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Interview: Juggling business and creative

Laura Clelland Producer, Director and Business Owner
Laura Clelland
Director and
Business Owner

Laura Clelland has been freelancing in film production for almost 20 years and running Queensland’s crew booking agency Essential Crew for 13 years. Her recent project Life of Jess won Best Dramedy at the Asia Web Awards, is nominated for Best Web Series at the New York City International Film Festival and an official selection for Miami Web Fest.

Laura’s flat out running her business as well as finding partners and funding for her latest creative projects, but she still took time out to answer some questions about her life, her goals and how she manages to fit everything in.

(Top image: Behind the scenes on ‘Life of Jess’, L to R – Yasmin Honeychurch, Sandra Makaresz, Laura Clelland and Jess Holsman)

Essential crew logo icon with circle of people

Business Owner – Essential Crew

How did you get into running Essential Crew?

I was a freelancer working in the screen industry in production on various jobs, everything from US features to Australian TV series to commercials – and Essential Crew was my booking agent.

I’d always been very passionate about production and crew and always interested in business too. When the chance came up to get involved with the business, I saw it as a great opportunity.  I took over as Owner & Director in 2006.

Was the reality different from what you expected?

I never expected it to be easy, but running your own business is always harder than you think!  Over the years we’ve been through a few challenging periods – everything from staff changes to floods!

We always try to come out the other side bigger and better though!

Describe a typical day running Essential Crew

I have an amazing booking agent / office manager Tracey Walker who operates the day to day side of Essential Crew for me.

A typical day starts with answering all of the enquiry or booking emails that come in overnight. These can be from international companies looking to book crew and also from local producers and productions who are working all hours to get their productions ready.

We spend each day responding to emails, calls and texts back and forth with productions and crew. Our crew work on such a variety of productions – we can be booking crew on anything from a large scale, high budget feature film to a short documentary.

If we do get any down time, we research upcoming productions and news for our crew, advise them on their CV’s and attend industry events.

Who causes you the most grief? The crew or the producers hiring them?

Actually neither! It’s date changes!

Jobs come and go – whether it’s the job going away altogether or just delaying a shoot for whatever reason (could be availability of key cast or weather), it’s completely out of our control.

Have you ever had any disasters or mixups? How did you handle them?

It has happened on rare occasions.  I’ve always believed that in the case of an error or mixup it’s best to own it, apologise and discuss with the affected parties and find solutions.

How has the business changed over the 13 years you’ve been running it?

The business used to run on paper files, so the most significant change has been moving to a fully computerised database system. I had that built to my specifications about 10 years ago.  It means we can access crew information and bookings from any computer, anywhere and at any time. Brilliant for those urgent early morning calls from productions looking for crew to start at 5am the same day!

Laura giving directions to the cast in a library scene
Behind the scenes on Life of Jess, L to R: Parker Little, Isabella Procida, Laura Clelland and Yasmin Honeychurch

Producer, Director and Writer – the Essential Laura

What was it like being a Screen Producers ‘One to Watch’ in 2018? What difference did it make to you?

Being one of SPA’s Ones to Watch was a fantastic experience. One of the best parts was meeting all of the other OTW Producers and hearing about the amazing projects everyone has in the works.

On a career level, the biggest difference it’s made is opening up some fantastic connections. I have no doubt that these connections will help me progress my creative projects.

What do you wish you had known / understood earlier in your career?

Ohhhhh hard question!

I wish I had realised the power of timing.  Sometimes a no is just a no because it’s not the right time for a project or a job or a role. There’s nothing wrong with the project or job or role itself.

And I think knowing what I know now, I should have just backed my creative ideas sooner!

Is there a defining moment of your career that stands out in your memory?

So many things stand out but most recently creating and directing our series ‘Life of Jess’ has been a definite highlight.

We had such an amazing crew and talented cast. Everyone just poured so much energy into the production. I loved every minute of it!

We’re now receiving some wonderful accolades at festivals (including the Asia Web Award for Best Dramedy). And while awards are not the most important thing, it’s certainly a great feeling. I am super proud of this achievement!

Reflecting on the Industry

How has the film and TV industry changed over the time you’ve been in it?

I think the way we create content has changed.  Great quality equipment is so much cheaper and accessible than it was in the days of shooting on film.

We also have the ability for our content to find a home in so many different places. It’s no longer just the networks – we have multiple video on demand services and the number is continuing to grow. So there are certainly more opportunities for where your project may end up. It’s an exciting time!

What advice would you give to someone starting their career now?

Remember a few key things:

  • Take every opportunity you can to learn about the role you want.
  • Be persistent and not pesty.
  • Always be ON TIME….actually be EARLY!
  • Remember that this industry can be tough to get your first few credits – but if you love it and continue to work hard then the work will come.

Oh and the ‘essential’ tip:  get a good booking agent, of course ; )

And finally…

You run Essential Crew, you run Essential Offices, you produce your own projects. How do you juggle it all?

I have to quote one of my favourite films:

‘there are 24 usable hours in every day’

and there are days where I use most of them!

However the truth is, I survive because I am surrounded by amazing people.  Tracey does a wonderful job taking care of Essential Crew.  I’ve spent time developing Essential Offices so it runs like a well oiled machine.  And in my creative projects I am very lucky to be working with someone who has been a great mentor and is now my creative business partner, Sandra Makaresz. My family and friends are also a huge support especially when I am running on no sleep!

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