It’s day one of our new NSI Lifestyle Series Producer course and we’ve got the students blogging

We kicked off bootcamp in Toronto this week for our newest course NSI Lifestyle Series Producer. And we’ve asked our students to get their typing fingers at the ready to write a blog post every day telling us what they’re learning.

NSI Lifestyle Series Producer is an advanced training course which focuses on skills required to produce a lifestyle series. After bootcamp, students work an eight-week practical apprenticeship on an existing lifestyle series which has been green-lit by one of our Program Partners: Shaw Media, Bell Media and Corus.

This is day one of bootcamp – Monday, October 15.

Rachel Coe, Paperny Entertainment, interning on Yukon Gold

Rachel-Coe-photo

“Time just flew by today! I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to focus due to jet lag and sleep deprivation but our many guests had me engaged from the first minute. I was very privileged to be able to listen to some of the top content producers in Canada today.

We heard about series producing from all angles – broadcasters, executive producers and series producers themselves. Each group has interesting differences in their take on series producing but the through-line that stuck out to me most was the importance of communication.

The series producer is the leader for everyone on the show and it’s her job to make sure each person stays in the loop – from the production executives who commissioned the show to the story editors who are crafting it – and knows whatever relates to their position. Communication is the key to both solving and preventing problems, to keeping the team motivated and to working efficiently.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s case study of Pitchin’ In and examination of finding and working with on-camera talent.”

Melissa Smith, Big Coat Productions, interning on Love it or List it

Melissa-Smith

“Hello! This is my first foray into the world of blogging, so please bear with me! Having just completed the first day of the NSI Lifestyle Series Producer training course I’m still digesting the vast amount of wisdom and knowledge that was imparted from various veteran members of the industry including network production executives, executive producers and experienced series producers.

I found it extremely encouraging how open and kind these guest speakers were in their willingness to discuss the challenges and expectations of a successful series producer in the lifestyle genre. As I reflect on today, the old proverb ‘The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know’ keeps coming to mind. Now I feel I know a fair bit but I also feel energized by the broad base of knowledge that was shared with us by these experienced professionals and I want to keep the learning curve up!

Having only completed one day of this training course I am already confident that the skills I will learn in this setting will be invaluable.

The veteran series producers extolled the importance of delegating and trusting in your team versus micro managing. This was an important take away for me personally, as I find I have an inclination to want to do everything myself. I have known this is an area I need to improve in. Gaining a greater understanding of the responsibilities and time demands upon a series producer clarifies the importance of trusting in your team to fulfill the roles they were hired for. No one can do it all.

Communication, leadership and the ability to be calm under pressure were key virtues discussed in the role of a series producer. The importance of communication on all levels was an overarching discussion point – not only the ability to effectively communicate but also knowing when to communicate. This is a crucial tool in anticipating potential problems before they arise, as one speaker put it ‘Being proactive rather than reactive.’

A reoccurring theme was the concept of ‘picking your battles.’ As an experienced set producer this is a skill I have come to realize is invaluable, and I was interested to hear this reflected across the board from the various executives/series producers that spoke. When managing the multi-faceted elements of delivering a successful lifestyle series this seems to be somewhat of a mantra. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff!

My takeaway from today is that while the role of series producer can be incredibly challenging, it can also be incredibly rewarding if approached with right level of passion, drive and team work to create the best possible product. NSI is a great asset to improving ones skill set as a means of creating excellent Canadian television.

Stay tuned. The journey continues.”

Christina Velocci, Architect Films, interning on Decked Out

Christina-Velocci

“Well day one was much more than I expected. There was so much useful information divulged in these first sessions. What I found most useful was hearing from all levels of show authorities from the top down: the network, the executive producers/production company owners and series producers – they all had such viable perspectives to share on what makes a good series and series producer.

It became more and more apparent how important a series producer is to a production. In essence, you become the glue that binds all aspects of the production and your responsibilities are more than anyone else’s because you are managing the entire series from beginning to end. Yet, all of the speakers agreed that part of the responsibility is creating a good team that will support you and make the show a successful one. A series producer doesn’t do it alone.

I expected to hear a lot of differences between how the network defines the role of a series produce and how the producers defined it. But there seemed to be a consensus on what makes a good series producer: the ability to manage, communicate (with everyone on the team including the network), trouble shoot and be realistic with your expectations. A role that sounded scarier with each set of presentations. But I also found the speakers motivating and inspirational. Aside from the fear of so much responsibility, I left today’s session feeling excited about the possibility of such an important role. I know more now that this is definitely a role I want to one day fill.

I will definitely keep all the notes I have made as my own bible to live by. I don’t think there would be a better way to get that kind of insight without listening to these key players and hearing first hand what is necessary and required for success.

I am totally excited to see what tomorrow brings!”

Kate Green, Frantic Films, series TBD

Kate Green

“I’m feeling pretty lucky to have Al Magee as our program leader for the Lifestyle Series Producer course. He is a man with a lot of experience of both sides of the scripted and non-scripted fence.

Mr. Magee started the day talking about what is a showrunner/series producer. It seems that the logistical details of every show are different and the definition of showrunner is different depending on the production and even the production company in terms of how they structure internally.

Ultimately though, it seems that a showrunner is a showrunner by any other name regardless of it being a lifestyle or scripted show. You are the leader and the one who will protect the creative congruency of the show. You will be the one that eats, sleeps and lives the show. You are the place where the buck stops.

Our first panel was with Maria Farano from OWN/W, Tanya Linton from HGTV, Leslie Merklinger from Slice and Ken MacDonald from Bell. I have often been given the impression from others that production executives are ‘scary’ but I was overwhelmed by the idea that these are just people and they have the best intentions. They just want the show to be successful. The broadcaster is a collaborator and communication is key.

Something that also was brought up was the importance of brand integration. Up and coming showrunners will have to be on top of the balance of protecting the integrity of the story while being able to integrate products. The business model is changing and we are the next generation of series producers that will have to really be able to tackle this balance in a creative way.

The next panel was Kit Redmond, Bernard Periatambee, Kim Bondi and Phil Hutchins. Everybody gave great insight into what they expect from their series producers but the three ideas that really stayed with me were:

(1) Never say ‘I want this or I need this.’ It should always be about the show. Ask yourself what the show needs.

(2) You have to live you own life and engage with others outside of the industry. If you stop living you will stop seeing what’s trending.

(3) Always have a plan B.

Ultimately you have to be passionate about what you are doing yet at the same time, to paraphrase Bernard, ‘It’s better to bend like the reeds in the gentle breeze rather than break like a brittle branch.’ (It sounded really good with a British accent).

Our afternoon session ‘Tales from the trenches’ brought in seasoned series producers Ann Francis, Katie Rattan Daigle and Jennifer Scott. It was really amazing to hear some honest and frank discussions about the ups and downs of running a show. The big lessons here for me were:

(1) Don’t micro manage. You can’t do everything so learn to delegate.

(2) Pick your battles.

(3) Share your good notes with the team. Everybody needs a morale boost once in a while.

(4) Hire right. Personality is key in this business. Trust your instincts. Know what you want in the job description so that you’ll know what you’re looking for.

I’m exhausted and have some prep for tomorrow to do so that’s it for now. Looking forward to day two.”

Jessica Vander Kooij, Cineflix, interning on Property Brothers

Jessica-Vander-Kooij

“Today brought back a flurry of emotions: it kind of felt like the first day of school in a way. That nervous, excited feeling I remember I used to get. All the typical questions coming to mind: what should I wear? Do I pack a lunch? Will people be nice to me? Will I like them? Will I make a good first impression? It’s funny how some things never change. I’ll have to admit, it was an odd feeling to have, but I think for all the right reasons.

After I got over those feelings it was down to business. All the speakers were amazing and so very insightful. I absolutely loved hearing about all their experiences and knowledge from their perspectives and different roles. It’s interesting how they all work in this industry but yet they all had their own theories and ways of expressing themselves. In all honestly I could have heard from each panel for a full day and then some, and it still would never be enough.

When I sat down to write this blog I was thinking of what I was going to write. I looked over my notes from the day and saw a few specific words I had written down, and remembered exactly what I had meant. (I’m not usually a heavy note taker. I’ll make my to-do lists but my notes usually consist of random words on a page that I’ll go back to later and know exactly what I meant but to someone else it would just be gibberish.)

I had written two words on their very own page – ‘excited!’ and ‘challenge!’ I think that pretty much sums up how I’m feeling after today. I’m so excited about this next chapter in my career. And ready for the challenge. I know it’s not going to be easy and I’m going to make mistakes but I think that’s why we love working in this industry.

It was funny throughout the day many different speakers kept saying that they hoped they weren’t scaring us with all they had to say about the series producer role. It’s most certainly nerve racking but when I stop and think about it, for me it’s really exciting and I can’t wait to make this my new reality.

Day one is down. The rest of my life, still to come.”

Ann Whiteway, Cellar Door, interning on Chef Michael’s Kitchen

Ann-Whiteway

“Favorite line of the day: ‘You need to be able to kiss ass and kick ass at the same time!’ (Author protected by the cone of silence).

Thank you to the network executives Maria Farano, Tanya Linton, Leslie Merklinger and Ken MacDonald; the executive producers Kit Redmond, Bernard Periatambee, Kim Bondi and Phil Hutchins; and series producers Anne Francis, Katie Ruttan Daigle and Jennifer Scott for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to the group today.

When I first started with Cellar Door Productions, I was working on the animated series Eckhart and one day my youngest son, who would have been five or so at the time, called and said, ‘Mommy, I’m watching Eckhart. What are you doing right now?’ Whether five or 95, viewers do not realize what goes into the making of a television series. That what they are watching was created at least 18 months prior, shot five to 12 months before they see it on television, and the number of people and hours that go into giving them their 22 minutes of entertainment each week.

Today was an amazing experience, having the three levels of creativity in one day. There were a few key points that they all agree on.
A successful lifestyle series must:

  • Be entertaining – characters are key, viewers must care about them
  • Highly formatted – viewers will know what to expect
  • Do well in repeat – viewers will watch time and time again

A successful lifestyle producer must:

  • Be a strong leader with excellent communication skills and works well with others
  • Have a strong work ethic, and lots of energy, yet maintain a calm set
  • Be realistic; with creative and schedules
  • Be able to manage their talent/host

My question from the day: both the executive producers and series producers had the same advice; take care of yourself, sleep, eat and exercise.

When do you find the time to do things for yourself when you are working 60+ hours a week?”

Nicole Butler, RTR Media, interning on Mother of the Bride

Nicole-Butler

“Today three panels of guests defined for us what it is to be a series producer.

We heard from broadcasters, executive producers and experienced series producers. What was the take-away? The series producer role is very challenging. It draws on skills that might seem at odds: creativity, tenacity and leadership. They must be strategists, communicators, organizers, team players. It’s that all-round person who can deliver creatively, consistently and on schedule.

It’s a long list of requirements and the executive producers laughingly called the role ‘God but with no ego’ while the expert series producers were at times scratching their heads as to why anyone would take on this demanding role. That said, it was inspiring to hear from a panel of expert series producers who love what they do. It was a fun and absorbing day.

Al Magee and Brandice Vivier [NSI Lifestyle Series Producer faculty] have asked us to put together our own series producer code of conduct. I’m gathering together my notes from today and I’m going to have to find a good place to store it in my brain – a place I can draw from and hopefully put into practice.”

Program manager Brandice Vivier has also written about her first day running the NSI Lifestyle Series Producer course.

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