In the 10 short years of her career so far, visual effects production manager Nikeah Forde has worked alongside Kenneth Branagh on both “Cinderella” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” Tim Burton on “Dark Shadows” and Ridley Scott on “The Martian.”
It all started when the Australia native asked a production secretary if anyone needed help getting tea or photocopying scripts when she accompanied a friend for his costume fitting for HBO’s “The Pacific,” which was shooting in Port Douglas on Australia’s east coast back in 2007.
The role of a VFX production manager is not widely understood, even among those in the business; Forde describes her job as complicated and requiring good organization and people skills. “It’s a bit of an odd profession,” she says, having recently wrapped “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” the Matthew Vaughn-directed action comedy that 20th Century Fox is releasing Sept. 22 in the U.S. Her job: helping VFX supervisor Angus Bickerton and VFX producer Barrie Hemsley. “I worked directly under them to make sure everyone [vendors, the editorial team, the director] was OK and had what they needed from [our department].”
Without the right person in the role, things on a big-budget film can go quickly and horribly awry. “It’s like three jobs,” says Forde as she preps for her third film with Branagh, “Artemis Fowl.”
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In pre-production Forde goes to meetings with the VFX department, the director and the art department. In the latter meeting, the film’s visual concepts are born, and she organizes pre-viz. On the set, she manages people and time. In post-production she manages data. “You never get bored,” she says.
As anyone who’s ever worked on a set knows, much of any job is about putting out fires or preventing them from starting.
One such near conflagration occurred on the set of “Golden Circle” when Elton John had to be electronically scanned for a cameo appearance. It was uncertain, however, whether the singer could arrive on the necessary day. “Finally, his people tell us we’ll get him for two minutes,” Forde recalls, “so we all scrambled to our places to get the shot in the small amount of time allotted. In he shuffles with his team, and my lovely young production assistant says, ‘I can’t believe we’re going to scan John Lennon!’”
With the quick-thinking skills of a natural people-pleaser, Forde dashed out to make sure the singer was out of earshot. He was. Brushfire averted.