From making Tik Tok videos to diving, there are so many different career paths for youngsters today. IOL Education's Se-Anne Rall chatted to Emily Cross, a local producer whose documentary about African wild dogs, “Part of the Pack”, recently won best environment short film at the One Earth Award Festival based in India. Here’s more about Cross, her career and how she is forging her own path.
SR: Who is Emily Cross and what does she do?
EC: For the past five years I have been a producer, focusing on commercial advertising productions and short films. I am the producer and director of the award-winning short documentary “Part of the Pack”.
SR: What ignited your passion for your work?
EC: Funny enough, I spent my teenage years knowing I was going to be a teacher. I had a huge passion for children and was seen as a child whisperer! I had some incredible work opportunities within child care while I completed my high schooling through home schooling, allowing me time to work at the same time too.
I then started studying towards an Early Childhood Development diploma and very quickly discovered teaching wasn’t the world I wanted to be in. I realised just as one can have a passion for animals and probably shouldn’t be a vet – I felt that with children and teaching. So cut to 19 years old and having a mid-mid-mid life crisis as the plan I had laid for my future had been completely wiped clean. My father is an incredible award-winning film-maker – and my partner is in the film industry too and was studying film at this time while I tried figuring out my future.
I always knew the film industry as I was exposed to it through my dad from a young age while he edited “Mr Bones” and other productions. But it was never a world I thought was for me as I do not have a strand of creativity in my DNA and thought the film industry was only for those that are creative or artistic.
I’ll never forget my partner and I driving on Tollgate Bridge in Durban when he joked to me that I was bossy enough to be a producer. Little did he know that was all the spark I needed to start putting my feelers into this world – and that we would end up creating award-winning projects together a few years later!
SR: What/Where did you study?
EC: I was not in any financial position to study a degree – and also at this stage didn’t have the time. By the time I matriculated I had worked for over 4 years and the thought of stopping and getting into student debt terrified me.
I am constantly in awe of anyone that has studied or is studying. It is something I wish I did – but I do think my own route got me exactly where I am today. By the time my peers were graduating from film school I was already a producer working on big budget commercial sets. I like to say I traded a degree for experience, and sho did I get it!
SR: Take us through a ‘typical day’ in your line of work?
EC: Sheesh! Where does one start. A producer is responsible for putting everything together – and problem solving any issue along the way. Although a problem is usually never the producer’s fault, it is always their responsibility to fix it.
Besides putting out fires left right and centre, a producer is responsible for planning crews, locations, models or casts, call sheets, model release forms, transport, making sure everyone is fed and happy, creating budgets and cost estimates and everything else that goes into creating a production.
SR: What are some of the projects you’ve worked on?
EC: I have been incredibly lucky to have worked on some great productions. In the past five years I have worked on over 100 commercial productions, five short films and created my documentary “Part of the Pack”. Some clients of these productions are Game, Omo, Bidvest, Mr Price Home, Defy, Soda Bloc, Varsity College, Isca Taps.
Outside of commercial work I have been honoured to work with incredible crews on award-winning short films such as “Part of the Pack”, “Osu”, “Greenhouse Effect” and “Joyride”.
SR: What will always be your proudest moment in your career?
EC: My proudest moment in my career would be pitching for funding for my short documentary that was a passion project – and winning the funding.
“Part of the Pack” focuses on African wild dogs and the silent epidemic they are facing. The film has travelled worldwide to over 40 festivals.
It’s been incredible to create something and see how many have fallen in love with such a special species. Creating a film with such impact is never something I imagined would be possible.
SR: What will always be one of your lowest moments in your career?
EC: One of my lowest moments would be realising the faults within this industry. It’s a tough thing to love something so much yet fear it at the same time.
There’s been times I’ve had to deal with racism, sexual harassment and just flat out disrespect on productions, which has been tough. As a producer it is your responsibility to handle this no matter who is at fault. You can imagine how tough this is for a then 23-year-old woman producer. My lowest moment was learning the true colours of those I respected.
SR: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
E: Personal boundaries. It is a lot of responsibility to be a producer – and I don’t think someone can do it unless they love it and have a passion for it. My career comes first and sometimes my family, partner, or my own mental or physical health has had to come second.
One of the challenges I faced was having to postpone brain surgery as I had a 3-week production beginning that I had to produce. It’s a challenge to put up boundaries with oneself and remind yourself that you are more than your job.
SR: How do you find the inspiration to continue despite the challenges?
EC: It might sound clichéd, but my inspiration comes from 3 places – my partner, my family and my dogs. I can honestly handle anything, any stress, and get as creative as I need to with my problem solving, as long as I have my support system.
Having my dad and partner both in the film industry helps – when trying to vent to others about production work they sometimes look at me as if I’m speaking French. Ha ha!
Extremely grateful for the support of my partner. I came into his world and industry and took up all the space since day 1 and he has been my number one supporter since.
SR: Tips for someone reading this who would like to be where you are one day?
EC: Find your own route. I always thought there was this blueprint we had to follow – finish school, study, apply for an internship, etc.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t find my own route and take it. If your route changes – trust the process. It leads you to exactly where you are meant to be.