Transferable Skills…from academia to the film industry with Anna Koch
- The Oxford Polyglot
- Issue 2
- Transferable Skills…from academia to the film industry with Anna Koch
Having completed a Masters at Kellogg in film aesthetics and a (self-described) niche DPhil at Christ Church in French and Czechoslovak 1960s New Waves, this was but one major curve in Anna Koch’s winding path in film. Prior to this, she moved to London from Paris to do her undergraduate degree and started the university film club. She got into the London film industry by doing an internship at DNA Films. She worked on set for several British films, but she was still drawn to her desire for learning–wanting to go to Oxford didn’t hurt, either– and so she went back into academia.
When asked about the most memorable part of her DPhil, she exclaimed:
“The amount of time I could spend in libraries reading my heart out. Final year, I had read enough, and my supervisor said ‘Stop reading, start writing!’” She laughed at the memory. “I was bad at discipline for the first two years, I had no idea how to approach that. I got roped into drama soc and then it was no more theatre for me because, at the end of first year, I didn’t produce good enough work. I met the dean of Christ Church once in my whole DPhil between 2012 and 2017, and you know what he said to me?”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Some people are bad at time management. Some people are very bad at time management.’”
She knuckled down in her parents’ basement, the same one she was in whilst retelling the story, and wrote for a liberating seven months. She went straight back into the industry and worked on the American blockbuster Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, which gave her access to a great crew and led to her working briefly on another big name, Dune. When talking about working on the set of Detective Pikachu, she said:
“It’s a numbers game. My CV must have been at the top of the pile, they only actually look at the top two lines, and mine had some solid credits on it so they thought, ‘That will work.’ As for Netflix, Amsterdam Netflix was building a new team for European content at the time, and it was a much more rigorous process with an extensive interview panel. And I had a Dutch passport and was internationally minded, so it worked out.”
Her role now is as a Netflix creative executive, with the title of creative associate, in Amsterdam, which means she is responsible for buying content: scripted and non-scripted series. With her team, they decide which shows to buy, develop, and make, and they work with production companies and writers who pitch their show to Netflix, amongst other streaming companies and broadcasters. Her specific role is to read everything, give notes on scripts, with an eye for what subscribers want to watch. Like an anchor, she also ensures that its spirit and identity are protected through its whole life cycle, across all the hands it may pass through. With such an important role at one of the most well-known media companies, I then asked her if her DPhil and Oxford credentials played a part in getting her where she is now:
“Credentially speaking, it didn’t help. Some people care, some people don’t. There was a little hostility in some interviews, so I stopped mentioning it and just let my film experience talk. In terms of experience, the DPhil really helped with regards to transferable skills: how do I use what I’ve learnt in a way that has currency in the workplace? First, languages. Knowing multiple languages, especially when working with Americans, was a huge asset. If you can speak at least one foreign language very well and can write, it’s very good. Two, time management. You have to manage your own programme, learn how to manage a big project, take ownership of things. Analytical thinking, too. Biggest one after languages is writing. Oxford is a writing school; you already know a lot about the subject, but Oxford teaches you how to write, and that’s useful everywhere, especially non-fiction.”
She then added: “Netflix is a corporate environment, and on my team I write many of our memos!”
When asked how her current world compares to the stresses of writing a thesis, she described the concepts of ‘creator/maker mind’ and ‘manager mind’. ‘Maker mind’ is on when doing a PhD because you are producing a body of work for long stretches of time, working towards a singular end goal, whereas in ‘manager mind’ you are instead producing solutions in thirty-minute intervals, in a very reactive manner.
“A combination of both ‘maker’ and ‘manager’ mind is probably best for me. Both can cause joy and both can cause suffering. Having been in ‘manager mind’ for a few years, I may be craving ‘maker’. And yes, you’re right; I think having been in ‘maker mind’ for the PhD did help me communicate better with the writers, I resonate with them having to come up with the words to solve the problems that your story isn’t making clear. Thesis writing and script writing are obviously very different though; it’s more emotional as a scriptwriter.”
It thus makes sense that the best parts of the job for her are meeting talent, the producers and writers, and reading good scripts. She also really favours the Benelux team that she worked with, and prior to that, she worked on Turkish, Polish, and Russian series. The series Into the Night, Dirty Lines, Ethos and The Gift are her personal favourites.
“Turkish TV is fascinating, by the way. It’s the second biggest TV exporter in the world, before the UK. There’s a huge tradition of amazing telenovela-like shows; if you ask any European mum, they will watch Turkish TV.”
We finish off with her words of advice for those looking to work in the film industry:
“Keep your CV super simple, get a driver’s licence. It’s a people business; it’s not as much about your CV as it is about the impression you make. Watch a tonne of films and TV shows; you don’t have to have attended film school to make it. If you persevere you will find a job; believe in yourself.”
From day one of her DPhil, Anna knew that she would not pursue academia as a career path. It was for her own life fulfilment, and for her it was a luxury. To this day, it brings her satisfaction that it has been something that she has done for herself, to satisfy her hunger to learn about a field she adores; we as readers can most likely relate to this sentiment.