Have you ever wondered what your office neighbours get up to? We had the privilege of sitting down with one of our Worthing members, James McDonald, to get to know a little bit more about who he is and what he does.
What do you do?
I’m an archive producer, which means I am responsible for all the archive footage and photos in TV documentaries and drama films, from finding them right through to negotiating permission to include them from the owners.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve wanted to make films since I was a teenager and started off training as a camera assistant, but I’ve had a go at lots of different jobs in the industry since then from voiceovers about volcanoes to pointing a boom pole at a Japanese chimpanzee, but working with archive footage is what I’ve stuck with the longest.
How did Shanakee Creations come about?
I am very lucky to work with a lovely team of people over the past ten years on a variety of film and tv projects and the name of the company is Shanakee Creations.
What does Shanakee mean?
Shanakee is the Irish Gaelic word for a storyteller, which seemed like as good a name as any other I could think of.
What are the pros and cons of having your own business?
The freedom to choose what projects to work on is a huge plus, but a lot of work goes into each new project and there’s never any certainty beyond the length of those projects.
What made you choose an office in a coworking space?
I never liked working from home, nor working in clients’ offices so I’ve worked from co-working spaces for about ten years and even ran one in London for a few years with people who went on to become some of my closest friends.
What’s your favourite thing about a co-working environment?
I like having a clear divide between work and home and I get a lot more work done when I can focus.
What’s your biggest office ‘ick’?
I’m very easily distracted by background noise, which is why I never liked working in busy offices so having my own office at Freedom Works is great.
Have you ever committed an office faux pas?
When making a coffee in the office of a tv production one time, I realised that there was no cafetière in the kitchen so I popped into a meeting room to ask if they were done with their one. I was later informed that I’d interrupted a meeting between the top brass of the company and a commissioner from Netflix. Apparently I should have realised it was an important meeting as there were biscuits on the table!
What’s been your biggest obstacle?
I should probably list the many privileges I’ve had before considering any obstacles as it’s been a lot easier for me than it is for most to be able to end up doing a job they enjoy.
What’s your proudest achievement?
With my work I’m certainly proud of my years making films for the Open University (as it’s a joy to know I played a part in people getting a further education who might not have been able to do it at a bricks and mortar university) and then to have worked with very talented people including my Oscar-winners, and to have worked on very popular productions such as the three Paddington films and Tinder Swindler, which is the most watched documentary on Netflix. But my proudest achievements in life are outside of work really and would probably be for the cultural activism I’ve done with the Irish language community in London and with Traveller singers in Ireland.
How do you manage motivation working alone?
The persistent fear of being a disappointment to any of the people I work with seems to keep me trucking along! But I get a constant buzz from the regular problem solving my work involves too.
Tea or Coffee?
Tea first thing in the morning but then coffee when I get to the office and another in the afternoon.
What is your go-to office snack?
I have the occasional biscuit or banana but I don’t like eating in the workplace really.
What is the most important thing in your office? (other than your computer!)
I have some paintings hanging on my walls that were painted by a variety of very special people from different parts of my life.
If you could have dinner with any three famous people dead or alive, who would you invite?
Danny Boyle, Clive Anderson and Quentin Blake.
If you could, what advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
I’ve worked with some people who made me feel really miserable but I don’t know how I could have entirely avoided that or resolved it all, even in hindsight, so I guess I’m still waiting to get advice from my even older self.
What advice would you give to someone joining the industry now?
I was asked this today and my advice was not to join the industry right now. The TV production sector peaked a couple of years ago and is now oversaturated with people who are short of work. AI will wipe out loads more creative industry jobs in the next ten years too so I’d suggest getting into AI or learning a trade.
How has the industry changed since you started out?
The internet has radically changed how films and TV are made over the last twenty years making things much faster and cheaper and arguably better too. The tech has also changed a lot – 15 years ago I had a box of VHS tapes from the BBC archive under my desk. Now I can regularly go a full year without even seeing a tape as everything is sent as a digital file.
What’s next for Shanakee Creations?
Two docs I worked on last year are on Netflix: Anna Nicole Smith – You Don’t Know Me and King of Clones. The next few months will see the release of a docuseries about American football on Netflix, about the ‘Fake Sheikh’ on Prime and a drama with Kate Winslet on HBO, which released this trailer recently – https://youtu.be/i6bS2wMjI7o
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