Ann Skinner lasted only six months at her first job, as a shorthand typist, before getting a secretarial job in 1957 with Rank at Pinewood Studios, ‘one of the local factories’ in her native Hillingdon.
Two years later she got a job as a production secretary and from there on, she freelanced, moving from film to film.
After an investigation by the taxman early on, her top recommendation is to make sure your accountant understands your industry. “Without my wonderful accountant, I wouldn’t have a pension today”.
Later she stepped up doing continuity, and was often the only woman on the shooting crew, apart from hair and make-up.
“On one film which had no loo for the women, I said I was going home at the end of the week if they didn’t provide one.”
“Nowadays,” she says “freelancers have to prepare for long spells out of work”, but she worked continuously for 17 years, at a prolific time in the UK film industry.
“I don’t ever remember thinking, ooh God, how am I going to live to the next film,” although she wishes she had been more selective at times.
“I travelled a lot. Home was wherever I hung my hat but I didn’t take enough time for life. I got into a treadmill of always have to 2ork in case there might never be another job.”
“One day I woke up, and said to myself, I’m not going to do a film now until I’m offered one I really want to do, or with a director I really want to work with.”
“It took about six months. In that time I looked at all sorts of other jobs I could do. Finally I thought, I really like making film.”
When working with him on a film, producer Lord David Puttnam encouraged her to think about producing films herself and wheedled out of her that there was a project she was interested in.
He came back to her that afternoon having checked that the rights were available, and how much an option would cost. She said “What’s an option?”
The event that tipped her over the edge came on her next film. She had been going well beyond her job description in various ways, and then discovered that a second clapper-boy, who had only been taken on to satisfy union requirements, was being paid a lot more than she was.
“I saw red at that. That really resolved me that I was going to try and produce a film.”
She had one more film lined up first with director Richard Attenborough to be shot in Hollywood.
He told her “you have to be tough, you know, to produce.” “You don’t think I’m tough enough?” she asked. “Well, maybe” he said, sizing her up.
As they filmed in New York, while waiting for Anthony Hopkins to drive back around to a starting point for the next take, Ann popped into a nearby hotel and phoned to obtain the option in the rights of her first film.
In an industry still dominated by big players, Ann and two colleagues set up a production company in 1978. She kept the wolf from the door by doing continuity on commercials which employed by the day.
Apart from the financiers, I didn’t have to answer to anyone
With little idea of what the Cannes Film Festival was about, but knowing it was important to producers, she decided to go and find out.
She bumped into a line producer in the hotel lobby who said “What are you doing here? You’re a continuity girl.” Meaning, a woman.
He roared with laughter when she said that Donald Sutherland was reading her script. “Oh,” he said, “You’ll find it very hard. Actors will NEVER read scripts in Cannes”.
“I went away, and was so depressed by it. And I knew that this was just the start.”
But Donald Sutherland did read the script even though he decided not to do the film. She got a strong cast in place – Glenda Jackson, Alan Bates, Julie Christie and Ann Margret – and her first film got ‘off the ground’.
After that it was a little easier to operate. Channel 4 launched in 1982, and provided Ann with a steady stream of commissions. “The timing was very fortunate. To anyone starting today, it’s a real struggle to get in there, and I was invited in.”
Nearing the end of her career, Ann was asked to work for the National Film and Television School as Head of Producing.
She became an employee again for the first time in decades. “It was rather nice to be paid a salary, and know what was coming in each month.”
But it’s pretty clear that, like the rest of us, she’s relished the independence of a career of self-employment. “Working for myself meant that, apart from the financiers, I didn’t have to answer to anyone,” she says, with a nod.
Ann Skinner worked in film production for nearly 40 years, you can see her filmography on the imdb website at www.imdb.com/name/nm0804207/