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Meet Your Makers: Striving for the Best with Moira Mahoney

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The Mill LA's senior producer on stumbling upon production, working with the right team and the importance of negotiation

Meet Your Makers: Striving for the Best with Moira Mahoney

Moira Mahoney is a senior producer at The Mill in Los Angeles where she oversees projects for an award-winning team of artists, directors and designers. With a decade of experience in the post-production industry, her love for storytelling and creativity are evident within every project.

Since joining The Mill in 2017, Moira has produced a range of visually stunning work including the Emmy Award nominated title sequence for HBO’s ‘True Detective Season 3’, Bungie’s cinematic trailer for Destiny 2: Beyond Light, and a series of action-packed launch films for Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends. 

 

LBB> What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?

Moira> Production was truly never on my radar growing up, and I very much stumbled upon it. After graduating college, I moved back to my hometown of Richmond, Virginia and was waiting tables and bartending at a couple restaurants to make some money while I figured out my next move. One night, as I was the only server working during a particularly busy dinner rush, one of my regular customers said to me, “You know, you could make a good producer.” He happened to be an executive creative director at The Martin Agency, and they happened to be looking for a new administrative assistant for the production department. So, I applied, and I guess the rest is history! In a lot of ways, I actually think restaurant work prepared me well for producing.


LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?

Moira> As an administrative assistant in The Martin Agency’s production department, I was responsible for booking employee travel for productions, corresponding with TV networks to get final legal clearance on ads going to air, facilitating showcases by different reps and vendors, as well as smaller duties like passing out the mail and keeping the snacks stocked. After not too long, I moved over to The Martin Agency’s internal post-production facility, at the time called Running With Scissors, where I was the Client Services and Office Manager. While it was only down the hall within the same building, my Martin co-workers were now also my clients. Over the next few years as I graduated into producing, that close proximity to my clients allowed me to intimately know their struggles and therefore aim to seek solutions more tailored to their needs. That shift in perspective stuck with me, and since then I always try to put myself in my clients’ shoes, hear their concerns to understand the larger goal, and plan the best way to get there together.


LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?

Moira> While working as the RWS Office Manager, I shadowed the producers there who taught me all the basics of producing in any down time around coffee runs and other duties. They were very generous with their time, and walked me through bids, building a schedule, the whole process. RWS was building up their small design and animation team at the time, which later broke away from RWS completely, and we were reborn as Hue&Cry. I naturally gravitated towards design work and was eager to learn more about animation, so I saw that momentum and hopped on board as a junior producer. Hue&Cry was very much a start-up then, but still under the wing of The Martin Agency. We had to set up systems and structures from scratch, we renovated a new studio space across the street, and found new talent and new clients. We were a small team, so whenever we brought in freelance producers from NY or LA I would try to squeeze as much knowledge and advice out of them as possible. I’m very grateful for that experience.

Working at The Mill in Los Angeles now, I am surrounded by so many talented producers all the time and am still constantly learning and striving to be better.


LBB> Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?

Moira> At Hue&Cry, we did an Oreo commercial for Martin called 'Aladdin' that was fully cel-animated and was a big deal for us then. It’s always hard for 'in-house' vendors to be seen as anything more than that, and this was a perfect opportunity to make a great creative piece and show our chops. Of course, cel animation is very time-consuming and we just had a small crew of animators, so our work was cut out for us. I’m pretty sure the first time I ever spent the night at the office was on that project. But we pulled it off, and I couldn’t have been prouder of the work and the team. That project taught me that if you have the right people by your side, you can do impossible things.


LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Moira> I do. I think a good producer quite simply is someone who works with a team of people to get things done efficiently. That required skill set of rational thinking, people and relationship management, and resourcefulness can translate to a lot of different fields, even outside of content creation, events or experiences.


LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?

Moira> Hands down, just being a part of the creative process. I’ve always loved art and design, and I have a deep respect for anyone who spends their days creating – it’s so vulnerable. I enjoy clearing a space for the creative process and protecting its boundaries, guiding it around any pitfalls, witnessing moments of inspiration and human connection.


LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?

Moira> Obviously over the past year the Covid pandemic has changed so much about what production looks like, requiring us to pull off the same, sometimes seemingly impossible tasks, but now as each of us are isolated in our homes. I think that necessary move towards remote production though, has opened up the door even wider to global collaboration. While most of us were previously more reluctant to work with artists who couldn’t be on site, we are now able to find talent in remote places and working across multiple time zones doesn’t seem so daunting. There’s an opportunity to rethink what’s possible and how we structure our businesses, and I think that’s exciting.


LBB> And what has stayed the same?

Moira> Regardless of pandemics, economic shifts, advancements in technology, or the latest industry trends, producing will always be at its core a very human business, and people don’t really change! Artists will always be artists, clients will always be clients, and somewhere in the middle there will always be a producer.


LBB> What do you think is the key to being an effective producer - and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?

Moira> I think the ability to negotiate is crucial. Not just negotiating budgets, but negotiating conflict, understanding needs from opposing ends and finding a working compromise. I think that requires both empathy and leadership. There are tricks you can learn to get through sticky situations, but I think it helps to be innately disposed towards playing that role. Being a producer is certainly not for everyone.


LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?

Moira> At The Mill, we collaborated with Antibody and Nic Pizzolatto to create the True Detective Season three title sequence directed by Patrick Clair. It’s such a visually striking and haunting piece, and somehow it just came together so smoothly. Every frame was gorgeous, the artists were so talented, and working with Patrick was a dream. And to top it off, the piece was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design, and we were all able to attend the award ceremony and party – definitely had to pinch myself to make sure it was real! 


LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?

Moira> Over the past year and some change, I have produced five CG launch trailers for EA Apex Legends, as well as the Destiny 2 Beyond Light Reveal Trailer and teaser films. I’m no gamer myself, but I was ecstatic to make the jump from more commercial work to longer form, more cinematic pieces, as they allow you to dive so much deeper into creating a whole alternate universe. Of course, with the larger creative scope on those projects, there were definitely added challenges on the production side, but I had a solid and dedicated team behind me, and we were always finding new tricks and efficiencies along the way. Three of those trailers were also executed completely remotely, so adjusting to a new workflow was no small feat. The trailers were all well-received when they aired, and it was so delightful to watch the reaction videos on YouTube. The fans of those games are so enthusiastic, and when else do you get to see shot by shot reactions and breakdowns of your own work from your audience? So fun.


LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?

Moira> Oh boy – I don’t know about hairy and insane, but at one point I did find myself sat inside a dunking booth with clients throwing balls at me. I made it out alive, but wet.

 

LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?

Moira> I just want to keep growing my knowledge, pushing my limits, and trying new things. Part of what I love about producing is that no project is ever the same, and no day is ever the same as the one before. As long as I’m staying inspired and always learning, I’ll be happy with wherever my journey takes me.


LBB> As a producer your brain must have a never ending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?

Moira> There is always one more thing that you could do, something you could organise further. But at a certain point, that can just lead to spinning your wheels. Sometimes the spreadsheet could be prettier, but really, do you need to colour code it? It’s best to prioritise your to-do’s so you’re focusing on what’s essential. You have to find that balance between being ready for the next day, the next step, the next phase in the project, but not freaking yourself out with too many what-if scenarios.

While late nights are inevitable from time to time, The Mill encourages us to log out every night so we’re not getting pinged with email or chat alerts, and to not schedule any meetings during lunch hour. That’s become especially important these days with the blurred line between work and home.

Music is a big part of my life and helps me to relax after work. My fiancé and I will go back and forth for hours playing songs for each other or choosing records to put on. I really miss seeing live music and can’t wait until that returns. My friends love to have art night, where we all get together and sketch or paint, which is a great way to switch off. I also love getting out in nature whenever possible – whether that simply means standing on the balcony and soaking up the sunshine, walking my dog to the park, going to the beach, or a weekend camping trip.


LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?

Moira> I think it’s really important to stay curious and inspired, and that the more well-rounded a person is, the more they can contribute in their work life as well. I love reading, watching old movies, going to museums, listening to podcasts, really anything that feeds my creative appetite or stimulates my mind in some way. The more you know, the more you can find connections in unlikely places.


LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?

Moira> Don’t be scared to ask all the questions, and learn like you’ll have to teach it to someone else tomorrow. Learn to be okay with being the bearer of bad news, and knowing you can't please all of the people all of the time. Everyone makes mistakes, but never make the same mistake twice.

Be clear in your communication. Be organised. Be humble, be kind, and work hard. Treat people well and do the right thing, even when – or especially when – no one is watching. This industry is a pretty small world after all, and you really will reap what you sow.

When I was interviewing for my first job in production my dad told me two things that I’ve held with me ever since. The first was, “say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’ll do.” And the other was, “show love.”


LBB> From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?

Moira> A solid creative vision and direction, a talented team of artists, technological support, a respectful and healthy client relationship, and a budget and schedule that are aligned with the creative scope.


LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?

Moira> An open flow of communication, alignment on the goals and parameters of the project, and understanding each other’s needs. Coming from a place of collaboration, and taking the time to explain an unfamiliar process. Being proactive instead of reactive.

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Mill LA, Mon, 25 Oct 2021 09:51:17 GMT