Emmy and AACTA Award-winning producer turned screen sector executive coach Ellenor Cox outlines practical actions to take if you’re considering the need to revamp, revitalise or rethink your current career trajectory.

Australia’s enviable Covid-Safe working conditions, generous location attraction incentives and world-class reputation for no-fuss, blue chip delivery have resulted in a production bonanza.  Studios and sound stages are booked solid for the next 3-4 years and experienced and available heads of department are as rare as hen’s teeth.

The TV Producer Offset rise from 20 per cent to 30 per cent from July 1 has television production schedules lining up like planes on the peak hour ‘new financial year’ tarmac. And the recent decision to retain the feature film offset at 40 per cent has provided a much-needed pressure valve release, as the mad dash to commence principal photography prior to June 30 was creating untenable pressure for limited crew and resources.

The current climate of production demand is exposing a major feast or famine divide for many industry practitioners. While it’s wonderful, after such a slow year in 2020, to see so many below-the-line crew now gainfully employed, the same isn’t necessarily true for those running their own production companies or in traditional abovethe-line roles such as producing, directing and writing.

The local production industry is challenged with tightening commercial presale deals, reduced available funding from both state and federal agencies and the annual augmentation of close to 7,000 media graduates all with their sights on being the next Cecil B DeMille. In short, for many, the sandpit is getting smaller and more crowded.

Anecdotally, upwards of 80 applications are now commonplace for the traditional full-time ‘bread and butter’ agency or network roles on offer, as shrinking permanent workforces in many of our production companies have resulted in highly experienced practitioners seeking alternative stable work.

So while there’s high demand for skilled workers in certain parts of our sector right now, it’s certainly not consistent across the whole industry.

Prior to moving into executive coaching and consulting, I ran my own production company for over 20 years.In moments where there was a need to recalibrate our development slate to align with shifting market trends, or change focus due to unexpected events, I was often reminded of pertinent advice given to me by a successful business friend: ‘Go where the river runs deep’.

Ellenor Cox.

Staying focused on development projects not getting traction, working partnerships that aren’t invigorating you, and career choices that aren’t bringing you joy or sufficient financial remuneration, could mean that you’re standing in the shallows of your current career, rather than wading out, knee deep, into the fast-flowing waters of career shift possibilities.

Contemplating a career shift or refocus is challenging at the best of times, but when we’re feeling under-confident, unsure or overwhelmed, it’s easy to do nothing and busy ourselves with a variety of procrastination strategies, while hoping that things will change.

Avoiding the issue helps alleviate some discomfort in the short term but worry won’t bring about new options and doesn’t create the meaningful change that we want. What is needed are tangible small actions.

Get informed

Sometimes the ideas we have about our industry or career are out of date or ill-informed.

  • Be honest with yourself about how much research you’re self initiating at present.
  • Could you become more disciplined and focused with this? How methodical are you with subscribing to (and reading!) the plethora of industry and agency newsletters? How engaged are you with your relevant guild?
  • When was the last time you participated in an industry conference or workshop?
  • Are you engaging with relevant Facebook and other social media groups?
  • Are you reaching out to work acquaintances for advice and suggestions?

Don’t use money as a barrier to this research, as there’s a surprising amount of free information available. Don’t use a lack of time as an excuse either, as we make time for the things that matter to us.

Self-reflection

Create a four-columned list.

  • In the first column, note all the skills and attributes you have – start clumping these skills into clusters or complementary areas i.e, writing, editing, budgeting, etc.
  • Next to this, on a scale of 1-5, rate your level of competency.
  • In the next column, use the same 1-5 rating system to indicate the level of joy that this task gives you. 
  • In the  fourth column identify, using a low/mid/high rating what the perceived demand is for these current skills at present.Be honest with yourself about demand for you current level of expertise, and not a standard currently out of your reach.

This is a surprisingly potent exercise for helping you to identify where to focus your energies moving forward, and what attributes to stress and focus on if you’re needing to do a revamp on your CV and professional online presence. The more connections you can make with areas that bring you joy and where there’s perceived industry demand then the more likely you’ll be to succeed with a new career direction.

Make connections

When was the last time you revamped your CV or updated any of your professional skills? The leading educational institutions response to the current job climate is apparent in the plethora of new short courses and self-directed learning that’s on offer. The guilds, agencies and Facebook support groups have all been particularly active during COVID and their continued presence is a great place to spend time. An upside of COVID is that everyone is familiar now with online courses and meetings, so distance is no longer a barrier to connecting and networking.

Take small steps

It’s going to be the daily incremental and consistent actions that will create the outcomes that you’re seeking. Ask yourself what can you do today, tomorrow and each week to bridge the gap between where you’re at now and where you want to be.

A career shift or refocus requires effort and sometimes it can feel like an overwhelming task. Take a moment to acknowledge the changes that you’ve already made and reflect on the steps it took to get you to this place. If you’ve had the commitment, focus and drive to do this before then you’ll be able to do it again.

Stay outcome focused

A key way to conquer any fear or reluctance is to have a clear idea of the outcome. Review your column lists and the areas that brought you joy and energised you. Ideally these activities are also linked to ways to be remunerated for them.

If that’s looking challenging and you’ve highlighted a ‘low’ chance of there being demand for this skill but it’s something that you’re absolutely committed to doing, then start to think laterally about ‘out of the box’ ways these skills can be transferable or useful to other in demand areas in our sector at present.

The key thing to remember is to take small steps every day to avoid the comparison trap and procrastination. Cold calls and emails, attending networking events where you know no one and rejection emails are challenging for all of us but ultimately, we’re the only ones that can step into where the river runs deep.

Ellenor Cox Coaching & Consultancy www.ellenorcox.com

This story originally appeared in IF Magazine #200 May-June. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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