My Office: Anna Wallace
In our My Office series, we explore the working spaces of alumni around the world to give you the inside view into what careers are really like – and hopefully provide some inspiration along the way! We meet Anna Wallace (English, 2018), an Assistant Production Coordinator on the third series of BBC and HBO’s His Dark Materials (starring fellow Nottingham alumna Ruth Wilson), to find out what it’s like to work behind-the-scenes of one of the most exciting series on TV.
Name: Anna Wallace
Job: Assistant Production Coordinator, His Dark Materials
Office: Wolf Studios Wales
Hi Anna! Can you tell us a little about how you started your career in TV?
“My career history is a bit all over the place, which is just the nature of working as a freelancer in TV. I’m employed on short-term contracts (my longest being eight months and the shortest two), so I’m always jumping from job to job.
“It had always been my dream to work in TV, so after graduating I spent six months applying for every type of TV job going. Eventually, I got accepted to an ‘Office Runner’ scheme at Fremantle, a huge TV company consisting of lots of smaller companies or labels. I started out doing general admin in an office where shows like Grand Designs, Escape to the Country and The Apprentice were being made. It gave me the opportunity to meet people with really varied careers and I asked a million questions, eventually getting opportunities to help out on shows like Britain’s Got Talent. I even persuaded someone in the label’s development team to mentor me, so it was a brilliant introduction to the industry.
“Within five months, I was offered a job within the same office working on Grand Designs: House of the Year. I travelled all around the UK as a Location Assistant, filming in the most incredible houses, and stayed on into post-production as an Archive Researcher. From there, I started working as a Talent Coordinator on football-themed travelogue Harry’s Heroes: Euro Having a Laugh, coordinating retired football legends as they filmed across Europe to relive their glory days.
“In January 2020 my old mentor offered me a position as Development Assistant in Fremantle’s central London offices, which soon turned into working from my sofa as soon as the pandemic hit. I didn’t know it when I took the job but I was very fortunate to be working in development in the first lockdown – all of my old colleagues still working on productions were immediately out of work – and it was a very interesting time to be developing and pitching new formats to broadcasters. Suddenly all our ideas had to be filmable in lockdown – all ideas for travel, studio or dating shows were immediately scrapped!
“In late 2020 I made my big move back into production, this time into scripted television, working in Kent as Production Secretary on new detective drama Whitstable Pearl and most recently in Cardiff as an Assistant Production Coordinator on the third series of BBC and HBO’s fantasy series His Dark Materials.”
What is your job now and where’s your ‘office’?
“I’ve been working on His Dark Materials since early March 2021. I had an interview for the role, was offered the job that same night, and in less than a week I had moved down to Cardiff (a city I’d never visited before) and was off to my first day at the office. You have to always be prepared to move around for jobs quickly in TV – I love the spontaneity of it and the opportunity it gives me to travel and meet new people (a blessing during the pandemic).
“My office at the moment is in Wolf Studio Wales, a large studio complex which houses both my office and huge studio spaces for the sets. My job is within the production department – I’m primarily responsible for contracting and onboarding our huge cast and crew and overseeing the show’s sustainability initiatives, but I work closely with the larger production team to make sure that everything is slick and organised. We have many big departments, ranging from Set Decoration to Creature Effects, and the production team is the central team between them all making sure that the production is properly set up and runs like clockwork.”
Was there one career-defining moment which enabled you to pursue your career?
“It’s difficult to pinpoint one because so many people and opportunities have helped to get me to where I am today, but getting my first job in TV through the ‘Office Runner’ scheme at Fremantle was the moment which led to all the rest. I didn’t know anyone who worked in TV before I started at Fremantle – it’s much easier to progress within TV once you’ve got your foot in the door and I can easily link every job I’ve got since back to that one."
What would you say are the key characteristics of someone who does your job?
“The most important characteristic of anyone working in TV is that you have to get on with people – you won’t be asked back or recommended for jobs otherwise! You don’t get to choose who you work with, and you’ve got to be able to adapt and work in a way that best fits each team you join. For my specific role, you have to be incredibly organised (I love a colour-coded spreadsheet), and you also have to be resilient and always on the ball. No matter how much you prepare, things always go wrong, and you have to be able to problem-solve and fix issues at the drop of a hat.”
How would your colleagues describe you?
“I don’t know! I’m constantly working with new people and you become a very close team very quickly and then often don’t see each other again for years – I’ve only known my current colleagues a month but I’m now flatmates with one of them, so I hope that means they’d describe me as easy to get on with!”
What’s the one thing about your office which you most love or hate?
“I love the people – we’re socially distanced at the moment with screens between us, but my team is amazing, we always have each other’s backs and we have lots of laughs. It’s amazing being surrounded by such creative and accomplished people, I have huge admiration for the work each department does. It takes many different disciplines to pull off a big-budget TV show, and the cast and crew working on His Dark Materials are truly world-class at what they do.
“As much as I love my job and the people I work with, the thing I hate the most about my office is the amount of time I spend there! It can be very difficult to maintain a work-life balance in TV, you become so wrapped up in each show you work on and it’s difficult to get time to switch off.”
And is there anything you could not live without in your office?
“The office coffee machine. I’m trying to cut down my caffeine, but TV had a long hours culture, we start around 7am in the morning and often won’t finish until 8pm or later. I’ve never been a morning person and I simply wouldn’t be able to function and get the job done without it!”
What’s been the best moment working in your office?
“On my last job, Whitstable Pearl, I was watching some filming and got asked to be an extra! Although I watched the footage back and you can barely see me as I walk past the camera, it was still very exciting! It’s what I love most about TV, your office is wherever you’re filming, everyone pitches in to make it work and each day is completely different. I think my best moment on His Dark Materials is yet to come, I’m very excited for some of the things we have in store!”
And the toughest?
“The first toughest day that comes to mind wasn’t actually a day at the office – in TV, you’re constantly on the job no matter where you are or what time it is. The day started with a panicked call at 4am on a Saturday morning from a member of talent whose taxi hadn’t arrived for them to make the Eurostar – they were on a strict schedule and lived in the middle of nowhere, and no taxi companies were picking up the phone, but eventually with the help of a friend they made it just in time.
“Later that day the entire crew and talent were due to come back on the Eurostar – so of course there were huge delays and instead of getting one pre-planned train back together they all got on different trains. I was on the tube with no signal but I had to work out who got on which train and rearrange all of their carefully pre-arranged taxis before they got to London! Coordinating international travel for celebrities becomes much harder in bed at 4am or from the tube, but miraculously it worked out fine in the end!”
Do you have one piece of advice for someone who wants to work in an office like yours?
“Networking and connecting with people you admire in the industry is key. It’s an unfortunate truth but getting in and staying in TV (and film too) is all about who you know (and a bit of good timing). My advice would be, don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask them about themselves and see if you can help them with anything. If you’re genuinely interested, people will be very open and you’ll be surprised what opportunities come from it.”
What is it like to watch a show you've worked on? Is it hard to keep spoilers secret?!
“It can actually be very difficult to watch a show you’ve been involved in, because you know all of the hard work that went into making the smallest few seconds of footage happen. It’s hard to relax and just enjoy it the way a normal viewer would! It’s also very interesting to see what they keep and what they decide to cut out – it can be frustrating if you worked hard to pull something together and it never makes the cut!
“I’ve never found it difficult to keep spoilers a secret (mostly because you have to sign an NDA before you’re even allowed in the offices – I can’t even share a picture of my desk because of potential spoilers!). It helps that I spend most of my time with colleagues and there’s no secrets about the show between us. Friends and family always try and get me to crack but I’m always very good at keeping things secret – it’s also more fun that way!”
And finally, how do you take your tea?
“Considering how much I love tea, I’m open to lots of variations. I tend to have a breakfast tea (if I’m feeling fancy I’ll go for an Early Grey) and I’ll keep it relatively milky and without sugar if I’m making my own, but I’ll never complain if I’m brought a tea that’s dark and sugary!”