Peter Rice, Chief Executive of Fox Networks Groups, has journeyed from his home in California with his family, to deliver a talk at the University of Nottingham where he studied and gained his degree in 1989. Despite travelling for well over ten hours and fighting jet lag, he is professional, friendly and warm towards his audience and begins the Q & A session with a short talk on his professional journey. Previously President of Production at Searchlight, working on films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) and “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004), and then Head of Fox Television Network, where he worked with shows such as “Glee” (2009-2015), Peter started off as a humble intern for the marketing department. In his experience many of the top people in the industry began their careers at the bottom; as agent’s assistants, mail room workers, runners, and more besides. Earnestly he tells us that that’s the best type of system to work in, everyone starts in the simpler jobs, the more humbling ones, then they move up the metaphorical ladder, taking the working relationships they have forged along with them. This way, people know and trust each other in the industry because they have all come from the same places and the same experiences. It is a case of building relationships through a mutual background.
It doesn’t matter what your educational background is – Peter makes this clear. If you can prove that you can study and work well on your own initiative in order to gain a degree, does it matter what the degree is in? Not really. The most important traits are Enthusiasm and Curiosity, with a good helping of Persistence. He also advises his audience to open a dialogue with the people they meet in their day to day jobs, as all working relationships and connections have potential. Even as a top executive at a multi-national corporation, Rice doesn’t receive a great deal of unsolicited post, and when he does, he assures us, he always takes the time to pass on the request for advice to the right person in the right department, so write letters! Make contact! Taking the initiative is the key trait that employers are interested in.
Also, one of the best and most desirable qualities to have is the strength of mind and spirit to face adversity and overcome the issues and problems that can appear in day to day situations. Problem solving is a part of life – it can happen at any time, regardless of where you are in your career, how big the film is that you’re working on, or of how famous/successful you might be. The important thing is to be able to think your way out of an issue and to possess the ingenuity and creativity in which go about solving it. Issues and problems can crop up in many different places in an everyday working life, in technology, in storytelling, in business. Peter advises his audience to break the problem down, to separate it out into more manageable pieces. Whether a film costs $200 million or £1 million, the same issues will be there –a badly edited scene, or a particularly lumpy piece of dialogue, and the same response is required to find the remedy. Using initiative will set a firm foundation for anything that’s to come.
What is the most difficult aspect of a working environment? People who can’t work out their own problems. In order to be successful and good at what you do, Peter believes in transparent decision making – the team needs to work together, there is no room for internal politics. He talks about meeting a young Stanford graduate, who was brought into a discussion about a particularly archaic spreadsheet system. Rather than getting weighed down by the problem in front of him, the young man immediately became enthusiastic about the potential problem solving ahead, seeing it as an opportunity for someone to really use their skills, to make a career defining change to the company. To put it simply, it is important to see the potential not the negatives. It could be that one person’s problem is another person’s chance to prove themselves.
In an era of digitally led culture, what does Peter see for the future? Delivering this talk in Nottingham, the European centre for Microfilm, Peter recognises that the biggest opportunity you have is in your hand – in the device that you carry around with you everywhere you go. The mobile phone is the perfect recording and editing system for the digital culture boom that we are in right now. You are carrying a mini computer and a mini television in your pocket. This means that there is a much wider level of access for a product to reach audiences. And there are limitless opportunities. The biggest difficulty facing a company like Fox at the moment is getting people to pay for it! There are new storytelling techniques accessible that are taking off instantly. Peter mentions that Fox are working on a project at the moment involving Snapchat where they are exploring the use of mini TV episodes. To illustrate the potential of brand content in everyday use, Rice uses the example of Pokemon GO, an app based on a franchise which started in 1996. The launch of the new mobile app just a month ago saw over a 50% increase in the company’s shares – it is now worth $12 billion more than the week prior to the game launch. The game hit a cultural nerve. Fox are always looking for the next big hit and always looking for the most talented people in all fields. There should be a sense of inclusion in the creation process; everybody who is a part of making something should be able to share in the credit, and that is what Peter Rice seeks to promote in his work at Fox. Rather than the “talent” having to prove themselves to Fox, Fox should prove themselves to the talented people they commission. After all, storytellers with a good story to tell can choose to work anywhere, and the same goes for all creatives in all fields.
Article by Miriam Blakemore-Hoy