Saturday, February 14, 2009

Alternate Angle

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
I am Julian Katz and I am a Senior Producer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York. BBH is a full service agency with other offices in London, São Paolo, Shanghai, Singapore and Mumbai. I have done some stuff which ended up living on the web, but I come entirely from the broadcast side of things, so even though we are all getting more and more integrated, my answers will skew towards that TV/broadcast realm of experience.

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?
I studied illustration at art school, and had a summer internship at now-defunct Saatchi & Saatchi in San Francisco which led to my doing some freelance production artist/creative assistant work (pulling scrap, color copying, X-Acto cutting, spray mount inhaling). One thing led to another, and after leaving Saatchi and starting their own shop the Creative Directors I was working with hired me on and urged me to go into production. I never meant to make a career of it; I always told myself I would keep doing it as long as it continued to be fun and interesting for me. I was fortunate to start at a tiny shop doing creative work, so I was thrust into doing a lot of production work which was way beyond my pay grade right from day one. Then I left and landed at another S.F. agency which was riding the full crest of the dot-com boom, doing somewhat more high profile work. Since then I have been poached a few times; I spent four years at Chiat in S.F. and a couple at Modernista! In Boston. I have been at BBH for 3 1/2 years.

After 13 years in agency production I am still having fun and the work still interests me. I find that no two projects are alike; if you keep an open mind you will learn something new on every single production. So at this point it does not look like the illustration career is going to get back on track any time soon.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
It’s important to talk to vendors and collaborators and become aware of up all the new technology out there. But I think it’s just as important to know when to use that new technology, to bring it in for appropriate projects and not just for the sake of trying out the shiny new toys regardless of whether they are appropriate to the concept/execution. Gratuitous use of technique when it is not appropriate to or in service of the concept is a pet peeve of mine.

At BBH all of the producers from all of the different disciplines sit right on top of each other in an open floor plan, and it is a very collaborative environment, so we are constantly asking each other questions and advice. BBH is also really committed to “upskilling”, bringing in experts from various fields to educate us about technology, trends, ideas. As for motivation, I think real producers are happy when they are producing great work. Beyond that, I personally value BBH’s longstanding “no assholes” hiring policy! There are exceptions to every rule, but it is a wonderful ideal to strive towards…

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

It starts with a great concept which the client and the agency see eye-to-eye on. Then a small team from the agency is dedicated to execute it, without a lot of approval layers and without a lot of fingers in the pie. I have produced some work with huge budgets and some without even enough money to cover hard costs, and I have found that in general, if the concept is great then you can find a way to execute it well, regardless of the budget or who the client is. We all want to be doing good creative work.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?

It’s all about communication. Have a go-to-production meeting once the client has green-lit a project. Ask all the questions you can up front, so no ugly surprises rear up too late in the process to adequately address them. Don’t keep the client at arm’s length during the prep; clients are so much more receptive to work when they feel they had a part in making it, when they have been part of the process the whole way.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
I won’t get into specifics here but I will say that at BBH, I have been fortunate to work on some remarkable projects, from working with dream directors on big TV spots for sexy clients, to producing an entire MTV series, to some wonderful documentary-oriented pieces which I was able to actively, creatively produce (cast, line produce, etc. myself) and not just oversee. I could narrow it down to a top four or five but I have enjoyed parts of just about every production.

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

I have worked at places where we constantly had to juggle multiple productions, and there were no outright disasters because of it. At BBH, they make a concerted effort to dedicate a producer to one project at a time. But especially while we are running lean trying to weather this economy, we are all happy to step up and handle a few things at once. Ideally I am fully dedicated to one production from the time I get into the bid phase through the edit. I might be starting research on the next project while I am in finishing the last, but it doesn’t do anyone any favors to have a producer prepping two separate shoots or full productions at once. It really opens the door to a lot of details falling through the cracks, unless you have dedicated assistants to plug the holes in the dam (which we do not).

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
This will sound cheesy, but we pretty much have it at BBH. Well we definitely did before a few recent departures. But we are fortunate to be able to attract top talent, and the way the department is managed, they really do try to keep us happy, healthy and sane. Which is nice.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
I feel like my job it to deliver the best execution of a given concept. As long as everyone is on the same page going into a production and you maintain a clear and thorough line of communication throughout, then you have done your client right. I don’t feel I am qualified to judge whether the work is going to fulfill the client’s business needs; if it is on brief and everyone is happy with the way it came out, then I have done my job.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
That’s a pretty broad question. I don’t think TV spots are going to go away any time soon. Hopefully clients will realize that it is impossible to guarantee that something will become “viral”; the days are long past when you could put a video online and people would watch it just because it was there. Who knows? Agencies are all about the primacy of the idea, we are concept factories and there will always be a place for us. The way people physically watch content might change, screen sizes might change, but someone will always be charged with coming up with the ideas and executing them.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.

Honesty is the best policy.

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