In conversation: Lesley Marr

Date
Author
Danny Peters,
VP of Business Development,
ELEMENTS
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Workflow

Lesley Marr is Director of Operations at Molinare; Molinare is the UK’s leading supplier of post production for episodic drama, feature film, factual and 4K, UHD & HDR productions. 

Prior to joining Molinare Lesley was COO for Deluxe Media Europe, overseeing the day to day operation delivering to UK Broadcasters and global platforms. 

During her career Lesley has managed transformation programmes, senior client relationships, operational excellence projects developing media logistics, scheduling and MAM tools and managed teams across multi-site UK operations. Lesley has also held several senior management positions in Broadcast Operations at Sky & Technicolor. Her career path, however, started in the creative post production world working as an editor before learning the skills of a VFX artist where she worked for leading global facilities before moving into the world of Operations Management.

In addition to her day job Lesley has sat on the board of the UK Screen Alliance, been a member of the IBC conference committee, chairing and producing conference sessions and is currently an advisory board member of RISE an advocacy membership group to support women from all backgrounds working in the broadcast technology sector.

Lesley, thank you for joining us. Let’s start with you and your amazing career. Can you talk us through your journey? What were some of your earliest influences? And have you always wanted to work in this industry?  

Interestingly, no is the answer to the last question. I wanted to be a pro tennis player or join the police, which seemed like completely off-the-wall career choices. I think technology did influence me a little bit – when I was around 15 or 16 years of age I had a camcorder and I used to  play around with my friends making music videos. It was around the time that MTV launched, which was a really amazing and very visual time. I didn’t really know that much about technology at the time, but it was a lot of fun.  

My dad enjoyed photography, so I used to borrow his cameras. I guess that’s how I first fell into this. I loved going out at weekends, taking photos, making videos and then putting everything together. 

I then went to University to study art and graphic design, because I thought, maybe I’m not so academic, maybe I’m more creative. This was back when there weren’t many specific film or media courses, so if you wanted to go down that route you had to study art and do film and media on the side. I was lucky to have a fantastic tutor in my final year who guided me towards finding summer work and placements. I guess I was being mentored without realising it. 

I then got a job with a production company as a runner and doing some editing. As I was taking on more tasks I became confident enough to give more things a go. I don’t think I ever really decided that I was going to work in this industry, it just kind of happened through my own drive, interests and passion for it all.

So you recognised that you had an aptitude for creativity and followed an artistic path, which is really interesting. I want to ask, when you were playing around with the cameras and putting visuals together with music, what did you do with them once they were finished? Who did you show them to? 

In those days you had to put everything onto a VHS and then share that around and show your family what you’d made. I think they probably got really bored of me. 

It’s obviously very different nowadays. I would have been posting things to YouTube everyday if it had existed when I was a kid, but there was no platform to do that. What I did was build up a library of my work and then shared it with friends and family. 

Ultimately I was lucky to get the job offer I did after my studies, and even though that company went out of business I met a producer who offered me a job in London after that, which I took. That was when I realised that London was the place where a lot of post production work was going on. I started to meet a lot of people, network with fellow professionals and took every opportunity I could. 

As you were starting out in the industry, were there any inspirational pearls of wisdom that you were given that still ring true today? 

Yes definitely. I worked at Quantel during the really good times in advertising and post production, where things were very buoyant. The company expanded really quickly and I was front and centre, travelling all over the world at 26 years old as one of the few people that could operate the systems that they were selling. I actually realised at the time just how lucky I was, because it really gave me a springboard for the rest of my career. I think overall it’s often about common sense. I think if people know what their role is in a company and they’re clear about what their responsibilities are, then those individuals can work as a team and that team can be really powerful. I think that applies to whatever you’re doing, in whatever industry you work in.

I also learned very early on that good communication is crucial to success. I was quite young when I started managing people and I actually had no management training, so I had to learn from my mistakes and make sure I was always communicating well with people. 

So, I think those two things are really important. Knowing what your responsibilities are within a team and being a clear communicator can really make a difference. 

I think quality is a bit like creativity – it’s really subjective. It’s in the eye of the beholder effectively. We all strive to be perfect I think, but none of us are really going to be. So I think it’s more about the drive to be as good as you can be; to have that level of quality that’s acceptable to you. 

Lesley Marr, Director of Operations, Molinare

When it comes to a “quality” piece of work, how would you describe the aspects of quality with regards to great content? 

That’s a really good question. I think quality is a bit like creativity – it’s really subjective. It’s in the eye of the beholder effectively. We all strive to be perfect I think, but none of us are really going to be. So I think it’s more about the drive to be as good as you can be; to have that level of quality that’s acceptable to you. We’re constantly trying to make things better, but when do you stop? It’s a really hard thing to tackle and I think that’s a very creative thing, but I think quality can be the same. 

Interestingly, part of the team that I run at the moment is the quality control team, and we’re checking our own work because it has to be technically spot on. You don’t want any production errors in it – no boom mic in the top of the shot, no camera crew in the car, or anything like that. It’s a really interesting area of discussion and I think in production they always say that they’ll fix it in post, so the quality level is lower than the post policy. It’s a different standard they probably think is OK, because it’ll be fixed. What I’d really like them to say is, “well we’ll fix it in post, but let’s earmark some budget to do that.”  

Let’s move on to talk about Rise and how you first got involved with any organisation. Tell us a little bit about it. 

Rise is an advocacy group, and we’re set up to support women in the broadcast and technology sector. It’s about creating a gender balance in the workforce across different areas – it can be engineering, technical, operations, sales, or even the business side. 

I would meet Sadi Groom and Carrie Wooton (the founders of Rise) at industry trade shows like IBC and we’d walk around and it was clear we were the only women there. We thought surely there must be something we can do about this because there’s enough women in industry, so let’s find them all and try and change this. So Sadi and Carrie started Rise and asked me if I’d like to get involved because of my mentoring background, which is one of the first things they wanted to do. It kind of evolved very quickly from there – it’s almost exploded actually, which is awesome. We’ve had some great industry support and sponsorship. People recognise that there’s a diversity issue and a gender imbalance, so it’s great this is on people’s radars now. I think the timing has been good; we’ve got some very powerful people behind Rise that are really making a difference. I’m really enjoying being part of it. 

How big is the membership now?

I know that we mentored seventy women last year, and we’ve helped hundreds of women throughout their careers. We held a Rise award ceremony at the IBC in 2019 where we gave out seven awards and had approximately one hundred nominees – all women. We’re also enjoying a global expansion – we’ve got three mentors now in Singapore and we’re looking at working more in the US. 

You can be mentored at any stage of your career and that’s important. 

Lesley Marr, Director of Operations, Molinare

One of the key things you’ve mentioned is that mentorship isn’t just for early in your career, but that it’s a continuous tool as you progress through the different stages of your career.

Absolutely. You can be mentored at any stage of your career and that’s important. We’ve had people at different stages of their career take part in our program and it really doesn’t matter. It’s just about getting some help, and that can be later in your career or earlier, it goes across the board. 

Let me talk about gender equality and diversity in the professional broadcasting space in the UK. How much work is still to be done as an industry? Are we really succeeding? 

I think we’ve only just started sadly. I think there’s lots happening now, but it’s very slow. I think the real way to change it is to go in at the grass roots, but it’s almost too late to change. We’ve got to get in early, and that’s where the Rise programme really works, because it’s about going into schools and getting young people interested in our industry.

Can you expand on that for us? If people are looking at following a professional career in broadcast technology, post production or media arts, where’s the best place to start? Is it secondary school or even earlier?

I would say secondary school for sure and I can prove that based on what we’ve been doing with Rise. We’ve been taking engineering and technology equipment into schools and running physical workshops (which is not so easy at the moment with COVID). We were able to give young people real physical experience with equipment. They were always really enthusiastic and shocked that this line of work existed. So I think that secondary school is definitely the right age to get children interested and involved in what we do. Making them aware of their career options is really important, especially as they start to make very crucial choices. 

How have you got a grassroots scheme like Rise working within the education system? 

It’s pretty simple really; we use our contacts. We know people at places such as BT Sport and ITV with board members who have contacts with schools. We’re looking at more diverse and challenging areas that don’t have funding and we try to get into those types of schools. There are other organisations like Screen Skills who are great at what they do, but I don’t think anybody is really taking equipment into schools and actually showing kids what they can do or giving them the opportunity to work with professionals to see what they do and learn from it.

Do you think the government can play a stronger role in investing in not only education, but in broadcast production and technology? Or in your experiences is this best left to the private sector?

I think the government could always do better and I think that most people will always say that. There are things like tax breaks that help the industry as well as awards and funding, but overall it’s very complicated and hard to navigate. You really have to know how to access certain grants and where to go for help. 

The government introduced the apprenticeships levy, which is helpful. Companies can use their apprenticeship levy and provide further training for existing members of staff, or they can employ an apprentice and train them further. 

I think industry will always have to lead here though and that’s because things move too fast. You can’t learn everything in the classroom either – you have to have the practical experience, because every piece of video that is shot is different and comes with different challenges – you never stop learning. 

You don’t always want to be telling people how they should be doing things, you want them to realise things for themselves and draw their own conclusions. 

Lesley Marr, Director of Operations, Molinare

What constitutes successful mentoring? And is it something that’s measurable?

I think if you’re mentoring someone and that person realises something for themselves that they wouldn’t have faced or understood before, then that’s a huge success. If someone isn’t happy in their job, don’t like their boss, or they’re aware a male colleague is being paid more than they are for doing the same job, we’ll have a discussion about it. It’s about the realisation point, which might happen several times during the mentoring process or it might just happen once. It can be a really big thing for someone. 

I’ve been mentored myself and that really benefited me in my career progression and my confidence. So for me, being able to give something back is amazing because I know how much I benefited from it. You don’t always want to be telling people how they should be doing things, you want them to realise things for themselves and draw their own conclusions. 

Do you think that it’s easier for young people to express themselves and pursue a career in media, given how easily accessible the technology is?

In terms of creativity, so many of these tools are templated and not very good, and I think that the functionality dilutes some of the creativity. It’s at a stage where you don’t have to put the work in because somebody else has designed a programme that automatically puts your rushes together and creates a promo, so you lose the creativity. There’s so much more out there nowadays that it’s almost harder for the true talent to shine through. 

So are sponsorships or scholarships, the way to go?  

At Molinare we’re looking at building our own Academy because we’ve got a lot of talented creatives working for us and we want them to share their experience and knowledge with young people that maybe haven’t been to university. It almost comes full circle to the runner role, which is mentoring unofficially. I think Universities are great and they offer some exceptional media courses, but a lot of people leave University and think because the can direct a film they know everything, when really they don’t even know the basic knowledge that you need to make a TV programme. So they end up having to start from scratch. Especially in a file-based world where things are more complicated and more technical, and there are a lot of variations of deliverables. You’re not just making one deliverable file, you’re making hundreds of different files with hundreds of different specs whilst using different platforms – and that’s a lot to understand.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the objectives of the Molinare Academy and how it’s going to progress? 

We’re really just starting out on that journey. We’re looking at industry partners to work with and help us to connect with young people that we want to bring into our facility. We also want to create a very clear career path for people within post production and help them with their training. Perhaps at the beginning give them some time in all the different departments – kind of like an old fashioned management training scheme, where you work in different departments to learn the end-to-end. I think a lot of people come in and they are channeled into thinking they only work in audio, or picture or post production bookings, and they never really understand the supply chain. We want to give people a rounded experience of the industry, of the supply chain and of production. 

It’s very much in its infancy, but we’re really starting to get it going. Actually, working through Covid-19 has helped us to realise that this really is something we want to do. 

The impact of COVID-19 as a global pandemic continues to affect our industry. How do we pivot from here and continue to produce world-class compelling content?

I don’t think Covid has affected the creativity, it’s just interrupted the process a little. Things are slowly getting back on track now though. The technology we have allows us to do so much and produce stronger work than ever despite the interruption. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been pretty devastating in terms of revenues and industry – it’s been really tough for everyone across the board and in other industries – but I don’t think it will affect us being able to produce amazing content.  

I think I’m just really lucky to have worked with some amazing people. I think it’s the people that make this industry. 

Lesley Marr, Director of Operations, Molinare

Finally, can you tell us what you are you most proud of from your time spent in industry? 

I think I’m just really lucky to have worked with some amazing people. I think it’s the people that make this industry. I remember when I was at a small facility in Greek Street, after I left Quantel – we built up a very small post production house where one of the runners that we employed is now the MD! And I’m still in touch with him. I’m so happy that his career is going well; to see something like that happen is great, it gives me a lot of pleasure.

One final thing. When you’re not working and when the theatres are open again, are there any movies that you want to watch? What entertains you? Are there any genres you prefer? 

I’m a real James Bond movie fan. Just the other night I was watching ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and laughing at the visual effects. I almost couldn’t watch the film because I was just thinking, “Oh my god, that’s a green screen and look at the way they’ve done that!” But then you realise that the stunts are amazing, and that was the technology that was being used when they made these movies. I find it really interesting to see how much we’ve progressed.

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