The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives, but how are Pact members adapting? We’ve asked them to share their lockdown lessons and reflections on where the industry might go from here.
Emma-Rosa Dias is an IFTA-nominated Producer/Director and Managing Director of Belfast-based Afro-Mic Productions, which makes drama, documentary and factual entertainment.
We have Friday work drinks online now and our Production Assistant Erin, the youngest of the team, has us up doing TikTok dance routines!
Q. How have you adapted to working from home and what does a typical day look like?
Working from home was a bit of a baptism of fire for us but we adapted well! A typical day involves two daily team Zoom meetings, one at 10:00am and another in the afternoon. These meetings are great for organising our time and projects, but also create nice opportunities to just chat, which boosts morale. This also provides some well needed structure, because as always with TV no one day is the same!
Q. Zoom: love it or hate it?
Love it! It has been brilliant for team communication and pitching to commissioners and we have definitely clocked up the hours - taking breaks from the screen is key to its success as it does get very intense! I very much prefer face to face meetings but if this is what needs to be done to keep people safe then so be it.
Q. What one thing about working in the industry are you missing most in lockdown? And what are you not missing at all?
I’m missing: the office, development collaboration, quick chats, going for coffee, being on a shoot, my frequent work trips to London and Glasgow, and I will really miss festival season and getting to see everyone from the industry and networking in person at the likes of Edinburgh.
I don’t miss: the commute to work! The extra time in the evening has been used for trying out new dinner recipes!
I really hope that commissioners will help the nations and regions indies by continuing to utilise Zoom for early commissioning discussions and perhaps even pitching.
Q. How are you and your team keeping up morale whilst working remotely?
Zoom has been great for socialising as we have Friday work drinks online now and our Production Assistant, Erin the youngest of the team has us up doing TikTok dance routines! At one point we were all doing impressions of each other's Zoom poses! WhatsApp has also been great for keeping up the spirits with lots of gifs and clips. Encouraging the team to take breaks and go out in the fresh air if the screen time is getting a bit much.
Q. Have there been any surprise benefits to the lockdown?
Access to commissioners has been the number one benefit. Being able to pitch directly and have fast feedback has been invaluable to us as a regional indie. Two day trips have become one hour Zooms, which benefits us hugely.
In addition to this, being able to attend so many webinars held by commissioners and development execs has been brilliant. Also personally the opportunity to take part in the panels has also been fantastic, it has made me feel closer to the industry in a way. Indielab and The TV Collective are two panels I’ve taken part in recently.
Q. Do you anticipate lasting change to your organisation’s way of working beyond this immediate crisis?
It’s been 12 weeks now and we have adapted successfully, so its good to know that we can work this way should we have to revert to working from home. One thing that has stood out is our days feel more structured due to Zoom meetings at certain times which help with delegation of tasks and creativity, so going forward I think we will structure some things in a similar way when we are back in the office.
Secondly I really hope that commissioners will help the nations and regions indies by continuing to utilise Zoom for early commissioning discussions and perhaps even pitching.
I hope that the communication and collaboration shown by the Northern Ireland Indie sector remains in place (beyond COVID-19).
Q. What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
I have been lucky enough to have a good few mentors over my career – including Channel 4’s Dorothy Bryne and Adam Gee through the Commissioning Mentor Network – who have given me a huge amount of fantastic advice over the years. However, there was one piece of wisdom I was given early in my career that I won’t forget:
I was offered a job as an in-house TV Producer for a leading ad-agency by Creative Director Larry McGarry. I felt a bit intimidated when I first got the job - a working class girl who left school at sixteen with a broad Belfast accent surrounded by university graduates!
I think Larry noticed that during my first week I was attempting to tame my accent and so he kindly took me aside and told me, “always stick to your roots kiddo, never try to change for anybody.”
He reminded me that the reason I got that job was because of who I am and my talents, that uniqueness is a strength and his advice really has stuck with me.
Q. What films/TV programmes and series are helping you get through the lockdown?
Too many to choose from, but The Last Dance (Netflix), Normal People (BBC3) and Murder in the Outback (Channel 4) have been my favourites.
Q. TV Box-sets: binge-watch or make them last?
Binge-watch but slightly concerned about what we’ll all be watching this time next year if Drama productions don’t pick up soon.
Q. What or who in the industry has inspired you most since this pandemic began and why?
I have been lucky to have worked alongside a number of inspiring people during lockdown. Firstly the Northern Ireland Screen team have been exceptional at bringing together the factual indie community through our bi-monthly industry calls - they really took control of the situation by bringing us together and ensured the NI industry remained collaborative and positive early on.
Secondly Eddie Doyle and the BBC NI Commissioning team turned round a lightening fast commissioning round which steadied the nerves of many NI indies.
Finally, our E4 Commissioning Executive Navi Lama has to be mentioned for her energy and enthusiasm during production for our E4 short form series, Letters In Lockdown. It’s not every day a person can match Afro-Mic for energy but she did just that and more!
Q. What lasting change do you hope we might see in the industry after this crisis is over?
I hope that the communication and collaboration shown by the Northern Ireland Indie sector remains in place. I believe it has led to a stronger regional creative sector here, which will lead to more commissions for everyone and help us grow.
I think all indies, Afro-Mic included, went into survival mode at the start of lockdown and there was a lot of anxiety. Through communication and a lot of hard work we've managed to secure three new commissions and hired eight freelancers, something we are very proud of.
Pact would like to thank Emma-Rosa for taking the time to answer our questions.
If you would like to feature in our member interview series, please e-mail email@example.com.