Euella Jackson is a creative producer based in Bristol and a Black woman. She talks about why this particular description needs to be less unique.
Words: Euella Jackson, @euella_isis
Images: Kelvin Williams, @the_sport_photographer
As a producer, I’ve always struggled with the extreme lack of diverse producers in the creative sector. It has often meant that some of the most exciting, bold and compelling stories can’t get made because there are few people who can steward those ideas into finished products. Producers play a central role in the industry because they are the ones who get buy-in from others to support the project – whether that be funding, venues, collaborators, crew etc.
It’s a real shame because as one of the very few young, black, female producers in my city that means that we’re often overworked, underpaid and lack the community we need to make real changes in the sector. Yes, we need more diverse writers and directors, yes we definitely need more diverse commissioners, funders and gatekeepers but we cannot forget about the importance of diverse creative producers in creating the changes we want to see in the creative industries.
As well as the many hats that I wear, I kind of fell into producing 4 years ago. Despite producing sometimes being one of my least favourite things that I do, I feel like I have a responsibility to use my skills to make great things happen for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. In that time, I have witnessed the structural barriers that have prevented more people from doing it.
Euella in her role as producer for the film What They Left. Image: Kelvin Williams, @the_sport_photographer
Here are a five things that I believe would make producing more accessible to more people:
We need more inclusive definitions of producer to show that anyone can do it
Despite often branding myself as a ‘creative producer’, I must admit, it took me years to know exactly what a producer was even when I was, to many, fully established in the sector. ‘Producer’ is one of those terms that if you work in or frequent the creative and cultural sector, you’ll hear a lot, but no one breaks it down for you. It’s a word that you’re just expected to know. To me, producer is shorthand for someone who makes things happen. Mothers, carers, project managers, assistants, secretaries, grafters, grinders and hustlers – they’re all producers.
Whether you’re organising a diary, trying to manage the lives of children, book or hire talent, seeing a project from start to finish or managing the money and the planning of a household; you’re a producer. It’s one of those things that many of us are and do way before we put a name to it.
We need more accessible language
Despite being a presenter, content creator, writer and director, I often refer to myself as a producer because it’s a catch-all term but I know the term isn’t very accessible and it perpetuates the mystification that is the creative industries. I use it because I do so much that ‘creative producer’ feels like an easy way of me saying ‘I get the job done’ but I also recognise that the expectations and responsibilities of what a producer does or can do changes depending on what industry you work in for e.g music, film, visual arts or creative technology.
However, it still feels like regardless of the specific industry, there are still very real barriers across the sector that prevent people from moving into producing – language is one of them. Maybe we might have to rethink the term producer?
We need to encourage more roles to be multidisciplinary or multi-roles.
For the past 2 years, as well as producing in my day job as Co-Director at Rising Arts Agency, I produced two BFI NETWORK funded short films. It has been in this space in particular that I have seen the dire need for more diverse producers (particularly in the regions). Yes, I agree we need to nurture writing and directing talent, but I promise you, there’s not a shortage of ambition or talent out there. I would argue that there is a systematic lack of diverse producers, commissioners and gatekeepers who can get these stories made and told – regardless of medium. For the purposes of the rest of this blog post, I’ll be specifically referring to the barriers for diverse producers in the film and TV industries.
One of the things that I don’t like about the film / TV industries – and one of the reasons I couldn’t work in the industry full time – is the hierarchy and rigidity around roles. It means that there often isn’t the sharing of power needed to enable innovation and instead this creates a competitive and unfulfilling status-quo. Especially in TV, the norm is one where you’re expected to make tea until you’re able to rise through the ranks or you try something once and get pigeon-holed in one role for the rest of your career. Many writers/directors are afraid of even showing an interest in producing through fear of being pigeon-holed into being a production assistant or producer, when if there was more fluidity and role sharing in the industry, people would be more willing to try their hand at producing without the fear of never being able to make their own stuff.
The industry is clearly missing a trick here. Through my work at Rising (and also using myself as an example) I know that it’s quite rare for a creative to do or be just one thing. Especially when you’re looking for work, there’s so much pressure to be able to prove that you’re a self-starter that you often encapsulate a whole team in just one person; writer, director, producer, marketing team, caterer, the list goes on. We need to create an infrastructure that encourages people to strengthen both their producing and writing/directing skills – to see them as complementary as opposed to mutually exclusive.
Euella Jackson, Image: Ruby Walker
Better pay for Producers
The (short) film industry is notorious for not paying people properly and this is something that is both structurally and informally enforced by funders, commissioners and those at the top. But until we get to a point where we can give a fee appropriate to the sheer amount of work that goes into producing any kind of project, the role will remain inaccessible. Not paying emerging and established producers properly perpetuates producing as an exclusive role that you can only do if you have some kind of additional income. We need to ensure that we create a model where we are resourcing producers in the long-term, establishing new funding models that can sustain full and part-time producers and being transparent about the amount of work that goes into producing any kind of project.
Building a Culture of Radical Trust
Whenever I hear a commissioner or funder talking about the need to make more ‘diverse’ or innovative shows, I have to refrain myself from rolling my eyes because I know that deep down they don’t really want diverse stories, formats or content. They want more of the same with a ‘sprinkling of spice’ – but not too much. This means that you end up with a load of uninspiring, same-old content because instead of leading with a culture of trust and trusting different types of people to make stuff, they are seen as ‘risky’ having to jump through several hoops to prove their worthiness or commissioners diluting their ideas through fear of ‘failure’. Preferring instead to go with the same production company that they’ve always gone with, it feels difficult to hear commissioners speaking about needing more diverse stories and not seeing much change in how commissioners and funders work with talent or support them to take risks. There is always an audience for something, so that even more reason for gatekeepers to stop being so risk averse and lean more into uncertainty.