MoneyTalk with Michelle Brøndum, Film Producer
In this Interview series, we feature amazing and inspiring women who are willing to talk about money. Our goal is to break the taboo around money, share experiences and learn from our community. See more examples here.
Amazing to have you today on Vestpod. So, you’ve worked extensively in the Danish industry for the past four years and only recently came to London to study at The National Film and Television School. We loved hearing you speak at “The Table Network” event with its motto “If you don’t have a seat at the table, build your own. So, think of the table as your chance to take a seat, meet other creatives – whether it be filmmakers at the start of their journey, or in the middle – share your knowledge, your passion and maybe, just maybe that chance encounter could lead to a lifelong collaboration.” Your short film ‘Lila’ centres round Lillian who is sick with incurable cancer and angry at the world. She keeps pushing her only daughter and grandchild away, so she can be left alone to die. But life outside keeps interrupting, and one day Lilian finds herself in the arms of the charming Henning, who can dance and makes life feel like a breeze.
Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I always knew I wanted to work in the film industry as I can’t remember a time when film was not a huge part of my life. Originally from a very small town in the north of Sealand (the main island) where nothing ever really happens, I grew up making my own short films with friends and family. I would watch anything I could get my hands on and obsessively watch the behind-the-scenes of the films I liked. At the age of 18, straight out of school, I moved out and went to the Danish international film folk high-school, ‘’The European Film College’’, where I found out, that I wanted to produce. Having finished the course, I moved to Copenhagen, and very quickly got my start in the Danish film industry as a runner and production assistant, while producing music videos on the side. I was so eager to prove myself and climb the ladder, that I made sure to give a 100% at every job I did, no matter how tired or worked down I was. It all paid off and people within the industry started noticing me, giving me more and more responsibility and taking me under their wings. Soon I was working as a production coordinator/manager and location manager on big Danish features (Love and Other Disasters, Word of God, Hacker and soon The Exception). On the side I did my own passion projects as a producer, and within the same four-year period, I did a feature film ‘’A God Without A Universe’’ by Kasper Juhl and two shorts ‘’The Confirmation’’ by Marie-Louise Damgaard and ‘’Lila’’ by Maj-Britt La Cour, which are both currently doing their festival circuit around the world.
Wanting to make a move into the English film-industry, I applied for the MA Producing course at The National Film and Television School (NFTS) and got in.
What inspired you to become a producer?
I originally thought I wanted to become a director because that was all I knew. I thought producing had solely to do with the financing of a film and didn’t understand how much creative control was involved.
At film school I found that what I enjoy most about filmmaking is the process rather than the actual directing. Having always been very organized, I found that I had a natural inclination towards taking charge, sorting the logistics and moving the project along; and being a very creative and imaginary individual as well, I found that producing was the perfect match for me.
As a producer you are involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process, from development to distribution. You are a key player in shaping the story, but also the one who must have the audience in mind at all times. For me, it’s the perfect combination of logistics, finance and creativity, and never repetitive or dull.
What are you passionate about?
Storytelling in any form; whether that be films, books or games. I obviously watch a lot of films and enjoy all genres, but I also love to read and play video games with strong narratives whenever I have the time. I also try to do vinyasa yoga every morning, as I feel like it awakens me and gives me the focus to go through the day without getting stressed.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
The importance of good communication. When you are working with a whole film crew, that can sometimes consist of up to 50-60 people (with new people fluctuating in and out the film set every day), it’s not hard to imagine how poor communication can easily result in mistakes. Often you are dealing with a lot of creatives who are so deep into their process, trying to make the film the best it can be, that they are not their most structured and organized selves; they have other things to worry about. In order to keep the train running smoothly and avoiding unforeseen expenses, it’s therefore so important knowing how to reach people. Medium, directness and delivery are all factors, and often depends on the type of personality you are dealing with.
I’ve also found that honesty and being upfront is always the best measure, both if you have made a mistake, but also if you ever feel treated unfairly. You don’t want to either find yourself in a web of lies, or go around feeling down, because you are not standing up for yourself. People respect and trust authentic people the most, so there’s nothing to lose.
Also: When it comes to your salary, stand your ground and know your worth. It will save a company much more money to hire someone who has the qualified skill set for the job and can be efficient, than someone who’s still learning and will slow down the process.
What’s your relationship like with money and personal finance?
My mother works in a bank, so personal finance has always been a part of the conversation for me at home growing up. I was taught how to manage money from a very young age and have been keeping a personal budget from when I was 18-years old. I have made budgeting a part of my daily routine and use my budget as a way to make sure I can afford the things I want to prioritize. I budget so I’m never in doubt about what I have, or on what I spend my money on, and most of all to avoid any unwanted financial surprises.
I usually plan my month ahead of time, dividing my income into 5 different categories: pension, savings, rent, basics (food, transport, etc.) and enjoyment, while taking my plans for the month into consideration. If I’m going to a music festival, for example, I will put a bit less in my savings account and earmark a bit more for enjoyment that month.
Obviously, money is a big part of being a producer as well. As the producer of a film, you are in charge of coming up with a finance plan, getting the film funded and eventually overseeing the budget. You want to make sure that as much of the money as possible ends up on screen, and don’t get spend needlessly.
It’s about being money-savvy and thinking outside of the box when faced with creative problems on set. On a film, every creative decision is a financial decision and every financial decision is a creative one; so in a way, you’re always problem-solving, trying to come up with the best financial solution to a creative problem or vice versa, which I find very exciting.
What does financial independence mean to you?
Being able to support myself and having the freedom to live however I want, without stressing about my economy on a day-to-day basis.
For me, having a good savings account is absolute key to financial independence. It means that I always have something to fall back on, should something unexpected happen, but also that I have the freedom to be spontaneous within a certain limit, if I ever felt like doing something impromptu. When I used to work freelance as a production coordinator/manager back in Denmark, it also meant that I didn’t have to stress obsessively about when the next job would come along, as I would always make sure to have enough funds to cover me, for at least half a year at a time.
What’s the one thing you indulge in?
I tend to indulge in experiences. Anything from restaurant visits, going out with friends to traveling, concerts and festivals. Let’s say I’m going to a restaurant with friends; I will buy exactly what I want off the menu and maybe a nice drink to go with it, because it is not something I do every day. Experiences with friends are really important to me and I definitely tend to spend more if I’m in good company, having a great time.
With that said I also have a ritual of buying myself something nice that I’ve been wanting for a long time (long time being the key, as I don’t spend on things I’m not sure about), whether that be a handbag, shoes or some electronics, at the end of a big production job. It’s my way of congratulating myself on a job well done and rewarding myself for the time and hard work that I’ve inevitably put into it.
Lastly: Hairdressers. I don’t take any chances with that.
What is the best financial decision you have ever made? And what is the greatest long term investment?
While working in the Danish film industry, I saved up to cover all my tuition fees at NFTS, meaning I didn’t have to take out a student loan when I got accepted into the school. It was a bit terrifying seeing my savings account empty out, but it was money well spent on my future. It feels great to know that when I graduate, I won’t have any debt to pay and still a bit of my savings left to get me back on my feet.
It might have been hard work saving up, but not only did it pay for my school, the experience I got was eventually also part of getting me into NFTS.
What is Vestpod for you?
For me Vestpod is a way of getting inspired and motivated to do things differently when it comes to money and getting your finances under control. It’s a way of looking at finance without it feeling like a boring task, but instead as a motivator to get you where you want in life. It’s a platform that breaks down taboos surrounding money, by empowering you to stand up for yourself and take charge of your future.
Own up. Have you made any major financial faux-pas?
No, but I have my parents to thank for that. Growing up they always made sure I used my money wisely. If I really wanted something, they often made me wait a couple of weeks, to make sure it wasn’t just a spur of the moment kind of thing. They made me understand that things or money are not just given, but something you need to work for. When I started earning my own money, they helped me set up a savings account, and asked me to set aside some money each month, even if it was as little as 5% of my salary; most important was the habit of it.
I might have felt some of their rules were stupid at the time, but I’m so thankful for what they have taught me today. They really helped shape the way I look at money and how I go about handling my personal finances, which I would probably have done way differently had they not been setting rules for my spending when I was young.
Fiction: The Alchemist. Non-fiction: anything by Jon Ronson.
Where can we find you?
Thanks a lot!
-- Emilie & Christina