off while you feel yours is floundering, but if you follow your interests and work hard, your turn will come.


Who inspires you?:

Nelson Mandela– because of the extraordinary personal sacrifices he was willing to make for the future of others, his tenacity, his huge heart, boundless love and his ingenuity. I admire the way he was able to set aside his private grievances and continue to work with those who’d inflicted terrible suffering on him, for the greater good – to find a way to end apartheid in South Africa.

Greta Thunberg – whatever you feel about her, one cannot argue how effective her campaign has been to raise awareness of vital climate, environment and ecological issues and ability to articulate the stark reality we face in this respect with impact and resonance.

Alexandra Ocasio Cortez – the youngest woman to serve in the US Congress. Despite the obstacles of her less privileged ethnic, working class background, she has worked tirelessly – at one point also holding down a job as a bartender – to be a voice and advocate for political policies to benefit the disenfranchised, such as those in the local Bronx community she grew up in. It’s remarkable that without the financial backing many other US politicians have access to in a political system which favors candidates who are able to spend 100,000’s or even millions on political campaigns she has attained this position.

In general, I am inspired by those who do more important work than I do. Let’s face it having a good job is reallyimportant but there are also much more important things in the world than simply making documentaries. It’s good to have some perspective on this.

I am inspired by women who despite a “glass ceiling” that unfortunately does still exist, are able to excel in their respective fields.

All of these people show that with passion, determination and unwavering belief in what’s important to you, it’s possible to achieve anything. I doubt many of us will accomplish quite what they have, but I think to some degree, we can all learn from their example and apply it to our possibly less epic lives and careers to good effect.