From shooting at a rum distillery in Puerto Rico to wrangling puppies for the Puppy Bowl, there’s never a dull moment in the life of a National Geographic coordinating producer. I got a chance to chat with Cara Sullivan, currently the coordinating producer of The Incredible Dr. Pol on Nat Geo! Check it out:
Bridget: Where did you go to school and what did you go to school for?
Cara: I went to American University in Washington D.C., graduated in 2006. I was a film and video production major, and I minored in cinema studies.
Bridget: Did you always want to do reality filmmaking or were you initially thinking that you would be a narrative filmmaker?
Cara: Back then, reality television didn’t exist like it does now. I loved documentaries and photography, and working at Discovery or National Geographic had always been a dream job of mine. I was a bit late in deciding where I should go for college, but after I took a television and broadcasting class my junior year of high school, I knew where I wanted to focus.
Bridget: How did you first get the job at National Geographic?
Cara: A good friend hooked up my interview – like pretty much everything in this business, it’s who you know. It sort of breaks up into thirds: One third is who you know, one third is your work ethic and you as a person, and one third is your reputation. You need to be a hard worker, someone who people can get along with, and it always helps to know someone. I started working for National Geographic Television in June of 2008.
Bridget: Have you always had the same position at National Geographic?
Cara: I shuffled around between departments actually. I started as a production coordinator. From there, I was promoted to associate producer in 2009. Then, just recently, I became a coordinating producer.
Bridget: Can you walk through the job description of the coordinating producer and maybe the difference between that and the traditional movie and TV producer?
Cara: Right now, I’m on the post-production side. We have a whole team of field producers, cameramen, sound recordists and other production personnel out shooting in Michigan right now. My job here is managing the post associate producers and loggers, as well as overseeing the edits to make sure everyone is getting what they need. I also review all of the footage, cut down stories for the editors and post producers, and get to weigh in creatively. I absolutely love my new position.
Bridget: Are you able to share the show you’re working on?
Cara: Oh yeah! I’m working on the third season of The Incredible Doctor Pol. He is a 70-year-old veterinarian, who runs a clinic out in the middle of Michigan. He cares for large farm animals as well as domestic smaller animals.
Bridget: What are some of the other shows you’ve worked on?
Cara: I’ve worked on so many but one of my favorites was a special called, “Inside Fenway Park: An Icon At 100.” It was a one-hour program for PBS documenting the past 100 years at Fenway narrated by Matt Damon. Another favorite show I worked on was called, “The Lost Leonardo da Vinci”, a documentary about a lost da Vinci masterpiece. It was a fascinating show, and I was flown Florence, Italy for the shoot as a field associate producer.
Bridget: Did you work on Puppy Super Bowl?
Cara: Oh yeah! “Puppy Bowl IV.” That was a Discovery show. That was probably the most amazing shoot ever. My job was basically picking puppies up and bringing them on set, which was a fake football arena.
Bridget: Who or what is the craziest subject that you’ve captured?
Cara: The puppies were definitely the cutest. Italy was definitely the most interesting because where we were filming in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. We had to film at night with guards so the public wouldn’t know we were there. We were drilling holes through a mural and inserting a camera to see if a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting was behind it. The mural was preserved before we drilled! There was a lot at stake, which made it really cool.
The master blenders at Bacardi were really fun to work with because they are mostly all family members, and the product is really amazing. They achieve the signature Bacardi product by smelling and tasting it, and mixing a variety of barrels aged differently to create whatever type of Bacardi rum they need. There are more steps to the process but a master blender blends the final product before it’s shipped. It’s such a cool process and family business, and they are so passionate about it, they are very inspiring.
Bridget: You’re making me thirsty for, like, rum cokes now.
Cara: Hah! It’s really amazing. We filmed at the distillery in Puerto Rico and got to step inside one of their warehouses containing hundreds of these recycled whisky barrels that the rum is aged in. Each barrel ages differently depending on where they are placed in the warehouse, and there’s no formula. I mean it’s…it’s mind blowing!
Bridget: Starting out in this business, you don’t really make a lot of money, but since it’s a passion of yours you do it. Do you have any advice for women to pursue their passions but actually be able to make it on the small money they are making just out of school?
Cara: I have one outside of my bank savings account that I set up so each month, money automatically goes in and I conveniently always tend to lose the password so I can’t get at that money. I think I do it on purpose. This has come in handy for big emergency expenses, such as a car repair. Also, say my budget is $200 a week to spend on things outside of the necessities like a networking dinner or lunch – taking that money out in cash really helps. Keeping receipts didn’t really work for me. I would just swipe my debit card for everything and not really think about it.
Bridget: Do you have any advice for women starting out in the television industry? Maybe encouragement for all the penny pinching and nights in to save money?
Cara: I would always try to remind myself that it was temporary. When I first moved back to D.C. after graduation, I shared a one bedroom, and it was really sad. *Laughs* But I wouldn’t spend much of my time there. I would go to the gym or walk outside, and I just really immersed myself in my work that I loved. Nine months later I was able to afford a better apartment where I actually had my own room that was also closer to work. So, I think it helps just reminding yourself that it’s only temporary, and it’ll pay off in the long run. As far as making money go farther… When I knew I was going to go to a happy hour, I would make a big lunch and save part of it. I’d eat the other portion at 6 before I went out. So I would just get drinks and maybe a small app. I was still able to be social, but I wasn’t dropping wads of cash on food. Just planning ahead is a huge money saver. I’m also a huge shopper, J. Crew and Banana are my go-to’s, and they always have sales (and J. Crew has an online factory store). Spend your money on staple items like a blazer, long cardigan, silk top, jeans and boots. I wear this outfit every day and just mix it up, so I know what to buy during a sale. I try to avoid buying clothes when I need them because I always end up spending more than picking something up on sale in an attempt to plan ahead.