Baby Steps UK: Sam Follows
[Dear Baby Steps reader. You may not have realized that there are people in the UK who also move from college to the media. Well it's true! I had the pleasure of teaching many of them for over ten years in England before coming out to San Francisco. What follows is the first of an occasional series, documenting their journeys. I hope my American readers will find the stories interesting. I am certain that the lessons my English students learned will resonate with you as well. Without further introduction, here's a story from my friend, the lovely and talented Sam Follows to get us going.]
I’m Sam Follows, originally from London, I went to university at what is now Southampton Solent University in the UK, graduating with a 2:1 in Media with Cultural Studies in 1997. (Editor’s note: For those who don’t know how English degrees work, a 2:1 is an Upper Second Class – i.e. very good – Honors Degree. I think that in America it would be like graduating with a GPA above 3.0 but these things don’t translate exactly.) I now live in Sydney, Australia.
Where I’m at
At the moment I’m having a career break having moved to Sydney from London last year with my husband and toddler, she’s keeping me pretty busy at the moment!
Where DID you want to be?
I envied those who really KNEW what they wanted to do, what craft – be it a Editor, DOP, cameraperson – but I was interested in the whole story, the set up and the way it all weaves together and the techniques used to do that really well to connect. So I figured I’d be the person that can facilitate and enable – producer it was. After two years as a Producer’s Assistant to 3 TV/Film independent Producers and a year travelling and working in Sydney I returned to London and got a job at the BBC.
Has this ambition changed since your college days? If so, how and why?
Working in such a huge organization can be both inspiring and belittling, there were certainly days that I felt like a small cog but a job’s a job, and you just have to stick at it and work towards what you think you can achieve there. I moved around a lot during my time at the beeb (9 years). There were huge technological advancements’ and the BBC had to react and deliver. They were exciting, groundbreaking times. You have to learn fast and simultaneously keep up and drive the changes. After 6 years or so I was a Senior Producer within the Music Division at BBC Worldwide, responsible for producing programming featuring some the best artists around.
What was your first Baby Step?
My first baby step was actually a bit of a side step since I was finding it impossible to get any kind of work experience within the Film & TV industries.
Sometimes the way in isn’t where you think it is!
As a ex-figure/stunt skater I got a call asking whether I could feature in an Evening Standard (Editor’s note: British daily newspaper) piece on inline skating, the journalist Alex Renton was doing a piece on these new off-road skates. When I met Alex I wasn’t really thinking of ‘networking’ but I enjoyed meeting him and asked him for advice, as he seemed like a good guy. I also helped out as much as possible on the day and was just pretty useful to have around.
Long story short, he passed on a Film Producer contact, I met him, he passed on another contact and I got a break at an Independent TV & Film company who needed some support right away and I ended up with that company for two years.
You have to work ALL your contacts, everyone you know to reach the people THEY know. I do wonder how Facebook & Twitter could work against students these days, when you see pictures and status updates of continued drunken exploits there could be a prospective employer out there so be smart about your social media presence.
How, if at all, did that first step lead to the next… and the next?
That was my first solo baby step but shortly before that first appointment, I was invited by Julian Hoxter, my then university course leader, to crew for him on location in the UK for the documentary, Imagine a School… Summerhill. We had a pretty amazing time as a small crew, learning the best way to manage the subjects (young children, teachers, staff that didn’t want us there) setting up quickly and unobtrusively.
That shoot gave me a confidence boost at an important time at the beginning of my career as we WERE just doing it and getting great results, to see and feel that revealing itself on film at that point was a great motivation and gave me something compelling to discuss when I did meet those industry professionals for the first time.
If someone asks you what you have been doing, you need to speak with passion. That’s really inspiring to be around and you can’t fake it.
What lessons did you learn from your ‘baby steps’?
People like to work with good decent people. By that I mean hard grafters who show respect and make themselves useful. There’s no shame in making tea! Whether I’ve been the runner or the Senior Producer in an edit I’ve always been happy to do the tea run.
I also learned how hard working in the TV/Film industries can be on parents and wondered how I could make this work, I haven’t quite figured this one out given I’m on a career break, but I’m full of ideas and am so inspired by the world around me that I hope I’ll be able to make the contribution I want to when the time’s right for me again.
How do you keep your foot in the door?
It’s all about the relationships you cultivate and having conviction about what you want to do. Get a good friend who understands you in the workplace to tell you what you’re really, really good at and also be aware of where you need to develop.