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Industry Insights: Abigail Merrick

Why do you think you are Operations Director at Park Circus?

I’ve always been a fan of independent quirky films and Digital Cinema technology was a game changer for the way independent film was released theatrically and I found that exciting.  For me, working within this new technology was innovative and I could put my process driven mind into helping develop workflows and I quickly learnt that my desire to find efficiency and processes was well suited to managing complex operations. Park Circus is a unique distributor, releasing classic and contemporary titles all over the world, requiring tight processes and a mind that is always looking for improvement, which suits me.  I love that at the heart of Park Circus is the desire to bring classic film back to cinema, seeing old titles coming to life on the big screen brings a new appreciation, and of course, who could not love the vintage fashion!

What’s your elevator pitch to describe the kind of films and you like working with the most?

I used to be obsessed with 60s & 70s culture and fashion, I would watch and re-watch films from that era, when I see one of those films coming back to the big screen I get excited & nostalgic which is the magic of classic film.

But what really excites me is working on content with challenging workflows, such as a new acquisition, as it gives me the opportunity to work directly with the filmmaker and advise on workflows from post-production through to release.  I also love the excitement of a live event, from pre-planning through to the event itself.

What is it about such material that you find the most inspiring?

When working on such a huge library of titles, which covers every genre and decade, it is fun to work on content that is outside the day to day workflows and be presented with new challenges.

If forced to give one tip to new people coming through what would it be?

Learn about different roles in the industry that are relevant to what you do.  I have worked at Digital Cinema labs, Post-production facilities and within Film Distribution, all stages face different issues and I believe having an insight outside of my specific role allows me to understand client or supplier challenges and be more empathetic when facing problems within the workflow.

And what pitfall would you say is essential to avoid in your sector when starting out?

Full transparency is very important.It may seem scary to admit you have made a mistake, but your manager will appreciate your honesty, the earlier a mistake is caught the easier it is to fix.  I’m a big believer that if the same mistake is being made more than once then it’s time to look at why it’s happening and whatcan be done to avoid future issues.  Blame cultureis unhealthy and does not make a happy workplace, if you find yourself in this environment, move on, your career development will thank you for it.

Tell us about where you come from or where you live now and how it filters into your work?

I am the youngest of five girls, my Mum brought us up single handed, we were brought up with very liberal views and she taught us to look at all the facts before making up your mind.  Growing up in Belfast, under the shadow of the Troubles, I think seeking the alternative was escapism for many who did not accept the narrative of the local politics, and I think it was this escapism combined with the strong-mindedness I’d learnt from my Mum, that inspired me to search for the unknown, to not accept the mainstream, to look for my own influences and have a strong sense of right and wrong.  This has helped build my curious mind, pushed me to think outside the box, be a creative problem solver and have confidence in my decisions, essential for managing fast paced complex operations.

Tell us about the latest film / exhibition / book / public figure / article to have inspired you?

The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, this exhibition had wonderful figurines of the Fertility Goddess Ishtar.  Ishtar is a fascinating Goddess, represented in the female form with prominent hips and a bird’s head, not only did she represent Fertility, she was also the Goddess of Love, War, and Sex, she was worshipped until the dawn of Christianity. This contradictory Goddess is a formidable force and a reminder that women have always been powerful, despite the patriarchal society we live in today.

What frustrates you about what you do?

A lack of understanding about what Technical Operations do, there is a sense that as we are end of line, we are there to clean up mistakes made further up the chain.

How do you overcome this?

Have clear processes in place and support from management to influence change. Get an understanding of what is causing the mistakes and look to improve processes to reduce the issues. Train other departments to understand the implications of not following processes and the knock-on effect.

Do you believe in the ‘female gaze’ and what does that mean to you?

All art, not just filmmaking, has been male dominated and the ‘male gaze’ is accepted so widely as the norm, the female form being objectified goes back way beyond the dawn of cinema. Although this ‘gaze’ is deeply rooted, I do believe that a different ‘gaze’ can be seen and represented by either gender but we do need to see more female talent and diversity across the industry.

Parting shot – Why are programmes like FUTURE LEADERS IN DISTRIBUTION important to you and what does gender equality in film and society mean to you?

FUTURE LEADERS has been really powerful for me, it’s given me a fresh boost of confidence during a challenging time in my career and has helped me progress to my new role of Operations Director at Park Circus. It’s been refreshing to be on a course run and taught by strong woman, through the various workshops and networking events I have gained a new vision of where I see myself & what I deserve.  I feel I have a new support network which has been essential for finding my way.

There is a terrifying rise of men in power who openly disrespect women. We need people like Mia & Simone pushing the right agenda, we all need to champion equality and be part of activism. Change needs to come from society and within organisations, sexism needs to be called out for what it is.


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