A Day in the Life of an Audio Production Manager

With apologies to John Nathan-Turner

06:00: Wake up. Go for a run, lift weights. Why? It will all be explained later.

08:00: On way to studio, with two giant bags of snacks. Make note of location of nearest supermarket. Make note of location of nearest caff serving all-day-breakfasts.

09:00: Arrive at studio to discover that the person with the keys to let you in isn’t there yet. Fine; the sound man won’t be there till nine-thirty and none of the actors are scheduled to arrive before ten.

09:05: Sound man, photographer, the owner of the replica props which are to feature in said photos, the scriptwriter and two actors all turn up early. Send them to abovementioned caff for an all-day breakfast.

09:30: The person with the keys arrives. Carry two bags of snacks, the photographers’ equipment, several boxes of replica props and four takeaway coffees up the stairs. This is why we go for runs and lift weights.

10:00: Actors installed in studio to begin the day’s work. Identify green room (or room which can be commandeered and designated green) and set up a table with a selection of snacks. Acquire the takeaway menus (all studios have a collection of these) for lunch.

10:45: Off to pick up actor at train station. There will inevitably be kerfuffles with the parking or the taxi, depending on which one is using. There is also the issue of recognition, as they may well never have met one before. This can be easily resolved with a hand-printed sign bearing the actors’ name.

11:00: Second shift of actors arrives. Put them in the green room and make sure they’re all happy until they need to be in the studio. Despite what you may have heard about actors, they are; I’ve yet to work with anyone who fit the stereotype of the demanding prima-donna. I’m not sure they exist, or, if they do, that they get any work.

11:30: Dragooned into studio to provide a read-in voice. One of the miracles of audio work is that you don’t actually have to record everyone on the same day, but that does mean the actors need a stunt person in to read the lines.

12:30: Circulate the takeaway menus. Make the order.

13:00: First shift for lunch. Whatever the ethnic origin of the takeaway, there will always be at least one actor who has lived, worked, and/or grown up in, the country in question, and who usually has very interesting stories.

14:00: Second shift for lunch. A well-organised producer has generally got the actors scheduled so as to maximise studio time; often this means that some work while some lunch, and vice versa.

14:30: Emergency snack run to nearest supermarket.

15:00: Conduct formal interviews with the actors who are done for the day, or on a long break. These will be published in magazines to promote the series, and eventually find their way to Magic Bullet Productions’ site as tie-in material.

16:00: Help the photographer and prop-man in the studio. Again, the results of these sessions can be seen in magazines, on audio websites, on Magic Bullet Productions’ website, and, on one occasion, illustrating the official BBC obituary of an actor who had appeared in our productions.

18:00: Help with takedown of photo studio and replica props. Clean up green room.

20:00: Dinner, or rather all-day breakfast, at caff.

22:00: Bed, and time to do it all again tomorrow!

The Reasons Why I Can’t Fix Your 3-Series: Car Factory, Continued.

The first:  supply chains.

For most of the history of the car industry, a car factory was the centre of a large industrial park, consisting of smaller companies, all of which produced different parts of the car (they would also produce other things, which is why Morris Motors had, for a while, a line in spinoff refrigerators). From about the seventies onwards, when the development of cheap container shipping and increasingly good tracking systems started to enable global markets, these industrial parks gradually shrank and died, as the companies producing different parts of the car were sourced in different parts of the world (one of the fun things at the car factory was when we’d occasionally get some weird Brazilian insect, bewildered from its journey, clinging to a component).

So, these days most of the car is built somewhere else. I just assembled it.

The second: how assembly lines work.

Which is sort of a more sophisticated and ergonomic version of the famous sequence from the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times. No, we’re not assembling the same widget over and over mindlessly. However, it means that I’ve got a pretty limited range of understanding of how to build a car outside of testing the electrical system and sticking in the indicator lights.

So, unless you want me to stick in the indicator lights, and you happen to have an electrical systems testing unit handy, I’m not much good to you.

The third: computers.

These days, so much of a car is computerised that actual mechanics often can’t fix a car, and need to send out for components or direct you to a specialist. So what hope do I have?

This doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t useful in terms of understanding the basic ways cars work; sheer demystification means I can at least hold useful conversations with my mechanic about what’s wrong with my Smart. And I learned a lot due to having bought a  Mini Classic which was legally old enough to drive itself as my first car: it required constant maintenance just to keep on the right side of roadworthy, which teaches one good oil-changing habits and how to clean rust off electrical points with industrial vinegar.

But it does mean that anything I learned about fixing cars, I generally didn’t learn on the assembly line.

Sorry.

Really? Can You Fix My 3-Series? How I Wound Up Working On A Car Assembly Line

In 2002, I was knocking around the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, filling out grant application forms, submitting manuscripts, and feeling at a loss.

I’d just successfully defended my doctoral thesis, which had been a study of ethnic identity and transnationalism among German bankers in the City of London (it’s a book now, you can buy it here). The problem was, I’d been so busy focusing on that, beyond securing a post-doctoral place at the Said, I hadn’t given my future all that much more thought, and had no postdoc project to go with the place. So, while I had plenty to do, I didn’t have a new project.

A further problem was that, based on my experience in the City, companies generally expect your research to be something that helps them. And not many companies have an understanding of what an anthropologist can do. Even once I’d given them my elevator pitch on the subject, not many managers seemed that interested in having in-depth, first-person research which can uncover the problems that people don’t have the words to talk about. And even fewer were keen on the immersive nature of ethnography: to wit, of having a researcher literally around the company all day, ideally working in the same way the regular employees do.

So although I had lots of ideas for follow-up research, I had no place to do it.

Until one day my postdoc supervisor stuck her head round the office door. She’d been approached by the manager of an automobile MNC, which had recently changed its hands-off acquisition of the local car plant to a very, very hands-on one. They were also interested in engaging with the local community and making connections with university academics. They’d asked her if she had a project in mind to propose to the company. She’d said, “no, but I have this student…”

So, as quickly as possible, I wrote up a research proposal based on my thesis topic, polished my elevator pitch, got into my best suit, and went for a meeting with the general manager.

I pushed forward my proposal, I began my elevator pitch and…

The manager stopped me.

“We’d like to recruit more women,” he said. “We’ve been engaging in all sorts of hiring initiatives, mentoring, starting a crèche, but still we’re not recruiting them. And our exit interviews aren’t telling us why.”

“Oh,” I said.

“What we need is someone who can give us in-depth, first-person, data on what it’s like to be a woman on the assembly line. Who will spend a long period of time around the company, working in the same way as all the other employees. Who can identify the issues the assembly line workers aren’t able to tell us about….”

So there was nothing more for it, than to don a plant uniform, take a physical and mental proficiency test, and go out onto the assembly line.

Oh, and to answer the question I most often get asked after people find out what I did, no, I can’t fix your car. I’ll explain why in my next post on the Car Factory Adventure.

Returning from Amsterdam: An Italian Comedy

In the summer of 1999, I had a newly-completed M.Phil. degree from Oxford, severe burnout, and no money. I had gone to Amsterdam to celebrate the first and recover from the second. To address the third, I had travelled by bus.

The bus back was on the final leg of a journey up from Italy, and so was full of happy Italian students, heading back to the UK. Which, under normal circumstances, would have made for a fun atmosphere and a nice end to the journey. The problematic element was that the driver was also in the mood, and wanted to play his video collection. On the bus’ internal video system. At inescapable volume.

Here is one of the films: https://youtu.be/xll47sY_AvU

Here is another: https://youtu.be/84VpGffhmgs

[side note: the author of this blog claims no responsibility for the content of external links]

Nowadays, in this era of Google and Wikipedia, I am aware that the driver was a consummate fan of 1980s Italian action-comedy legends Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. At the time, all I could think was, “who exactly are these two gentlemen and why can I not escape their wacky adventures?”

And then came the border crossing at Calais.

We all filed off the bus, stood in a queue with our luggage, then stood in a waiting room until given permission to return to the bus.

Did I say “we?”

The sole exception had two thumbs, no money, and a very new Oxford M.Phil.

Now, it’s perfectly understandable why I’d been “randomly selected” for a bag search. I’d just spent a week sleeping in the communal dorm of a youth hostel, and looked it; I was carrying a much-worn rucksack with a Canadian flag on it (you have to have the flag, if you don’t they revoke your citizenship and ban you from buying maple syrup for life); I was wearing my last reasonably clean clothes, which were a pair of stripy linen harem pants, Birkinstocks, and a T-shirt advertising the Toronto Lesbian And Gay Pride 10 Kilometre Road Race. The T-shirt might, in hindsight, as well have read “I went to Amsterdam for the drugs, and I just might be stupid or naïve or overprivileged enough to try and bring back some snacks. Please search me.”

Furthermore, with the adventures of Signori Hill and Spencer on my mind, I was thinking of all the ways this could go wrong.

Maybe the box of tulip bulbs that the shopkeeper had assured me had all its certifications to return to England would turn out to be a rare specimen stolen from the Botanical Gardens, and I’d be arrested for trafficking….

Maybe the souvenir teddy bear from the youth hostel would turn out to have been stuffed with hemp fibre and set off all sorts of alarms…

Maybe the customs inspector would get entirely the wrong impression from the amusing souvenir T-shirt, or the box of cookies I’d bought for my friends back at college, or from the Charlie Chan mystery novel I’d book-swapped for or…

…well. Lack of sleep and three hours of Hill and Spencer had me convinced I’d be fleeing Calais on the back of a hippopotamus. So I just sat down and watched the bag search with detached, if slightly fatalistic, interest.

Partway through the bag search, the inspector said to me, “you know, you’re the calmest person about this that I’ve ever seen.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Normally people just stand there looking scared and guilty. But you’re not.”

So we got to talking, and I asked him what the weirdest professional experience he’d had was (unpacking the bags of a young couple and finding it full of used baby diapers, as it happens), and then he asked me a question and so I had to explain what anthropology was and why I was studying it, and I was back on the bus before long.

The Italians, still being happy, forgave me for the delay, and the trip back to Oxford otherwise went smoothly, to the merry sound of Miami Supercops.

If Hill and Spencer ever needed a scriptwriter for an English Channel customs-agent comedy, I was on it.

 

 

Skulls #1: “Stone Roach”/”Delays on the South Central Line”, Asimov magazine, 2011

Every time I sell a work of fiction, I buy a crystal skull. This is the one that started it.

I’d started sending out flash fiction and poetry, nervously. I’d promised myself that I’d buy something nice the first time I sold something.

I got a rejection slip from Asimov. They’re a big market, hard to crack, especially for a beginning writer. I wasn’t surprised.

Shortly afterwards, I got an e-mail from Asimov.

“Sorry, you haven’t managed to sell those poems, have you?”

I was indeed surprised.

No, I hadn’t, and yes, I was happy to sell them.

I made less than £10 out of it once I’d cashed the foreign cheque (they didn’t do Paypal at the time). I spent the money on Something Nice, namely, a skull necklace I’d had my eye on. I thought it was appropriate; skulls being the house of creativity and symbolic of the characters I’d created.

It also started a trend.

Disclaimer: A Note on Fiction

Everything in this blog is based on my real experience.

None of it is a remotely factual representation of my real experience.

You can insert your favourite argument about fiction versus objective truth, from Clifford and Marcus’ postmodern manifesto Writing Culture, to Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, to the first chapter of Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener. But to shorten it down: These are my real experience, but rendered into a good story.

Sometimes this means putting down my experiences exactly as I remember them—with all the subjectivity that entails.

Sometimes that means deliberate editing, for story or confidentiality reasons.

Sometimes this means I just forget things. I’ve had time to do this. It happens.

So, if you happen to be someone who find yourself here in this blog, and says, “well, I don’t remember it that way….” Then please, write a story about it.

I’ve written mine.

Your host

I am a doctor…

In 2002 I successfully defended my doctoral thesis, “Ethnicity, Transnationalism and the Workplace“, at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Now I’m a professor of Business Anthropology at Royal Holloway University of London.

“…of many things….”

Along the way, I’ve done other things as well, like:

becoming a science fiction writer;

Writing books, articles and talks about science fiction TV and film;

working on audio plays with half the cast of Blake’s 7 and many other exciting and talented people;

Traveling all over the world;

-Working as a historical interpreter, an auto worker, a theatrical production manager, a voice artist, an archaeologists’ assistant, a tech-support woman;

-Teaching management studies;

-[continued page 94]

“…if we could examine…”

This blog is a place for me to write about things that don’t fit well into a story or a paper. Travelogues, living-in-London-on-a-student-grant cautionary tales, Anthropology true-confessions, behind the scenes anecdotes. If you like, I’ll show you my skull collection.

Read on.

Planning to update the blog monthly; hoping to do so more frequently, but I know what my schedule is like.