City: I work for ... David Aukin

Becky Shaw is PA to the head of film at Channel 4 and future joint executive of a new film company
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The Independent Culture
I started in theatre, working at the Royal Court, then moving into film with a PA's job at Warner Sisters, the production company. When a friend who was working at Channel 4 heard that David Aukin was looking for a PA, I faxed him my CV. As the man responsible for commissioning films like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Four Weddings and a Funeral and the Madness of King George, I knew the stature that David had within the industry.

At the interview he didn't seem to mind that I hadn't seen as many films as some of the other applicants. I think he related to me more on a theatrical level, having had a background in the theatre himself. He liked the fact that I knew writers and directors and knew it would be a joy for me to see people coming through from theatre to film. I had a feeling I was going to get the job.

Our third interview was rather like a marriage guidance session, with both of us laying our cards on the table. He said, "It's hard to make a decision because I have to know that I can trust you". I replied that it was a difficult decision for me, too, since I had been very happy at Warner Sisters. He replied that rather than wanting a secretary who would cower outside the office, he needed someone who would take the initiative and act as a sounding board. That swung it for me.

It took six or seven months for us to gel. I had to learn how to multi- task and prioritise quickly. David now relies on me to be able to make decisions for him, including deciding who can and can't see him. He is very nice and finds it hard to say no. Part of my role is to say no for him.

When he is away, I get bored and miss him, although he's often on the phone. Last year at Cannes, I got the feeling that he was keeping me on the phone in order to prevent people from handing him scripts, which they do at any opportunity. PAs who work for powerful people can often be under the illusion that they are important themselves and will exploit their position once people realise who they work for. For this reason, I often wish I could just say that I work for Marks and Spencer.

David has a horrendous diary which I organise for him, scheduling in screenings, rushes, trips abroad and numerous meetings, but the perks outweigh the administrative headache. During screenings David sometimes wants my opinion about whether scenes work, which can be daunting when you are in the company of the producer and the director, but is good for developing assertiveness.

Over the years, I have encountered difficult directors and producers who have tried to give me a hard time, but I always have David's support. I respect the way that he works, he gives everyone confidence as a team and isn't at all elitist. Having been here for two years, I have seen things through from inception to premiers.

When big stars like Whoopee Goldberg and Faye Dunaway come to the office they tend to be used to a rather different environment and expect one to play a part. Luckily David leads the way. He can appease people quickly, he's not aloof. Considering the amount of work he does, it's amazing that he's so good-humoured. We have a lot of laughs together and he is a great storyteller. At our Christmas lunch, he likes to start the singing, usually bursting into a song from Me and My Girl. Luckily he lost his voice this year. He's also a massive Arsenal fan, which producers latch on to. Tottenham fans generally keep quiet.

David was recently asked by Miramax in the US to set up an independent film company with two colleagues, so in early February we will be moving from Channel 4. Rather than commissioning 20 films as we do now, we will be commissioning and producing around six or seven big budget films, but each one reflecting David's insistence on quality rather than commerciability.

It's an exciting time and I am aware that my work will be very different in character. I will be working longer hours and with a smaller team, but I am looking forward to learning more about the business, particularly the acquisitions and financial side of it. I will become more of an assistant to David. It will be good to get out of the PA rut, which is difficult to achieve within a corporate structure like Channel 4.

One of the frustrations about this type of work is that if you are too good at your job your boss won't want to lose you. But David told me he won't let me get too comfortable, because he doesn't want to see me still being his PA in 15 years' time.

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