Accountant by day, TV producer by night – a spotlight on Spyros Yiassemides

9 June 2017

The expression “there are only so many hours in a day” is not one that features in the phrasebook of Spyros Yiassemides. Senior accounting services manager for our Cyprus business, Spyros is a chartered accountant with a difference. In addition to his accountancy expertise, he possesses an unrivalled passion for film that fills his spare time (and then some). Not only is he currently undertaking a PhD in Film Studies, he is now an associate producer on a new US drama series, Sangre Negra!

At First Names Group we pride ourselves on supporting personal goals and celebrating achievements beyond the workplace, so we’ve asked Spyros to tell us more about his experience to date and dreams for the future.

What do you enjoy most about your role at First Names Group?

There are plenty of things, big and small, that make each and every working day in First Names Group special for me, but if I was forced to pick one I would say the interaction with people, be they colleagues or clients. We are a people-focused organisation, not only on (marketing) paper, and I am proud to be part of a wonderful team that works together to deliver the best possible results for our clients. We are very busy but manage to keep the stress away by doing things “the three musketeers way” – that is, one for all and all for one! We know we can count on each other for troubleshooting and support, and this creates a camaraderie that is hard to find in other organisations.

What led you to a career in accounting?

In two words: my dad. He is a qualified Chartered Certified Accountant (FCCA) and has always expressed the wish for me to follow in his footsteps. To be completely honest, back in high school and then when I was doing my National Service in the army, I didn’t know what career path I wanted to follow (my mind was still set at adolescent mode at the time, so I had other priorities!). Thankfully, my parents took the initiative of attending a UK universities exhibition on my behalf. They made some applications and got me accepted in Northumbria University to study accounting.

At the time, it felt like I was moving towards my career on autopilot, but it all came together as soon as I stepped foot in Newcastle upon Tyne to undertake my Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy. I loved the curriculum so studying came easily to me, and resulted in my graduating with First Class Honours and wanting more on the subject matter. This ultimately led to a chartered accountancy traineeship with Deloitte Cyprus and then Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) credentials three years down the road – having first made an academic pit stop to undertake my Master’s in Computer Science at UCL.

What first sparked your interest in film production?

The above two words apply here as well: my dad! I come from a long line of cinephiles; my paternal grandmother used to own and operate one of the first video rental clubs in Nicosia. When I was little my dad would drop me at my grandmother’s then pick me up after he finished work, so I was exposed to the enchanting world of film from an early age. And when I was a bit older, my dad would take me to the movies at least once per week, which – back in the ‘90s – was a magical experience in itself, contrary to today’s “fast food” era of film watching at the cineplexes.

I would observe my dad in terms of how he immersed himself in the film we were watching, identifying with the characters onscreen and feeling as if he too was partaking in the action. From his example I learned how to cherish each and every film I watched, getting the most out of the experience. I was being transformed to a sworn movie buff – one movie at a time. That said, not even in my wildest dreams would I have thought that, one day, I would be involved professionally with the beautiful medium I fell in love with when I was a little kid!

How did you get involved in Sangre Negra?

Back in October 2013, I took the decision to undertake a PhD in Film Studies via distance learning – with approval from my wife, of course! The following year, through my academic channels, I received a double VIP invite to attend the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, founded and co-hosted by Robert De Niro (my hero!). This effectively translated into two weeks of red carpet premieres, after parties and rubbing shoulders with celebrities – ideal! It was there that I met numerous people in the industry with whom I kept in touch, and some months down the road I was introduced, through these connections, to Anthony McKay and Frank Pinnock, the creators of Sangre Negra. Having exhibited some hardcore cinephilia through our Skype calls and emails, they offered me the slot of Associate Producer on the show.

Tell us a bit more about the show and your involvement with it.

As IMDb describes it (you will find me on there too!), Sangre Negra is “the cross-generational saga of the Santos family which is told Telenovela style and combines the family drama of Dallas with the underworld intrigue of The Sopranos.” The show’s goal is to engage viewers by making them experience a vast array of themes and emotions relating to the challenges, conflicts and adventures of a powerful, modern-day Latino family. My role as associate producer primarily entails:

  • Frequent ‘round-table’ conference calls with the other producers around the world to go through the production’s particulars and logistics
  • Watching ‘dailies’ (a selection of daily shots) and assessing them
  • Providing feedback on the production and its progress as well as on distribution
  • Promoting the show locally in Cyprus by giving interviews and through other means

How do you balance both jobs so effectively? How do you find the time?

I get this question all the time and jokingly (but seriously) always answer that I divide my day into time blocks/units, just like Hugh Grant in About a Boy. My work for First Names Group eats up most of these during weekdays. My family, friends and social life come next, getting their fair share of units. And finally, when everybody is asleep, I concentrate on my production duties, as well as my PhD research. So there’s no secret, really – I simply cut down my sleep units to make extra time!

You may consider this a big sacrifice (I am well aware that, as my sleep debt keeps growing, sooner or later I’ll have to pay it back, in arrears, including interest!), but I tend to see it as something that will pay dividends in the future. Every night when everyone else is sleeping, I am taking a few steps closer to achieving my goals.

I also find that if you are passionate enough about your work, then your tasks almost perform themselves. It’s like that saying: “when you love what you do you never work a day in your life”.

Pictured: Spyros meeting Al Pacino at an event in Dublin in 2015

What do your colleagues in the Cyprus office think?

I am getting a lot of praise from my colleagues for my energy levels and enthusiasm! My colleagues perceive me as a multitasker, and I also consider myself to be one, though I do avoid doing one thing in detriment of another. I was perhaps guilty of this in the past, but have now trained myself to pay focused attention to one thing at a time. Planning in advance what to do in a given day (and night) is key too.

How has First Names Group helped you pursue your passion?

First and foremost, First Names Group provides me with the financial means to indulge in my ‘extracurricular’ passions. Moreover, the supportive work environment, encouragement from my colleagues and the satisfaction I get following the successful completion of work-related projects all work towards boosting my motivation to go out there and be the best I can be outside of work as well.

What’s your long-term career goal?

I hope to continue progressing through the ranks of my (accounting) career and will give it my all to make it to the top. That said, I will also keep investing in my extracurricular activities so they continue to ‘bloom’ over the next few years too. This means attending more film festivals across the world, getting involved in big film productions, meeting A-listers and hopefully making a name for myself in the film industry… Did I mention that I am ambitious?! I’m thinking in terms of a five-year timescale, which will take me up to just after I turn 40. Someone told me that the age bracket 30-40 is the most productive in a person’s life so I am trying to take full advantage of it!

What’s coming up next in the world of Spyros the producer?

My current target is for Sangre Negra to open and be received well on networks in the coming months, so as to (a) get rewarded for the investment put in and (b) increase my chances of becoming involved in bigger film productions. Lately, I have also been entertaining the idea of writing a screenplay. There are so many ideas flowing around in my mind, I just have to pick one to flesh out on paper! One thing is for sure – I won’t rest until I see my name rolling in the credits of a major Hollywood production.

Interested in becoming a ‘First Name’? We’re always on the lookout for more talented and interesting people to join us, so why not take a look at our current vacancies and apply online.