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Tristan Upton (MA Producing) on Producer role at Sky Creative

By Elise Czyzowska

07 July 2023

Last year, MA Producing graduate Tristan Upton joined the team at Sky Creative, the biggest in-house creative agency in Europe, and the company behind campaigns for Gangs of London, Babylon Berlin, and House of the Dragon (their first shared European-wide campaign).

Working in the UK as a Producer for the agency, Tristan then moved across to the Sky Germany team in October, looking for a new way to challenge and grow within his craft.

In today’s blog, we spoke to Tristan about this transition, his favourite campaigns to date, and what it means to be a producer for a creative advertising agency…

What drew you to a career in producing?

Like many filmmakers, my passion started when I was quite young. Typically, I wanted to do everything myself – write, shoot, edit… And nowadays, as a producer, I do get to be involved in everything. I sometimes wonder if I chose this career as a way to hold onto that desire I had as a child.

A producer is responsible for making sure every separate part of each project gels together neatly, and I find that very empowering. Plus, I love the insight that my role gives me into even the smallest details of a production – that’s where a project can really shine!

Working for a creative agency, can you explain what your role is as a producer?

Advertising agencies can be structured wildly differently depending on their size, but traditionally, producers receive briefs from an account manager or director, and their job is to unpick the brief.

It involves asking a lot of questions to determine what the team should look like: do you need creatives to develop a new spin on the brand’s identity? Do you need a designer to put together ‘key visuals’ for multiple formats? Do you need copywriters to draft something snappy for an email campaign?

All of these questions (and hundreds more!) help you work out the details. Then, once the project kicks off, you’re not just responsible for managing the project, but you’re also the go-to expert on anything related to it. You have a seat at the table when it comes to important decisions about creative, what media is booked, or even timings and deadlines.

An example of a UK Ad Campaign from Sky Creative for ‘Midwich Cuckoos’

Sky Creative runs both digital and traditional campaigns – as a producer, how do you manage these different formats?

Advertising campaigns are increasingly ‘digital-first’, as that’s the space most people occupy today, and they’re often cheaper to buy. However, big budget campaigns still involve some really disruptive real-world, physical advertising. These often involve far more complex pre-production, and mistakes that are much harder to fix – given you’re working with more than just pixels on a screen!

My role at Sky focuses more on digital work, as that’s where Sky Germany’s current priorities lie. However, there’s definitely some overlap. For example, digital billboards – from a producer’s perspective, you need to be careful that the design doesn’t distract road users, while also catching their attention. That’s not something you really have to consider when you’re creating assets for social media!

Could you tell us a little about a recent project you were involved in?

A recent project, and one I’m very proud of, was the launch of HBO’s The Last of Us. I had just switched to the German team, and I was responsible for coordinating production on the show’s launch campaign for Sky and WOW (Germany’s equivalent to Now TV).

I was a huge fan of The Last of Us when it first came out on Playstation in 2013, so being involved in the series launch was a massive ‘pinch me’ moment. My team created some really cool interactive digital advertisements, and helping to develop those from scratch really opened my eyes to the kind of work you can make when creative, design, and production all work together.

A studio takeover to promote ‘The Last of Us’, which aired during the Saturday Bundesliga coverage on Sky Germany

At the end of last year, you moved into producing for Sky Germany. Working towards a different region, have you noticed any changes to how you approach projects?

Honestly, the main change for me has been that I now speak and write in German at least half the time! It’s been challenging, but has come at a great time in my career: I’ve got some production experience, I’ve had time to settle in at Sky, and I was looking for a new way to push myself. It’s been the perfect change.

There’s been some regional quirks which definitely affect the work, such as when we’re looking at editing trailers for different markets. For example, I’ve found through practice that Germany is much more sensitive to violence in their media, but also far more lax on nudity (compared to the UK or US).

Since graduating, is there a specific piece of advice from your degree that you’ve held on to?

I’ve also been someone who throws themselves wholly into each job. However, I’ve started learning the importance of a healthy balance – developing emotional distance from your work, while still being passionate about it, is a difficult but essential skill to learn.

Part of that means it’s also really important, when working in a team, to cast your gaze a little more widely. My advice would be to try and understand how your role fits into the bigger position, and how other people work. Trust the process, and everyone around you.

Currently, Tristan Upton produces campaigns for WOW, the German equivalent of the UK’s Now TV.

Finally, what would you say is the most important quality or skill for a producer to have?

No two producers on my team are the same – we all have different strengths. Personally, though, I feel that there is one thing that’s contributed the most towards my progression: curiosity.

Asking more and better questions has helped me to build up a wealth of technical knowledge about all sorts of media. Plus, being curious allows you to build and nourish a network – therefore making you a better collaborator.

This is especially true in an office environment, where you can physically seek out and speak to people you’ll be working with. Get to know people, understand how they tick, and try to work according to their terms. Every designer, copywriter, or editor is different – and they’ll thank you for it!