Melanie Fletcher is one of the world’s most respected and busiest live-event producers. A partner in London-based Done + Dusted, she and her colleagues have produced such highly watched programming as the 2012 London Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies (a video of a portion of those ceremonies is below). She was nominated for a Grammy Award for producing Coldplay’s 2005 performance video and she produced “The Rolling Stones Bigger Bang” television special and Adele’s Royal Albert Hall special for the BBC. Her other credits include the Laureus World Sport Awards, Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Awards, the NBA All-Star Saturday Night Special and the “Red Nose Day” charity fundraiser that airs May 21 on NBC.
The variety and importance of the events you’ve produced is impressive. Why do you think you’re so good at what you do?
Thank you but the answer really is that I love what I do. The key to doing anything well is to love it. When you invest all you have in it, you give it your best. That’s what I get to do everyday so I consider myself fortunate.
So then why do you love it so much?
Predominantly it’s about the people we get to work with in this industry. The global live event industry is small. We operate in a tight circle with extremely talented people. Being around them and to work with them and be inspired by them, is a great joy. And it makes me feel special when you’re sitting at the table with some of the world’s greatest writers and producers, and to do that is exciting.
The work we do is always evolving. It’s never boring. You’re not doing the same thing twice because in this business you can’t do the same thing twice. If you do, you’ve failed.
You need to be creative every day and at the same time be organized and technical. It means the left and right sides of your brain are forever engaged. It keeps you on your toes and interested.
At the heart of what you do, then, are you an organizing force?
Yes, being supremely organized. What makes a great producer is when you don’t distract from the creativity and the art. That always comes first and you have the ability to see it. You have to find ways to achieve what the goal is without taking too much away from it. That can be hard.
Often you just see the problems with someone’s idea and it can be hard, emotionally, to put those doubts behind you and say, “Let’s find a way to do it” and not just say no on instinct.
With something on the scale of an Olympics Opening Ceremony [watch a sample here] there must have been an especially large number of conflicting voices and politics and needs to heed. Was it more difficult to get decisions made in that situation?
Absolutely. The sheer number of people required to make that happen is immense. There must have been 50 or 60 people in every production meeting and that can make it hard to find democracy. It’s just hard to get decisions made and to get things done because everyone has an opinion, and an experienced one, so you need to take in what people are saying. But you also have to find ways to cut through that and pull the trigger on a decision, good or bad, to get things moving. Otherwise you’ll just go round in circles forever.
What was lucky at the  Olympics was that we had Danny Boyle [who directed the opening ceremonies] and Hamish [Hamilton, Done + Dusted director/executive producer] and they’re strong decision makers. They didn’t allow for too much consideration from everybody else. If they wanted something, that was what we had to do. There were a few times where health and safety and other considerations prevented us from doing exactly what had been dreamed up. It’s always hard when you have to accept that.
Having the Queen jump out of a plane wasn’t the easiest thing to get done! [Click here to see the six-minute skit with James Bond and Queen Elizabeth II jumping from a plane and parachuting into the Olympics’ opening ceremony].
What was your reaction when you heard that idea?
Just that it would never happen. Great idea – but not going to happen! Danny said he was going to go to Buckingham Palace and talk to the Queen about it and that’s just what he did. A week later we were arranging it.
Is that sort of firm decision making a skill that you had to develop on the job?
I’m quite frank and really honest. It would be hard for me to deliver a “No” any other way than my natural way, so not really. It’s a failing of mine that words can come out before they’re properly processed.
Is there any skill required for your profession that you had to work at improving?
I definitely think that large meeting environments where you’re presenting your plans, creative or otherwise, was something I’ve had to work long and hard at. It’s not just about being nervous. It’s about learning to be concise and engaging at the same time, getting across the information you want others to have quickly and efficiently, and in the way you want them to understand it. That’s taken the longest time to perfect. I’m still not there but I’m certainly better now in my 40s than I was in my 20s. It’s something a lot of people find difficult. You can see it when there are 50 people in a meeting and 20 of them have to talk.
I think I’ve been good at convincing people to do things they might not otherwise want to do. That’s a skill that’s been beneficial in my role because it might be the fire marshal or the creative director I’m addressing. There’s a breadth of people you have to talk to, make them like you and make them agree with you to get things done cheaply and quickly. That’s something that I feel I’ve been fortunate to have on my side since I was quite young.
But at the same time, you also have to see a challenge through others’ eyes, don’t you?
Yes. Producers, particularly live-event producers, have to play the role of being all things to all people. That’s a big job on these big shows because everyone needs something from you and everyone expects you to deliver.
It’s about maintaining your integrity but also your humor. You can’t become an old sod whom no one wants to work with. It’s about staying upbeat and honest and, somehow, funny. Everybody loves a bit of funny.
Has it helped being a woman in an industry that I’m guessing is heavily male-dominated?
No! It’s a sad truth, but it hasn’t helped me. I don’t know that it has hindered me but I certainly haven’t benefited from it. It is a male-dominated industry and sometimes that can be really tough. More meetings than not I’m the only woman. Sometimes you have to be really confident to be heard in those meetings.
Was that daunting for you at first?
Absolutely. My bosses have always been men, when I think about it. I guess I’m used to it now. But yes, when I was younger—I got into this business when I was 17 years old—it definitely was daunting.
It was a learning experience to figure out how grown, professional men operate and what I needed to do to be effective. It’s tough when you’re a young girl and going from a small town to the big city. It’s the hard-knocks school. You have to make some big mistakes in order to learn how not to make big mistakes.
I’m sure you’re asked how to get into your business, event production isn’t taught at a university, so how did you get into this business?
My “university” was MTV. I was lucky to have a time there. I’d been in the business early but in very junior roles. I started at MTV Australia when it first began [in 1996]. There were a bunch of Americans involved in MTV Australia. Then they went back to America and offered me opportunities there. I went to the States and worked on the MTV Awards show and then eventually I moved on to London, where we started Done + Dusted. Luckily it did well in the States so I’ve managed to work in both countries.
That’s important because the awards shows are much bigger in America. They’re better funded and just more exciting. MTV was great for me and all of Done + Dusted. But there are new MTVs now: Netflix or Yahoo and others. They’re making new content every day and lots of it. They’re a great way for young people to learn how to create television.
You said your bosses have been men. Did some serve as mentors for you?
Absolutely. I’ve been very lucky. They’ve all been mentors really, and nurturing, positive influences. I know I’ve been quite fortunate in that. I’ve been with Done + Dusted for 16 years, which is most of my adult life and the three boys [partners Hamish Hamilton, Ian Stewart and Simon Pizey] and I have all grown up together.
I’m quite a bit younger than they are but we’ve all had families and other big life events in that time, and when you share those with people it’s an unbreakable bond.
From what you say about the responsibilities of your job, it sounds like it could take 24/7 attention. How have you kept that from happening while raising a family?
I have an excellent husband: a very understanding and generous man. And the reality of it is having that support at home is critical. When I was offered the producer’s job for the Olympics broadcast I was pregnant with my second child. So accepting meant coming back to work six weeks after he was born. That was a hard decision.
But when you’ve worked your whole life toward goals, you need to be kind to yourself about making decisions and not feel that certain people will judge you. It is about finding a balance, but that balance is only judged by you.
I know I’m a great mum. I know I give them as much time as I can and I believe it’s enough time. We’re a happy, well-adjusted family. But no, I’m not doing the cake run at the school, but I wouldn’t be any good at that anyway. I can’t bake cakes.
Everyone’s different. I admire stay-at-home moms. That’s a very tough job, in many ways tougher than mine. But if that’s what works for them, that’s wonderful. It wouldn’t work for me.
You work all over the world. You were just in Shanghai in April, producing the Laureus World Sports Awards. Was working in China noticeably different than other venues?
It was. There really is quite a language barrier still there. You get complacent working in the UK, Australia and America and even in Europe where most people speak English. They didn’t in China. Even so, it was very exciting. They said the Laureus Awards show was one of the highest rated award shows ever on Chinese television. I think that meant it went live to 300 million people in China. When what you’re working on is going to that many people, it’s staggering. It’s massively exciting and a huge adrenaline rush!
In any event you produce is there almost always something that just doesn’t go as you hoped?
Oh sure. There’s always something. When you’re working on the shows, in the days leading up to it there’s always anxiety about what can happen. But we as a group have dealt with a number of disasters. You’ve seen a lot of them before so it would take quite a lot to wreak havoc now. Of course, now that I’ve said that I’m sure on the next show something will happen!
Who is easiest to work with: athletes, rock stars or lingerie models?
Well, I’ve always been a great lover of music and that was originally why I wanted to get into the music industry. That industry has since morphed into the awards-show industry. But still today when I get to meet my heroes in the music world it’s a huge buzz. You’ve heard their song; you bought their album; your kids are listening to the album and singing along and there you are, sitting with them in a room, talking to them about their songs. It will never get old. On top of that, I get to produce something that’s very special to them. It’s a great feeling.
You did the BBC special with Adele, didn’t you?
Yes, I was just thinking of her with your question. That was a very special show.
Is she as delightful as she seems?
Oh yes. She’s totally normal, and people with such great talent usually are, I’ve found. They respect your work and you respect theirs and you all work together in a partnership to make something great. It’s a work agreement.
What events are on your list of shows you’d most like to work on?
I was thinking about that the other day. I was fortunate enough to go to the Oscars this year with Hamish. Just being in that theater and understanding the gravitas of that show was inspiring. I would love to work on that with the massively talented team who put that show on.
And then who doesn’t want to produce the Grammys? I think from the age of 15 I’ve wanted to work on that.
I’d also like to work with our team on developing shows. We’ve all got lots of good new ideas from our experiences and I think the Holy Grail would be to come up with an idea for a show that was sustainable and exciting to a broadcaster. I’d love to get that off the ground. Then it’s yours.