The Spirit of a Deskless Producer: Alissa Hansen, Critical Mass

da Dasha Ovsyannikova

Critical Mass
Calgary, Canada
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What is the role of a TV/video producer?

It changes every day, but stripped down to the core. Producers are responsible for seeing a creative vision come to life. An idea will live and die without an execution plan to shape it into existence. That space between the idea and the tangible output is where producers play. Producers have the fundamentals down, including everything from budget, to scope, to timing—however, there are endless opportunities within production to mold and create extraordinary things. That’s the unscripted part of the job description that you have to truly experience in order to fully understand the role of a producer. 


Tell us about your background and what led you to where you are today?

My background is in the fine arts—as a classically trained violinist, I started my career in Chicago as a professional musician working as an orchestral, chamber, and solo violinist. I was introduced to the advertising industry as a session musician. I loved being “in session” recording TV and radio spots, and as a result, I gained exposure to Chicago-based original music houses. I was immediately drawn to the magic in these sessions –where producers, creative directors, composers and musicians would all come together to jam and improvise on raw creative energy until something solid started to take shape.

These sessions are the foundation of my passion to create and build, eventually pushing me toward production. I started out on the supplier side, working in production with music studios. Then I moved to VFX and post-production houses, picking up internships along the way. I went to every networking, block party, and awards show I could scrounge my way into and eventually landed my first gig as an agency producer. I haven’t looked back since.


What sort of qualifications and experience do you need?

There’s no one way to entertain a career in production. The most successful people in our field often have the most interesting backgrounds. Some producers know what they want from a young age and have attended film schools, got on sets, and worked the PA-scene for exposure, while others sort of fall into the role unexpectedly. Of course, as with any job, previous experience makes a difference and is a bonus for sure. That said, it’s not always a requirement and doesn’t necessarily supersede important personality traits we look for when recruiting. A certain mindset tends to work well in production. 

Creativity and the ability to see a clear path forward is essential. You have to be equal parts negotiator and mediator and, of course have a keen eye for detail. Producers run towards chaos with a suitcase of solutions and an obsession to get in there and fix. We have a knack at making the complicated simple and have a strong distaste for churn. And last but certainly not least—an ability to keep calm under pressure. 


What are some different ways you can improve and advance in your career?

Now more than ever, it’s important to be adaptable to change and evolution. Production has transformed drastically since I started and only continues to accelerate towards new and unchartered territories. I’m constantly looking around the corner to see what’s next. But this obsession is accompanied by an openness to reinvent and an understanding that I will never have all the answers. As such, I’ve made a career surrounding myself with talented people who have shaped, inspired, mentored, and challenged me along the way. It’s that type of thinking I try to instill in my team as well. 


What is the most useful advice you received from a fellow producer?

Oh, such a fun question. A good friend and colleague of mine once told me that a great producer should never be seen at their desk. Of course, we are all at home sitting at some form of a desk right now, but even in the midst of a pandemic, the sentiment is still very much alive. Producers are at our best when in our element, whether on set, on a plane, supervising edits, directing a VO recording, charging our phones in a temporary state of dishevelment while waiting at basecamp in the midst of nowhere, brainstorming in a war room, attending casting, location scouting, holding callbacks – you get the drift. And if you are at a desk, it’s probably not yours—it’s likely a random desk you’re squatting at for a 15-minute window you carved out to address an email with the subject line “NEEDS YOUR RESPONSE” that has to be dealt with right now, while you wait for the uber that’s just 4 min away. Yeah, that’s the spirit of a deskless producer.  


When looking at a new project’s script, what usually draws your attention?

I’m a traditionalist. I look for things that will drive up budgets, a number of talent, locations, unique setups—the nuances that seem simple at first but often require a bit more thought than usually intended. After that first financial pass of the script and boards, I typically sit back and say, “ok, now how do we make this thing stellar?” That’s where things start to really get fun.  


Is there anything you have coming up we should keep our eyes open for?

I’m biased, but I’m pretty proud to be in such great company with the many awesome talents and innovative thinkers here at Critical Mass. We are positioned to have a pretty spectacular year and are currently expanding our talent base to be a part of that ride. Moving into 2021, alongside our live-action shoots across our client base, there are some pretty exciting opportunities exploring immersive realities within our automotive sector. It’s a fascinating time right now in our content studios at CM—we have filmmakers, cinematographers, producers, innovators, storytellers, 3D animators, gaming engineers, 2D motion artists, musicians, and the list of talents keeps growing. If you are passionate about content creation and your talents are as unique as the title you give yourself, we want to hear from you!


How has the pandemic affected your work? 

Actually, the pandemic has given me time to think. It’s forced me to slow down and take a beat in an industry that’s often operating at a relentless pace. It’s provided the space needed to evolve and implement new ways of thinking about how we approach work within our content and production studios. It’s provided time to connect with individuals on a much more empathetic level. It’s provided space to reflect on where the industry is growing and how we best position ourselves within Critical Mass to ride that wave. It’s given way to cherish time spent at home with my husband and children. There have been some pretty big “ah-ha” career-changing moments felt during this pandemic, and I realize that is not coincidental.