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Mara Bryan

Visual Effects Producer

How did you start out in film and TV?

My first job in the industry was a junior marketing position within a videographics company in the late 1980s / early 1990s doing VERY early computer graphics for commercials and TV. I was fascinated by the use of emerging technology in a creative sphere, and the new ground we were breaking on every project. I learned as I went and left the company some years later as Head of Production.

 

What was your career path and how did it lead to your current position?

When digital techniques began to be integrated into feature films, people who knew anything about the techniques were extremely scarce, and I was in the fortunate position of being one of them. I joined The Computer Film Company and was plunged headfirst into creating digital FX for a Bertolucci film, with Vittorio Storaro as the cinematographer. From there I joined Cinesite - when Kodak were pioneering mainstream digital film techniques, and with the accumulated knowledge under my belt, and nobody else in town with the resumé, I was hired as freelance visual effects coordinater for the original Judge Dredd. Following that I did my first James Bond Film as VFX Producer, and then went on to VFX supervise 3 more BOND films, and many other films.

After my son was born I had to step away from VFX supervising, and am now a VFX Producer again.

 

What has / does your current role entail?

My current role entails managing the visual effects for a project, either feature film or TV - from the top down management of the budget, to the scheduling and delivering of all VFX shots.

I hire the visual effects crew, cast the team, and work closely with a VFX supervisor, the director, and all the HODs to define the body of work and methodologies for its creation, both practically and financially.

I devise an overall VFX budget strategy, and assign the VFX work to chosen VFX vendors. I negotiate contracts and territorial tax rebates with vendors, in multiple countries. I manage the review process and delivery of all shots throughout post production.


 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?

There are two main challenges:

Firstly - there is still a terrible gender bias in the film industry in general. Most HOD meetings that I attend are 80 - 90% male, and there are very few women outside of Costume, Hair & Make-up, Casting or Production. This can be at best daunting, and at worst obstructive. Visual effects seems to be the last bastion - with all VFX awards globally, going to white men.

Secondly - being a parent in the film industry is tough. It's tough for both men and women, but as a single parent, and a woman, it is amplified. I had to step back from my freelance career when my son was young, and work within VFX companies where you can predict holidays, take sick leave, and manage your own hours to an extent. As a freelancer, the buck stops with you, whilst within a company you have colleagues who can cover for you if there are unavoidable parental demands.

No allowance is made for this within the freelance world - locations, night shoots, weekend work and so forth all narrow my work options, as a parent.

 

What have you been most proud of during your career?

There are many films I have been proud to be a part of, but the ones where we are breaking new ground are the most thrilling. Little Buddha (Bertolucci) contained the first VFX ever to originate on and be returned to 65mm film. The images we were creating for the first Avatar when I was at Weta, took my breath away on a daily basis.

The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is when the task seems impossible, but through sheer determination and ingenuity, you pull it off. This may be because the budget is tiny, or the timeframe is ridiculously short, In both cases you have to be super clever about managing resources within the constraints, whilst remaining true to the creative vision. I was lobbed approx 150 "overspill" shots for District 9, at Weta, that existing vendors could not complete. We had almost no time, and were competing for crew with Avatar. The film was nominated for a VFX Academy award...

 

Are we doing enough to help maintain talent? What are the ways the industry could improve that?

We are NOT doing enough to foster and promote diversity and gender equality in the industry. QED all the BAFTA award winners were white this year. Year after year, the Visual Effects nominees for BAFTA and AMPAS are all men, and all white. There are colleges who are actively working on this, but not enough of them, and not fast enough. They desperately need the support and input of industry professionals.

The gender imbalance is a tough one - as it is a societal problem (childcare, gender pay gaps etc.), but I think a more rational approach to filmmaking that regulates hours, allows job-sharing and provides some on-site childcare would be a start.


What piece of advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Try your hand at many different things and LEARN. VFX is a very broad sphere - explore it. The more knowledge you have under your belt, the more you will be challenged, and enjoy your career.