EP Charlotte Woodhead chats with Little Black Book about how she learned to be a producer, the triangle of great production, and being given the ability to see the bigger picture. Read her Meet Your Makers below.
Charlotte Woodhead is a creative producer with an unflinching nerve.
Following a theatre degree at London’s Goldsmiths College, she worked up through the ranks from runner to production manager on youth shows for the BBC and Channel 4.
Freelance music video producing beckoned, launching her creativity, producing for artists such as Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keyes, Kings Of Leon, Mark Ronson, Oasis, and Pharrell Williams.
Then came high-end award-winning commercial production, shooting from India to Chile, Brazil to Ukraine and Japan to Thailand – crafting advertising campaigns for directors such as Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast / Under The Skin), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Cats), Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) as well as directors in the advertising world such as Megaforce, Noam Murro, Romain Gavras, Gustav Johansson, Martin Krejci, Jeff Low, Andreas Nilsson, and Jean-Baptiste Mondino, at production companies including Biscuit Filmworks, Academy Films, Anonymous Content, Blink, HSI, Hungry Man, Iconoclast Partizan, and Stink.
Her executive producing has taken her to Biscuit Filmworks in both Los Angeles and London, plus Iconoclast in London. She is currently executive producer at Superprime in Los Angeles, where she navigates a roster of directors including James Grey (Ad Astra), Rick Famuyiwa (The Mandalorian), Sean Baker (Florida Project), and David LaChapelle.
LBB> What first attracted you to production – and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?
Charlotte> I’m British, and like most of us in this business, I fell into production because of the appeal of an industry full of intelligent misfits who did not fit into the regular 9 to 5 jobs London had to offer.
LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?
Charlotte> All the best folk start as runners (PAs) and receptionists and I started as the latter. My first learning experience was getting the alcoholic caretaker of our office building out of the pub every afternoon at 4 PM to turn on the building’s antiquated heating system. This was my first experience with the art of negotiation, which is a skill all producers must master.
LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?
Charlotte> You never stop learning how to produce as every job requires different skills. But, and I mean this sincerely, fake it till you make it. Nobody wants to see a producer panicking over a dilemma. Your job as a producer is to keep everyone calm and believing you have everything under control, even whilst inside you are thinking “WTF are we going to do now?”
I learned a lot working on music videos, as they are the perfect way to gain experience. Your first video will have basically no budget, and you have to figure out how to provide the director with a crowd of screaming fans, an Alexa camera, anamorphic lenses, and pyrotechnics for $15,000. But, where there is a will, there is a way!
LBB> Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?
Charlotte> A Moby music video that was shot in Berlin. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. When we arrived on set, we found out the location manager was not a location manager – but a party planner. I ended up sleeping on set because we were behind schedule and I was petrified the pre-light crew would go home and we wouldn’t be ready when Moby turned up. You get productions like this when you are close to cracking up and close to your nerves shattering. But you say to yourself over and over, “We will get through this!” and you do. You must retain your sense of humour.
LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?
Charlotte> Producing is lateral thinking, sometimes under extreme pressure, the same problems and challenges occur in all mediums. How, to get that wooden square into that round hole?
LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?
Charlotte> I love that no two jobs are ever the same. A studio build of a paradise waterfall at Pinewood is just as fun as shooting cars flipping in Vancouver. No two directors, cast, and crew are ever the same. Personality management is a skill in itself. But in all seriousness, the idea is king, the story rules the shoot. No director or producer can make a good film from a bad script, and no-one can make a good music video from an awful track.
LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?
Charlotte> There are two ways to look at the modern world: A producer now has no escape, the digital world provides constant communication, production challenges now require an instant response. Whereas on the positive side, we can connect to every corner of the production world with the click of a button (or the dreaded Zoom).
LBB> And what has stayed the same?
Charlotte> Comradery and on-set banter.
LBB> What do you think is the key to being an effective producer – and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?
Charlotte> Producers come in all shapes and sizes, I believe that all good producers have a creative analytical mind and can problem solve and talk their way into or out of any situation they find themselves in.
LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?
Charlotte> Rekorderlig with Andreas Nilsson – the end film is deceptively simple; you would never know the issues we faced. We had built a large ice rink on a frozen lake in Montreal. 48 hours before we were meant to shoot – the weather turned to -27F and we had 3 ft of snow dump on our set – destroying it. We ended up with a feat of production and all the Zambonis, snow blowers, pick-ups, and crew that we could manage to get on the ice safely, to recreate the set – the size of 4 football pitches. The stunt work on ice was also complicated and tricky (all but one shot is without wires) and we had to battle everyone getting frostbite and equipment shutting down due to the severe temperatures. Production pulled it off, with humour and grace. But taking on nature and winning and having a fantastic film at the end was a huge sense of accomplishment.
LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?
Charlotte> 2020 certainly brought challenges, not only filming during Covid-19 but everything the pandemic brought with it: figuring out protocols, making clients feel educated and safe to shoot during Covid, planning the response to a (potential) Covid outbreak on set, and new types of storytelling which allowed for emotion and humanity, but also respected the constantly changing Covid response and social distancing restrictions. It doubled the workload for all levels of production, to get us back to filming.
Personally, my many years of problem solving as line producer prepared me to deal with the Covid onslaught. Superprime’s executive producers created our own pandemic bible, to both problem-solve production, as well as make the agency and client comfortable with this new reality of shooting. To date we have a clean bill of health in dealing with Covid. Which I am proud of.
On one particular job, we first found ourselves in the middle of civil unrest in Philadelphia, and then the city was shut down due to escalating Covid numbers and a stay at home order was implemented. We had to move cities to shoot within 24 hours. We did, through long hours and much coffee. What happened next? A suspected Covid outbreak on set, of course, all of which we managed to navigate our way through. No one tested positive, the film was in the can––sorry, on the drive–––and everyone went home with a smile.
LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?
Charlotte> Filming in the Philippines during the Japanese Tsunami – The Philippines was also on high alert for Tsunamis and we were filming on an island that was on the waves trajectory. Getting the film finished in time and then trying to fly all the crew out safely before the fear of Nuclear reactors going off. We also dealt with high waters, bad weather, and local mafia. All in a day’s work! Not what the copywriter had in mind when he wrote “Opens on a beach…”
LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?
Charlotte> Making films that make people feel something or even better, remember.
LBB> As a producer your brain must have a neverending “to do” list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?
Charlotte> For me yes… I am not very good at switching off. I only manage to do it in places where my phone has to be switched off… the cinema, the theatre, a gym class and on a plane… please don’t fit planes with wi-fi!
LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?
Charlotte> Curiosity is the lust of the mind -Thomas Hobbes. I hate being bored, thankfully I have a job that you can never, ever say is boring. Sometimes I want to scream and never see another call sheet again, but then something clicks, and you see 120 people striving to make a film together, and everything is worth it.
LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?
Charlotte> So you want to produce? Are you prepared to work 18 to 20 hours a day? No, are you? I once went to a music festival and had to sit in the car for 8 hours sorting out production problems, while my favourite band played. Are you patient enough to listen to egos and ideas that would put Donald Trump’s to shame? Then have the nerve and skills to guide them down the correct path to get the film finished?
If so, production is for you…. If not choose something else. It’s a vocation.
LBB> From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?
Charlotte> The triangle of great production is true. IDEA – TIME – MONEY.
LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?
Charlotte> Be upfront, kind and honest. It always pays in the end. Make sure you have a solid agreed-upon plan going in, then be prepared to be open-minded.
LBB> Producers are naturally hands on – they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?
Charlotte> What I enjoy about the EP role, especially here at Superprime, is being given the ability to see the bigger picture, and alongside my team, I help problem-solve the more challenging issues commercial production can generate. I’m also given the freedom and energy to focus on the creative development of the idea. At Superprime, both my producer and creative skills are respected and drawn upon as an Executive producer, whilst at the same time, being one step removed allows you a fresh perspective on the creative drive to a project, which I appreciate.