Balancing the Grind with Karina Holden, Head of Factual at Northern Pictures

Karina Holden is the Head of Factual at Northern Pictures, an Australian-based television production company established in 2010.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I have worked in the film and television industry in both the independent sector as a Creative Producer, Writer, Director and Executive; as well as at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as Commissioning Editor of Science and Natural History and Head of Factual. 

Since 2013, I have headed up Northern Pictures Factual – an incredibly varied role which involves overseeing all non-fiction content for the production company. This includes traditional documentary series, such as ‘Love on the Spectrum’ (Netflix), ‘See What You Made Me Do’ (SBS), or live event television, such as ‘Southern Ocean Live’ (ABC). I’ve also been working in the realm of immersive film, using emerging technologies and exploring new forms of storytelling. 

In recognition of my work, I was named Sydney City of Film, UNESCO Film Maker of the Year in 2021 and became a member of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Emmy) – a fitting role as I love to bring art and science together, having originally trained as a scientist before working in the creative fields.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

At 6am, I wake up and jump in the ocean. After a night at the Logies, rather than having a shower to wash out all the hairspray, I go for a body surf instead. Back at the hotel, I have the first strong coffee of the day before I head to Gold Coast airport. 

I work on the flight to Melbourne, then meet up with two female Professors of marine science, with whom I drive to Phillip Island for the next day’s filming of ‘Southern Ocean Live’ – a world-first broadcast airing on ABC. We arrive at the Nature Parks Centre mid-afternoon and immediately go into a script read-through with Hamish Macdonald and Ann Jones for the next evening’s live broadcast. It’s my job to rewrite the script as we go. 

We’ve just installed an eight-metre fake shark on set, so I head down to approve the new lay-out with the Live Producer. It’s a quick meal on the run as the penguins are now coming ashore at sunset, so I head to the beach to direct a shoot with Hamish and Ann, that we’ll edit overnight. We’re in position at 8.30pm for a dress rehearsal, which involves linking via satellites to our underwater talent in Spencer Gulf where the giant cuttlefish are courting, as well as Port Phillip, where we’re underwater with the mass spider crab migration. 

Being the executive producer and creator of the show, it’s up to me to make sure we have everything in place, with a staff of over 80 people on location across 3000km of coast. Technically, we are achieving a world first – so it’s critical tonight we iron out any of the creases. We rehearse the full show and wrap at 10pm. It’s midnight before I finally get to bed, knowing tomorrow will be an even bigger day yet!

3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance means making sure all-consuming work is at the very least fun and rewarding. I know I work incessantly, but I make sure that whatever I am doing, I’m surrounded by inspiring people who make life interesting and I can learn from. Balance also comes from knowing I am stretching myself creatively, never sitting back and resting on my laurels. I’m happiest when I am rising to a challenge and I let the adventure from work spill over into the rest of my life.

4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

In the last year, I’ve kept ocean swimming, regardless of how cold the water is. I used to swim only until April. Now I swim right through winter. 

I’ve also started replacing the word “sorry” with “thank you.” For example, rather than saying: “Sorry I am late for the meeting,” I instead say, “Thank you for being patient, I appreciate you waiting for me.” I feel gratitude is a much better sentiment than guilt or shame.

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

As someone who works in film and television, I’ve loved listening to You Must Remember This – a podcast about the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century. It’s a must for any cinephile as it’s full of juicy behind the scenes stories while it deconstructs Hollywood mythology.

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Dolly Parton. She is so prolific and gives herself so generously to so many causes. Her originality and ability to forge her own path is something to marvel at. 

7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I think one thing I reflect on often when I’m at a pain point in my work, is understanding this too is part of the process. Knowing that anything worthwhile takes time and involves a cumulation of many decisions and many days/weeks and months of working to reach an end goal, means trusting the process.

As much as we all want to know how something will turn out, there’s little point in becoming impatient or frustrated. It’s OK not to know everything before reaching the conclusion. Pay attention, and it will come together as it’s meant to in the end.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.