Guide to Unless Pictures

by Meg O’Connell

After starting Unless in September 2019, I finally got around to writing a user manual for the company, in September 2021. Here it is:


Everything we communicate is sending a message about the kinds of people we are and what we find beautiful and meaningful. Everything we say, but especially everything we write, is indicating our style and voice — which is to say, our vision.

When we send a pitch to market, we’re attempting to convince someone to work with us — on our idea and with our team — but the way we compel them begins to define what the show is. Our early work — our development plans, draft schedules and budgets, and pitch documents — represent texts that will be adapted for screen. 

My guess is that the original concept docs for your favourite shows were interesting to write and read in the same way the show is interesting to watch, and that shows that don’t “work” (i.e. don’t feel like they have a cohesive vision behind them) didn’t complete that foundational work of setting the tone for everyone who would enrol in the project down the track.

Imagine every word you write (in an email or grant application) will be read by someone on their time on this pale blue dot. So, be concise or be inventive.


Guiding principles
Cultivate a growth mindset.

Good ideas require learning, failure and hard work.

We are all in the business of human behaviour.

Practice originality and flair, empathy and trust.

How do these manifest in a work week?
Listen to yourself (soundboard only once you’re clear on what you think).

Engage in the difficult conversations.

Get things wrong and acknowledge that (to yourself or others).

Cast a wide net (re: what you’re reading/watching and who you’re chatting to).

Spend time imagining!

How do these manifest in a work day?
Do the hard thing first up

Eat something other than a frog (i.e. lunch)

Do some hard work (deep thinking/writing/planning/research)

Do some soft work (something where your mind can unwind and make connections)

Don’t worry about “wasted work”

Hard work: determine when your best thinking hours are and we’ll work together to keep those hours clear of meetings and distractions. Set email hours and hide inbox (chrome extension) during this period (eg. I have no email set for 6am-10am).

Soft work: watch or read something (ostensibly unrelated to work). Have a bath or go for a walk or take a nap. Nourishing your mind sends a signal that you’re not under immediate pressure to act. This liminal space allows for interesting connections to be drawn. (Nourishment is not the same as distraction.)

“Wasted work:” I don’t really believe in wasted work (if the task or project itself is important to us). Time spent editing, iterating, and course-correcting is time saved down the track, and it’s often how we get to the most interesting solutions. We have to have standards, but we don’t have to meet them first go. 

Learn how you work:
  1. Work out what your values are. 
  2. Work out what your strengths and weaknesses are. 
  3. Work out how you work.
  4. Write a letter to your future self, describing what you hope to accomplish in the next six months.
  5. Write your user guide, and share it with your colleagues.

Should always meet 2 of these 3 criteria: honest, necessary, kind.

Internally: give feedback often and in real time if possible (like/as animals, we learn best from immediate, rather than delayed, feedback).

Externally: avoid giving feedback for feedback’s sake (no notes are better than unnecessary or poorly communicated notes).

If you don’t agree with someone, communicating that once or twice is useful and encouraged, but don’t “third-guess”. We have to be allowed to make the wrong decision sometimes in order to make the right decision down the track.

Ideas need space to drift and bump into each other to evolve. If “Things take the time they take” (which they often do, some more than others) it can be difficult to schedule around. Deadlines are essential and useful, and we know people could always use more time. Our job as makers and producers is to weigh up the factors. Do the benefits of giving this idea more drift space (time to thrive) - as opposed to vacuous space (time to wither) - outweigh the cons.


Meetings should be used sparingly. For two reasons:
  1. Zoom fatigue (it real!); but more importantly:
  2. Most meetings tend to create work for us and, if we’re not careful, at some point the work the meetings create, coupled with the opportunity cost of the time spent in them, means we’re headed towards this:


Meeting guidelines (to avoid that):
  1. One meeting-free day a week
  2. Avoid scheduling meetings on Mondays and Fridays
  3. Batch meetings to avoid changing gears
  4. Keep meetings to 20 minutes (where possible)
  5. Invite fewer than 8 people
  6. Create and send out an agenda
  7. Make phone the default (before zoom)
  8. Go into them knowing that while on the face of it they only represent a half-hour or hour of your time, they may actually represent 5, 50, or 100+ hours of your time over the next year or more
  9. Schedule them when we know we have the time to follow up and action what comes out of them

Your week is like a game of Tetris. The more blocks that get added to it, the harder it is to complete a row.