Coming in hot is a new signing at NERD Productions – fashion, beauty & editorial director Rodney Rico. With an honors degree in Filmmaking from Kingston School of Art, Rodney made his mark crafting videos for top magazines and luxury brands worldwide. Inspired by classic films and French New Wave cinema, Rodney’s style stands out from the rest and we can’t wait to see his next creative adventure as part of our creative family. We sat down with Rodney to chat through our ‘get to know’ questions and what can we say, he really is a true NERD!
How would you describe your approach to storytelling and visual style as a director?
I’m still very traditional when it comes to filmmaking—I try to be efficient but also bring a sense of realism. I can think of many ways to set up my camera movements to convey the visual storytelling, but I usually end up just holding the camera (handheld), and it becomes more personal to the viewer.
Tell us about your favourite project to date and why it has a sweet spot in your heart.
I wrote an essay about Disney as part of my final year project, specifically about The Little Mermaid (1989). I was approached by the producer who was organizing an editorial shoot with an actor starring in the Live Action version, so I was super keen to join. It was a full-circle moment, and I was happy with the results.
If your life was a movie, what would its genre be?
I’m a big horror fan, but I wouldn’t say I want my life to be like a horror movie—maybe more of a romance. Romanticising life keeps me happy in general, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are your career hopes and goals for 2024?
I want to work closer with different talents and get to know them better on a personal level before a shoot. I really want to capture their essence and mix my own personal style into it.
And to finish off, tell us a NERDY fact about yourself.
Ooooh, I’m a big Marvel fan, but that’s a whole other story.
Milana began her journey in the production industry at just 17 as a runner and worked her way up to Executive Creative Producer, proving that nothing is impossible when you set your mind to it. But she didn’t stop there. Milana went on to set up her very own production company, one that champions diverse and inclusive talent. Her success story serves as a testament to her unwavering work ethic and her ability to learn and grow from every experience.
And now, Milana is sharing her story and valuable lessons. She wants to inspire and motivate those who are just starting out in the field of production, and help them connect with fellow producers and mentors.
What advice would you give to aspiring producers or content creators hoping to jump into production?
That’s easy! There are two bits of advice that I always share and those are the two things that have never let me down, to this day. Always have a ‘can do’ attitude and do the best you can. Nothing you present or do should be less than your best effort! It is the only way you will truly reach your goals and have a sense of achievement and fulfillment which only comes from doing hard work.
What skills or emerging areas would you advise aspiring producers to learn about and educate themselves about?
It really depends on what area of our industry you wish to focus on. Production Producers are very different from agencies’ side Producers, for example. There is quite often this misconception that a ‘Producer’ should be able to do it all which is not the case at all! It’s actually when things go wrong on production most frequently.
I would say choose a direction and really try to master that before you start another 4 or 5 others. I know it is trendy to try and be a Jack of all trades these days BUT it just means you will eventually be the master of none. Being able to be that person that is absolutely a must-have on a project for a specific quality or skill is invaluable to your hiring success rate.
What was the biggest lesson you learned when you were starting out in production – and why has that stayed with you?
I started my career at just 17 as a runner in Soho.. Literally making tea & coffee and dropping off parcels to post houses and agencies. We didn’t send anything on a link in those days… it was a DVD or printed out and you physically had to deliver everything. Seems like a strange concept now!
From there I crawled my way through the ranks and became an Office Manager and then a Producer, followed by Executive Producer. It all happened quite fast for me as I was relentless in how hard I worked and I worked hard. I feel it happened to me very young and even though I had the experience of doing the physical work and being in production I was not a seasoned individual. There came a certain point where I accepted the unfair treatment of crew, and staff, and just thought that was a way of life! I guess it was fear that my job would vanish that never allowed me to question that and put a stop to it until I found myself as a person through some amazing clients and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, going against that grain made me an enemy but it is this that motivated me the most to start NERD and make it a production company like no other! Empowering, nurturing and making D&I our focus to be a better industry overall.
When it comes to broadening access to production and improving diversity and inclusion what are your team doing to address this?
As a leading D&I-led production company we advocate diversity and inclusion by championing an innovative and forward-thinking company culture that focuses on constantly seeking, nurturing and empowering young talent, female talent and talent from under-represented backgrounds. We don’t have boxes to tick and quotas to meet. This is not how to achieve true diversity. It is simply by treating everyone as equal and giving them a chance at an equal playing field.
And why is it an essential issue for the production community to address?
Our consumers are literally EVERY single person on this planet! So as an industry, we need to be talking to all those individuals in a relevant way and with an authentic approach. At NERD we are constantly inspired by the people around us that share the same passion for building an environment reflective of the people that we create the work for – the consumers.
There are young people getting into production who maybe don’t see the line between professional production and the creator economy, and that may well also be the shape of things to come. What are your thoughts about that? Is there a tension between more formalised production and the ‘creator economy’ or do the two feed into each other?
As a company, we do actually see a mix of asks for both of those approaches! To us they do feed into each other and why not?! Again, as influencers and shapers of lifestyle trends, we do need to see emerging trends in culture as something to embrace and not fear. I know this is a concept that our industry doesn’t quite accept on so many levels but the sooner we do the sooner we will have less out-of-touch advertising!
If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production/ Exec Producers when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)
When I first started, EPs were mostly at lunch or flying someplace exotic to shoot something super exciting! It was the dream role for many for this very reason. I kind of feel sorry for the EPs of today. They are often overwhelmed by responsibility, lack of support and this endless expectation that they can and should just do everything alone! Don’t get me wrong, we will still get that afternoon at Soho House but these guys do need a little support.
When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? (I know we’re always hearing about how much easier it is to educate or train oneself on tech etc, but what areas do you think producers can benefit from more directed or structured training?)
It is really difficult to supply structured training for Producers and we do prefer hands-on training. Working alongside our seasoned senior producers and directors is the best and most efficient way to absorb knowledge and gain hands-on skills. Seeing others at work and crafting together is also great for social skills development and gives a sense of team play you can never have in any other approach.
On the other side of the equation, what’s the key to retaining expertise and helping people who have been working in production for decades to develop new skills?
I think this is covered in the question about EPs. Everyone has their value! Those that are very experienced and have the knowledge to share- we still need to help them keep up with the latest equipment, software etc We must all keep learning and helping each other by sharing that newly learned knowledge with our team. There is always something new to gain for all of us no matter the level of experience.
Clearly, there is so much change, but what personality traits and skills will always be in demand from producers?
Being nice! It is really not that hard! Those Producers who are very kind will always get more out of their team.
Keeping a cool head. As a Producer, you can not afford to be the one creating the drama on set. You need to be calm and zen, smoothing everything out and ensuring everyone else is not feeling the stress. You will have a very successful shoot if your whole crew is supported and able to do their part.
Being organized! Don’t think I need to go into that one hehe!
Amidst busy working days for Shona, we managed to grab her and tell us a little bit about one of her most recent creations – Rudy.
Rudy is an award-winning coming-of-age drama set in the heart of rural England. It follows the emotional journey of a teenage girl who finds herself being tested by her relationship with her father and responsibility for her younger siblings. She feels increasingly pushed out when her home gets opened up to a paying guest. Through a newfound friendship with a boy from Coventry, she discovers fun, freedom and autonomy.
“Rudy” is a film that centres on love and loss, youth and innocence, holding on and moving on. What inspired you to create this film and pursue these themes?
The initial story was triggered by me losing my dad and also losing a friend who left a teenage daughter. The months after this I would drive past a house in the countryside every week, I started creating a story about a girl who lived in that house, dealing with her own loss and trying to find some kind of reconciliation with her own feelings, whilst also trying to get on with life.
You collaborated with Akira Kosemura on the musical composition for the film. How did you two meet and what was it like working so closely with one another?
My son loved his music and suggested I ask Akira if he would give me permission to use one of his tracks or even possibly compose a track for the film. I got in touch with him and after seeing the film, he loved it so much that he offered to compose all of the original soundtracks. I was bowled over, his music is so wonderful and I loved working with him. Because of the time difference to Japan, he would compose in his day and send over the tracks and I would put them into the edit and feedback, and although we were a long way from each other we worked really well together.
The visual style of “Rudy” looks beautifully natural and nostalgic, somewhat akin to Sean Baker’s aesthetic. What led you to choose this style?
Graeme was the cinematographer on Rudy and I was originally both a photographer and cinematographer before I started to direct. Both of us are drawn to visual storytelling. We didn’t have much in the way of budget or crew so we had to be inventive, improvise with camera moves and often embrace what light we were given. We chose particular times of the day to shoot, when the light was right, and so operated in a more organic way.
Most of the production was done locally and with minimal crew, do you always approach your work this way?
Over the years I have had the good fortune to work on projects with decent budgets, which in turn has allowed me to have bigger crews. However, I often think it is because Graeme and I originally came from film school, that if there is no budget, we slip quite comfortably back into shooting in a simpler way. Rudy had a minimal crew because of the lack of financial resources. Some may see this as a limitation, however, in many ways it was very liberating because it allowed us to be very light on our feet and getting what we needed in simpler ways.
What were some of the hurdles and challenges you faced while putting all the pieces in place for this production?
The main difficulty was the lack of money to throw at situations to help resolve them. We knew from the outset that this was going to be a labour of love film, and once we accepted that we did not have funding to make things go quickly, we embraced the fact that we had to make it at the pace we could afford. We managed to get over most hurdles, finding inventive ways of shooting and we were given a lot of generous support from lovely people along the way.
Exciting is an understatement! We are honoured to have Karni & Saul from Sulkybunny join our diverse roster! It is a pleasure getting to know them even better and treating you to a few bits on their style, most recent work and balancing their life as a working couple with kids.
What have you been up to during summer with all the heat waves we’ve had this year?
We’ve been busy with our BFI mixed media short Wild Summon. Trying to keep our two kids happy and busy in a huge paddling pool, working on an eye mama photo book and project about the mother gaze. And of course, eating a ton of watermelon, while quietly panicking about the environment and global warming. A good summer overall!
You describe your style as casual fantasy. What is the best example of this, and where do you find your inspiration?
We find it in everyday life. Casual fantasy is not typical, but it appears naturally in live action in the details where it is merged perfectly into life because life and fantasy are interconnected. Every day of our life can be fantastical, it’s down to your point of view and imagination. Sometimes, life can be stranger than fiction. In our shorts Turning and Flytopia, fantasy is a part of the narrative. Like a boy’s imagination or a man losing his mind, we love the play and the surrealness this brings. It is a visual medium after all, so it has to be visual pleasure and magic.
You make quite a lot of music videos! Is the realm of music and entertainment a particular niche you feel passionate about?
Absolutely! Music, visuals and fantasy work so well together, like tea and biscuits. They improve and amplify each other when it works well, when we love a song and it resonates. We have images pop into our heads like magic.
Working together as a married couple must have its perks. Do your kids play a role in your creations? If yes, who is the first one to give you feedback? They definitely inspire us by being playful and imaginative. Interacting with our kids can be magic, but also hard work. We make things we want them to see or be inspired by even if its in the future. Being a directing duo and couple with kids is our reality and we have never known any different. It comes with power and also compromise, and again, we wouldn’t have it any different.
Over your whole career, what was the project you enjoyed the most? Not only by the outcome but everything starting from the client, brief and up to the final delivery.
One of our first ever commercials was for a project for BBC Digital Radio with Larry and Dave. We played a lot and had loads of fun experimenting with stop-frame animation, had a big laugh and were very creative. It set the standards high, our three short films for BBC, Film4 and BFI were a long and joyful ride. Super hard work but full of creative satisfaction and freedom.
What motivated you to join the NERD Productions roster? Why are they a good fit for you?
NERD Productions’ resident Creative Producer Ira Giorgetti spills the tea on art, producership and being a multi-hyphenate in London
Who are you?
My name is Ira Giorgetti, and I’m a creative producer, photographer and entrepreneur.
Where are you from (both in UK and heritage)?
I am of British-Filipino ancestry, although I’ve got an Italian stepfather, so I’m a little bit of that too as far as culture’s concerned! I’m based in leafy West London, where I live with my partner and our three-year-old chihuahua.
What do you do?
I’ve got a very mixed professional background as well, to be honest! The day-to-day sees me working my magic with production, showreels, pitches and directors’ treatments at NERD Productions as a Creative Producer. I’m also on NERD’s roster as an Advertising and Portrait Photographer, with a dash of Still Life and E-Commerce in the mix just to spice things up. I’m currently also working on my fledgling side-hustle Provoke Art.
How did you fall in love with what you do?
I’ve been in the media and advertising game since I was about three years old when my mother, then a creative director for a publisher in the Philippines, decided to “hire” me as a talent for a magazine cover when the model they’d booked got ill and didn’t turn up. As a result, I got paid in Mcdonald’s Happy Meals, which was an exciting start to life in the industry!
Anecdotes aside, I’d always been fascinated by film and photography, and I developed a love for the visual arts from a very young age. I first picked up a camera in high school and have been making pictures ever since. Delving into production felt like a natural next step, as I think that creativity flourishes when paired with a good understanding of how to utilise imagination best and turn ideas into reality.
What’s been your favourite project to produce so far?
It’s hard to pick a single favourite, as I enjoy working with the fantastic roster of diverse directors and outstanding creative talent at NERD. However, a project that resonated with me and my visual aesthetic was a 3D project for Genesis Motors (a subsidiary of Hyundai), which we produced for Innocean USA with our animation director Roman Bratschi. The resulting visualisations were beautifully constructed, conceptually brilliant and genuinely designed with a perfect blend of artistic vision and an eagle eye for details.
A good old Parker ballpoint pen and ruled index cards. I’m a bit old-school about task management, but I’m trying to learn Notion to better organise my life given how fast-paced things are nowadays!
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
When our team puts hours of effort into pitches only for us to receive word of reworked marketing strategies, delayed campaign dates, or sudden changes to execution and approach. Always hard to hear that the hard work, creativity, and commitment to excellence didn’t make it in front of clients’ eyes. However, that knowledge results in less heartbreak for us in production and our partners, designers, and directors!
What’s something you wish clients knew, but you dare not share?
So much hard work and effort occur in the background, with directors spending hours and hours poring over the little details and flourishes in their work. Sometimes it can feel disheartening when clients want to scale big ideas back or streamline concepts that work best unrestrained. Of course, we always offer our best creative suggestions and advice throughout the entire creative production process, but the client is always right at the end of the day!
Creativity & Art
What’s your favourite style of art?
I don’t have a favourite style or genre, although I tend to gravitate towards visual and experiential art. I’m a bit musically challenged, and even though I appreciate poetry and prose, I find myself drawn mainly to photography, illustration, painting, sculpture and architecture. I also love a bit of experiential art here and there, even if most people find it to be a bit corny!
Who/what are your top 3 artistic influences?
I have a great love for the works of Zhang Jigna, Darren Aronofsky and Alasdair McLellan.
What’s the most challenging experience you’ve had on the job?
I once had to shoot a summer fashion campaign during a snowstorm! I just managed to pull it off, although the whole crew had the sniffles for a couple of days after.
What’s your fondest memory of making art?
Probably my early days of exploration and experimentation in the Philippines, where I set up self-motivated projects taking portraits of friends and family with no particular goal in mind. I think that whilst my skill and style have developed significantly since then, I still miss the simpler times of my youth when I didn’t have to think about commissioners and how each project fits into my professional narrative. It was a lot of fun just to grab a camera, hop in the car and drive to the mountains with people near and dear to me – something I sorely miss now that the naivete is gone and I have to think a bit more about approvals, deadlines and deliveries. Of course, production is rewarding in many ways, and I appreciate the daily exposure to different ideas and disciplines. Still, there’s something to be said for one’s first few creative ventures and how that shapes their viewpoint, perspective, and approach.
What projects are you working on?
I’m handling a fair few productions at NERD at the moment, including having just delivered some pieces for L’Oreal and Hyundai whilst working on active productions for Google, Air Wick and Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation.
Photography-wise, I recently shot the social campaign for E45’s refreshed range of moisturisers and creams. In addition, I won a competition with M&C Saatchi and the Cabinet Office, which has brought my work to large-scale display at airports, embassies and government offices. Although all that commercial progress aside, I’d love to build Provoke Art up a little more!
With any luck, I’ll be able to take it from concept to budding side hustle. I’d love for it to be a space where queer artists around the globe are celebrated and allowed the opportunity to get their work in front of more eyes and into more physical spaces. I’ve got a fair bit of interest so far, and a couple of friends from the queer and ESEA communities are keen to get involved!
I’d love to say that it was to get published in a certain magazine, land a particular client or receive a specific grant, all of which I’m trying to do. But, for now, I’d be thrilled to see my friends and family in the Philippines again after all we’ve been through with this long and drawn-out pandemic!
An exciting new addition to the NERD Productions family is Mono Ghose! He grew up playing sports, reading books and watching TV, sometimes too much. But, without a particular taste for science and math, Mono stuck to exploring his artistic side, and here we are.
Interested in football, gaming, reading, and quietly being urged to play the piano, which he never enjoyed, Mono inadvertently fell in love with the Spanish guitar.
Having Indian heritage, Mono considers Indian storytelling and film tradition a formative part of his upbringing. It’s also a source of his passion for travelling and a diverse perspective. Adding to his already colourful heritage, ‘growing up in the UK and having the experience of being an outsider meant, by will or circumstance, I didn’t have to follow the crowd, which helped me develop a sharp outside-of-the-box thinking and broadened my cultural awareness.’
Mono graduated with a MA in Scriptwriting from Goldsmiths. He studied the best filmmakers from around the globe and learned how to structure and write screenplays across various media. ‘The takeaway was seeing the film as a language for the first time, which has drastically changed how I approach the art form.’
His first industry experience fell on a two-week summer school at Publicis Advertising Agency in Baker Street, London during his Bachelor studies. It was an intensive introduction to the world of ad agencies and how to plan and manage a campaign from scratch. Focused on account management Mono quickly gravitated to the talks and sessions with the creatives, which is where he got the first insight into what was the real direction and this is where he wanted to take his career.
One of the most important lessons he took away since the beginning of his directing career was how to deal with failure and rejection. ‘Whether it’s a pitch, sale or script feedback, I learned to see it as an opportunity to develop my skill set and resilience. It’s also a good test to see how badly you want this as your career including all the ups and downs.’
Mono’s first professional project was a spot for Selfridges with BMB Agency. It was a 60-second spot he directed to advertise Selfridges’ new personal shopping ‘Wonder Room’ area in-store. It was his first big spot and he remembers how everyone waited patiently for Mono to call action, which he eventually did. It was challenging to juggle the different stakeholders from the agency and client-side while maintaining a creative focus with actors and crew. ‘ This balance is something all directors must go through and is a technique I’ve come to excel at and enjoy. ‘
Like nearly every director, Mono had his life/career-changing moment when his short film ‘Lost Bullets’ was long-listed for Oscar. It opened a lot of doors in Mono’s career and got him in front of some industry heavy hitters. The story still resonates with people today and stands up in terms of cinematic quality to other leading shorts.
‘I want to achieve impeccable storytelling, draw tight performances and create atmospheric, stunning visuals to match the narrative.’ To keep himself fresh and caught up with everything in the industry Mono watches a lot of ads, good and bad from all over the world. Not hitting the skip button on YouTube and varying his tastes, for example: keeping up to date with exhibitions and art galleries, music, world cinema, NFTs and gaming.
The creative industry, like any other, is full of good and bad. Mono is not a big fan of the “traditional” route to becoming a commercials director. This is changing with directors coming from other disciplines and backgrounds. The industry could also take calculated risks in storytelling and casting.
On a positive note, the creative industry has never-ending opportunities to tell stories across new formats and media. ‘I’m excited about working with brands open to fresh ideas and storytelling methods.’
Everyone takes their inspiration from somewhere, for Mono, some of it comes from his favourite director Bong Joon-ho. His movies are on the list of those you want to watch again and again to see what’s running underneath (literally in ‘Parasite’) and feel like you’ve been in a filmmaking masterclass after it’s over.
Outside of work, Mono likes keeping fit, reading, playing the guitar and indie games when time permits. Apart from directing, Mono takes time to perfect his travel photography, creating his own game and poetry. He also particularly enjoys the following creations that you might take a note of:
Film: Bong Joon-ho. His stories are thought-provoking and original.
They write in an accessible style which is also ironic, prophetic and timeless.
Gaming: the creators (Playdead) of the games ‘Inside’ and ‘Limbo’. These indie games show how the atmosphere and a mysterious style with little to no dialogue can carry an entire story.
Lastly, ‘I’m sure, like most artists, I’m driven by the impulse to create a great piece of work that resonates both with the audience and personally.’ We hope you enjoyed an insight into who Mono Ghose is and are looking forward to seeing what NERDy things he creates in the future.
NERD has always been a creative bunch full of diverse talent with strong values at our core and we are on a mission to help our industry be a more diverse & inclusive one for all!
We’ve seen the power of diversity and varied perspectives in our own NERD team and talent roster – more than 75% of our squad is female – but wouldn’t it be great if we could live in a world where this number is not something impressive, where it is just normal? For us IWD is all about breaking the bias, supporting the underrepresented and being surrounded by the proud allies of women!
At NERD we believe that our differences make us stronger! This International Women’s Day we would like to share our thoughts on what this day means to each of us:
Margaux, Social Media Assistant :
‘IWD lets us reflect on the successes of women throughout the years. This is the best day to celebrate and appreciate everything women have achieved and are still trying to achieve.
At NERD, we celebrate women everyday. We celebrate the talent, the passion, and the dedication of the beautiful women that are a part of this team.
The IWD has never just been celebrated one day out of the year. It is celebrated everyday because in every day, there is something for us to celebrate and appreciate in the women around us.’
Lydia, Head of Talent & New Biz:
‘I’ve worked in media sales for over 20 years representing some incredible female directors. At NERD it is so exciting to see so much female talent rising up in animation & live action. A great example to young women making their way through what was a male dominated industry. Keep going girls!!! I am excited about what is yet to come #wehavegotthis’
Maria, Head of Talent & New Biz Europe:
“IWM is a good moment to remind us of the huge importance of feminine presence in leading roles in society.
We will always need the equilibrium of masculine ideas, but with all things happening in the world right now, it is evident that the planet Earth is urging for the compassion, sympathy, loving essence of the feminine forces. The world needs us now as leaders!
NERD’s team, including our executive producer, Milana, is a reflection of what compassionate and mindful leaders are, even in a tough industry as advertising could be”
Ira, Creative Producer – proud ally of women everywhere:
‘International Women’s Day is a great time to celebrate all the courageous and persevering women of the world who endlessly strive to do good and make the world a better place against all odds.
I see it as the perfect opportunity to be still and reflect on all the women who’ve shown me love and helped me become everything I am today. My heart goes out to my mum, my grandma and all my titas (aunties)and ninangs (godmothers) – today is for you!
Viktoriia, PR Executive:
‘On this day I would like to say THANK YOU to every woman who made a difference in my life. International Women’s Day is after all, just like any other day – a reminder to show your love to everyone and everything around you. I love being a part of a strong female community and on this day, I am insanely grateful to be working in one myself!’’
Shay Hamias, Animation Director & Talent Mentor:
I love finding opportunities to make change happen in the industry, often by simply helping clients discover the importance of inclusion and diversity. I find there’s a benefit to everyone involved!
I usually suggest considering portraying women as heroes, and not just picture-perfect glamorous models but actual women with real body types, skin tones and gender identities. Advertisers and agencies are slowly but surely catching onto the benefits of being more inclusive and forward thinking but it is also our role as creators to help shift perspectives, spark new ideas and allow hearts and minds to grow in love and understanding.
Milana, Executive Creative Producer & Founder:
‘I never had female role models in advertising, I also didn’t notice more than a handful of ethnic individuals in senior positions or those that came from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds. Bearing in mind that I’m all of those things, my inspiration stemmed from many male-dominated meetings and my fondness for craft and filmmaking.
Together with our male counterparts – there is no reason why we can’t make the industry a more equal one for all talent! As a woman, I don’t want to take away anyone’s opportunity, just an equal chance to try for the same.’
This IWD we are celebrating NERD as a female founded business and pledge, once again , to empower and support women. We encourage you all to celebrate this day or simply say ‘Thank you’ to all the incredible women in your network, from partners and family to your lovely clients and team members.
5 Questions with NERD Producer & AOP Board Member Ira Giorgetti
What was it like moving to London and why did you do it?
Ira: I first moved to the big smoke in 2016, back then I was fresh to the local scene and really struggled to find a community where creatives of all backgrounds and interests were both celebrated and supported. I was basically looking for a community to call my own where guidance without judgment and mentorship without profit were the norm. I’d moved over six thousand miles to be with my partner, but starting over from scratch professionally is definitely a tough period to go through.
The Association of Photographers proved to be a great place where I found kinship with other young artists, where I developed my craft and understanding of the industry and ultimately built many meaningful relationships with similarly minded folk who didn’t put much weight on status, client list or portfolio. I found a real sense of community there, been active in many ways for a few years now and as of 2022 I’m on the Board of Directors!
Why is it important for artists to find a sense of community?
Ira: I never really liked to fly solo, and I think it’s especially important for people in the creative industry to find a safe space where they feel supported both as an artist and a professional. Within the past couple of years, the AOP has really felt like a community of people coming together and they’ve done so much to support the craft, the practitioners and the business and institutions that keep the wheels turning.
Although I would be amiss if I didn’t admit that there’s still a need to tackle many issues both locally and in the national, professional sphere when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equality of opportunity. The organization is thankfully modernizing and that’s been reflected with some changes to the leadership structure.
Aside from a new female CEO the Board of Directors now also includes a pretty even split between male and female members as well as a couple of seats taken up by people of colour (myself included!). The entire membership supported the new direction which was quite heartwarming as it’s something that the rest of my team at NERD and I take quite seriously and champion daily in our approach to fairer, more equitable production.
What happened when you finally found your tribe?
Ira: I felt supported, excited and largely relieved! Always nice to find people of the same feather, and was always nice when we flocked together to discuss ideas, create opportunities and devour red wine and pizza!
What do you do for the organisation and what has the organisation done for you?
Ira: As a newly elected board member I am part of a few working groups that aim to engage more assistant photographers and early-stage creatives that will allow the organization to broaden its impact, increase its membership and work with both the government and the private sector towards fairer representation and treatment of visual artists.
Something that many creatives struggle with when starting out is the legal and this is an area I got a lot of help in especially in the early days! The forums are also great for talking about kit, discussing the state of the industry and making connections.
What are your plans for yourfuture as both photographer and board member?
Ira: I fully plan to continue pushing for diversity and inclusion in all senses of the word as I’d love to see the industry start to really take it seriously and stop with all the meaningless faff and tokenistic approaches towards better representation. I also plan to continue personally providing support and mentorship to up-and-coming photographers and creatives as that’s something the AOP did for me back then that’s had a great impact and has helped me get to where I am today!
Diablo II: Resurrected is a remastered port of the classic dungeon-crawler and we got to craft some truly spectacular labors of love for Blizzard’s iconic franchise.
While working on this fiery set of artworks, Billelis focused on the importance of the franchise’s heritage, its lengthy history, and endless fan love while also managing his own creative needs and ideas. The combination of all these elements has shaped Bill’s voice within the artwork itself.
Billelis was an obvious choice for this project as there’s no one better suited to portraying such recognisable characters in this distinctly dark, mysterious, and powerful visual style!
The key visual art took around six months to create as there was a lot of back and forth communication with the client to make the piece true to the brand’s vision and legacy the game already has. Blizzard’s original artwork was created over 12 years ago and Billelis nailed the rebirth of the artwork shaping it into a whole new, contemporary style.
For NERD Productions it was one of the most exciting projects that Billelis has worked on and we were extremely excited to support the creation of such iconic pieces. Once again, an unbelievable collaboration with the artist who truly loves the franchise and his craft.
Our founder and creative executive producer on working like an animal, accepting failure and partying like it’s 1995.
What was your first experience of leadership?
After being a runner for a while, I landed a cool new job – Office Manager at a busy production company in Soho. Sounds like quite a boring job if the title is anything to go by BUUUT.. I had a team of amazing runners to help me pull off the most random, eccentric production tasks as well as incredible parties, team bonding trips and sometimes even the most bizarre requests. No day was ever the same, no task was ever the same. It meant always being on your toes, continuously learning, meeting new talented people and partying like it’s 1995 every single day!
How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
It was here that I first got the real taste of amazing leaders and also simply horrific ones too. There were those that were kind, polite and open to sharing their knowledge with others on the team regardless of their social background or what role they played in production. On the other hand, you had those that would talk to people like they were dirt on the bottom of their worn-out trendy Converse trainers! It was painful to watch, listen to and simply be in the same room with. Even though I had only little say at that point in my career, I often clashed with those individuals, perhaps even when the situation didn’t involve me at all as I just could not stand unfair behaviour! I knew I wanted to be different from them, power or no power, I did my best to be supportive but straight up at the same time, both with the ones who were mistreated and the ones that were favoured.
What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Being a young EP and getting so ahead too quickly! In my eyes I had the right to be there due to my relentless work energy and never saying no to a random all-night task or an unexpected challenge. With that came the need to prove myself though, to my peers whom I left behind, to older colleagues and specifically those that didn’t like me for many personal or subjective reasons – like being too young, too ethnic, or just for being from Croydon!
I worked like an animal, day & night. Missing family gatherings, birthdays – doing conference calls at funerals… yes, I did that! However, with the recognition and praise came the ego as well. There was a point where I started to care too much about myself and the unfair treatment I was getting, even in this position and actually forgetting that so many others had it the same or worse, but had much smaller voices than I did.
Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?
I think three weeks into my first job in the industry I knew I would run a production company one day. Not because I wanted to lead, but because it really pissed me off how things were being managed from a clique and classist point of view and I wanted them to be done differently, based on merit and talent.
What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
I hate having to let people go! It’s never nice to have to let someone go so I always try to empower people to see why they may be better at something else or be more suited to another adventure. It’s not fair to keep people on if they are not the best version of themselves as they are wasting their own time too, not just yours.
Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
We all fail! Sometimes you don’t notice a team member is down and struggling with something, be it personal or work related. Sometimes you don’t initially pay enough attention to a problem or an unusual friction between team members. I believe it’s all a part of the process and if we couldn’t learn and improve continuously in our industry, then I would just quit! It simply means it’s got to the point you don’t care enough anymore.
In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
I think honesty is the most important element of any successful relationship. We value this in our personal relationships so why not in our work collaborations? I’m not saying to share your every thought and worry, but to bring transparency while coming up with suggestions is always appreciated whichever side you are on.
As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
I have had a few people to look up to over the years and some of those have let me down which is always devastating while others inspired and motivated me more than I expected. I mentor a lot of young and up & coming talent and always treat those as friendships and close relationships. You really have to get to know a person to be able to see their strengths & weaknesses and how to help them get to be the best they can be. It’s a big responsibility!
It’s been a really challenging year – and that’s an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Its not my first rodeo, ha! Sadly, I have had to lead teams through tough times before and that is one of my strengths – No matter what life throws at me, I just produce my way out of it. Staying calm and motivated in times of adversity is the best team bonding exercise you can ever ask for. You will be better for it and come out the other side with wonderful friends and more experience to add under your belt.
This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
As a change maker in this specific area it’s been a fantastic year for my talented Directors, Illustrators and Photographers! They are finally getting the opportunities they have been side-lined for in the past for unfair reasons and they get to have a bit more of a spotlight.
How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?
As a company that represents diverse talent, we have been a global company since our first day. Working remotely has not really meant that we have had to change a thing about how we craft. Our company culture is the only reason I started NERD, so it is the key to what we do, how we do it and why – every day!
What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?