60 Seconds With Pioneer Productions’ Shaheera Ali

60 Seconds With Pioneer Productions' Shaheera Ali

Pioneer creates a lot of factual and ob doc programmes with quite fast turnarounds. How important is it to keep up to date with the news?
It’s really important – obviously so with fast turnaround documentaries about very recent events. But it’s also important to keep up to date with current affairs in general, and advances in scientific research and theories. It’s important to have a holistic approach to this, as ideas can be generated from many different, often at first glance unrelated, events in the news.

You recently transmitted a doc about the Oklahoma Tornado. How did you go about gaining access and incorporating sometimes sensitive content?
As Pioneer have long made programmes about such events and the science behind them, we have strong well-established relationships with scientists and experts in the field who often work very closely with authorities in the aftermath of such disastrous events. Most professional and expert entities involved in such events are keen that people are educated about such phenomenon so gaining access is usually relatively easy (though not always!). We ensure our production crews are sensitive, and experienced in dealing with sensitive subjects, especially when communicating with people who’ve suffered first hand. We also have a responsibility to ensure we are always factually correct and work hard to ensure experts in the field can approve of what we say.

When crewing up, what 3 key things do you look for in freelancers?
Relevant experience, enthusiasm and flexibility!

What was your ‘big break’ into television?
I left university and needed work – I took work at a temping agency as a production secretary/runner at a sports production company and slowly worked my way up. I realised early on I like the idea of co-ordinating and moved onto that as the opportunity arose.

What are your favourite TV shows at the moment?
I’m a big fan of shows like The Killing and Top of the Lake – not sure what that says about me!! But I’ve always loved watching documentary, especially ones which explain complicated things like atomic physics, space science and cutting edge medicine, in an engaging and interesting way – teaching me things I never learnt at school…

What would be your advice be to freelancers looking to move into Production Manager roles?
The job is very varied so take the opportunity to work on as many different projects as you can, keep abreast of changes in technology, be willing to multitask and think laterally. Always work with not against, editorial, and learn from every experience. And keep a contacts book!

Pioneer has quite a big market in the US. How does the demands between the US and UK change?
Aside from editorial differences, for production management the most obvious difference is in the amount of delivery paperwork and material the US market demands!

How do you handle managing on screen talent?
In the same way I deal with all colleagues – remain aware that everyone on the team, from the runner to senior execs and on-screen talent, has needs and responsibilities. I think it’s really important to always remember that making television needs teamwork. No one person is the most important, or the least important – having said that, the on-screen talent is sometimes the biggest reason people will choose to watch a particular programme. Budgets and schedules are so tight these days and everyone plays an important part in making programmes.

You’ve worked at a range of different production companies and broadcasters, what do you like best about working at Pioneer?
Pioneer makes the kind of programmes I’ve always enjoyed watching, which makes me feel very lucky. But most of all it’s the people at Pioneer – hard working, fun, friendly and supportive folk, a company full of opportunity if you work hard and take part.