Sick of commuting to London every day, freelance TV producers and mums Lisa Fairbank and Julie Heathcote decided to start their own TV production company in Brighton. Read how they got their first TV series (starting tonight on WATCH) off the ground.
What are your career backgrounds?
Lisa: After graduating from Oxford with a degree in French and German I got an internship at a production company making current affairs documentaries. I stayed seven years – the woman who ran the company, became my friend and mentor, and gave me my first break into directing and producing documentaries.
Julie: I worked in the marketing departments of numerous record companies after leaving polytechnic (I’m that old!). I then made the switch to TV and worked in the Sky Newsroom for seven years on the home and foreign news desks, and as a producer on the road.
I then moved – via wildlife films for National Geographic – into documentaries and factual entertainment TV where I’ve worked for the last 14 years.
How did your careers change after starting your families?
Lisa: At first I thought I couldn’t do it – have a baby and work in TV – but my husband encouraged me to give it a go and try. I think sometimes you lose your confidence when you’ve had a baby. Without that support I wouldn’t be here now.
Julie: It slowed down. But I was lucky enough to continue my career in a part-time capacity making educational films from Brighton. Keeping working is crucial.
Why did you decide to set up Factory Films together?
Lisa: About two years ago. We’d been working together producing a series, and one day we looked at each other and said ‘we should be doing this for ourselves’.
We have great contacts and industry experience, and neither of us – although freelance – had ever been out of work. We knew we had the skills and together we knew we could make a success of it.
Julie: We have different TV backgrounds but the same work ethic and commitment to what we do. We’re both passionate about creating a successful company where we live – employing all the amazing talent down here that schleps up to London every day.
You started out in a garage 18 months ago. Are you still working from it now?!
Lisa: Still in our garages – one is an office, the other a post-production/editing suite.
Julie: We’ve doubled the size by having two garages we work out of – one houses edit facilities and the other the production team. But yes, for now this works perfectly!
What’s your aim with Factory Films?
Lisa: We want to run the best production company in Brighton. There is a lot of talent based in Brighton, and most of them have to get on the train to London. We want to take that talent and keep it in Brighton, working on projects for British TV that will be seen all over the world.
Julie: See above – a successful, Brighton-based business with a long-term, sustainable future that keeps us and the talented people we love working with gainfully employed.
What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in starting your own business?
Lisa: I think any start-up will tell you the same. When you start your own company, it doesn’t matter what your track-record is inside another organisation. You’re starting again, and you have to prove yourself.
Julie: The financial situation early doors isn’t great, and you do have to have a massive amount of self-belief, confidence in what you’re doing, and commitment to what you’re trying to achieve. It can be a relentless slog. Mainly its exciting, challenging and – usually – great fun.
And your proudest moments to date?
Lisa: Going to the UKTV upfronts – with Dynamo and David Attenborough and seeing our Dog Hotel show alongside them in the schedule.
Julie: First commissions, making a project we believed in happen through sheer determination.
What’s it like working together? How do you split your work and responsibilities?
Lisa: In some ways we’re very similar – we’re both creative and as producers we like to make things happen. But Julie has a background in news and journalism (seven years with SKY News) so she’s very good with a deadline and prioritising. I know how to fix the printer and how to tweet.
Julie: I’m the cranky, growly one – Lisa is actually way nicer than me! But then sometimes we flip that role – there has to be a good cop, bad cop in lots of situations and often it’s quite handy that one of us feels more strongly about something than the other.
We haven’t clearly defined roles as such. We both muck in to whatever needs doing, though Lisa does more of the money side than me as I shouldn’t be let near an XL spreadsheet.
We’ve learnt that when a big project comes in then one of us has to take it on as OUR project – to make sure nothing falls through the net. We’ll both chip into everything Factory does but one of us has to ultimately have responsibility for each project.
How do you balance your work and your families?
Lisa: Working from the garage helps A LOT. We also have great family back up, although the kids still do get overlooked from time to time. But I think we’re setting them an example of how as a mum you can work hard, and still have your own identity.
No job that’s really worth doing and satisfying is going to allow you to do ALL the mum things 100% of the time. I’ve missed my fair share of assemblies and sports days, but working for yourself does mean you can be flexible – and because there are two of us we can cover each other if we need.
Julie: It’s tough sometimes and a real juggle. But working for yourself does mean that you can choose when you put the hours in. Sometimes that can mean simply working all hours – the day, the evenings and weekends. And other times it can be doing all the school runs that week and then catching up with stuff in the evening.
Work is a huge priority for both of us. But we also both have families that we love being with and want to spend time with – so we always have each other’s back if one of us needs to commit to some extra family time.
Who inspires you and why?
Lisa: I think women who have varied and long careers and lives are really inspirational. I admire the novelist Elizabeth Howard the novelist and Emma Thompson – she’s a campaigner, author, director and mum.
I think more than ever we’re going to be living and working into our sixties – and I’m inspired by people who publish novels, or climb mountains in their 60s and 70s.
Julie: I can honestly say that no one springs to mind in terms of working mums, though I’m sure there are some impressive candidates out there. I simply don’t believe that any woman has found the magic formula for having it all – being a fulfilled, challenged, kick-ass entrepreneur/professional and having a lovely, chilled family life too.
Something always has to give. But you can be a fantastic mum and still have a brilliant career. You just better be prepared to fit a lot in your day
Where would you like Factory Films to be in five years’ time?
Lisa: Regarded as the best production company in Brighton – and perhaps not in my garage! (And with someone else fixing the printer.)
Julie: In an office over-looking the sea with a chill-out Jacuzzi on the balcony for all those huge, swanky TV parties we’re going to have.
What advice do you have for other mums thinking about starting their own business?
Lisa: Be confident, don’t give up, do what you’re good at – and don’t settle. Sometimes it helps to think what a bloke would do…
Julie: Really decide if you want to do it. There is much to be said for working for someone else and not having the responsibility of trying to create a successful new company. If your kids are small then REALLY, REALLY think about what it’ll mean to you – do you have the head space, the mental capacity, the time, energy and commitment to see it through?
Okay, that’s the downsides. On the other hand if you have an idea you believe in, if you’re the kind of person that thrives on challenge and isn’t scared of the precariousness of entrepreneurial life, then just do it. There’s nothing better. I love it.
You can watch Factory Films’ show Dog Hotel, about Brighton’s first boutique hotel for dogs, at 8pm on 14 October on WATCH, the freeview/UKTV channel.
You can find out more about Factory Films on their website.