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The Keys to Success: Takeaways from an Executive Producer

Tanya Jones

From being prepared to checking your ego, here are a few industry lessons to help you stand out and always make the cut.

I’ve had the pleasure to produce and direct in many genres of production. I started in how-to lifestyle television and moved through scripted live action, primetime competition-style formats, documentary, to short form social-first videos. I’m talking thousands of hours standing on set (because who’s ever really sitting on set—not this girl!), hundreds of good takes to a few hundred more great takes, a thousand safeties “just to have it,” and endless explanations to a room full of clients about why we’re about to be absolutely quiet for thirty seconds: “Quiet please, this is room tone.” 

Food Stylist Jeanie Chen
Me with food stylist Jeannie Chen. Image by Yvonne Albinowski.

It’s been quite a ride, but I don’t regret my choices, my mistakes, and what I’ve learned. I chalk this up to my life’s curriculum that I now have the pleasure to share with you. 


Be Prepared for Things to go Wrong and Be Ready to Fix Them 

On the eve of a shoot with a major skin care brand, I received a call from my producer Amanda. 

“Um, we have an issue. The talent showed up with cupping marks all over her body. She says she got the treatment two weeks ago. The client is here and isn’t happy.” 

“I’m sorry, you mean the talent who was hired because of her dewy skin? The talent that is supposed to perform workout moves on camera? The in-tank-tops-and-leggings yoga talent—that talent? The skin-being-the-focus-of-her-performance talent?”

Me, knowing fully well what cupping is—knowing it doesn’t normally take two weeks for cupping marks to heal—is furious. I was on my way to the village (opposite direction of my actual home) to do what producers do—PROBLEM SOLVE THIS SITUATION. But, before I get there, I put calls out to our best makeup artist because I already know how this is going to play out. Within a few hours, two makeup artists are airbrushing the hell out of her, in hopes that nothing would show up on shoot day. That’s now twice the cost I budgeted, even though I know we have some line in for miscellaneous, or in this case mishaps. Long story short, the airbrushing helped but we did a lot in post to repair it.

Be ready to think of all possibilities and ask your team to weigh in. There was the possibility of canceling the shoot, which would have cost us a day’s worth of work. You don’t have to come up with the exact solution, but you have to take the lead and gather the players to solve it. You must exercise the maturity and ability to stay calm and keep everyone else calm. Timing is key, as well. You will have to move fast and think on your feet. 


Be Likable, Smart, and Have a Good Attitude

Have a Good Attitude
Having a good attitude goes a long way in this business. Image via George Rudy.

My motto has always been this, “It’s not who you know, it’s who you know and how much they like you.” If they like you a lot, they will hire you, recommend you, and contribute to your growth. My first job in television was through my ride or die friend Vivian, who put me on to an assistant job at a network known at the time as TVFN, now Food Network. Every job I have had since then was through someone I knew. Relationships really matter!


Always Be a Student

Learn New Skills
Never stop learning new skills. Image via guruXOX.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, care about what else is happening on your projects. Just because it’s not your department, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be listening in on set or on calls. I’ve produced content under pharma, food, design, social, TV, and streaming. The more you know, the more you can offer your team and that résumé.

You don’t have to master every skill. Just listen and make an effort to understand why every piece matters in the story. How we tell stories and how we deliver stories is changing all the time. Be the first to see how content is changing and why platforms and services are making money. 


Know the Audience 

Start with yourself. You are the audience consuming hours of content across so many platforms, too. Why are you watching? What do you get out of it? How are you engaging? And, what does watching lead you to do? Are you purchasing, following, tagging? What data are you providing?

It’s important to understand the why. We can’t just tell stories without a vision in mind to lock viewers in. Understand how the content pulls in the audience and the dollars, especially if you want to pitch your own piece of work. 


Check Your Ego at the Door

Check Your Ego
Don’t let your ego be your downfall. Image via FrankHH.

I’ve watched so many people get upset and try so hard to prove they’re right. Remember earlier, what I said about relationships? People see you, how you react, and feel the energy you bring to a meeting, on set, and to the creative process. Don’t allow insecurities or fear to take priority over getting the job done. Always try to play well with everyone in the sandbox. Be mindful of your tone and how you speak to folks (I’ve been called out for mine). 


Your Job Isn’t Who You Are

No matter what celebs you work with or how hot your show scores in the ratings, these jobs aren’t our identities. Many aspects of who you are come through in your work—creativity, resilience, leadership, etc. But don’t fall for the okey-doke and get sucked into the superficiality of this industry. I’ve watched friends not take vacations and not have relationships and romance because the money has become the driver, or the title gives them something to be other than themselves. I’ve contemplated big job decisions but hesitated going somewhere more boutique, or not as well-known, because of what I thought it said to the world. 

I hope these nuggets of production wisdom help you fill your satchel with your own gems! Practice integrity, be curious, work hard, and be excellent in how you work and what you deliver.  


Cover image via REDPIXEL.PL.

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