Job title: Line producer
Industries: High-end TV
Adam Knopf came to the UK from Zimbabwe when he was 16, with no connections to film and TV but a thirst to work in the creative industries. He studied journalism in Cardiff and took as many film and TV-related modules as he could. In his final year, he received an email from a local television development company looking for people interested in work experience.
“I joined, and stayed longer than expected, working on a children's TV drama production that they were making. It was the line producer on that production that took me onto my next job,” says Adam. From there, he went on to work for the BBC for the first time, then into the first series of Broadchurch as a production secretary and his “career took off from there.”
In Cardiff, he was able to take advantage of opportunities from the increase in drama production in the region. He pursued every job opportunity he could during the Welsh production renaissance, first as production secretary on Wizards vs Aliens then getting a lucky break with Dr Who: “the production coordinator had dropped out at the last minute and I got the call to step in. I was in the right place at the right time.” That role launched him into high-end TV drama and he quickly worked his way up through the production department to production manager.
Despite his successes, Adam found it difficult to make the transition from production management to line producing. It was difficult to find the time to seek out the opportunities, let alone the training, that he needed to step up to the new position. That’s when Make a Move came along.
Adam’s chance came with Marcella, produced by Buccaneer Media. “I got a call from [the co-producer] Chris Ballantyne, with whom I’d worked before on The Level, inviting me to join as a junior line producer,” Adam remembers. Because Buccaneer Media contributes to ScreenSkills’ High-end TV Levy, they were able to make use of its programmes for sourcing production trainees. Chris had heard about Make a Move and thought it was a great opportunity for everyone.
It helped fill Buccaneer’s production vacancy and for Adam it offered extra prep time to help him make the transition to line producing, gaining a valuable credit in the role. It also meant that Buccaneer could afford to pay for the cover so that Adam could attend meetings that he would not normally have been able to – on both the creative and financial side of things. Adam leapt at the chance. “I’d had very positive experiences working with placements from the Trainee Finder scheme on previous productions where I’d worked, so it was very exciting,” he adds.
For 18 weeks, from April to December 2017, Adam worked on eight episodes of Marcella. He was involved with the production early on, helping him understand the process from the start and allowing him to settle in. Throughout, he was guided by the producer and the co-producer, learning from two people's extensive professional experience, “Both had different tips on different issues, and there was really nothing they had not faced before in some shape or form. I was learning on the job with a valuable safety net.”
He had the luxury of being involved in conversations about the production, working with the budget, and learning how to use Movie Magic Budgeting and Scheduling software under guidance, knowing there was always someone he could turn to for advice. Budgeting and scheduling were major challenges and Adam appreciated that it was really important for him, as a line producer, to be involved in the very early stages of the production from script breakdown to identifying crew needs to understanding where and when to commit expenditure and making decisions on departmental budget allocations.
As Adam says, “Movie Magic was a very useful software tool. You often have to pay a fortune to learn how to use it – and then promptly forget everything you have learnt when there is no immediate opportunity to apply it!” The co-producer guided Adam through the various systems, and he found that once he was actually using them day to day they became second nature.
At cost report meetings the London element of the production was an eye opener for Adam in terms of managing costs, not only in terms of practical issues like location fees but also balancing the expectations of the teams behind interpreting the scripts with keeping within budget.
This, and almost everything else he learnt required Adam to further develop his people management and problem-solving skills. “As your career progresses,” he released, “the monetary values associated with the problems you face increase, responsibility for the decisions you make increases, as well as the potential impacts on a production.”
“The whole experience of working on Marcella was inspiring,” Adam says. He had always enjoyed working in a team but until Marcella had little opportunity to work with department heads. Forming relationships with them and understanding what was involved in all their roles at a higher level was invaluable.
Adam was involved right to the end of the shoot, “There was a clear breakdown between blocks,” he says, “so although I was not closely involved in post-production, I was able to observe the process in meetings and through email exchanges.”
It is not often that there is spare money available to support on-the-job training in production especially for a London show with all its high costs so the scheme created an opportunity. Nadia Jaynes, head of production at Buccaneer, says that “having that little bit of additional funding to employ Adam in a line producer capacity, and being able to support him with an experienced producer and a fully staffed production office, gave us the confidence to give him that first credit.”
Adam had worked in London before, but the personal financial costs were still a real deterrent. The Make a Move scheme, combined with the increased line producer’s salary, made it viable to work in London. There were still the everyday challenges of dropping everything at home and finding somewhere to live – but Adam’s partner works in the industry as well and understands the demands of working away. For Adam the difference Make a Move made is quite simple: “I owe my career to the scheme.”
While he was working on Marcella, Adam was offered his second line producing job on police procedural drama Dark Heart and in 2019 will have his third line producer credit on mini-series Gold Digger. “I think this is all down to my credit on Marcella”, he says. “I felt really confident going into the new job, knowing what I had learnt and taken on board.”
Nadia believes “Adam is clearly capable of great things. The step from production managing to line producing feels like a giant leap. I think the scheme helps to ensure we are able to push our talented freelancers up through the ranks with the necessary level of support to enable them to advance their careers effectively.”
“At this stage, it’s all about working with new people and new companies, developing my team and working on the projects I’m passionate about,” Adam says.
He’s happy that the runner and assistant coordinator on Marcella have now both stepped up to the Make a Move scheme, “It’s good for them and it’s good for the industry. In the future, the productions on which I work will offer people the opportunity to shadow a role, work on shoots, or be a daily runner. It’s rewarding seeing people experience what it’s like to work in the industry, get their foot in the door, and set themselves on a fascinating career path.” At some point, he would also like to take his skills back to Wales and Bristol to train people with what he has learnt.
In the longer term, Adam would love to produce. The ScreenSkills supported High-end TV drama producer programme is something he plans to look into when he is confident the time is right.
To sum up what this opportunity meant Adam says, “I turned 30 on my first line producing job...that achievement in itself was a celebration! Producer by 35 is the next aim!”
Make a Move encourages and promotes professional development. The aim is to enable those on the scheme to apply for work at the more senior grade they are targeting, by the end of their participation. All job roles on a production are currently eligible, but the scheme is not intended for entry-level positions.
Potential 'move ups' can include almost anything - location assistant to unit manager, make-up artist to make-up supervisor, production secretary to production coordinator. The roles supported by the scheme so far show the diverse range of possibilities: costume designers, art directors, assistant production accountants, script editors, location managers and production managers. Individuals can only participate in Make a Move after being put forward by their employer. The candidate can be a completely new person to the selected team and department or an individual that has already worked with the team.
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