Creative Lives — Shoots, sheep and long shots: Jeannette Sutton, producer at Just So

Posted 21 September 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

A professional dancer up until the age of 25, producer Jeannette Sutton has already been a retiree. After deciding it was a path she no longer wanted to pursue, a cold call to a friend of a friend’s sister turned into a lifelong friendship and, crucially, acted as her first big break into the world of film. Having worked as a runner and a production manager, she’s now calling the shots as a producer at creative agency Just So and is the organisational mastermind behind shoots, budgets and logistics. The reality is a random and spontaneous one that sees her scoping out new work, on location, and occasionally borrowing the odd sheep. Swapping the stage for the screen, she fills us in on her career journey thus far and imparts some vital words of wisdom for budding producers.  

Jeannette Sutton

Job Title

Producer, Just So (2015–present)

Based

London

Previous Employment

Freelance production manager and third AD on features (2012–2015)
Travelling and work at film festivals (2010–2012) 
Agents’ assistant, Independent (2007–2010) 
Marketing Assistant, Capitol Films (2007) 
Runner, Feel Films (2006)

Education

Dance training at Laine Theatre Arts (1999–2002)

Social Media

Inside Just So

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
I take a film project from its conception – an idea on a page – all the way up to it being a fully executed piece of content. As a producer my sole responsibility is scoping out and pitching potential projects, and checking timings and budgets, so if we win, I’ll be ready to deal with the logistics of the production process. I’ll then be across liaising with the director, agency and client to ensure everyone’s aligned. I also oversee the edit process and make sure that all the deliverables are as promised.

What does a typical working day look like?
Each day is completely different. When I’m in pre-production it can be very intense, making sure logistics are correct. If I’m not prepping for a shoot then a lot of my time is spent looking for potential work, finding directors and keeping on top of all other jobs. I’ll be working across various stages, so I split my day accordingly. 

Where does the majority of your work take place?
For the most part it’s quite desk bound, but when I’m on a shoot I’ll be thinking on my feet in a studio or in the countryside – wherever the location is where we’re filming. How often I’m on shoots varies; this year I’ve done around four or five, but there’s always one on the horizon.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I’d try to work in the film industry. But you need to know someone in the industry, otherwise it’s quite a difficult one to break into.”

How did you land your current job?
I was freelancing at Just So as a production manager before I had the interview. Wanting to progress to become a producer, I had a chat with Ric (the head of production) and it just so happened that they were looking for one at the time.

How collaborative is your role? 
Extremely. It’s very subjective work, so it’s about aligning the creative team with what the client is thinking. That means trying to come to a compromise that results in a product that everyone’s happy with. As we have an agency side, I work closest with the account director if we have a job that’s direct to the client. If we work with an ad agency outside of Just So then I’ll work closely with the agency producer there. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable is the collaborative process, especially if we work on a project in house; it’s a real melting pot of ideas. I also love being on set and the need to think on your feet. It’s always very random and spontaneous – whether you’re having to chase the light or talk to a farmer about trying to film something on their land, or borrow a sheep. That’s what makes it fun and the results are usually great. The worst bit is the very initial stage and figuring out all the variables, which can be quite daunting.

Shot from upcoming work for NCTL (Salary & Progression)

Shot from upcoming work for NCTL (Salary & Progression)

Shot from upcoming work for NCTL (Salary & Progression)

Shot from upcoming work for NCTL (Salary & Progression)

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Recently we did a shoot for a fashion brand where we interviewed some well-known creative women. It’s not out yet, but it was so inspiring to listen to their stories and learn how they started out. In general, the work is incredibly varied which makes for exciting challenges. 

What skills are essential to your job?
Adaptability, communication and people skills. Random knowledge (about farms, for example!) are also very useful in production and can help you out of sticky situations. 

Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
Yes, I’m currently co-producing a film with Film London, the BFI and the BBC which we are looking to shoot next spring.

What tools do you use most for your work?
My laptop, phone, notebook, pen and a ruler. I use the ruler to draw a line down the middle of the page, so I can have the job or the subject on the left side, and a to-do list on the right. (If I’m feeling really fancy I’ll underline each of the subjects as well.) I’ll use the other left side to scribble down thoughts. I hate the idea of a to-do list on my computer; I’ve tried it but I just can’t absorb the information, I find that things tend to sink in if I write them out. It’s probably a hangover from how I learnt at school. 

Inside Just So

Jeannette at work

Inside the studio

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
A ballerina, a vet and She-Ra (a cartoon character I loved). I was always watching films growing up, and I always danced. It was like my first love, so I guess I was always quite artistic in that regard. 

What were your first jobs?
I was a professional dancer until the age of 25. I didn’t want to go on to be a choreographer or teacher, and didn’t want to push myself further in that direction. It’s a brutal industry so I had to realign my path a bit. When I retired from professional dance I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I loved film so I thought I’d just try to work in the film industry. But of course it’s not that simple; you tend to need to know someone in the industry otherwise it’s quite a difficult one to break into. 

“I make mistakes all the time. I get angry with myself but that dissipates quite quickly because there’s a learning that comes from that.”

What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career
When I was about 23 I worked in Gap with a girl who had a friend with a sister who was an independent film producer called Daisy Allsop. It was a long shot but I cold emailed her out of the blue one day. We met for a coffee, and now she’s my best mate and my mentor. I’ve known her for nearly ten years, and it was a real turning point in my life. If I hadn’t emailed her I might not have ended up where I have! She very much helped me on my way to begin with.

Initially, I interned at Feel Films before working for a film sales company called Velvet Octopus (Now SC International). They took me out to the Cannes film festival to run the office there, but ultimately there wasn't a full time role for me. It was around 2007 when everything was crashing financially, and it was very difficult to get a job. Through working there I got a job as a marketing assistant for another film sales company called Capitol Films, but unfortunately it folded in the recession (I was there only for six months). Later I got to know an agent through people I’d met at parties and events who worked at Independent Talent. I worked as an agent’s assistant there for three years. 

Postcards: Calling Home by Just So

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Working as an agents’ assistant taught me a lot; dealing with scheduling and diaries. There were lots of projects on at the same time, and I was reading a lot of scripts, so I learnt about the process before I was in production – talking to casting directors and dealing with that side of things. I feel like the various environments I’ve worked in throughout my career have all given me different knowledge.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
I make mistakes all the time. I get angry with myself but that dissipates quite quickly because there’s a learning that comes from that. I like to take a lot on, so my biggest challenge is navigating through that. But I’m slowly learning to try and change that!

Is your job what you thought it would be?
In some ways, no, as it can be quite random, and the word ‘producer’ is naturally quite vague so it’s hard to pinpoint exact expectations.

"It’s hugely open-ended, and can be quite daunting working out where you begin but it’s just about meeting people.”


Inside Just So

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
Definitely produce more films, and build up a slate of work that I can look back on when I’m (much) older and be proud of.

Could you do this job forever?
Yes.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
It varies depending on what kind of producer you are and which industry you’re looking at it from. You can become a film producer in your 50s, there’s no real age limit. I just want to produce so there’s no real next step – just bigger budgets and bigger challenges.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a producer?
Network. When I first started I didn’t know anyone in the industry. And although I sent a cold email and got to know my now best friend, I also looked up and went to as many events as I could, emailed loads of production companies and did some script reading.

You do have to be careful not to be taken advantage of too; I remember doing some script reading very early on where I spent two weeks reading two whole novels, fed back with notes, and got nothing in return. So you do have to be savvy. 

The internet is your best friend when you’re unemployed. Use it to help you research your next step, where you want to work and your direction. Find companies you want to work for and that speak to your interests. The culture at Just So (for example) fits my work ethic and has allowed me to do some of my best work. It’s hugely open-ended, and can be quite daunting working out where you begin but it’s just about meeting people. And there are many places and opportunities to do so. More often than not, people are willing to take ten minutes out of their day to have a chat with you, so always ask.



This article is part of a studio feature on Just So.

Posted 21 September 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Jake Green
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Advertising, Film
Mentions: Jeannette Sutton, Just So, BFI, BBC, Film London
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