Thursday, February 12, 2009

Eat Drink Digital

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Chad Hutson. I'm the executive producer for eatdrink, an integrated production company that focuses on animation, visual effects and interactive design. Based in the windy city of Chicago, but we serve folks all over the nation. Website

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?

Music was always where my heart was, though my hands were better suited to QWERTY keys instead of the ivory kind. So I ditched playing & studied about the music biz in college, then went to work in Nashville's booming industry. After working in various capacities in that field, I really grew to appreciate what strong creative talents could do, but loathed what business people thought or expected of them, and thus swore I wouldn't work that way. At my next gig with an experiential marketing company, gained a lot of knowledge on both video and interactive production pipelines. The guys I worked with were great talents but underutilized & under appreciated, so I recalled that same lesson learned from the music biz and asked if they wanted to go start a company together. That was 2002, been doing this ever since.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
Certainly by reading through various publications & blogs, attending events...but the greatest resource can often be your own peers and competitors. Just talking to those folks & even your own co-workers can provide a fountain of knowledge, be that online or face-to-face: communication is key. Also, portals like the FWA and give us motivation...and sometimes make us jealous.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
A wide open brief from the client, with solid design being a top priority, and us having creative license to integrate all our in-house abilities into the project...heaps of video elements. The client loves the project, and we all get famous for 15 minutes. Oh, and a healthy budget would also be nice. Yep, I'm dreaming.

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

Setting those expectations up front is a huge part of their education. Letting them know, "no, we won't rip off that cool site you like, but here are some functionality cues we could potentially use for reference," for example, can help establish guidelines but also help steer their creative ideas into the proper corral.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
The "best" would probably be the experimental projects we do ourselves...we're our best & worst client, but the results are always dandy. The most rewarding client projects in my career have come in the last year. Everything from a broadcast show package for a new PBS/BBC documentary series to a basic banner campaign for Nintendo...the creative has been good, the clients were awesome and our current staff is tops. Sorry, did I actually answer your question..?

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
Three to four is comfortable. Five to six is common. Nine was my personal record, and I'll not do that again.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
It starts at the top. The best designers, animators, developers...they can lead and inspire most anyone that's able & willing underneath them. Those who are really good but aspire to be better (without being cutthroat about it), and folks who are kind & loyal. A small, talented core at the top, and a scalable team to have that core.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
A lot of that hinges on setting the realistic expectations (see above). Though managing the project efficiently from start to finish helps keep the client happy, sometimes speaking up and/or disagreeing with a decision they're trying to make holds more of their best interests than they realize. We don't want to showcase bad work, and we'd rather our clients not either, so even if such 'issues' are met with a compromise, it often helps save the day for all parties involved.

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

I remember ad agency folks saying, not so long ago, that interactive budgets are finally catching up to the broadcast budgets of yore. With the current economic situation, however, we'll oftentimes still be expected to do a lot with not as much. The better positioned a firm can be to provide multiple creative solutions and disciplines under one roof (particularly conceptualizing and integrating video & interactive content), the better their chances of staying diverse and surviving.

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

When managing your team, be kind & empathetic when warranted, but remain honest & open in your communications. It allows them to blow off some steam but you still get your point across. And remember, your client is who you work for, he/she isn't your buddy. Your buddy would be your creative team...try to stay on their side & stick to your guns. If that doesn't work, take that gun & shoot the ones who won't listen.

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