Monday, December 22, 2008

The Power Producer

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Eric W. Shamlin, Interactive Producer at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
My arrival in the interactive industry is the culmination of series of unplanned events. As I kid I was keenly interested in technology - I've often described myself as a power-user. The problem was I didn't know how/where to apply my interest and skills.

I didn't want to be a developer or programmer. How could I make a living working with technology and telling cool stories? So my answer at the time was TV. I went to school to study journalism. I then worked for ABC up until '00.

I produced all kinds of news content - prime time newscasts, live sporting events, television documentaries, etc. I garnered many awards in that time but still didn't feel that industry was a good fit.

It was pretty restricted to some outdated methodologies and didn't really push the edges of technology or content the way I'd hoped. The few feeble attempts at using the internet were limited to busting out a templated website.

After that I transitioned to live action/broadcast production - line producing numerous commercials and music videos, and even a couple small independent features. Some of my fondest memories come from great collaborations on set, so now as an interactive producer I look for opportunities to shoot as often as possible.

So that brings me to the latest chapter, in recent years I've had the opportunity to produce broadcast content for the web (generally for clients taking their first feeble steps onto the internet, but still unwilling to give up their tried-and-true commercial spot). I eagerly signed on to some ambitious projects, and now it's paying off. I'm able to bring together all the various skill sets I've gained over the years. I believe the producer of tomorrow is the interactive producer.

A producer that is not limited to 'simply' balancing a budget and keeping things on time. The interactive producer must know their technology and remain on top of an ever changing medium, they must be able to communicate and evangelize their medium to clients & developers in addition to being familiar with all the 'traditional' formats. It's this convergence of technology and content that keeps me excited about my job and the future. The interactive producer, to me, is a producer for all mediums.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
I've always been a bit of a tech-head, so I like to stay up on technology just as a matter of hobby.

In addition to the reading the trades, I think I'm subscribed to nearly 40 RSS feeds from all corners of the geek chic landscape.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?

A client that pushes the envelop in terms of content and delivery formats -- using the full range of possibilities that the web has to offer: video, blogs, RSS, mobile apps and a complete immersion of the user.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
As much as I enjoy a challenging project, I often find it best to set realistic expectations up front - most often limited by time & budget.

I think I've learned to be blunt and honest, not in a confrontational way, just in an informative and knowledgeable way. I find knowing the clients needs in detail and then thoroughly explaining to them the ins & outs of what it'll take often helps set expectations.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
I can't say there's one specific project.
My current client has been really stepping out of their comfort zone. They're a traditionally conservative company in a very conservative industry.

While I can't say they're on the bleeding edge they're nonetheless taking exciting steps forward for their brand. It's baby steps in the grand scheme, but for them it's enormous.

It's fun to be a part of and to see a client really open their eyes to the possibilities.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?

Depends on scope I guess. But on average lately I've been producing 4-6 campaigns at a given time. Ranging from a simple 30k banner campaign up to several microsites and rich media campaigns.
I like to keep my plate full.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?

I can be pretty guerrilla in my methods, I think it comes from my time in news (2 dudes in a van fighting a relentless 5pm deadline everyday often means using out of the box problem solving).

To that I end I like a team that knows how to use all the tools in the toolbox. There are many problems for which the only solution is money and time (if you're truly pushing the limits of the technology).

But other projects can easily be addressed with a little frugal thought and some inspired workarounds. I find projects that allow for both to be the most rewarding and often the most innovative.

Recently I had a project that came in requiring some unique development. We were fighting (as always) a very tight budget that simply wouldn't allow much R&D , so with a little ingenuity we found some freeware apps that could be repurposed. It was a workaround that on the surface seemed ripe for failure, but in the end it worked wonderfully. I think the interactive environment provides many opportunities for such creative problem solving.

And a team that can identify those opportunities and knows where and when to use the different methods is the best to work with.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?

Under promise, over deliver. And talk softly but carry a big stick.
I think the stereotypical producer is a fiend for confrontation and often a taskmaster and micromanager. I'd loath to be described as any of those.

I prefer to master the situation in terms of production, technology & process knowledge. Win the client over and lead them them through a project confidently.
Similarly I use the same command with vendors and developers. I hire them for their unique ability and empower them to do their best.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?

I don't think the mobile possibilities have been full realized yet. We're still very much in the nascent stages of seamless desktop-to-mobile experiences.
There are exciting developments in this area all around the world - particularly in Japan and Scandinavia. I believe the push towards an ever more seamless experience will create fantastic new opportunities for innovative content.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Learn, learn, learn. Be curious about what's happening in the industry - be it behind-the-scenes technology, new hot apps or just trends in the mainstream.
I truly think as a producer you need to be one step ahead of the client & user.

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