Meet the Team | Gemma Comber
Welcome to the latest instalment of our meet the team series, where we get to know the amazing people behind The Finish Line. This time, we’ll be chatting to our Finishing Assistant, Gemma Comber.
Gemma has always had a passion for film and TV. Inspired by Tarantino and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, she jumped at the chance to do a media studies course for her A-levels. It was there that she realised she was happy to let everyone else fight over directing and camera roles – while she took her seat in the editor’s chair. It was the beginning of a passion for post production that continues to this day.
Why did you decide the editor’s chair was for you?
I just loved creating stories, and making the pictures look beautiful. I enjoyed playing with the software and seeing what interesting things I could create. After my A-Levels, I found a place at London South Bank University to be close to the industry and opportunity. I again gravitated to editing and finishing there, and knew that was what I had to do with my life. I was also always drawn to grading after studying it during this time.
How challenging was it to break into the industry?
I feel I was quite fortunate finding my way into the industry. I left university prepared to start running, and posted my CV (yes posted) to every post house I could find in the industry directory. I managed to bag a position at Clear Cut Pictures, where I met many of the lovely colleagues I work with now, including Zeb, Jonathan, Jean-Paul, David and Maggie, all of whom helped me along the way with advice, training and support.
I quickly worked out that I wanted to be in the online suites, and started grafting to get into the machine room and start my path to online. I would be shadowing MCR staff on every lunch break and staying late, and soon they entrusted me to digitise rushes and create DVDs and VHS tapes for client viewings. My ‘keen bean’ attitude was acknowledged by the MCR team, and I was soon promoted into the finishing side of the room.
After beavering away in the MCR for a few years, and working up to Supervisor, I was chomping to get into online. I used to come in early, stay late and come in on days off to shadow and assist the online team. My hard work paid off, and I was made an Online Assistant, where I cut my teeth in finishing, nearly 11 years ago.
What was your first online like?
My first online was a fast turnaround overnight with our very own David Grewal. He needed a second editor, and he was confident I could do it. I literally bit his hand off for the opportunity. I was so excited. I remember the night vividly and all that was asked of me.
The adrenaline and buzz of both staff and clients pulling together to get the show on air, and the moment of pride when I saw my name on the credits was unreal. I knew I had made the right decision for me, and I knew my dad would be chuffed to bits to see my name on telly.
What skills were most important to break into the industry?
Learning as much as you can from the pros around you, and research by yourself. Both about the theory side of video, as well as the technical and creative side. Understanding the principles of video can help you understand how and why we do things a certain way. It is easy to be taught which buttons to push, but learning why we push them opens a whole new level of understanding, which can then be applied to different situations.
Other important skills are:
- Drive. There is a lot of competition, so you need to make yourself known. I am never the loudest person in the room, however I tried to show my interest and enthusiasm to those willing to train me, and I found the opportunities arose from there.
- Graft. Hard work pays off in both your performance and results, but also helps you get noticed by others. You need to be willing to learn and adapt, as the industry is ever-changing and there is always something new to learn about.
- People skills are also really important, being able to read a room, and understand the dynamics.
- Time and expectation management is also key, as well as being able to do your job to a high standard. You want to be able to deliver the highest possible quality, all while keeping within the client’s budget, so communication is key, and I think it helps to see the post production process as a collaboration between production and creative/technical staff. We are all working towards the same goal.
What drew you to The Finish Line?
I have known many of The Finish Line team for over 15 years, and I am fortunate to consider them friends. So I have always kept an interest in the company and have been so happy to see it blossom over the years. I love the company’s ethos surrounding work-life balance, and the importance of family and finding a position that works for your situation.
After starting a family and becoming a single parent, I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find a role within the industry that would allow me to juggle my career and home commitments, and enable me to work remotely. I knew it was unrealistic to return to my previous client-facing role, but I was desperate to stay in picture finishing if at all possible. Zeb heard about my situation and we quickly got chatting about a role that would work for both myself and the company.
We discussed the ins and outs of the company, the ethos, and it seemed like the perfect fit for me. And I haven’t looked back. I get to work on amazing programmes, alongside lovely colleagues, friends old and new, and everyone has each other’s back. It is a very collaborative place to work, with lots of shared knowledge, and I love that.
What are your favourite parts of the job?
Watching TV is one of my favourite things to do. So I get to watch interesting content, all while ensuring the pictures are as perfect as can be for the client, broadcaster and viewer. I get to harness my QC skills, and keep my eyes sharp.
I love that I am hands-on too, utilising my technical skills and knowledge within the editing software, to ensure we are delivering top-quality programming. The thing that I am enjoying the most though, is learning. When I became a mum, I found I utilised my brain in a different way, and I’m enjoying unleashing the TV side of my brain again, absorbing all of this new information and tapping into the archives in my mind. Learning DaVinci Resolve has been a fantastic journey too, I’m enjoying finding all of the things it can do.
My colleagues are such a lovely, supportive bunch, and the sharing of knowledge throughout the company is incredible. Everyone collaborates as a team, no matter how far apart they are geographically. It is a real team effort.
Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?
I have two amazing kids, so most of my time is spent entertaining them on nature walks, in playgrounds, pretending we are witches or eating ice cream. I love catching up with friends and family. And in the evening, I love to sit behind my sewing machine, listening to Jo Whiley. When I’m not sewing, and listening to Jo’s dulcet tones, you’ll find me with a bowl of pistachios in front of a new doc, thriller or drama, or re-watching a sitcom or rom com for the billionth time.
Do you have any advice for people looking to follow a similar career path?
- Try to remain humble. It is rare for someone to step into a mid-level role in the industry, so roll with the opportunities as they come, and don’t be afraid to start as a runner and move your way up. Don’t be scared to change your path too. Life changes, and there is no shame in rolling with that.
- Every day is a school day. Always be open to learning, as this industry is ever-changing, from the ins and outs of the technical side, to the broader way programmes are made.
- Treat everyone as you would wish to be treated, and build relationships with your colleagues and clients. Those relationships could help build your career in the future, as well as give you some of the closest friends in your life. The person making the tea, could one day be the executive producer, so building those foundations is important, as well as it just making you a decent human. Some of my closest friends have come from this industry, and I love that we have a shared interest.
- Don’t rush to know what you want to do, and don’t be afraid to change your mind. The industry has lots of paths, and lots of people move between roles over time.
- And most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help, or ask questions.
Do you have any technical tips/tricks you’d like to share?
When performing a QC, I like to do all of the technical checks on a programme prior to starting the viewing. This enables me to relax into the viewing process and focus full attention on the picture, rather than stopping and starting to check part timings or bug safe areas etc. It also may flag some queries early on if needed.
I always ensure I have water to hand, and take regular eye breaks away from the monitor to reset and blink for a while.
Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?
Hopefully still at The Finish Line, learning and growing in my role. I am very happy with this amazing opportunity, and I am enjoying every working day, alongside such lovely people. My team are teaching me so much, and I hope to continue absorbing all of this new info, and learning the ins and outs of Resolve.
Perhaps one day, when life logistics are easier, I will return to a client-facing role with TFL, but I am enjoying my current journey and I am so happy with my work-life balance.