Jo de Fina on success, nurturing talent and women in production
“Everyone here gets asked the question, ‘Where do you want to be?’”
“One of the reasons I started my company was because I wanted to give others a break,” says Jo De Fina, founder and executive producer of Otto Empire. “I like to foster talent, everyone here gets asked the question, ‘Where do you want to be?’”
Jo built her reputation in TV Commercials and Music Videos first in London and then in New York where she worked with the director Bennett Miller and was ‘number 4’ in the early days of establishing Droga 5. In 2009 she returned to her hometown of Melbourne and Otto Empire was born.
“Junior people in the industry often get dropped in it.”
The production industry she works in and loves is notoriously competitive. “Everyone’s got their horror stories” says Jo, “I remember working lots of 18 hour days and being almost delirious with exhaustion. And junior people in the industry often get dropped in it. Senior people move on, or are moved on due to their expense, and juniors are expected to step into their shoes, with very little training.”
Female representation at the top of the industry is an issue too. Jo is sole owner of a production company in Australia, a position achieved by few women. “I didn’t set out to be one of the only women in that position,” she says. “In fact it was only a recent realisation that that was the case. I was brought up with three sisters and a lone brother and we were always taught we could do anything. But it’s a problem all round the world, women have only had opportunities more recently so they don’t tend to put themselves forward, they are more likely to doubt themselves. I think training can help to address that.”
“It’s a privilege to be able to pass on what I have learned to other people.”
Dedicated to nurturing talent and determined to change things in the industry, Jo is in the process of curating a new training and mentoring programme for the Commercial Producers Council (CPC) in Australia. The programme will aim to give producers, agency producers and post production people the training to deal with the “dropped in at the deep end” scenario and give women in the industry greater confidence to boot. “It’s a privilege to be able to pass on what I have learned to other people.”
Jo follows her own advice at work, developing a nurturing and open culture. On the constant 18 hour days: “That doesn’t happen here”, she says firmly. “We all keep an eye on each other and anyone who is working hard is strongly encouraged to take time off to recover.” Her dogs Otto and Dougal (named after her two companies – or was it the other way round?) are regularly seen racing around the office. She is a new Mum as well and 5 month old Ambrose is already an industry veteran after attending Awards judging and the D&AD Festival with her earlier this year.
“Otto is not just about me it’s the whole team, a brilliant team.”
“It’s all about keeping it fun,” Jo says, “sharing rather than dictating, giving people autonomy and flexibility. Otto is not just about me it’s the whole team, a brilliant team. I would not be able to do what I do without their support, we’ve built this thing together. And I think that this culture of collaboration we’ve created means we do a better job. After all, this work is all about putting the right team of dedicated people together on a project. You have to know people, know how to get them to work together to get it right.”
Jo’s loyalty-inducing approach certainly seems to be working, the agency has gone from strength to strength and in 2012 they opened their digital sister agency, Dougal. Dougal create a wider range of content formats including virtual reality, installations, interactive experiences and online content. “Otto is a boutique enough agency to respond to change. There is a danger of getting too big and too unwieldy” she says. “We don’t just do music videos and commercials, we create content. And we keep a tightly balanced roster – a few great directors that we can really pay attention to and represent properly.”
The Foo Fighters, ‘These Days’. Jo joined the band on tour for two weeks to produce the video with legendary music director Wayne Isham
“One day you’re an expert on corn. The next you’re hanging out with a rock n’ roll band.”
Jo is clearly unfazed by taking on a lot of work. Most of all, what shines through talking to her is her never-ending love and enthusiasm for the craft she pursues. “I love the variety,” she says. “One day you’re having to be an expert on something completely random, like corn. And the next day you’re hanging out with a rock and roll band. You get to work in these international teams of amazing people. And above all you are all working to help bring beautiful creative ideas to life.”