After Hurtwood: Jo Winter (Third Assistant Director and rising!)
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
What do Disney’s ‘Cinderella’, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’, ‘Fantastic Beasts’, ‘Thor 2’, ‘Silent Witness’, ‘Fortitude’, (among many others) all have in common? Easy – our (ex) girl Jo Winter has worked variously on them all.
If there is one quality that keeps emerging as past Hurtwood students share their onward career journeys with us, it is, without question, enthusiasm. Meeting Jo, who left in 2009, it is clear that she has this in abundance. Her calm demeanour and self-effacing modesty belies a commitment to a career trajectory in film and television that is frankly impressive, and joyously so. Success could not be more deserved, could not happen to a more hard-working and talented person.
Giving up precious (and rare) time off, Jo shares her journey, from a stint in the Edinburgh Fringe with a Hurtwood production, through a Media, Arts and Drama degree at St Mary’s in London, she seized (pretty well instantly) the opportunity to work as a runner on a TV production called ‘Mayday’ based partially on location on her home turf. Accepting a role as a daily runner she began to hone the fundamental skills that have taken her to where she is today. She accepted anything and everything as part of her job description: long, long hours; poor pay; commitment; flexibility; thinking ahead; adaptability; and interpersonal skills that would grace a top-ranking politician, it would seem. She also began to hone her connections, building up a network that has provided her with very satisfying stepping stones that have allowed her to move comfortably and securely from job to job.
She saw from the start, that the trick was to keep everyone happy, from the lowest to the highest, and her career path has certainly been shaped by her ability to impress. She doesn’t tell me this: no braggart soul is she. It is clear however, that she has never rested on any kind of laurel at any level. Following orders in whatever task, she has kept her eye also on the wider picture, pre-emptively using her wits to ease progress and outcome. She has also used every job at every level to see how those around her work: from managerial to menial, Jo seems to have absorbed valuable skills and translated them into a big network of knowledge and indeed contacts. It’s not rocket science clearly; what it is, is real graft which has begun to pay off.
‘Anything that came my way, I said yes’, she tells me, and attentive to all those ‘crewing up’, found her way in 2013 onto her first major film set, Disney’s ‘Cinderella’. ‘The sheer scale of it all blew me away,’ she tells me. Connecting with a team of around 15 Assistant Directors, and often doing the most menial of tasks, she nevertheless made herself as useful as possible, accepted work on the ‘Avengers’ set, and Sky’s ‘Fortitude’, gathering all the time a wider network of contacts and a more impressive range of skills.
A particular highlight, without doubt, found her working on ‘Fantastic Beasts’ in 2015. As a fully signed up Harry Potter fan (and I do mean FULLY signed up) this was the fulfilment of childhood dreams. Rising at 4am for a 5.15 work start, marshalling a crowd of over 600, supervising their make-up and wardrobe accordingly for around 4 months: this was the price for that dream, and there are no complaints from Jo. There are no real negatives from this girl: quite the opposite. She has clearly found her niche and is loving it all – even the early rises and late finishes that are integral.
She now has an impressive CV, one that is, in a sense, self-generating. She no longer needs agency support which she had wisely used initially to ensure continuity of work; she happily balances her time between the jobs that look most interesting or challenging. Best experience to date? Hearing Rob Marshall, the director of ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ wish her happy birthday over the ‘voice of God’ intercom for the whole set, referring to Jo as the ‘real Mary Poppins’. For that particular job, Jo had filled the gap in supervising the child actors involved, alert as ever to the vital underpinnings of the ‘magic of film’, making herself invaluable. Was it an easy role? Managing expectations as well as the timetable of tutors and chaperones, keeping calm in the face of stress and whimsy, delivering children to the set on short notice and in a good mood? Sounds crazy, but she did it with aplomb and earned her place on the official film role-call. Once again it is not Jo saying this, but it could not be clearer that this flexibility, commitment, both interpersonal and practical, that has earned her the notice of those who matter, those making the calls for the next gig, those who need an emergency replacement for some vital cog in the machine of this extraordinary world of filmmaking.
What is Jo working on right now, I ask. A new Sky show called ‘Temple’ starring Mark Strong. TV this time: different? More varied and more challenging in some ways, perhaps on some levels therefore more creative.
Again, Jo is clear: ‘This is a magic industry to be in.’ Not changing the world, she acknowledges, but making life more fun, as indeed it is for her. She cites the sense of family that she feels, those you get to know along the way and revisit with the variety of jobs, as well as the real intensity of working closely and passionately for bursts of time. She really values the ‘validation and support of the whole crew.’ Of her achievements overall, she comments that she is just proud to be part of the team who ‘get the shot’. Understatement, as ever. All of this is just as well, however, as she freely admits, ‘My life IS work.’
Jo needs to get on with her brief time off and I thank her for sharing her career narrative once again. I find myself thinking that it is wonderfully satisfying to see that the old-fashioned virtues of reliability, commitment and generosity of spirit are alive and kicking in the wonderful mad and potentially pretentious world of film and television. Jo will go far I think, not least because she is always thinking of others. Meanwhile I find that she has sent me a mail, thanking me for my time. I rest my case.