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WIRED's Creative Development Lead Anna O'Donohue talks about the similarities between being a news editor and a video producer. (Credit: Anna O'Donohue)

With OpenAI’s Sora making strides in video creation, a human and much more experienced video producer says that it’s nothing to be scared of. 

As WIRED’s Creative Development Lead, Anna O’Donohue has played the role of a producer and director under several famed Condé Nast titles, including Vogue and Vanity Fair. 

From directing Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s typical British day and a getting ready with Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan for Vogue World: London to explaining the physics behind why an average human can’t drive an F1 car and being a creative lead on a video where A.I tries 20 jobs, O’Donohue’s portfolio spreads across genres.

In an interview for CBJ Magazine, she discusses video production in today’s age, the similarities between a news editor and a video producer, and her future goals, among other things. 

How did you set foot in the journalism field? 

When I left university, I did an English Literature degree and I thought, okay, let’s just try a short course in journalism. I then did an NCTJ [diploma]. Back then it was a multimedia producer role, which is probably nowhere near what it is now, but it was essentially a lot of print work. I then saw an opportunity pop up at the Mail Online, which was a video producer slash researcher role. Being a 21-22-year-old I thought, I’m just gonna apply for everything and by chance, I fell into video [producing].  

How different is video producing now from when you first began? 

I think there’s been a huge shift over the past few years to vertical video, and short-form content. So one of the priorities that I’ve seen and noticed across the board is TikTok and other kinds of vlogs and videos. That would be the biggest shift at the top of my head. 

When I was at the Mail Online, it was a very different place. I’m not sure whether you can compare them directly, but [there was a] huge, huge push for Facebook Lives. Facebook was definitely the main social media platform at that time so we were doing lots of Facebook Lives to reach as many people as possible.

I think our attention spans are lowering too. Even with the YouTube content, you need to pack as much information in those first 10 seconds as possible. You can’t get away with long introductions. You’ve got to hook people in and that duration is just getting shorter and shorter. 

Did you ever imagine leading a video series at one of the most famous technology culture magazines?

It wasn’t a long term plan. My plan was to try journalism and it just morphed into video [production]. It just accumulates and then you think back to a few years ago and go, ‘Wow. I’m in this industry now.’ I think a lot of people in this industry probably feel the same thing. 

How was the shift from a writer/editor to being a video producer/director?

It’s tricky to describe it but I categorise it in two ways. There are stages where I’ve been making the thing, like making the content, such as either writing the piece or creating the video and being much more hands-on with the production. 

Then the other side has been commissioning people. So that might be working with directors and producers to come up to them, to make the video and then do the sign-offs and help them with creative development. That’s a very similar role to being a news editor. You’re not actually writing the piece yourself but you’re helping someone make it. 

There’s not really too much difference when it comes to writing and video production. You either make your thing or you’re helping develop and overseeing the thing. 

Over the years, I’ve done a little bit of both and I think in order to be the editor or be in charge of creative development, you have to know how to make stuff and do the directing otherwise you’re giving advice that you don’t really understand yourself. It’s not like I’ve moved from one to the other, I’ve sort of done both.

How has it been shifting brands under the same company?

It was really, really cool. I started at WIRED, which means that a lot of it feels like a new space, such as technology, science, and current affairs, but it could also be about celebrity content, so there would be popular culture elements and videos that we were making. Mostly, it was always looking after the series that were very news-based. 

Vanity Fair happened organically because we all work in one big company. I am one of the few London-based directors. So they got in touch with me when I did my first video with them. They asked me if I wanted to work on the project and I really enjoyed and loved that transition. 

There’s also a difference between video producers and writers – a lot of the writers at WIRED have their own specific beat. They’re experts in climate change or climate science or they might be experts in the business industry. And that’s why their articles are so compelling. 

Whereas when you’re a video producer, you don’t get any of those nice bits, which means that you have to cover quite a lot of ground in quite a lot of detail. So one week, you might be doing something about, say robotics and autonomous vehicles, and then the week after you’ll be doing something completely different. 

So it was really nice to work with Vanity Fair on film, because it felt like a consistent beat and offered chances to experiment with new formats. It’s a refreshing change when you get to bounce between the titles. 

How different is working for Wired UK and the global WIRED? 

Very different. We’d be a lot more experimental on Wired UK partially because we haven’t put as many videos on so we were creating videos and we didn’t know how they would do. 

Working for the global WIRED, a lot of stuff has been tried and tested on that front. We’ve got a huge audience, which means there’s already loads of insight into what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. So it feels a lot more structured.

There are a lot more people there as well which is great because you can learn from people all over the world who are making videos. There’s slightly more celebrity content on the US YouTube channel.

It was just myself at the UK YouTube channel when I was working there. I did the development, the directing and producing and I found myself really craving for mentors and people to bounce ideas off. Now that we’re all working together on the global US channel, there are a lot of conversations and discussions. 

What does a day in your life as a creative development lead at WIRED look like? 

I was working as the lead for a series called ‘Current’ where we would come up with two or three video ideas per month that explored any new stuff that was happening. It might be the science behind a video game. For example, The Last of Us, and the biology behind how that fungus spreads.

So, with a vast range of topics, I’d be working day-to-day with a group of three or four producers. They were all over in the US. We would have weekly discussions about what things were going on in the news. And then we would decide as a team what we wanted to prioritise and what topics we should try and explore.

Then, I would workshop episode ideas with individual producers and we’d discuss who’s the right talent for it and ask questions like which experts would we want to speak to and the kind of structure we would want for the video.

We’d also think a lot about the title of the video because that’d be the main selling point. So we pretty much decide on the title of the video before we greenlight it. We had to have an idea about the thumbnail.

Another big part of my role as a creative lead would be having those workshops with producers and then also checking the edits, giving feedback. That pretty much sums up my year last year. I’m not actually doing so much of that now, as I’m more of a director, so I’m directing my own stuff in the UK. But I’m still working on creative development for the series.

Where do you see yourself a few years down the line? 

I’d love to go against the tide a little bit. There’s obviously the shift towards vertical video, but I really love long-form content. So I’d love to make some long-form YouTube series, but then also dip into documentaries, and also work with WIRED.

Do you use AI?

Yeah, for example with editing. The immediate transcriptions are just so useful. I can think of loads of implementations with the editing process, like colouring and grading. 

I use ChatGPT a lot. It’s great for eliminating ideas. Sometimes I’ll want to bounce an idea and there isn’t someone immediately available, and I’ll put something into ChatGPT and it will give nine really rubbish ideas and one might be a good idea.

Then what’s really interesting to me is why do I find these nine ideas bad? Is that going to help dictate or change the framing of how I want to approach this thing? And then I also ask myself why do I think this idea is good and can I keep prompting ChatGPT to come up with more stuff? So it’s really good for testing.

Do you think AI, especially the Sora model, will threaten the creative industry in the coming future? 

As AI has started to develop at an exponential rate, there’s been a real shift in the public conscience of being able to detect what’s fake and real.

AI is so good that we’re really getting to the point where the average human can’t notice the difference. But I do like to think that creativity and new ideation, that isn’t just based on previous stuff, will always win. And I think we just got to ride with it. I think we have to use the tools where necessary and really lean into that, but I’m not worried. I think we’re okay.