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Podcast: Business Is Boring #9 – Julia Parnell of Notable Pictures and Loading Docs

‘Business is Boring’ is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound will speak with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and text.

You could be forgiven for thinking TV is all the bachelor, but if you look a little harder you can find the gems, gems made by people like Julia Parnell. Julia started her career working for the big independent producers, working on some of the big formats and shows, before heading up production at Butobase, home of hits like Ngati NRL and Wayne Anderson, Singer of Songs.

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Through pioneering TV making with Maori TV Julia has come to make a series of TV shows that tell great stories about all kinds of New Zealanders, with the series Both Worlds looking at 2nd generation New Zealanders from many cultural backgrounds as they face defining moments in their life, where they are a lot more than their challenges and stereotypes, or The Festivals that provides a window into the events that mark the wonderful change in Auckland, Diwali, Chinese New Year and Africa day.

Julia’s Notable Pictures also brought us Loading Docs, a ground breaking digital initiative that gets filmmakers to make 3 odd minute films that combine crowdfunding and internet marketing to provide a springboard for interesting stories and talent. Julia’s been named a Woman to Watch by Women in Film and TV, and is fascinating on what it takes to succeed.

Either download or have a listen below, subscribe through iTunes or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

To take a step back for people that aren’t familiar with the TV business, when you say that you’re the producer. The producer in TV is this really interesting thing in that they have to be the protector. They have to find the story and then they have to find the money, and then have to find the talent and the crew, and they have to stitch it all together while reporting like an accountant. It’s a really amazing, multifaceted role, isn’t it?

It is, and I think that is what appeals to me because I’m a creative person, and I think that increases every year as I become more confident in my own creativity. But it is the diversity of the job that makes you keep wanting to do it because you never know what’s round the corner. You go into some interesting places, you meet a lot of interesting people, and you work with creative, interesting interesting interesting people. Because I think to be in this industry you have to be a little bit crazy.

If you look at something like Ngāti NRL, you’d have shoots across a number of places in different countries, all across Australia, and you’d be following stories of lives and having to work on logistics at the same time as you’re working on story arcs.

That’s right. I come back to this idea that production is the foundation. So, is the budget well organised? Do you have enough shoot days? You know, do you have the right people in the right roles? If you’ve got that right – and I think that’s right at the start, when you’re pitching your idea, when you’re putting the proposal together for the funder – if you have those things clear from the start you’ll have a more successful production.

There’s something interesting about the business side in that there’s an honesty. Every project you start with – as opposed to maybe a business where you start making a widget and hope that it might take off – before you start a project you have a budget that has a line in it for every cost including the profit that the company’s going to make. And that’s quite good business practice to get into from a young age.

You made me remember that when I left Buto to start Notable, which is in its sixth year, my company, the thing is I didn’t need a lot to start. That’s one of the things about this business, you know, I had an idea that was funded, as you said I knew how many months rent I could pay, I knew the limited profit I was going to make, and as long as you do hit those deadlines, you can plan ahead. So it’s not necessarily hard to say I want to become a television producer as long as you’ve got the idea and you can sell it. Perhaps what’s harder is sustaining.

What’s involved in sustaining a production company? Because really it’s a little ideas factory, isn’t it ?

I think that we’re in the business of telling stories. You know, it’s complicated to think about how you make television, how you sustain a company. But I think you have to come back to core, and it is about an ideas business; a storytelling business, and that means its audience. So, every story that you want to tell you have to think about why this is going to be appealing to the consumer, the audience. If you can’t identify that, there’s no point pursuing it, so you can’t sell it. There’s no way a broadcaster or a funder is going to support that idea if you don’t know who the audience is, what about the idea is going to appeal to them, and where they are. So how’re you going to reach them? I just keep coming back to that, and that’s serving me quite well.

That’s interesting because the audiences that you’re chasing, it might sound there like you’re making The Bachelor or New Zealand’s Got Talent, but the audiences and the consumer that you’re serving are actually very specialised, diverse, or interested in different experience audiences. How does one find that audience?

It’s been built up over time for me and for Notable. The broadcasters will support a certain amount of cultural diversity programming and over the last six years I’ve made a lot of it. Both Worlds is in its fifth series this year. We’ve just had a very successful series called Arranged, about arranged marriages that rated quite well for a Saturday morning time slot. Over time I have built up those connections, you know, I have a thousand people on mailing lists for those cultural diversity things and you reach out that way. And I can only talk anecdotally but those people, they want to see themselves. I think it’s up to the producer to really take some ownership of reaching and promoting for these shows because the fact is the network’s not going to. I did quite a lot with Arranged and it paid off. We did get quite a lot of mainstream publicity for that, so you know, let’s hope some people who were not the ethnic diversity audience watched it. But I know that the Indian community knew about it, and they were looking forward to it, and that they watched it.

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