What Does a Photo Producer Do?

What Does a Photo Producer Do?

I'm always curious about how people end up doing what they're doing. Not all of us have a clear path mapped out while we're in school, and so a first job is often the place where careers begin to take shape. Such was the case for Melissa Barry, a photo and art producer at SpotCo, who I've watched grow from an intern in cargo pants and flip flops to a whip-cracking deal maker, negotiating photo shoots and making sure we have our illustration contracts in order. So I asked her to share some of her insights with us...

Okay, so what exactly do you do at SpotCo, Melissa?

I facilitate art development, am an art buyer, and also a photo shoot producer.  That basically means I connect with our artists/photographers (or their agents) to hammer out the budget required to create artwork as well as secure varying advertising-related usages.  For illustration it's not much more than that. For photography I'll see a shoot through execution by pulling together all the various elements (studio, hair, makeup, wardrobe, props, sets, talent, etc.) with input from our creative directors, photographer and client.

What's the best thing about your job? And what's the least fun?

The best part is all the interesting and creative people you meet. I also love getting out of the office to oversee photo shoots because it gives me a chance to unchain from my desk. Our projects vary widely so it's fun and challenging to figure out the right way to get to the finish line. Of course, seeing all our hard work on a big-ass billboard in Times Square is my favorite part. The least fun is juggling expectations and attitudes. When it comes to creativity and craft, people usually need to be handled with care. Sometimes it's hard to make everyone happy, especially when you're working with a tight budget or timeline.

How much knowledge of photography and art is really necessary? How about math, accounting, and business skills?

For me the most important skill is being able to build rapport with all different kinds of people. Having a sense of humor is so important too. And having a reliable, systematic way to work through an endless list of things to do because when it rains, it pours. I wish I had taken more photography and art classes because I think they would have made me better at guiding projects. Everyone I meet has their own views/experiences to impart, so I've been taught a great deal along the way and still learn something new every day.

How did you end up at SpotCo? What's your background?

Like many of my professors at the University of Central Florida told me while I was earning my degree in Advertising & Public Relations, it is indeed All. About. Networking.  Of course it's all about being enthusiastic about what you do, and most importantly being able to communicate well, but we'll get to that...

After gaining a marketing internship at a local Orlando office that presents the touring productions of Broadway shows, I began learning the ropes of promoting their season. Figuring out very quickly that plays are a much harder performance to push tickets for than musicals, I picked a play in their current line-up to use as my Advertising Campaigns class thesis because it presented a challenge. After finishing the project I got in front of the CEO of the office I was interning for and shared with him the work I had done. He liked it and offered to connect me with someone who was doing the marketing of the production currently running Off-Broadway. 

Through this channel and my own aggressive measures, during the end of my senior year I was able to set up informational interviews with two different theatrical advertising agencies in New York. I emailed and name-dropped, I showed up on time, I was polite, I did my research on the companies and prepared lots of questions for anyone who took the time to see me.

When I moved to NYC the summer after graduating, I used the informational interview contact at one of those agencies, SpotCo, as a reference in my application letter for an internship there. I landed the internship, which led to my hire as assistant to the director of creative services, and then a promotion to associate producer of print & broadcast followed.  During my time as an assistant other opportunities opened up within the company, but I had learned enough about myself to know those positions didn't quite suit me. I tried to make sure this wasn't misunderstood as a lack of ambition, but that I was interested in other aspects of the business.  I'm still here at SpotCo, and my title was recently upgraded to producer.

Some of this journey was admittedly due to luck of being in the right place at the right time, but it's also possible to position yourself in a way that makes it less a game of chance than one of strategy. Who you know is huge, and you meet them by being driven and smart.  

What's next? Do you have a "career path"?

Moving forward, I've thought about maybe working at a studio with one photographer, producing projects for just that person, because I'd find it interesting to collaborate on any long term or personal projects they have. I also love to take pictures. Behind the scenes is cool, but it would be great getting paid while being behind the lens.

  • PXL8IT

    Dear Gail & Melissa...I enjoyed reading your post very much. I get the "All. About. Networking." concept. Do you have any advise for someone like me who has relocated to the East Coast from Los Angeles? All my jobs back home came to me through my commercial film production contacts and being new to the area I'm a bit out of water on where to start networking again. I had a great base built up in LA but the East Coast and Florida is a bit foreign to me. Any suggestions or CONNECTIONS would be greatly appreciated!!

    PS: I love the work you all are doing at SpotCo!! Keep pushing the edge out!

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