Industry Insights: Fifty Fifty post production MD Cara Kotschy

Industry Insights: Fifty Fifty post production MD Cara Kotschy

Fifty Fifty are a privately owned post production house based in Central London and their managing director is a woman. So, yes, she is part of that 12% of lady MDs. Cara Kotschy, please stand up and take a bow… 

BEV: Post production still feels like a male-dominated industry, but like most industries we’re sure that that’s changing. Can you see any shifts in representation and, if so, where are they?

CK: The presence of women in the industry is on the rise. There will always be certain roles that will be largely male dominated. Traditionally these are quite technical roles, such as engineering; you still don’t tend to see many female engineers. But now it’s not uncommon to see the younger generation of women entering the industry with a keen interest to work in more technical roles. In fact, I read an article in the industry press recently suggesting more women are being employed across the creative media industries generally, which includes a 19% increase in women in post compared to three years ago. There was a time at Fifty Fifty that stretched on for a few years where I was the only full-time woman among a sea of men, but that’s changed now. Around a third of our staff roster are women. I’m proud to say Fifty Fifty is not only run by a woman, it’s owned by a woman (Sally Pacy) and has female production, editing and entry-level staff too.

You started out as a runner, did most of the operational jobs and seven years later you were appointed MD. Did you go to university or learn on the job? And do you have an opinion of which way is best?

I went to university in Nottingham and studied Broadcast Journalism. I moved to London as soon as I graduated and set about trying to get into radio, which was what I really wanted to do at the time. It never came to anything despite my best efforts, but I met a guy while doing time on a horrific temp job who had a mate who had just opened a post house and needed a runner. Long story short: that mate was Tim Whitehead, who co-owned Fifty Fifty at the time, and needless to say I got the job. I didn’t need my degree to get that job – it was all friends, and friends of friends, as is the way many feet still get in doors in our industry, regardless of whether they went to university.

I can honestly say everything from my degree pretty much went out the window when I actually started working, so I had to learn everything from scratch on the job; I was forever cursing my university debt during my junior years because of that! It really is what you make of it, though whether starting as a runner or an apprentice on a graduate training course (which many post houses offer) be prepared for long hours on a low wage. It will pay off, though. if you play your cards right. These days when I hire junior staff, while qualifications are important I tend to look for hard workers and a personality that’s going to fit in well with the vibe at Fifty Fifty. Regarding a degree versus learning on the job, I’d say that the life experience gained while living away from home at university at that age is invaluable, but be prepared for some hard graft once those glory years are over!

Describe your worst day on the job?

Crikey. Well, I’ve had many trying days on the job when everything seems to go wrong. When you’re at the liberty of technology things can break, and when they do it’s usually at the most inconvenient time, like delivery day. Getting through it and still hitting the deadline from a bit of quick thinking usually makes it all worthwhile.

The worst day features a freelance editor over-promising an agency client, being completely unable to deliver and me being none the wiser until the client turned up at the end of the day. Cue many red faces and lots of apologies. It’s a situation you’re never going to win as a producer if you’re not kept in the loop, or given the opportunity to rectify mistakes as they happen – and they do happen!

And your best?

I’ve had many good times. It’s a great industry to work in and there is a lot of personal gratification when you reach the end of a project that’s tested you in every way it can, and you deliver something you can be very proud of.

My best day would definitely either be the day our short film team won the BAFTA for best Short Film in 2007 – it makes me emotional thinking about it now! Or in terms of post, I was very proud to be the post house associated with fully posting When Playboys Ruled The World (2010) a feature-length documentary that went out on ITV1 primetime on behalf of ITV Sport. Directed by John McKenna and Gabriel Clarke, the team here really pulled together to make a piece of excellent programming.

You are also a short film producer (where do you find the time?) Thinking about it from that side of the camera, what would you expect of a post production house? What should they be offering emerging film practitioners?

I don’t tend to make many shorts these days because there just isn’t the time. It’s such a great thing to do, though, for experience and a lovely industry. I always enjoyed going to the festivals, meeting all the passionate filmmakers and listening to them talk about their projects.

I really think the best thing a post house can offer anyone is high-end customer service and honest advice. Our industry can be a minefield of technology, complete with many different solutions all leading to similar end results, often with varying costs associated. So, it’s important to have a team on the frontline that’s armed with technical knowledge who can help best advise clients on how to get the best result in the most practical and economical way. It’s what we’ve really worked hard to build here at Fifty Fifty and I’m pleased to say it’s paid off.

The short film and debut feature industry seems to be run on favours – the amount of times we hear someone say they had to wait weeks to edit their film when it can be done in downtime, etc. What is realistic in terms of favours?

Fifty Fifty has always been very keen to work with young/new directors by offering post services without charge for low-budget feature and short film projects if we have availability, and it’s a project we believe in. But it’s very difficult to commit to a time frame for this level of work because it will always have to be slotted in around other paid work, which is what allows us to do the freebies in the first place – it’s chicken and egg! But in the interests of getting these projects out the door within a reasonable amount of time, and also to ensure they’re not hanging around while everyone around it loses interest, we try to see to them quickly. There isn’t really a set time frame – it would depend on the job.

As a heads-up to anyone looking for a freebie, the best times of year to go calling in favours in terms of post work are the summer when everyone’s out shooting or on holiday, and in January and February when people are off getting winter sun. These are traditionally quieter periods for post: September to December and March to July-ish are generally very busy indeed, so favours are difficult to commit to.

What should you always pay for?

Anything that requires a freelancer, overtime or a third party cost. Also, a bottle of wine to say thanks wouldn’t go astray from time to time!

How is your business changing with technological advances and digital escalation?

Our business is changing every day with technological advances – at least it feels like it is. The major change in process at the moment is working within a tapeless production environment. It’s been said for years now that we’re entering an era of tapeless production but, as somebody said to me not too long ago, it’s actually less tape not tapeless. UK broadcasters are still to start accepting programming on file rather than tape, and backing up to ‘the cloud’ as a permanent storage solution is still far too expensive to be utilized as an everyday tool, so data tape is used instead.

But the changes that have happened so far are huge compared to, say, five years ago. The digital revolution has allowed for worldwide delivery within minutes via a high speed fibre connection (as most post houses have as standard now) rather than days via courier. It has created opportunities for anyone of any age with a camera, an eye and the relevant editing software to make films – which is both a threat and an opportunity for businesses such as ours. It’s theoretically cheaper and yields a better result that is far less clunky to produce.

What’s your favourite piece of work that you’ve seen at Fifty Fifty?

There are many which stand out. The previously mentioned When Playboys Ruled The World was brilliant and opened a lot of doors for us as a business. But equally, working on some of the shorter form projects such as commercials, or those that I’d call an end-to-end production – where we’ve conceived the creative concept, produced the shoot and handled the post – have been just as rewarding.

Are there areas where you see practitioners making the same technical mistakes? And if you could shake someone by the shoulders and say, “Never do this again!”, what would it be?

When anybody forgets the basics and doesn’t check their work. It’s day one of post production.

Do you have a favourite film that stands out because of its editing, or colorization, or another technical aspect?

I remember when I first saw Sin City (2005) and I was completely blown away by the use of black and white versus colour, green screen and effects, dialogue – everything. It was an inspired piece and every time someone tries to imitate it, they never quite pull it off.

How would your team describe you?

Oh I don’t know. Probably something along the lines of ‘extremely talented, professional and an inspiration to work with’, or similar, I’m sure…

And if you weren’t an MD of a successful and award-winning production house, what would you do instead?

I’ve always fancied working in advertising.

Thank you, Cara! Be sure to look out for Fifty Fifty’s work at the Birds Eye View Festival in 2014. You can learn more about the company here

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