This International Women's Day, Lisa Dee - Head of Film for London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, recalls her pitch that changed the film and TV landscape for Barking and Dagenham forever.
How did you start out in film and TV? What was your career path and how did it lead to your current position?
Having originally started with Barking and Dagenham Council as a Marketing Officer within the Corporate Communications team in 2009, I quickly developed a hybrid role. Through support from my head of service, partners such as Film London, my mentor David Shepherd, and some fantastic location managers (too many to name), I took responsibility for ad hoc filming enquiries; supporting film crews and filming agencies to find suitable filming locations, advising them on the correct process for navigating some of the bureaucracy they faced, whilst also being the lead marketing officer for environmental services (from wheelie bin promotions to film sets!).
In 2012, during a restructure of the Council’s Strategic Services (as a result of cutbacks), where my role was potentially on the chopping block, I took a punt to pitch the creation of a dedicated Film Office, capitalising on my experience as the Council’s de facto film lead. The vision and business case were thankfully accepted by the council, and in 2013 I was appointed Head of Film LBBD, where I immediately set about putting the borough on the map as east London’s newest destination for film. To make this a success it required an unorthodox commitment and flexibility by always making myself available, recognising that production demands are fast paced, non-linear and are immediate. As a result, I found myself working nights and weekends to support productions and to encourage them east, offering unparalleled customer service – which I absolutely loved. The attraction to the borough started to quickly grow with our first two Marvel films, at which point I knew we were onto something special. The addition of my fabulous colleague Jayne Baumback in 2016, who quickly adapted and learned the ropes, was a real game changer and a much needed support! Since then, we have gone to work, with Barking Dagenham hosting everything from Disney, Apple, Netflix and Warner Bros. Our latest release includes the new Batman – another ‘pinch me’ moment!
What has / does your role entail at the studios? / what was your role in getting it established?
My role with the studios started with two separate meetings. One with my former Chief Executive, Chris Naylor, and the other with our Leader, Cllr Darren Rodwell. It went something along the lines of: “Please don’t cut my service (at a time when councils were having to make serious cutbacks) and how about we build some studios? I know just the place!” Thankfully, they respectively didn’t shut the door in my face, although I wouldn’t have blamed them! In fact, the total opposite happened, they were like: “Let’s see what we can do to make this happen!” And, to cut a very long story short, we did just that! From conducting and commissioning a feasibility study in partnership with the Mayor of London, which validated the need for studios and that Barking and Dagenham was a good fit, to then buying the land and mobilising the planning via our council owned regeneration company Be First, to then putting it out to bids through our agent and successfully announcing Hackman Capital Partners (HCP) as our new studio owners led by the phenomenal Michael Hackman and his brilliant team. Eastbrook Studios, in Dagenham, will be a flagship studio concept for HCP comprising of 12 stages, backlot, offices and ancillary space, totalling over half a million square feet. Construction works on site are imminent and targeting early 2024 for completion. Also, because one wasn’t enough, we have a sister site in Barking called the Wharf, which comprises of 6 stages, production offices and ancillary space – with some brilliant women at the helm of the operations team there! Completion of ‘The Wharf’ is expected Easter 2022. This will bring the total number of stages to 18. The whole process from the start to now has honestly been one of my greatest and proudest achievements aside from the birth of my son – equally challenging yet both have given me so much purpose and pride! I should add, there really is no other place like Barking and Dagenham, from our leadership through to our community and residents - everything we do here is about leaving no one behind and creating a place for the future, and what better way to do that than by introducing a whole new industry, such as film and TV, to our special borough.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?
You learn fast and sometimes the hard way that challenges are inevitable in the type of work we do - so you’ve got to be creative! That’s where some of the best work is produced and I find where some of us really shine at our best - by managing to pull some proverbial rabbits out of hats! Given this is a celebration of women, it leads me on nicely to say I’ve seen the best of this with the women I have had the honour of working with. They are bossing it within their fields, whether that be in production, locations, studios, ancillary services, education, our own senior leadership team, community pioneers and, of course, the Film Barking and Dagenham female run team with Anna Wilson and Jayne Baumback. Not forgetting my mum, Kathy Dee. Without her I honestly wouldn’t have been empowered, nor able to do what I do on a daily basis – ‘Mummy Dee’ - my biggest champion and inspiration.
Are we doing enough to help maintain talent? How can studios help with that?
We know that right now there is an acute skills shortage, it has been discussed for years as something that was on the horizon – it’s now here and it’s impacting productions. This flies off the back of the industry never being busier with booming £6b production spend figures. The silver lining is that here lies an unprecedented opportunity and there is some great work already underway, with flexi-apprenticeships schemes and productions such as Netflix, Amazon and Sky investing in training and skills for future talent and upskilling those already in the industry ready to move up.
But how do we make that mean something to a young person living in Barking, leaving college, not sure how to break into the industry? An experienced electrician from Dagenham looking to transition into working within production lighting, a local timber yard who wants to connect their business or resident who wants to feel part of their local- industry through screenings and enrichment initiatives? This is where the Film Barking and Dagenham – 'Make it here' programme comes in – which is largely thanks to an endowment bestowed to us by Hackman Capital Partners. We have appointed a fantastic new film sector lead and we are at the very early stages of curating a multi-facet programme in partnership with our education partners, the new studios – MBS Group, visiting productions and industry partners. We want to start sewing the inspirational ‘Make it here’ seed from primary school age through to early-stage career and those who are wishing to transition and use their experience to work within our brilliant industry. Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of what we are building with the programme, it is well known that the industry needs to up their game to diversify and make their workforce representative. We want to make sure this programme makes that impact. Barking and Dagenham is the youngest borough in the country (highest proportion of under 16’s in the country) – we speak over 100 different languages here, so we are uber rich in culture and aspiration – the perfect mix to do something truly special. It’s such a great place for this amazing new sector to grow and be based!
What piece of advice would you give someone wanting follow in your footsteps?
Life nor your career path is linear… I started my career path wanting to be a physio for Chelsea and ended up working with Marvel and some of the best productions in the world.
My advice would be to keep learning, try to surround yourself with people that inspire you and you want to emulate, keep breaking down your own barriers and those set, knock on digital and physical doors, network, network, network and tap up the abundance of training and job opportunities available right now. Do what you do with purpose, because with passion and purpose you will always find your way through to where you are supposed to be. Try to always achieve some balance between your career aspirations and life outside work. Above all, protect your health and wellbeing, because when it comes down to it - it’s the most integral tool in your armour.
Discover more about the work of PGGB affiliates Film LBBD here.