My father gave me one piece of advice that has remained lodged in my brain for over two decades. “If you have to spend the better part of your life working, make sure you choose something you love to do. Only then, will you invest the time and energy needed to make it a success”.
After an internship at Shepperton Studios, working on Spy Game, I decided to pursue my passion for filmmaking and documentaries in the USA.
I spent 7½ years living and working in America – mostly in the Big Apple, with some time in L.A. New York is vibrant and energetic and the people there are a mix of personable, professional and pains in the behind, but the same is true of any large city where thousands of people live on top of each other. The trick is to follow your gut instincts and seek out people you like spending time with as well as working for. In the USA I found a good group of people, made friends for life and created a portfolio of work that I am genuinely proud of.
It took me five years to break in to the industry in the U.S. I was young, in a new country, figuring out how everything worked and primarily working as a freelancer; which gave my accountant and immigration lawyer countless sleepless nights.
I felt completely at home in New York and discovered a sense of creative freedom that few people are lucky enough to experience. I felt the opposite in Los Angeles. I worked there on films, pilots and episodic television, but it took longer for people to kick-start their projects. In short, in Los Angeles people like to talk. In New York, people like to do.
I knew that I would have to start from scratch when I returned to the UK. I started Big baby Productions Ltd in Scotland in 2010 and gave myself another five years to break through here. I knew it would take time to find good people, secure meetings and get off the starting blocks. For primarily personal reasons, I also based my company off the west coast of Scotland – on the beautiful Isle of Bute. Now, I had an even tougher road to travel – or so I thought…
I was born to Scottish parents but educated south of the border. Like New York, I had neither lived nor worked in the media industry in Scotland. Unlike New York, there was a language barrier to overcome. In America, I had picked up ‘sidewalk’ as pavement and ‘flashlight’ for torch. I had even forgiven the replacement of the letter ‘t’ for ‘d’ with regard to the pronunciation of ‘water’ and ‘tuna’. However, not even my Father’s thick Greenockian brogue could have prepared me for the thickest of accents from the West of Scotland.
In the States, I lived on my instincts and over time I built a reputation by word of mouth. I arrived in Scotland pregnant, accompanied by my partner – a Michigander from Virginia – with experience and a CV filled with American-based projects. I had no contacts and no reputation on this side of the Atlantic. I did, however, inherit an “I will not fail” attitude from my parents that only fiercely independent Scots – and New Yorkers – can understand.
There are a number of differences between starting a business in NY and in the UK. As you might expect, the pace of decision-making is slower in Scotland and England. Funding is easier to come by in the US, purely because there is more of it and people are more willing to take risks on new talent. I found work within one month of graduating from film school in New York, whereas it took me much longer to secure the same in Scotland. I have three years left on my plan and a lot can happen – even with British broadcasters.
I found more similarities than differences between the respective media industries. It is called an industry for a reason on both sides of the pond. It is still incredibly difficult to get meetings. It is just as hard to make any progress when you are considered a ‘newbie’. It doesn’t matter where you are or what kind of project you’re working on, if you don’t have good people around you, your job will be more difficult.
I have great people around me. The Michigander from Virginia is Gregg B. McNeill, our Director of Photography, who brings a uniqueness of vision and riveting quality of image to all that we produce. Rod Caird, who has an outstanding global reputation for hi-end documentary making, is our Executive Producer. Employing people who often know more than you is easier on your nerves.
Originality of idea, depth of research, excellence of script and storytelling and a dedication to putting the highest possible quality of image on screen are the creative threads that run through all of Big baby’s work. Mostly we want to document people’s stories and make accessible, intelligent, factual programming – wherever we work in the world.
Two years after starting the company in Scotland, I have a small but solid team behind me, I have regular meetings with commissioners, we have a slate of creative ideas that are getting phenomenal feedback and broadcasters know the Big baby name. We also have a business model that allows us to work across all forms of media and offer media-centric marketing solutions to non-media industries. Big baby Productions made these strides on a miniscule budget with hard work, perseverance, imagination and without outside investors or massive bank loans. I am as proud of this progress as I am of the portfolio I created in the USA.
I may have started my career at Shepperton Studios but the US taught me how to be a filmmaker. New York will always have a special place in my heart, but Scotland is my (and Big baby’s) future.
Lesley-Anne Morrison is CEO of Big baby Productions Ltd.