The Road to Success: From Production Assistant to Owner and Director of a Production House

Penny talks about his university life at HKBU.

Penny is currently the owner of a production house. Here he shares his experience of studying Organizational Communication (ORGC) at HKBU and his subsequent career.

 

How it All Started

“As a Form Six student in secondary school, I had to stand in front of hundreds of people for the first time to deliver a Student Union speech. I shared a joke, and everyone laughed! This was very satisfying and I became aware of the power of communication,” says Penny.

 

“I was also inspired by a lecturer at HKBU Dr Ng (吳昊博士).” Dr Ng’s teaching of Techniques of Narration fostered Penny’s interest in product shooting. “That’s how I got into the advertising industry,” he explains.

 

Choosing ACS as a Major

At secondary school, Penny liked reading different kinds of novels. At times, he also had opportunities to speak on stage. Both these interests led to a fascination with communication and this in turn led to his decision to study Applied Communication Studies (ACS), the forerunner of Organizational Communication (ORGC) at HKBU.

“I was exposed to a number of theories in the first two years at HKBU and started to take part in several practical activities in Year 3”. Penny particularly enjoyed the class projects because they enabled him to apply what he was learning at a hands-on level. For instance, he designed one project aimed at fundraising for pet welfare. Another project involved the creation of a virtual entertainment department to showcase how a company was run and what services it could offer.

 

Practical skills vs. Theoretical knowledge

At first, Penny considered a career in organizational communication, but on second thoughts, decided to try something else, “Why don’t I use images instead of verbal language to express my point of view?” He mused at that time. After he chose CTV (Cinema and TV) as a course elective, he became fascinated with video shooting as a way to communicate his ideas and values to audiences.

 

In the real world of communication, practical skill is more relevant than theoretical knowledge. Penny worked as a production assistant (PA) before becoming a commercial director. That experience taught him that each work role in acareer trajectory requires communication with people from all walks of life. Communication skills cannot be mastered simply by reading about relevant theories. Practical experience is essential in acquiring these skills.

 

                   Penny enjoys the production process.
“Shooting is easy, but it is hard to produce
,” says Penny.

 

A Small Step Makes a Big Difference

Penny spent 10 years on his journey from Production Assistant (PA) to successful owner of a production house. Penny’s work-life balance as a production assistant was never in balance. Back in those days, he used to work for one entire month without one single day off, not even weekends or public holidays.

 

“It was unforgettable. I slept on the sofa in the office for a whole week. It was even more ‘miserable’ for the production crew. They didn’t return home for three months,” he recalled. Penny cherished these experiences because they remind him how it all started.

 

Despite the heavy workload, he was meticulous in attending to detail. He believed that even the lowliest job, like mopping floors, could contribute to his future success. Although in one way he was overqualified for this work, he saw this as a strategy for ultimate success.

 

These days, students’ career expectations can be somewhat unrealistic. Students tend to reject the necessity of taking one step at a time on the career ladder. “With each step, I’d rather choose a job I love and where I can develop my skills, rather than simply go for a job with the highest salary,” says Penny. His passion is what motivates him rather than material benefit.

 

Never Stop Learning from Others

Penny loves to watch Behind the Scenes (BTS), because that is how he learns from other producers. There is one BTS video that he admires the most — a Honda advertisement. What you can see from the YouTube video is an impressive advertisement showing car components flying one by one into their rightful place to demonstrate how the car is assembled.

Penny was fascinated to know how the production crew created the appearance of one continuous shot. He learnt that whenever a particular car component was misplaced, the crew needed to restart the whole shoot from the very beginning. This took a massive amount of time and Penny discovered that the process had to be repeated 620 times. This left him in awe of the crew.

 

     From production assistant to advertising director, Penny has experienced and overcome many obstacles.

 

“I admire their perseverance, devotion, and earnest approach. These attributes are particularly valuable in Hong Kong where the pace of life is very fast and it is all too easy for people to become distracted.”

 

What Can be Gained from the Production Process

Despite the inherent difficulties a production crew faces, Penny notes there are distinct benefits that come from being a crew member. “Though you have to endure a low starting salary, you can derive huge satisfaction from studying the nature of what you film. There are no boundaries or limitations,” Penny points out. “You can film anything you want and as a bonus, you might even meet your favourite idol on the set”.

 

Penny has produced different advertisements over the past ten years.

 

Words for Newbies in Commercial Industry

“Learn to work hard in a small company but learn to demean yourself in a big company,” says Penny. He suggests students not neglect the importance of working step by step. “Broaden your horizon and connect with the world. Watch commercials from all around the world and see things from different viewpoints. Hong Kong is small and there are many limitations.” Penny reminds students it is essential to step out of our comfort zone and think outside the box.

For students interested in this industry, Penny believes a solid language foundation is a must. Today, there are more and more opportunities to communicate with clients from around the world owing to globalization. Therefore, it is crucial for students to speak English and/or Mandarin fluently before they step into the media industry.

 

   Penny encourages students to step out of their comfort zone.

 

When students work at international companies such as Facebook or Google, English is important. Mandarin is also very important because Hong Kong is the bridge between China and foreign countries. Mastering at least one of these languages not only enables us to communicate with external markets, but also creates resonance and broadens the perspective of commercial industries.

Penny’s journey has never been easy, but there are a lot of things we can learn from him, especially those students who are interested in working in the media industry.

 

Authors: Wong Shin Tung, Chui Pui Man, Kwan Lok Yi, Tam Pui Yan, Sze Kwan Ching, Au Yeung Ho Yan (students from ORGC3046 Writing for Professional Communication 2021)

Edited by Dr. Michelle Huang