Interviewing Mercy Liao

Mercy Liao is a sales agent, after working as a producer and production manager, known for A Self-Critical Sinner’s Murder (2007), La vida en un día (2011) and West Is West (2010).

How did you get into the film industry?

It was a long hard journey:-) I was a filmmaker and graduated with an MA in Filmmaking. Hoping to train and become a feature film producer, I applied for numerous internships at financing and production companies, but the industry felt like a closed door. After 6 months of applications, I finally got an internship as a runner at BBC Films and went onto more unpaid internships for another 9 months before my first job as a producer’s assistant. And a few years later, when I decided to change my direction to become a film Sales Agent, it took just as much effort if not more.

How do you find working in the industry, especially that you’re from a different culture?

Before I became a British Citizen, I was basically just a foreigner without an EU passport who had always found it almost impossible to get in the door of any area of the film industry, even though I was educated in the UK and was a resident. It’s completely understandable and I’m not complaining. In the UK, just like anywhere else, the film industry is very exclusive and rather closed. Fortunately, you will often meet people who have been through all this and are happy to give advice and referral.

In 2010, there was practically no opening anywhere when I wanted to move into sales and my last straw was to convince the partners at WestEnd Films that I could create a role for myself within the company. They really took a punt on me. Or rather, they saw my potential and appreciated my initiative. Because the partners are three respectful and successful women from international backgrounds, who want to see other women succeed. I feel very lucky that I joined WestEnd.

 Is it challenging working as a woman?

In the Sales and Distribution side of the business, you do see a lot of women working and many management roles filled by our sisters. However, when you look ’up’, the number of women in high level management roles is still just a handful. I mean, at the top of the industry, it’s still a man’s world. It’s no news but the observation really depresses me and makes me feel vulnerable and hopeless at times.
There is still this stereotyping that if you’re a women and worse if you look a bit young, you’re not taken seriously. It’s a very fast-paced business, especially during markets, so very conveniently everything is just taken at face value. Of course, we work on our professional images and presentations, we know what we’re talking about, but I really don’t see the point of having to dress, act and talk like a man to be equal and to be respected. I think it actually defies the whole purpose of equality. So, to answer this question, it is indeed challenging working as a woman.

 Tell us about your career aspirations.

My plan is to develop into a senior Sales Agent and instrument co-productions between Asia (especially Greater China) and Europe. I grew up half in Mainland China and half in the UK, and now I also sell European films to Asia. I would really like to make happen more significant collaborations between the 2 continents.
Moreover, in my spare time and also as part of my long term career goal, I’m planning to gradually gain a voice and get involved with charities that help women victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking.

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