Lucy Fisher – Around the world and back again

Gold Coast Film Festival
Arts & Culture
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Lucy Fisher is very Gold Coast. While she studied in Brisbane and spent a gap year (which turned into eight) in the UK, she returned to the Gold Coast to raise her family.

“I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d rather raise a child,” she tells me.

Lucy is the Director of Gold Coast Film Festival, which this year celebrates its 14th anniversary. But 2016 is the first year that Lucy has taken carriage of the event. And it was Lucy’s combined passion for PR and film that landed her the job.

She studied a double degree in journalism and science (though didn’t graduate) and says she actually wanted to be a science journalist.

“You don’t know where life will take you, sometimes,” she told More Gold Coast. “I wanted to communicate the great things happening in science. I wanted to be a communicator of some sort, to turn these complex ideas and research into something people could understand.”

Back then, Lucy didn’t understand what PR was, until eventually she “realised that PR was way more interesting that journalism.”

“So I found my way into PR in London.”

I laugh at that. Many a young person would dream of “finding” their way into PR in London. How does one even do that?

“I just kept applying for jobs,” Lucy replied matter of factly. “I remember seeing a job description that was a PA to a hairdresser who did hair extensions to the stars. I was a PA but I was basically in a little cupboard. From there I got a job as a PA / Marketing Assistant at a maternity wear company. I was writing advertorial copy for Vogue and all sorts of things.”

Lucy runs me through some of the other marketing and PR jobs she had but also mentions travel, time and time again. During that eight-year “gap year” Lucy traveled through Iceland, Spain, Germany and France, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Egypt and Israel as well as Hong Kong, USA, Singapore, Norway and Finland. She worked for a company that saw her regularly travel between London and Florida as well as an island off north Africa.

There’s no disputing that Lucy Fisher has been around, but the Gold Coast is definitely home. And while she’s only been on the payroll at the Film Festival for a short time, her association goes back a tad longer.

“My husband is a film maker and when we were living in London he made a film called Popcorn. We were coming to the city to visit for the first time and we noticed that the Gold Coast Film Festival was going to be on at the exact time we were going to be here.”

“Darren emailed them, said he was coming and had just made this film and would they be interested in him submitting it and they said ‘yep, do it, you can come and do a Q+A’ and so we did that.”

Darren Fisher’s film screened at that Gold Coast Film Festival but they continued to live in London and kept in touch with organisers. Then when they moved to the Gold Coast, Lucy started as a volunteer.

“I just had Scarlett,” she says of her four year old daughter.

“Then last year I was asked whether I wanted to do the PR for the festival and I said yes, having at the time a four-month old,” Lucy says, having added her son Miles to the mix.

“Then the festival director was going to move to Victoria and I was asked whether I’d like to apply for the Festival Director role.”

“It’s not an opportunity that comes up very often,” Lucy says. “Did I have to think about it? How I’d have to handle it with Miles? Yes. But I was really happy to be asked if I’d be interested. What an awesome job.”

Lucy tells me more about her kids.

“She is awesome,” she says, describing Scarlett. “Darren and I are both feminists and that influences our parenting and we try to give her as many opportunities that are as gender neutral as possible. This results in things like her dressing up as a soccer fairy.”

“Miles is a beautiful just-over one year old. He’s had a lot of health issues and has spent quite a bit of time in intensive care because he has a habit of stopping breathing.”

“He has a very rare genetic disorder and we don’t know what the future will bring, but continued health difficulties are a certainty.”

Juggling parenting and a full-time workload, particularly when your work is events-focussed is a challenge at the best of times. I cannot imagine what it would be like with a child who’s in and out of medical care so often.

“We have to go to a lot of appointments,” Lucy says. “We have to see a lot of specialists, and teams of physios, speech therapy, physical therapy, neurologists, pediatricians, respiratory teams. It’s a part of my week. There’s not a week that goes by where I don’t have to take Miles to an appointment.”

“From a time perspective, that’s something I just have to factor in to my life. That’s significant. He has a tendency to get more viruses than other children and when he does he can sometimes need hospitalisation,” she says.

And sure enough, just two days before Lucy’s program is due at the printers, when she still hadn’t locked in her red carpet stars,and was being nagged by every media outlet on the Gold Coast for media releases and a business plan due for next year’s funding, Miles needs a short stay in hospital. Lucy’s Facebook page is full of sympathetic encouragement, but that’s not much help when you’re sitting with a sick child trying to work from a hospital chair at midnight.

“When it comes down to it, you don’t have a choice. How do I cope? I don’t have a choice. This is what I’ve got and this is what I have to deal with. It makes me sad, but there’s nothing I can do to change it,” she said.

“I just have to focus on doing a great job. But also having time for myself to work and do something that I love – that is important for me. It is juggling, but Darren and I parent jointly so we make it work.”

Perhaps by accident, perhaps by design, Lucy’s entire team, this year, is made up of women. Many of them mothers.

“I like to employ mums because I know that they get sh*t done – parents generally,” she says. “But I guess being a parent has given me an understanding that you can work at all hours. As long as the job gets done it doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting at a desk between 9am and 5pm.”

Lucy concedes that films are particularly hard with children, particularly in comparison to other cultural events that a family might attend.

“For an art or music event, you can often bring kids. Films are harder,” she said. “You’re sitting in the cinema, you have to be quiet, the content of the film might not be suitable for kids. I’m certainly not seeing as many films now as I was before kids, but there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Lucy is well equipped to manage an event like the Gold Coast Film Festival. And not just because she has a deep love of films. She’s managed media calls with English Premiership footballers such as Peter Crouch, Michael Owen, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney. She’s worked on campaigns with celebrity spokespeople and arranged media calls with Bollywood stars. She’s been involved in giant stunt light projections on the side of Wembley Stadium and Dover Castle.  She’s seen a pregnant dolphin having an ultrasound, a killer whale being moved.

“To be honest, I feel pretty lucky to have had such a varied, exciting career,” she told me. “Mainly in the business of attracting people to events or leisure attractions.”

And what’s the biggest highlight from such a varied career?

“I was working on PR for Madame Tussauds London and we were looking to do something to capture the nation’s excitement at England reaching the final of the Rugby World Cup,” Lucy says.

“I had the idea to put the wax figure of national rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson on the temporarily empty plinth in the middle of Trafalgar Square.  So we called Mayor of London’s office to see if we could do it within three days, hired a cherry picker and then sprung into action inviting major media outlets to be there from sunrise.”

“The picture of the Madame Tussauds figure of Jonny Wilkinson was on the front page of national newspapers, we had the national breakfast TV shows crossing live and it was covered by almost every radio, newspaper and TV news in the country.”

And while the scale of the operation is slightly different, Lucy reflects that her work at Gold Coast Film Festival is the same – shining a spotlight on people, places and their craft.

Lucy’s vision for the event is to grow a sense of anticipation around the Gold Coast Film Festival, “both from the industry – to show films and appear as a guest, but also our attendees – to see a trusted, curated film program and hear from high profile filmmakers and actors.”

“We also know that by securing films that are Queensland premieres or Australian films we can grow our out-of-town attendance: people from Brisbane and northern NSW who want to get the chance to see a film first. We have a mixture of locals but also drive market attendees across a wide range of ages,” Lucy said.

“We started out as a genre-focused festival, but by broadening it we have grown the festival substantially. The numbers speak for themselves.”

As with many cultural events – the Gold Coast Film Festival is a not-for-profit organisation reliant on external funding, without which the ten-day program would not be possible.

“We rely on a combination of government funding and grants, corporate sponsorship and the revenue from our ticketed screenings and events,” Lucy explained. “That was probably the biggest learning for me in this role – that seeking out, applying, pitching and confirming funding would take a lot more time than I imagined.”

And while Lucy’s team is small and all part-time, she says that she very much feels a part of the Gold Coast’s broader cultural community.

“There’s a lot of really passionate people working in and around the arts and the promotion of the cultural scene,” she said. “It such an exciting time to be living on the Gold Coast right now. There are so many great cultural festivals, and the people that run them, I just look up to them and see this incredible inspiration.”

But for now, Lucy’s eyes are very much on the prize. The prize being this year’s Gold Coast Film Festival – the 14th annual event.

“The Gold Coast has a strong heritage of filmmaking, with international filmmaking introduced here in the late 1980s,” she explained. “Fast-forward to 2015 and major international films UnbrokenSan Andreas and Pirates of the Caribbean have chosen the Gold Coast’s incredible locations and highly competent crew to shoot their multi-million dollar films. Major blockbusters Thor: Ragnarok and Kong: Skull Island are scheduled to shoot in 2016.”

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And on opening night, as people make their red-carpet arrivals and the media’s hovering and cameras are flashing and there’s social media to manage and questions coming fast and thick; what’s Lucy thinking then?

She laughs. “I don’t have time to think. We are just making sure things go as smoothly as possible. Checking the run sheet to make sure everything’s on there. That the talent is on their way from the hotel. That the drivers are on time.”

“It’s exiting but it’s just making sure media have what they need, that talent are well looked after and have a great time at the festival and that the audience have a great experience.”

And on opening night in ten year’s time, will it be the same?

“Yeah, I think so. I think the challenges of opening night remain the same: making sure a lot of people get to where they need to be in a short space of time and that everything runs smoothly.”

“Hopefully by then we’ll have significant levels of actors and film makers attending opening night as well.”

I wrap up our conversation by asking where her Film Festival role has taken her, and once again Lucy laughs. This time a little more manically.

“To the depths of MailChimp, WordPress, HootSuite, WaveApps, Filemaker and back,” she said.

Yep. That’s something every event manager cum PR specialist can relate to.

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