For this Team Tuesday we turn our proverbial magnifying glass to our Executive Producer, Sarah Drummond.
Our Executive Producer, Sarah, is a force of nature. With her pixie crop, love of a chunky heel, and mad budgeting skills (she’s currently juggling 20 live jobs), Sarah is a whirlwind of Vivienne Westwood clad production knowledge around our Edinburgh HQ. Since joining LS formally in late 2013 – and founding our motion department in early 2014 – she has thrown her 20+ years of industry experience into growing LS, helping make us the big-budget friendly, TV commercial producing juggernaut that we are today.
Here, we chat to her about her founding in the industry, why she works so hard to foster new talent and her wonderful, socially conscious passion projects. Ooh, and tall skinny Elvis.
Let's get back to basics...
Hi, Sarah. So, take us back to where this all began. “My career began with a film and media youth training scheme (YTS), at Screen Education Edinburgh. I’d actually left school at 15 and gone to work at Schuh, but by chance my media studies tutor came in (looking for a pair of Dr. Martens!) and told me about the opening. I went in that Monday and stayed for 2 years. It was crazy; at 16 I was getting the best opening to production. That experience, in all the different departments was invaluable. I didn’t want to leave.”
Whilst at Screen Ed, Sarah managed some work experience for a company called Picardy Media Group. “There was no digital music back then, so to find a track for an advert I used to spend the whole day listening to CDs.” An opening came up to cover their reception for 3 weeks, and that was that. She stayed for 8 years, working her way up to facilities manager. Following that, Ice Commercials for a year – still under the Picardy Media Group – before she followed Micky [MacPherson] to his new start up, Plum Films. “There I line produced and produced commercials, short films and documentaries.”
After 8 years at Plum, Sarah – in the least cheesy way possible – felt like it was important to “give something back” and so returned to Screen Ed as a film and media tutor. Did she like being on the other side? “I loved it. Happily, it also reconnected me with Graham Fitzpatrick, my fellow trainee from YTS! He was, and still is, the Creative Manager there. Graham came to me with a script. It was called "Mum’s Birthday". I said to him, “Right, let me help find you a producer”. How on earth was I going to produce a film? Any I’d done at that point had been through Plum. So, I called lots of producers, saying that I had this fantastic script. All the while Graham just wanted me to do it, he was very tactful about it. In the end I produced it. I think, ultimately, I needed to create my own work.”
With the script from Graham and production by Sarah – as well as some stellar cast including Chris Robertson, Elek Kish and Scottish Stalwart Tam Dean Burn (“We knew we wanted a big name to play the grandad. We thought “let’s just have a bit of balls and make some phone calls”) – the short was met to rave reviews, premiering at a film festival in LA and receiving nominations at BAFTA New Talent. “I thought, “What’s the worst outcome of this? [Graham] loses and I win.” And then that’s what happened. He still ribs me about it now.”
Fast forward a few years of freelance production and talent development, and they team up once more; this time for Colours (2013), a short film shot over 5 days in Polmont Prison. For this they enlisted 14 inmates aged 16-20 as cast members and behind the scenes crew. “I think [Graham and I] are both very socially conscious people. It’s not about being holier than thou, or thinking that you’re going to transform people’s lives, but raising awareness when you can. There’s a lot wrong with the system, but if you can do a little bit then that’s cool, it helps. Ultimately I think we just wanted to make a film that the boys would be proud of.”
One win for Best Short Film at the East End Film Festival, and a nomination for Best Short Film at the Scottish BAFTAs later (as well as work on another short, “Seagulls”, with director Martin Smith), came the big move to LS.
“I think at one stage of being freelance I had 13 projects on, on my own at my kitchen table… and two young kids; it was crazy. Eventually something had to give, and it ended up being the film and development stuff because your brain just becomes consumed by it. I had to ask myself: What is my focus? What do I want to work on? How do I move forward? I knew Marie (through doing freelance LS work), and that she was keen to set up a motion department. I really liked the work ethic, the vibe and everybody here, and I was looking to get my teeth stuck into something new. Setting up a motion department in an already established, amazing company was a bit of a no brainer.”
Having achieved so much already in her first near-four years, what does she see coming next? “I don’t wing it, but I know it’s going to be good. I know it’s only going to get better. I know it’s only going to get bigger. I know it’s only going to get busier. I love film and drama but I really love doing commercials, and I wouldn’t want to muddy what we do by trying to do too much. I make sure to take each script that comes in and judge it on its own merit. I’d say that I’m just completely focused on making this the best service production company in the world!”
"Setting up a motion department in an already established, amazing company was a bit of a no brainer.”
Does it help, having worked across both post and production, advertising and short films? “Yeah, definitely. Everything is so accessible now, people can become very self-taught, often at home. Back in the olden days (ha ha) you didn’t have those opportunities but it was a much more structured way or working and learning. I think this new way has given the industry a pretty serious skills shortage. If only two in any graduating class go on to be a shit hot producer or director, what does everyone else do? The facilities need to be asking the right questions. “Do you have an artistic flair?” “Are you technically minded?” You could be a data technician, or a trainee grip, work in props or set design... There seems to be a real piece of the jigsaw missing. But, really, I think any experience that you can get is valuable, no matter what, where it is or who it’s with. It’s all about connections, and who you know. It is a who you know industry, unfortunately.”
At LS we work hard to support internships and work experience placements when and where possible, with interns coming to LS through the BFI and FIND. As our Executive Producer, Sarah does a lot to encourage this.
“It’s a huge part of what I want to do. It’s really important. What would I be doing if I hadn’t had that chance? People – kids especially – can fall through the cracks. You don’t need a degree, just the right opportunity.”
What does she love about her job now? “I still love being on set. I never, ever, ever want to not be on set. I also really like managing people. It’s a skill getting the right people for the right job, pulling these teams and crews together. I like providing support for my team at LS, too, not micromanaging too much and giving them their space. Our people need to grow. Maybe I really am a nurturer! And let’s not forget problem solving; fixing things is what I enjoy, and it can be a big part of production. As I say, “we’re only making pretty pictures”. It has to work for everybody.”
Biggest lesson that you’ve learned? “That you don’t have to be mean or have an ego; you still have to be tough, because it’s a tough industry and you get pushed to the side if you’re not, but it’s important to have that balance; caring about what you do and wanting to get it right, with making sure there’s as good a working environment as possible on set and having empathy for other people. It’s taken me a long time to know that it was alright to not be a certain way, to not be that “stereotype” producer. I thought, “Am I shit at this?” The more you do it, the more you realise that, actually, it’s alright, even good, to not be that person. It was a good realisation to come to.”
What about being a woman in business with kids? “Juggling family life is challenging but LS, my husband and family are all really supportive. My hours and days are flexible which means I can go to sports day or leave early to collect the kids from school. Being away from home can be difficult too, but any parent with young kids will agree that it's not too much of a hardship getting away for a few days! One of my three sisters is my childminder, which is amazing. Home life is like another production and you just have to be super organised and get on with it. It’s all normal for me!”
Would she do another short film? “Short filmmaking is tough. Coming at it from the view of a commercial producer, I’m used to having much more money to play with. You become an Arthur Daly or Dell Boy character, where you’re making deals and begging for favours. Saying that, I definitely do have a yearning. Everything that has happened has been at just the right time, so we’ll see.”
Quick fire round…
Favourite job? “I shouldn’t really pick a favourite, but if I had to then it’d probably be Florence [+ the Machine]. To work with Vince [Haycock, the director] – who I’d already admired for so long – and to form that relationship with Park Pictures, was amazing. Our jobs with Somesuch and Cobblestone are always great, too. It’s fantastic that we can work with these companies, whose work we enjoy and admire.”
To describe the company in three words, what would they be? “Energetic. Passionate. Vibrant.”
Sarah in three words? “Five foot one.”
We can’t argue with that! If you were to give one piece of advice to someone starting out in the industry, what would you say? “Just be prepared to work hard; it’s really hard. You really do have to love it. It’s not a normal 9-5; it takes over your life!”
Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself that few people might know. “I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was 28, because I was too scared. I got my nose pierced before then, which is even weirder. Oh, and I also got married by tall, skinny Elvis in Vegas…”
Thanks Sarah, see you at Cannes!
Love this feature and interested in knowing more about the team? Please click here to read past Team Tuesdays, including our Locations Manager Amy, Producer Julia and Production Co-ordinator Jennifer.