In conversation with Nicola Shindler, multi award-winning producer
Our dedicated industry team at Screen and Film School Manchester work tirelessly to provide students with access to the very best industry professionals. This week we are recapping a recent masterclass with Nicola Shindler OBE, an award-winning producer who was born and raised in Greater Manchester.
Nicola’s career has spanned almost three decades, has seen her win a remarkable eleven BAFTAs and work on countless successful television series, including classics such as Prime Suspect, Queer as Folk, Clocking Off, and Scott and Bailey, to name just a few. Most recently she has worked as the Executive Producer on the hugely popular dramas The Stranger, Stay Close and It’s a Sin. As well as this, she has been the founder of two production companies: Red and Quay Street. Nicola joined us virtually and our students were fortunate enough to be able to ask her questions on a range of topics.
To begin with, our Head of Industry and Careers Jude asked Nicola about how she started out in the world of television:
“I actually started out in theatre and went to work in the Royal Court Theatre in their sales department. I quickly knew I wanted to work with writers, on new ideas. I went into the theatre first because I had no access to TV at that point. After a year I applied for a trainee script editor job with the BBC and I got it. At university when I started to direct plays, I realised I was attracted to new voices, rather than something like Shakespeare. I knew I could help them and shape their writing and assist them in funding their productions.
Following my work as a trainee script editor, I heard about a job on Jimmie Mcgovern’s Cracker, which was being filmed in Manchester and I went to meet the producer for that and that was my first job as a fully-fledged script editor. I did one series of Cracker before returning to the BBC.”
Jude then asked Nicola about the process of founding Red Production Company:
“When I went back to the BBC, I started to become a producer and I produced my first project, Hillsborough, with Granada. It was the early days of independent production companies. Lots of people were very encouraging of me to start up – even at a young and inexperienced age. I knew if I failed, I could go back to being a script editor. Within a year I was greenlit on Queer as Folk. I never intended to run a big business, it crept up on me as a producer, my ongoing ambition was to be in charge.”
How did you meet Russel T Davies? (Writer of Queer as Folk, It’s A Sin and also a friend of the Film School).
“Russel was working at Granada at the same time that I was and although we didn’t meet there I was aware of him and aware of his writing. It always appealed to me, we have the same sense of humour and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He cares about television, and we bonded over that. It’s hard keeping up with him but it’s worth it.”
How does your professional day to day look?
“It changes from day to day. My days for the last few months because I’m not filming have been developing, so lots of reading and meeting writers and broadcasters. I’m now in prep, so I could be reading scripts, discussing design, costume, watching casting videos, and then once filming begins I have to be available immediately to watch rushes in case the writer or myself has a comment to make there and then. Budgets are always a consideration, once filming is underway. In post-production we’re constantly discussing what can make things better. It makes me tired thinking about it all now!”
For our Film Business students, could you explain how important being a producer is, and how important it is having a creative mind?
“It’s a combination of creativity and organisation – it’s a 50/50 split. I do think there is a massive amount of organisation needed to understand budgets and schedules, but every single issue that comes up should be answered via the script or the creative decisions. You have to be able to juggle both. It’s challenging but so rewarding, when you give a voice to everyone involved.”
Nicola was then generous enough to answer a handful of student questions:
Q: I am going to Mexico in the summer on a trip, what would the most interesting things be to film when I’m there?
A: I think that location shouldn’t come first – come up with a brilliant story and then film it in Mexico. Be story-led, always.
Q: What genre do you enjoy working in the most and why?
A: I guess I love a good thriller, because I am so driven by story. Hooks and twists and turns. I find that fascinating. Also, things that are totally original and totally different, really motivate me to be the facilitator to get those ideas on screen.
Q: What would you say is the hardest aspect to being a producer?
A: I guess how much there is to think about and how hard it is to control people. Working out how to manage lots of people to get the best out of them and to make sure you’re watching every single aspect of the production. The creative side is easier than the filming side.
Q: What has been the proudest moment in your career?
A: Going back to the beginning, making Hillsborough led to a further enquiry and a further inquest, which led to prosecution. That wasn’t directly my responsibility, of course, but to be a part of that process is something I will always be really proud of.
Q: What advice would you have to somebody who is just starting out in the industry?
A: Try to focus as early as you can on what you want to do and why you want to do it and go all out to pursue that. You don’t have to know straight away but focus down as quickly as you can so you can start to put all of your attention on those areas. There is a shortage of people at every single level in the industry at the moment; go and get work experience with a relevant company. Learn what it is you want to do and go all out for it.
Q: Would you say that the streaming of drama is the future of storytelling, or will there be an equal share with film?
A: I’m biased because I work in television and it is a very different business to film. It’s easier to get things commissioned for television now, because there is such a demand for it. Film is a very hard industry because of Marvel. Which means it is more of a challenge than television. I love the conversation which occurs in a long-running television series.
Q: What turns a good story into a great story?
A: For me, it is something that I have to keep watching – it has to engage me emotionally. If it doesn’t work in the heart then it doesn’t work. For example, something I didn’t work on, I May Destroy You, as a viewer you were compelled to know what would unfold but you also loved the characters. That was exceptional. That is storytelling at its best.
With that answer another top-class masterclass came to a close. Nicola is such a prestigious, successful industry professional, and we were delighted to host her. Her words of wisdom will stay with our students for a long time to come as their careers develop. Keep a look out for the next inspiring masterclass guest we have at Screen and Film School.