Life on the other side: Ellen Fraser edits Broadsheet

Life on the other side: Ellen Fraser edits Broadsheet

Ellen Fraser interviewed by Siobhan Fitzgerald

SF: Can you tell us a bit about your agency experience as a TV producer?
EF: Agency-wise, I worked a mix of freelance and full time gigs at a few small independents and some bigger global agencies – The Monkeys, Clemenger BBDO, Leo Burnett, JWT and AJF Partnership – over about 8 years. I bloody loved it. Loads of collaboration and every day was different. I've worked on everything from big budget cereal commercials to pop up restaurants, print campaigns and apps. And obviously a hell of a lot of low budget online content.

SF: What bits of agency life did you enjoy, and what bits weren't so fab?
EF: A lot of people congratulated me when I took the editor job at Broadsheet, not just your everyday congrats, but a real, “Holy shit, you did it, you got out of ads.” Which was exciting at the time, but actually, I look back at adland now and there’s so much to love about it.


A lot of it was the camaraderie, working with creatives and suits and going through it all together – the dizzying highs (we’re shooting it in LA!), the soul-crushing lows (the client can’t afford to send anyone from the agency to LA!). You have the most ridiculous problems thrown at you, with a bananas deadline and a bananas amount of money, but you just get shit done. And with some of the most wonderful people. Adland facilitated some very weird, wild nights and stories that I will take to my grave.

Not so fab were those ever decreasing timelines and budgets .

Over eight years it became really pronounced. Budget-wise, there are those “make it work” moments, but there is also a point where you need to stop haggling, where what ends up on screen starts to be really heavily compromised. A lot of production companies, post houses, casting agents and sound studios are small businesses, all competing feverishly to make our content, who will sometimes take the job with a painfully low (or no) profit margin because they need the work to survive. And some people will use that knowledge to save a few grand, but it’s not always without consequence.

Time-wise, of course it can be done tomorrow. Will it be shit? Possibly.

That was hard – seeing these really experienced production teams sitting in a room with clients, where the clients knew they could ask for anything and we’d make it happen – but sometimes that really, truly had had a detrimental effect on the creative output. But there’s a line, and there are grey areas either side of that line too.

Ellen wearing her production hat for Secret Sounds at Falls Festival. Photo credit  @yayastemp

Ellen wearing her production hat for Secret Sounds at Falls Festival. Photo credit @yayastemp

That was hard – seeing these really experienced production teams sitting in a room with clients, where the clients knew they could ask for anything and we’d make it happen – but sometimes that really, truly had had a detrimental effect on the creative output. But there’s a line, and there are grey areas either side of that line too.

SF: You always had something else going on the side. What was that?

EF: I started writing about restaurants and bars for Broadsheet about 7 years ago, a couple of years after the website started. I was obsessed with anything to do with food and booze, so even though it was paid I really did it for fun. And just to have my name on something – like this, this, or this – that doesn’t also have a lock up, that’s always nice.

An early Broadsheet piece, as Instagrammed by Ellen.

An early Broadsheet piece, as Instagrammed by Ellen.

SF: How has the transition to your new role as Broadsheet editor been?

I walked into the office on my first day and was floored by how quiet it was. My work and that of my team now is a lot more siloed. It’s nice to be so focused but sometimes I do miss all the disasters and shrieking and putting out fires.

There’s less heated debate now over the colour of a sock or whether the soundtrack is too energetic – or is it not energetic enough? - but debate still rages.

Only now, it’s over the way we cover wage theft accusations, which chef is the next rising star, whether a restaurant is right for editorial coverage, or the placement of a hyphen (guess which one was the most heated).

The role itself is not as action-packed as producing, but the environment is similar and there’s a lot of skill overlap. And working in an agency prepares you for so much. If you’ve been on set when the sun is going down, the hero car is the wrong colour, there’s no overtime budget and the client is no longer happy with that custom-designed mechanical fish that was signed off in pre-production and took 2 days to create, and wants to see some more options ... I reckon if you can manage that, you’ll transition just fine into a lot of other worlds.

SF: What skills have overlapped, or have come in handy from your agency days?

EF: The editing itself – taking a story and working out the best angle, what might be missing, what we can cut, can we restructure it to better get the story across, should we pick up the pace – that feels like second nature to me. And obviously scheduling, all the organisational palaver, and working and collaborating with creatives.

SF: What's a day in your life like now?

EF: I’ll make a coffee then check if there’s any breaking news, quickly scan my inbox for anything urgent, and look at the stories we have coming in that day. Then I’ll be editing for a few hours – we run a minimum of five stories a day. Sometimes a story is pushed if it needs more work, the photos aren’t right, or if fact checking holds us up. I weigh in on social posts and anything else that hits my desk during that time, but mostly it’s headphones in.


Once all the content is online, I’ll look at commissioning new work – upcoming restaurant and bar openings, events, trends etc – and make some decisions on what we’ll cover and how. I’ll commission writers and brief the assistant editor to get photography sorted. From there I have around an hour left in the day, so I’ll use that to read some emails (I rarely get the chance to respond or even read them all most days, my inbox is a bomb site), go to meetings, give writers feedback, make updates across the site, prep our newsletter content (sign up to it here), and work on strategy for the month ahead.

Broadsheet Kitchen at Saint Crispin, a year-long incubator for emerging Australia’s food minds

Broadsheet Kitchen at Saint Crispin, a year-long incubator for emerging Australia’s food minds

Then most nights I’ll head out to a restaurant opening or an event. I should go out less (because sleep), but I’m also obsessed with it all. I’m working on my control issues.

SF: Having moved into a different industry, can you give us your perspective on what should change about the advertising industry to improve the workplace for those of us still there?

EC: In advertising, we have access to these amazing craftspeople and creatives, and above all, the work should be the best it can be. Nobody’s going to watch your ad on tv and turn to their partner and say, “Did you hear? They did it all in three weeks and for just $55k. We should buy that washing powder.” None of that matters once it’s up on screen, if the work doesn’t speak for itself. But at the same time, production companies and agencies are having to work more nimbly - it’s just the reality of budgets these days. And sometimes those problems are the most rewarding to solve, and sometimes the solution takes you somewhere you wouldn’t have gone otherwise. So it goes both ways.

And it goes without saying – real sick leave (not working from home), and leaving the office at 6pm should be mandatory. And not just in advertising.

Another delicious foody write-up by Ellen. Photo credit @jakeroden

Another delicious foody write-up by Ellen. Photo credit @jakeroden

SF: Finally, top restaurant, cafe and bar picks of the moment?

EF: Fancy Free in the CBD for perfectly balanced cocktails (from a list that’s one third alcohol-free) and fried chicken from Sydney cult burger joint Mary’s.

Di Stasio Citta on Spring Street for a very American Psycho-esque ‘90s fit-out, swanky pasta, fantastic wine and flirty Italian waiters.

Leonardo’s Pizza Palace in the old Pizza by the Metre in Carlton. Get the Chinese bolognese pizza. The vibe is killer too, it feels like an old log cabin from the 1970s.

Coffee-wise near my office in Collingwood I hit up Everyday or Burnside, or Gold Drops in the city.

You can read Broadheet here and follow Ellen here.



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