Creative Lives — Producer Maran Coates talks to us on teamwork, building trust and taking chances

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

After graduating with a MA in Fashion Design, Maran Coates arrived in London from South Africa looking to change industries. After seeing the job advertised online, she started working as Studio Manager at creative studio FIELD before becoming an Executive Producer, working for the likes of Nike, Diesel and Chivas. Maran gives us an insight into her atypical day-to-day life as a producer of powerful interactive and immersive audio-visual experiences, and talks to us about teamwork, building trust and taking chances. 

Maran Coates  

Job Title

Senior Producer

Based

London

Previous Employment

Executive Producer, FIELD (2014–2017)
Project Manager, FIELD (2014–2017)
Studio Manager, FIELD (2013–2015)
Editorial Assistant, SHOWstudio (2012–2013)

Education

MA Fashion Design, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa (2011–2012)
BA Technology, Fashion/Apparel Design (2007–2010)

Social Media

Maran at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
As a producer, my role is really varied but that's what I like about it. There are no typical days. This could include working alongside our managing director Vera-Maria Glahn and creative director Marcus Wendt to discussing concepts, client management, scheduling, budgeting, working with the production team through creative development, production, consulting on AV solutions for projects and delivery and documentation. 

Delivery can often include installs for permanent and temporary shows, events and include interactive and immersive experiences, light sculptures and generative screen installations. 

What does a typical working day look like? 
It takes me 30 minutes to cycle through glorious Victoria park, along the canal and through London Fields before arriving at work for 10am. 

I’ll either be in the studio or on site for installs. In the studio, the day is split between catch-ups with the team, creative sessions and then doing admin on my laptop. I mainly work on one big project at a time, with one or two smaller projects either starting or wrapping up alongside that. I also work closely with the team on general discussions about new business, recruitment, planning, and managing studio finances with the studio manager. 

When projects are really intense, it’s common to work really long hours until 9pm or so. As a producer it’s important to stay and support the team and make sure things stay on track. 

How did you land your current job? 
It was pretty tough, to be honest. I’d come straight from South Africa, didn't know anyone and I also didn't have any formal actual work experience besides internships. On top of that, I had a fashion background but wanted to change industries. But in the end, I saw the job on the It’s Nice That jobsboard. 

At first I started freelancing before going full-time a few months later. Vera and I just clicked. It really boils down to getting a good feeling from people; it’s important because you’ll spend so much time with them. I've been so fortunate build incredible relationships over the past three years.

“It really boils down to getting a good feeling from people; it’s important because you’ll spend so much time with them.”

Work for Adidas and Stella McCartney Barricade while at FIELD, 2015

Work for Chivas Ultis while at FIELD, 2016

Work for Diesel Vanilla Skieswhile at FIELD, Spring/Summer 2016

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How collaborative is your role?
There’s a great sense of team which is something I get a lot of satisfaction from. Working collaboratively with both the internal team and freelancers is paramount to delivering ambitious projects. Process and exploration are really important in this way because a lot of the focus is on the quality of the work. It’s great because I’m always learning and being challenged while getting to work with incredibly talented art directors, designers, creative coders, developers and fabricators. We have a few other producers in the team which is nice as we know what everyone else is working on which creates a good team mentality which I love. It also means there’s always someone around to bounce ideas off if you need some extra input or help navigating a project.  

Working closely with the client is also important to build trust. Sometimes this is the hardest part especially when we’re pushing them to go beyond their comfort zone or asking for more time. 

How would you rate your work-life balance?
Ah, the ultimate challenge! I've worked a ridiculous amount of overtime, but I’m getting better at making sure I take time out to rest so that I can stay feeling strong. Regular exercise also helps to keep me sane and I’ve recently discovered hot yoga!

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I’m proud of different projects for different reasons. Working with Diesel was really fun because we went on location to shoot in Gran Canaria. It was great to be in the sun, climbing mountains and running along beaches. It was also great working on Forms of Finance and coming up with weird, abstract metaphors and visual associations for an algorithmic trading company with Marcus and one of our senior effects developers, Tim. But Spectra 3 which we installed at the London Lumiere festival was the most scary and ambitious project we've done. 

What skills are essential to your job?
I guess the thing people don't tell you (or that you learn along the way) is that the majority of your role is about communicating, holding peoples' hands and helping others communicate more clearly. There are lots of egos and insecurities at play in the work place and being sensitive and it’s a real skill to be able to navigate through that to achieve the best possible work. I’m not sure if that's a text book answer but I think understanding this gave me a huge advantage.

FIELD's Forms of Finance Data Sculpture

FIELD's Forms of Finance Data Sculpture

Work for Nike Track and Field while at FIELD, 2016

Work for Nike Track and Field while at FIELD, 2016

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a marine biologist but started sewing lessons in high school and it just kind of fell into place after that. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I started studying fashion and kept with it for 7 years despite knowing I would never be a fashion designer. I focussed on fashion film and moving image and its relation to cloth and the body. It was very abstract and theoretical in contrast to my undergraduate work which was super technical. But thinking back, I wouldn’t change a thing; I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't taken this path. Studying design gave me an appreciation of aesthetics, and the ability to translate quite abstract ideas into visuals. The technical and practical elements also gave me a better understanding of install and fabrication processes. 

What were your first jobs?
I worked as a waitress when I was 14. I wanted to save up for a trip to Europe with friends, which gave me an incentive. Starting work at a young age was really useful because it created a positive relationship between effort and reward in relation to work. I always want to feel like I'm getting more than just money out of each working experience.

I’d also done a number of internships over the years and would really recommend it. It’s humbling to start at the bottom, learn the ropes and see how things function. But my first job in this kind of role was at FIELD – I’ve only been doing this for just over 3 years. 

“Thinking back, I wouldn’t change a thing; I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't taken this path.”

What in particular helped you the most at the start?
Moving to London from South Africa was fundamental. I was able to surrounded myself with so many inspiring people, projects and opportunities. Working with Vera and Marcus was also what allowed me to move from the fashion industry into digital. 

What mistakes have you made along the way?
Oh so many mistakes, but that's how you learn.

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
I started at FIELD as a studio manager, so I knew what I was getting into. It was a really practical foundation and a good chance to take on more responsibility, but I didn’t think I was being challenged enough in that particular role. I was quite vocal about wanting to take on more project management roles – that’s how I made the shift. 

What tools do you use most for your work?  
I use my iPhone and Macbook Pro for everything in the studio and on location, Gmail for sending emails, Basecamp for project management, Evernote for all notes and memos and Dropbox for file sharing.

FIELD's Spectra-3 audio-visual light experience, London Lumiere Festival, 2015

FIELD's Spectra-3 audio-visual light experience, London Lumiere Festival, 2015

Work for Quasar while at FIELD, 2015

Work for Quasar while at FIELD, 2015

Work for Quasar while at FIELD, 2015

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Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? Could you do this job forever?
I’m not sure – I can't think further than two years ahead! One step at a time! It’s also really important for me to always feel like I’m learning and pushing myself. At this stage I’m interested in working on bigger, longer projects, perhaps in a different area of the industry or another industry altogether.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Either going into management or going freelance. Freelance means you can be more specific with what kind of projects you take on and obviously you can charge a higher day rate. Being in management means you are less hands on with the production but can take on more responsibility for a bigger team or scale of work. 

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a producer?
When you’re starting out, prioritise finding a team you feel a real connection with. 

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design
Mentions: FIELD
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