Karen has worked in the Film and TV industry for over 20 years. After a varied career as a freelancer, Karen initially set up FilmFixer in 2007. FilmFixer is the UK’s leading film service company, supplying out-sourced film management services to local authorities. Karen also set up and runs Apply4, which supplies the software needed to manage thousands of shoots in the UK, USA and more recently New Zealand. In 2016 Karen launched Screen Suffolk which promotes the whole county as a film production location.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and current role
I am a mother of 2 boys, happily married and living in Suffolk.
I started my career working in newspapers, interspersed with extensive travels around the world. In my late 20’s I knew I needed a change of sector and set off on another adventure, determined to discover what my next career move should be. I always had a passion for photography and watching movies, and one day, while hiking in NZ, I thought about bringing the two together and finding amazing locations for filming. When I got back to London I took myself off to the London Film Commission to see if they could help me get started. I contacted 5 location managers, offering my services for free, and stared work the next day. I worked my way up from a runner to head of production, overseeing the making of 15 feature films.
Apply4 supplies the software needed to manage thousands of shoots. Last year we processed 8,000 licences in London. We could not have done it without our industry leading software, FilmApp. FilmApp is also the licensing solution for most of the USA and more recently, New Zealand, who have already commented that it has changed their lives and has been “a real seismic shift in how we work.”
FilmFixer is the UK’s leading film service company, supplying out-sourced film management services to local authorities (we manage half of the London boroughs) and many private clients, including Peabody Housing and Lee Valley. We manage all types of filming for our clients, from pop promos to big budget features. We are the ones who make it happen, coordinating road closures, extensive parking suspensions and overseeing the resident engagement plans.
I launched Screen Suffolk in 2016, and it is one of the elements of my job that I enjoy the most. We are a fully-fledged film commission, promoting the whole county for filming, trying to entice people away from the usual ‘within the M25’ searches. We can supply local crew and cast, and have numerous facility companies on our books, plus preferred rates at local hotels. We have been operational for five years and have just been contracted for the next five. So far we have pumped £12 million into the Suffolk economy.
Did Have you noticed any changes in the industry in recent times? If so, what?
With the influx of streaming services and the ever-increasing demand for content, film and tv production has been booming.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No! My school’s career advisor told me I should aim to be a secretary. I really hope the advice given out today is better. I knew I wanted a career change but had to get away from London and clear my head to discover what I wanted to do.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Yes. There is a lot of competition to get ahead in the film industry, you need to stand out by working super hard, and very long hours, for very little money. The pay gap is real in the film industry too. I found out I was earning less than my male counterparts a couple of times. It is also a challenge to keep friendships and connections alive when you are working 5am – 11pm, six days a week, for months on end.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Helping to turn the residents of Primrose Hill round to allow the first Paddington film to shoot there. We gathered everyone together in the function room at The Engineer pub and explained what would happen on a day-to-day basis. Jars of marmalade were given out to everyone, and Alan Bennett sent a hand typed letter expressing support, as long as the film was shown at the local library for locals to attend, which we made sure happened. We were able to go back and film Paddington 2 for an even longer shoot, as everyone had confidence in the crew and the film office.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Being a good listener. To the Director, making sure everyone is clear about what they were asking for, to my staff, to clients, or to residents. It’s so important to fully understand what is going on.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have mentored a couple of people along the way, I really enjoy giving back.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Sort out child care once and for all. Having family in Denmark, I’ve seen first hand what a fully funded childcare system means for women. They are not left at home with children as it is economically unviable for them to return to work. They get a year’s maternity leave, split 50/50 with the father. If a role requires long hours, as it often does in the film industry, much more job sharing is needed.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Get into film earlier!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to keep Apply4 on its current track and grow the company globally. I need to build a team to cover different time zones, which I’m looking forward to starting.