Polly Searles has some serious street cred. With a rich production past, Polly has worked on theme park rides, America’s Most Wanted episodes, commercials, and children’s programming.
“I love the inside scoop of how things work! It’s like being in the know,” Polly said.
As a producer at FableVision Studios, Polly manages the schedule, budget, deliverables, and her team, and she does so with a cheerful, helpful, calm-under-pressure attitude and a not-so-secret chocolate stash. Polly’s a leader that cares about her team first and foremost, and has the tales to prove it.
She has stories about a TV shoot in Nowhere, Texas, U.S.A. that had one restaurant and one hotel to its name, work on a children’s show, and of course, the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios.
As this month’s FableFriday, Polly shares some of her production stories, her love of the ballet, as well as some tricks of the project management trade.
Can you share a bit about your background in media?
I’ve been working in media for – well, let’s just say – a long time. I started out at WCVB Channel 5 Boston working on a children’s series called Catch A Rainbow and at the time they were pushing the limit of new technology using Ultimatte green screens. My background in film and video is diverse – 16mm, 35mm, and Omnimax (Back to the Future: The Ride for the Universal Studios theme park), commercials and corporate videos, and continues to today’s digital age with CDs, websites, and mobile apps.
One of the great things about working in media is that you never know what fun facts you will accumulate – ask me about the Mayan calendar, or how a Titleist golf ball is made, or whether elephants prefer butterscotch candies over peanuts…
What was your past experience in production work prior to joining FableVision?
Back to the Future: The Ride was a year long adventure in Housatonic, Massachusetts where Berkshire Motion Pictures was located. The project was a “ride film” shot using motion control photography and miniature sets: a programmed eight passenger car "travels" with the images on the Omni dome. In the studio they installed a small Omni dome with a single working ride car so that the car and camera moves could be programmed together. I worked in the production office and one of my favorite jobs was that when dailies came back I rode in the car with the director (Doug Trumbull) to take notes because the editor who would normally do it, couldn’t stomach the motion of the car. I’ve always been a ride fanatic, and this one I got to do on a weekly basis. I did get down once to ride the real one in Florida and it was a proud moment. Every movement was so very familiar even after more than a year away from it. I could anticipate all the turns and bumps.
And I also did a segment (just a one-time deal) for America’s Most Wanted – I got a call from a director who asked if I could go to Texas the next day and stay for two weeks to tape an AMW episode. We stayed in the Days Inn next to the Dairy Queen and ran a short-term production office out of the room. Houston was about an hour away and after a few days on the phone I had hired a crew, set up casting, and we were ready to start taping on locations. It was a very intense experience and I’m still in touch with friends that I made down there.
Everyone has one (and we ask every time), what’s your journey to FableVision story?
I had the good fortune to work with several other FableVisionaries in earlier days. I stayed in touch with them (as you do with good people) and when I learned about FableVision, it went high on my radar as the place to be. I waited for a while, but eventually the stars aligned and I got the chance to join the team!
What is your favorite part of being a producer at FableVision?
Every day is different. Every project is different. The team is always great.
How did you learn to be a project manager? What is it about the work that appeals to you?
I’ve always been the organizer in my family – the gene comes straight down from my father who was Dutch and an engineer. What appeals to me about project management is that every project is unique and has a different challenge to solve. To me, good producing is often about problem solving – how can you create the best product possible within the parameters of schedule, budget, and creative needs. I often watch a show and imagine what it must have taken to produce it.
You’re known for being especially cool under pressure. Any tips for how to manage everything?
Lists! I make lots and lots of lists. I have been teased about my highlighter collection, but it works for me. Folks here know that I like to keep chocolate on hand for high pressure projects and meetings; something I learned long ago on video shoots – feed your crew.
From Dinosaur Train to Mayan Mysteries, you tend to work on multiple long-term projects at the same time. Most recently it’s been Zoombinis. Can you share a bit about your history with the legacy product?
I am very excited to be part of the team to bring it back. Everyone on the team is very enthusiastic about the project, and it’s great to be in a position to help make their individual jobs go as smoothly as possible. I have a strong personal connection with the game because my daughters, now 18 and 20, played it both at home and at school and were passionate fans. They remember the strategies they used and can still quote Arno. Bringing it back to life has increased my stature at home.
Any tricks for winning Zoombinis?
I would advise perseverance. The Zoombinis are so cute they are well worth the rescuing. For me, I finally had to give in to the fact that I would need to lose a few Zoombinis along the way in order to figure out each puzzle. It’s not about getting it right the first time – it’s the sense of accomplishment that comes from solving the logic of the puzzles, and seeing the Zoombinis successfully march on.
Rumor has it you’re a ballerina in your spare time. What’s your past with ballet slippers and how do you practice today?
I started ballet in second grade. It was my first passion and a career aspiration until I was 16. I continued dancing while at Boston University but then went on hiatus until my older daughter, who also loves it, recently talked me into taking a class with her. It was wonderful to get back to it, and now that she has left for college, I’m still taking the class. (My mother took ballet until she was 70 and had a hip replaced, so the habit seems to run in the family.)
You’re a big reader. What’s on your nightstand right now?
I do love to read and generally have several books going at the same time. Our house is loaded with books – every room and hallway has multiple bookcases. It makes me feel cozy to know that I can reach out and grab a book from wherever I am.
On my nightstand right now is All the Light We Cannot See, in my backpack for commuting is Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, and on the couch in the living room is Pioneer Girl – the newly published autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder (big fan – grew up on her Little House books). In the queue is Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy – about four women who were undercover in the Civil War. Can’t wait.
What’s your favorite day trip to do with your family?
Right now my favorite day trip is actually going out to the Northampton/Amherst area to see my family! Both my daughters are there for school and it’s great – a short drive down the Mass Pike and I get to spend time with everyone.
Movie: Pride and Prejudice – the BBC series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
Book: Most recent favorite is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.
Snack: Peanut butter and graham crackers
Hobby: Skating, knitting, very easy, fast projects
Summer-time meal: Fruit smoothies
Vacation spot: Weld, Maine. It’s a family vacation spot where I’ve spent time every summer that I can remember (starting at nine months old). In my college years I worked at a camp down the beach as a baker for a few years, and then as a swim instructor. Every year I make sure that I get there for at least a few days.