Since completing the ScreenSkills high-end TV new producer programme in 2018, Andy Morgan has survived shows being cancelled or put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic, become a dad and is looking forward to returning to what the course helped equip him to do: produce.
Shortly after completing the ScreenSkills new producer scheme, Andy swapped Manchester and Liverpool for Malaysia to block produce two episodes of the season's 10 episodes for the Sky-commissioned high-end TV production Strike Back produced by Left Bank Pictures.
He worked with Left Bank's Lawrence Cochran and Nuala O'Leary based at the Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor, which was at the time operated by Pinewood.
"That was my first job as a producer," Andy says."The studios were largely used as the production's office base as the programme is shot on locations."
He finished Christmas 2018 and got a call from production company 42 to come aboard The English Game, a Julian Fellowes project about the history of football he was making for Netflix.
"It was an unusual gig because the production company 42 had already worked with producer Rhonda Smith on a previous project and wanted her to produce," he says. "She told them she would do the project if she could take a break to rest and recharge."
Smith got her holiday and 42 hired Andy to do all the prep and get it box-ready to shoot including casting and locations. He conducted conference calls with Smith on her holiday every couple of days. "It was gut-wrenching when I handed it over, I had become very attached to the project. It was a fantastic experience."
After delivering the football drama shoot ready, production banner Kudos Film and Television called and asked him to produce series three of Tin Star, the Tim Roth drama for BSkyB's Sky Atlantic.
Andy worked alongside series producer Angus Lamont for the season set in Liverpool, starting April and finished Christmas 2019.
Andy was hitting his stated ambition "to produce an entire show not just one block - an entire series even" after completing the ScreenSkills programme.
What followed was a Covid-19 tale of the ages. He took a meeting in February 2020 about producing an untitled comedy drama in Malta made by Clapperboard Studio, the newly-established drama division of Mike Benson's ChalkBoard TV for Channel 5.
At that meeting there was talk of a virus that was going around and had established a firm foothold in Italy. "We said we'll have to be careful because Malta's just across the water from Italy," he notes ruefully. "That might affect us if we need crew, cast potentially.”
The job was postponed when Covid-19 went global.
It is now back on after almost a year and Andy started pre-production producing in February 2021, with plans to be in Malta from March until the end of May.
And there is quite a big addition to the working equation for the Manchester-based executive: his family is now one person bigger after his partner Hannah gave birth to Elsie, at the end of 2020.
Acknowledging just how supportive his partner and family are, Andy also notes the industry has also supported his ambitions amid fatherhood and the pandemic.
He is hoping Hannah and Elsie can join him in Malta as he continues to build his producer credits after completing the ScreenSkills backed training scheme.
Andy’s earlier work history
Andy was the first person in his family to go to university, where he studied film. In 2000 he was volunteering at the Sheffield Independent Film Collective when he forged a relationship with a new production company set up in the same building by Mark Herbert and John Rushton.
“I helped out by photocopying what turned out to be the scripts for Phoenix Nights. When the series rolled into production I was recruited as the office runner and set runner. This was a wonderful way to discover what everyone did on set and I became fascinated by the location manager’s role.” Andy was invited to be the location assistant on Clocking Off, the first of many jobs in partnership with Red Production Company. From there he moved on to his third job, on League of Gentlemen. Morgan pays tribute to being in the right place at the right time. With hard work he quickly made it to location manager.
Some 15 years later, with credits including Peaky Blinders, he started looking towards the next stage of his career. “I knew I wanted to be a TV drama producer – even though it’s an unusual move for a location manager,” Andy says. “I wanted more creative input into projects, more responsibility, and I wanted the challenge of putting the whole show together whilst being part of the team.” The high-end TV drama new producer programme provided the way.
“I‘d had a lot of encouragement from friends and colleagues over the years, telling me I’d be great at producing, and should give it a go!” says Morgan. The first person he’d shared his ambition to produce with was Frith Tiplady, the production manager on Clocking Off. Some years later, Frith had moved to Tiger Aspect and was on the board of the High-end TV Council. She told Andy about the launch of the new producer scheme and encouraged him to apply. The timing was perfect.
“I realised that if I was successful in finding a placement supported by the scheme, it would mean a long-term commitment.” Morgan says. This would mean taking a break as a location manager and accepting an element of financial insecurity.
“I felt I had about 75% of the skills I needed for the new role, and was clear what I had to concentrate on to be a producer.” The challenge was to find a production company willing to put its faith and time into him by offering him a placement. Morgan got in touch with a few companies but felt that to get the best out of the scheme he “would really like to work with a company with whom I already had a good working relationship, one which knew and trusted me, and knew about my ambition to produce.” So he approached Red, the same company he’d worked at many times as a location manager.
Michaela Fereday, producer at Red, says that the company is committed to giving back as much as possible to the industry. “With the massive crew shortages facing production, we want to encourage people already in the industry to remain in it,” she says. At first, neither Red nor Andy were very clear about how it would work. We talked about my skills gaps, and we agreed to focus on three core areas – scripts, working with actors and post-production. It was all set to happen,” remembers Andy.
Then the project fell through. "It was a devastating blow to everyone", Andy remembers. But Red promised to honour its offer of a placement when its next project was up and running, and that next project was Safe, a Netflix and Channel C8 commissioned eight-part drama series from bestselling writer Harlan Coben.
Even before the placement began in 2016 Red’s founder Nicola Shindler began immersing Andy in the script process for another production that was being shot at the time, so he could get a feel for the way things worked from all sides. It gave him the opportunity to understand things from Nicola and the TV channel’s side, as well as the perspective of the writer, other executives and script editors. “When Safe was up and running, Nicola and Michaela made sure that I was involved in every script meeting,” says Andy.
Once shooting began, Andy seized the opportunity of chatting to the artists in free moments over a cup of coffee, to understand what they did and what was involved in working with actors. “As a location manager I had never interacted with the artists, there was no reason to, but it is key for a producer! I wanted to know why they went into acting, what they looked for in a good script, a good producer or a good director.”
The entire crew was generous with their time and supportive of Andy making the change to producer. Most of them knew him from other productions. At first, some were a bit surprised by his questions. ‘Haven’t you been in the industry for 15 years?’ they would ask. To which Andy replied that yes, but as a location manager. Soon they understood his thirst to understand ‘why you use that lens’ or ‘what’s the point of that scene’.
Andy found post-production and sat in on as much of the edit as he could. One of the experiences which stayed with him was the final dubbing-mix session. “The sheer attention and ear for detail, the stripping back of sound levels and music to try to identify some small noise in the background, and the reasoning behind every sound decision. It was something I had never experienced before. Probably the best training anyone could hope for,” says Andy.
He considers the scheme to have been an amazing opportunity. He was going to try to make the move from location manager to drama producer anyway but it would have been a very different route and it would certainly have taken a lot longer. For Andy, the scheme was the best way to approach the transition. He believes that “without it I would not have had the opportunity to learn from people at the top of their careers – directors, executives, script editors, designers.”
Andy was one of eight aspiring producers selected by to participate in the scheme. They all came from different backgrounds but had the same goals. Making the journey alongside others with the same ambition was a valuable part of the programme. They inspired and encouraged each other, and have formed many friendships, which Andy hopes will last throughout their careers.
Alongside the placement were masterclasses organised in London under the scheme. ScreenSkills encouraged and supported Andy to undertake additional complementary courses. “I made sure I attended all the masterclasses,” he says. “I would travel down to London a day or two beforehand to have meetings with companies I had worked with before and others with whom I wanted to work. People were almost always accommodating – in no small part because of my place on the scheme.” He also extended his knowledge with additional short courses such as the National Film and TV School’s (NFTS) Drama Production Management course.
“I learnt a phenomenal amount in all three areas that Red and I prioritised, but I still feel the need to further develop my script work, so I have enrolled in other courses, including John York’s Story for Script Development,” says Andy.
About the ScreenSkills high-end TV new producer programme
The high-end TV new producer programme aimed to develop a pool of talent to produce big budget TV dramas across the UK. The programme supported training in key production areas and includes mentoring, masterclasses, networking opportunities, and other training courses and supported the costs of placement on a drama production. Participants that complete their placement were awarded an agreed on-screen credit, such as ‘Trainee Producer’.
For more information about progression schemes supported by ScreenSkills that are now open to applicants please click here.