/News 18.03.22


March is Women’s History Month and March 8th was International Women’s Day. We celebrated by sitting down with Executive Producer Kacy McDonald and Senior Producer Fiona Chilton from ILM’s Sydney studio for a chat about their careers, female role models and how they have managed to juggle motherhood with busy leadership roles.

How did you begin your career in the VFX industry?

Fiona: I started as a receptionist at a film processing laboratory in Sydney and quickly became a production chaser, gaining knowledge about traditional film grading, editing, and sound mixing. At the time, commercials were still shot on film. A lot of the directors and producers would come in while the film was being processed overnight and they would then review it the next day in theatres. Keanu came in a couple of times when they were shooting the Matrix. This was where I got my next jump to Animal Logic as a receptionist, and it all went from there.

Kacy: That is so funny Fi, because my very first job in the industry was delivering film stock to commercials that were shooting around Sydney. They gave me a company car and a phone and I could be called at all hours of the night. My job was to deliver their specific film stock when they ran out of film.

Can you tell us about your roles at ILM?

Kacy: Being an Executive Producer is a bit of a sprawling role. I am across the portfolio of shows in Sydney from a budget, planning, scheduling, and strategy point-of-view. There is some client management and also the operational side of the studio; being involved in the studio planning and what we are setting up within Sydney as a facility. Finally, there is the new business side of things – bidding on and overseeing the planning of new projects.

Fiona: My role is primarily client-facing, guiding the relationship and the mechanics of the schedule, the turnovers, supporting the creative expectations and measuring those against the budget. Along with budget negotiations, reporting financial and showing progress to both the client and the ILM executive teams, I work to form a strong partnership with our VFX supervisors and leadership teams with the ultimate goal to have a successful outcome for our clients, crew and our studio.

What are some of your proudest career moments?

Fiona: Winning an AACTA recently for Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. Being recognised by the industry and peers is pretty great, I feel very fortunate.

Kacy: Every time I finish a project there is this moment of pride when you see it on the big screen. That moment where it all comes together.

Fiona: Yes, it is also the coming together of the team and the families of the teams that have contributed. It gives me goosebumps every time.

Fiona Chilton with her husband and daughter

What do you love the most about your job?

Kacy: For me, it’s the people. It is the fact that no day is ever the same. Every day you are solving something different, you come together as a team to solve a problem, whether it is strategic, creative, or financial. It is a completely collaborative industry.

Pictured: Kacy McDonald at the Oscars

Fiona: I completely agree. It’s all about the people and the journey.

What are some key skills all producers need?

Kacy: Resilience. Creative thinking is also a big part of it.

Fiona: Resilience is key. Never giving up. There is always a way and nothing is a showstopper.

Pictured: Fiona Chilton with Animation Supervisor Rob Coleman at the AACTA Awards

You both have kids, how do you juggle a busy career in VFX with having a family?

Kacy: Juggling motherhood and a career have been a constant thing for me these last ten years and it will continue to be. It’s not necessarily because of the work itself but it is the combination of life and work together.

I’ve got an almost 9-year-old and an 11-year-old and I could not do this without my husband. He is absolutely everything in terms of support. I have dragged my family to other countries, the kids have had to change schools and they are all invested in what I do. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a partner that supported that. It is probably even bigger than that; the company you work for, the team that you work with, everyone contributes to supporting you as a working mother. There are so many layers of support around you that contribute to this.

Kacy McDonald with her husband and daughters.

Fiona: There are compromises you have to make to juggle kids with a busy career. Our daughter is 11 years old and for many years my husband and I were able to maintain a balance, all the while he also worked in the industry as a compositor. He has since changed his career completely and that was a conscious decision and a sacrifice he made to make sure we could parent in the best way possible. I am incredibly grateful to him for that. Being a producer can be demanding on your time but I love what I do.

Your best advice for other working mothers out there?

Fiona: Don’t put it all on yourself! There are people around you that can help and that includes the people that you work with. Put your hand up and start the conversation.

Kacy: I agree. Every day you will have to make decisions about what your priorities are at work and at home. You just have to trust yourself, that you are making the right decisions of where to put your focus. Everyone you work with also has something going on outside work that you are willing to support them with. You need to feel that you can ask them to support you back.

How do we get more women to go for a career in the VFX industry?

Kacy: I think we need more female role models. We need to see more women and more mothers in leadership roles and in creative roles, to encourage the younger generation and show them that it is possible. At the beginning of my career, there weren’t many women in leadership positions that also had families; there wasn’t anyone to emulate, who was personifying the idea that you could be a mother within the industry.

Now I feel like ILM for example is amazing on that level. One example is the General Manager and EVP of Lucasfilm, Lynwen Brennan, who is a working mother. Another great example is Janet Lewin, who is the SVP and General Manager of ILM. Most people you work with at ILM have a family, it seems. The whole company is very collaborative and supportive. But the whole industry could do more and embrace flexibility for those families. There are not a lot of people who work part-time in our industry for example.

Do you ever feel that being a woman has impacted your career negatively?

Fiona: If anything, I believe it has made me stronger, to back myself and have a voice in the room. Every step the industry is taking towards gender equality is a positive one with more women being supported in leadership roles, more training programs being offered for entry-level internships – our very own Jedi Academy has been highly successful at bringing in diverse talent. I do see a conscious effort to support that, particularly from ILM.

Fiona Chilton with her husband and daughter

Kacy: I feel that I have been very lucky in my career. I have had great mentors and managers and I feel like I have worked alongside great men as well. I have obviously heard stories from the industry but I haven’t experienced them myself. I feel like I have had to work hard to get to where I am though. A lot of it comes with experience and maturity as well.

Kacy McDonald and Chewbacca

What is the best advice you can give to young women who dream of becoming VFX Producers?

Fiona: Set a goal for yourself and don’t give up. The recognition will come, just be patient. And soak up everything you can, that conversation you hear on-set between the DP and the VFX Supervisor, seeing the first-pass edits for layout and how they evolve over weeks and months, all of this you will reference throughout your career. Make the most of the opportunities that are offered to you.

Kacy: I agree with all of that. I think you need to set that goal and go after it. Sometimes people think they are not good enough or have enough experience or they don’t see a pathway, but a lot of this comes with time. Do more shows and get more things under your belt and you will get there.

One last question for you: If you hadn’t become a producer you would be working as…?

Kacy: I would probably be in musical theatre in some way, shape or form. If I got to choose now, I’d love to be a florist, it must be a really calming, creative type of life.

Kacy McDonald at the premiere of Happy Feet

Fiona: Something to do with design. I love the arts and being around creative people. There was even an early part of my life where I thought I wanted to be a dietician.

Kacy: I almost did a biomedical science degree instead of a communications degree!

About Kacy McDonald

Kacy McDonald is an Executive Producer at Industrial Light & Magic’s Sydney studio. She has 20 years of industry experience and has worked at ILM since 2016. Kacy has worked in London, Singapore, Sydney and Adelaide, previously working at international studios such as Framestore, Mr X. and Digital Domain. Kacy McDonald began her film career at DisneyToon Studios in Sydney after graduating from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies. She has since worked on a range of high profile visual effects movies such as The Batman, Aladdin, Avengers End Game, Ready Player One, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

About Fiona Chilton

Fiona Chilton is a Senior Visual Effects Producer whose career spans nearly 25 years in animated feature production, visual effects and live-action projects such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ted, Ted 2 and The Lego Ninjago Movie. Fiona has worked in London, Prague, San Francisco and her home city of Sydney. Chilton recently served as the overall Visual Effects Producer on Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. For this, she earned an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award (AACTA) for Best Visual Effects. As a key member of the production leadership team, Chilton oversees budgeting, scheduling, and creative staffing while providing mentorship and support for creative vision.

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Luke Hetherington
Executive in Charge, Singapore & Sydney ILM Studios
[email protected]