Senior VFX producer at the Moving Picture Company on learning by doing, making mistakes, finding successes and repeating

Mark Driscoll is a senior VFX producer at the Moving Picture Company focused on finding the intersection between storytelling and technology to produce world class content for advertisers and A-list brands.

Over the past 20 years he has acted as a Visual Effects Producer and Executive for a multitude of projects in the film, episodic television and advertising markets providing strong leadership, strategic planning and problem solving skills to each. He has built teams, production workflows and budgetary frameworks in the US, Canada and Europe and has focused on finding unique financial strategies to complete independent and studio projects alike. He has been a part of many iconic projects including, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, Black Swan, Game of Thrones, and Noah as well as campaigns for Nissan, POM, Toyota, Capital One and VW while as a Senior Producer at MPC.

LBB> What first attracted you to production – and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?

Mark> I have always been fascinated with how we tell stories and the technology need to do so. I caught the bug all the way back in high school and college through my work as a lighting designer for the stage. I always loved how we brought scenes to life with light and kept that interest as a driving force in my career as I shifted to the moving image.

LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?

Mark> My first job was as a PA in the commercial division at Digital Domain back in the late ’90s. That experience was like drinking from a firehose and made me adapt and learn quickly about how to get things done that may not have a clear solution. It was problem solving on steroids and started me down the path of how to think about the balance between client demands and company abilities and how to manage that conversation.

LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?

Mark> By doing over and over and over. There is no real playbook, and you learn by doing, making mistakes, finding successes and repeating. No project that needs to be produced is the same, but with years of experience, you start to see patterns with clients and artist teams and allow you to anticipate rather than react. That is key to being a good producer.

LBB> Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?

Mark> I started my own VFX company many years ago. We were new and stuck our neck out on every project to build the business. This meant saying yes to many things that we honestly weren’t sure we were ready to do. There was one TV show that we were hell bent on securing. In order to do so we had to show the showrunners that we could do the work. We took a risk and produced a test of the main effect and its success got us the gig. We learned quickly that clients need to see what you can bring to the table and to see that you are invested in their story.

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Mark> In general I agree, but there are differences in each medium. While the visuals cross over, client demands and workflow are different. While a commercial and a film may have similar VFX, the timetables and client demands are different. Being able to adjust to the specifics of each will allow for successful producing.

LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?

Mark> I love happy clients! We are only successful if we deliver gorgeous imagery, on budget, within schedule and with clients that have enjoyed the process. Recurring clients is essential to our success and especially given the competition these days, having clients that want to come back is key.

LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?

Mark> Most definitely! Everything is faster and more demanding. As technology has improved and become more advanced, one would think that this would make our lives easier. However, clients continue to ask for more and push us creatively with the stories they want to tell. We are always leapfrogging ourselves and that keeps things exciting!

LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?

Mark> By far it was The Last of Us II cinematic for Sony aka Everest. It required developing workflows to produce a quality that have never been done by MPC before. The bar that we were asked to hit was very high and it was very rewarding to meet it.

LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?

Mark> I would definitely look to some of our recent projects for Dell specifically. Last summer during the height of Covid, we were approached by Dell to produce a previously conceived live action project all in CG. Not only is that normally a very large lift, we had to produce it all remotely across multiple offices. It required us to also develop unique ways to capture technical facial and body movement performances that could be used as the basis for our animated characters.

LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?

Mark> Probably the hardest was managing some of the photoreal character issues on Everest. This was very subjective endeavor as we did not have a real-life person to match to and a client that was not sophisticated with this level of CG. It required us to carefully walk the clients through the whole process, make them feel comfortable and trust us as we pushed forward with a workflow that we had not done before. Very tricky to say the least!

LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?

Mark> To eventually run another VFX company. I ran my own for 15 years before coming to MPC and I look forward to leading another team of artists, technologists and producers in the future.

LBB> As a producer your brain must have a neverending “to do” list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?

Mark> You are right on point! The list never ends and it’s incredibly hard to switch off. I usually take an extended trip east in the summer to sail. It’s me against the wind and the boat and it seems to allow me to remove myself from all the day to day demands.

LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?

Mark> Clients that ask us to push ourselves. That is where we find the most exciting work and the challenges that keep me interested.

LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?

Mark> Get your feet wet. Dig in and whatever it takes to learn everything. Be around people that know this craft and do be afraid to ask millions of questions. Also push yourself to do things that are uncomfortable. Finding that you can do things that you previously were scared to do is where you find growth and the trust in yourself to tackle the next unknown.

LBB> From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?

Mark> The right people, clarity on scope, the correct budget and of course cool clients with great creative vision!

LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?

Mark> Being able to put oneself in the client’s shoes and see their point of view. They are hiring us to make beautiful pictures and help tell their story. We need to do everything in our power to allow them to be creative and not worry about budget, schedule and the technology to get there.

First published at LBB Online.