Tag Collective Arts’ Donna Head, Stacia Akaba, Karis Falzon and Poppy Boswell discuss diversity, empowerment and evolution in production
Clockwise from left: Stacia Akaba, Donna Head, Karis Falzon, Poppy Boswell
To mark International Women’s Day 2021, LBB speaks with Tag Collective Arts’s executive producers Donna Head and Stacia Akaba, alongside production assistants Karis Falzon and Poppy Boswell.
In this interview they discuss their experiences in the industry so far, the positive impacts, their greatest achievements to date, and how they would like to see the industry progress.
LBB> How has your role and experience in the industry evolved over the past few years?
Donna Head, Executive Producer> I’ve been with Tag for almost five years and it’s such different place from when I started. I learn something new about my job all the time. I now manage all post production at Collective Arts and new challenges present themselves daily. In the last 12 months, we’ve evolved and had to adapt to working solo which was a huge shock to the system. The industry is always evolving, you should never stop learning or adding new strings to your bow. Working remotely has proved how we’ve evolved.
Stacia Akaba, Executive Producer> One of the greatest things about working in advertising is that no two years are the same. The creative industry is ever-changing, so you are always adapting and always learning. 2020 is the most challenging of them all, however, being able to work remotely through a global pandemic and still deliver great content with directors and clients based across the world was amazing. When you’re surrounded by a strong and talented team all is well!
Karis Falzon, Production Assistant> After six months of looking for a paid entry role into the industry, a friend who was working at the company suggested I applied to become a runner. In a short amount of time, I learnt so much about various jobs in the industry and grew a strong interest in the production side of things. Following this, I volunteered to run for every shoot possible, which eventually led me to where I am now, as a production assistant for the team.
Poppy Boswell, Production Assistant> My role has evolved hugely - three years ago I had just stepped foot in the industry and was helping out with some part-time running work at Wave Studios London. Since taking on a full-time role at Smoke & Mirrors Amsterdam, I first gained experience of a whole new city! And secondly, I got to see into a side of the industry I didn’t know much about: production. Three years down the line and I’ve learnt so much. I’m now assisting my fellow senior producers and running my own little versioning jobs with London.
LBB> Have you seen more diversity of talent entering the industry?
Stacia> Yes, with the events of last year really opening the industry’s eyes to unbeknownst standards and practices that may not have always been seen as welcoming or inclusive. I have noticed the increase in diversity, not just in terms of race but backgrounds too. Opening doors and avenues of advertising to everyone, not just via the usual routes and channels.
I can proudly reel off a list of successful and influential women who have made a remarkable impact on the industry and I feel this alone speaks volumes. A quote that has always stood out to me is: “In the future there will be no female leaders, there will just be leaders” – Sheryl Sanberg.
Karis> Having only started in the industry two and a half years ago, I can already see more female presence. When I first started as a runner, I was the only female on the team, but this quickly changed and made for a varied all-encompassing environment.
Donna> Dimensions of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re good at what you do, your talent is your talent regardless.
Poppy> We also want to make more diverse communities aware of this industry and that jobs within it exist and are open. Getting into grassroots schools and colleges so kids know that there are careers for them when they are ready to start work and understanding what skills and qualifications they need.
LBB> Why do you think it is important to encourage more women to enter the industry?
Poppy> Traditionally the role of most women in post-production seems to be more in production or the administrative side of the business. I would like to see more women in the creative and technical side, even in roles like engineering. There aren’t many, if any, female CG artists that I have worked with, it would be nice to see more female presence here.
Karis> Working on different shoots I have noticed there is a slight gender imbalance, and certain parts seem to be more male-dominated. Having more women on board would boost morale as women empower women. It is always great to see that number rise, as you don’t feel like the only one. A woman can provide an alternative perspective that will only be advantageous to the industry.
Stacia> Advertising is accessible, now more than ever before. To women, to men, to people from different backgrounds and races. As with anything, don’t waste time procrastinating, jump on board, get involved and navigate through what will make you fall in love with your chosen craft.
Donna> The main thing is not to shoehorn yourself into a role simply because that’s the position you applied for. Have the courage to explore different avenues. At Tag we have so much skill under one roof and the opportunities are endless. Having an understanding of every part of the process is key and provides an insight of where you want to be. When I started in the industry there were very few female editors, directors, CG artists, sound designers, music producers etc, so it’s good to see the volume has increased and their work is brilliant.
LBB> What role or impact would you like to play in empowering women today?
Poppy> The world of TV and film is one of the few industries where you still have apprenticeships and entry-level jobs which allow you to dive straight in and learn as you work. I'd encourage girls who are hands-on, practical and feel they learn better through doing rather than studying to join our industry. There’s plenty of room to learn and grow in a work environment. University isn’t always the only option, and you certainly haven't failed if you don't go there.
Karis> Simply knowing there are no limits. If you apply yourself and are passionate people are always willing to help regardless of if you are female or male.
Donna> I saw a quote on Instagram a while back and it made me smile: “be the woman who fixes another woman’s crown without telling the world that it was crooked”. That’s what I like to think I do. Be true to yourself and follow your passion. Our industry is about the craft and skill you bring - I would say that to empower women or men.
Stacia> I’ve met some fabulous and successful women in my 15 years in advertising. I was always keen to hear their journey and their stories (good and bad), so that I can learn from them and put it to use in my own journey. If I can have that affect/influence on a woman (or man), that would make me happy, and I would have paid it forward.
LBB> What has been one of your proudest achievements to date?
Donna> Last year generating sales and new business was particularly challenging. I was fortunate enough to secure Amazon Prime Video as a client. I presented to a team of ten back in February and came out absolutely buzzing. Then bosh LOCKDOWN happened. It’s easy to disappear from someone’s radar if you’re off-grid so I gently tapped away, reminding them that we’re still here and we were given a test project in May which won the business in June.
We’ve been working with them ever since and it’s ramping up and opening up other doors which is very exciting. To win a brand new client during a global pandemic without ever stepping foot over our threshold, attending virtual sessions, or meeting the talent is pretty amazing and a total credit to the whole team I placed on the business.
Stacia> Putting together a photographic exhibition with talented photographer Uzo Oleh in March 2020 to celebrate Women of Colour in Advertising. It meant a lot to me to be able to showcase just some of the amazing female talent we have among us.
Poppy> Getting the job in the first place! I started looking for work here just by booking a weekend trip to Amsterdam, even though I had never been, and walking around the streets with my CV, knocking on the doors of all the agencies and post-houses. I didn’t have the most experience behind me and I feel like they took a bit of a gamble on me, so I’m very grateful and proud that I was given the opportunity.
Karis> I would have to say my greatest achievement would be progressing to the role I am currently in now without having attended university. It can be hard to know where things will lead you but the journey to figuring it out is exciting.
LBB> What are you most excited about for the future?
Poppy> I’m really excited to see where this industry can take me. Even though I’m working in production I have many creative passions on the side that could equally open up more opportunities. I really enjoy editing and love music, which has developed further since I started assisting the boys at our music company, Birdbrain. So, who knows, I could end up being a senior producer, an editor or a music producer.
Donna> Getting back to Soho definitely. Knowing that we will be allowed back out into the wild by the summer (fingers crossed) is exhilarating. I’m desperate to catch up on a lost and lonely year. Meeting fresh talent, seeing new work and reconnecting with my teams in London and Amsterdam fills me with joy. I think we’re going to be extremely grateful that we can start producing great work again. The future really is a brighter place.
Karis> I am most excited to see what is to come, I think there is excitement in not knowing. I would love to see more women working on set and in the industry helping one another.
Stacia> I’m looking really forward to the year ahead as a collective group with the coming together of Tag Collective Arts last year. It reinforces what we have always done and how we have always worked. But with added confidence that we are made up of broad and respected talent, with each entity previously holding their own/being able to stand up in its own right. This allows us to separate ourselves from the one-stop-shop/end-to-end facilities that often scream the tag line: “all under one roof”.
We are a collective of creative minds, that are inspired and influenced by each other, our workspace, our environment, the coffee shops and pubs that line the streets of Soho. There are so many elements that bring us together. I’m looking forward to returning to some-what normality and some great projects.