Q&A with Producer ANDREA POTTS

16Mar11

I’m very excited to publish my first producer interview on POP. I’ve wanted to interview a producer and a friend said I had to talk with Andrea Potts of Pottsticker Productions. That not only would I get a good interview with someone who is incredibly experienced, talented and smart, but also that she was warm and funny and I’d enjoy meeting her and have a great time in the process.

She responded with a big “yes,” we met for lunch, and she then happily relented to the usual phone calls, list of questions, and endless image requests with an unruffled composure and a consistently cheerful attitude throughout the process which I’m sure plays no small part in her success.

Andrea Potts is a San Francisco photo producer who has 20+ years experience producing shoots in-house and freelance for some of SF’s most established photographers and rising stars. Hired for her experience, unflappable demeanor and resources, her clients include The Gap, Target, Burberry, CVS, Steelcase, Clorox, Del Monte, Kimberly-Clark, McKesson, Siemens, Frito-Lay, Genentech, and HP among many others.

My intention was to edit down the list of photographers she works with so that it was a neat sentence that made sense in the intro. But looking at each site, I succumbed to the impulse to share all of them and was unable to cut even one name from the list. So for the fun of it, here is the complete list followed by a very informative and fun interview with someone I’m happy to call a new friend!

Photographers:

Caren Alpert, Graham Brown, Anita Calero, Alan Clarke, Carter Dow, Chris Gaede, Jim Goldberg, David Magnusson, Marcy Maloy, Jock McDonald, Emily Nathan, Jenny Pfeiffer, Noah Webb, Sven Wiederholt

POP: What is your background? Why photography?

My first actual experience with photography was when I was in 5th or 6th grade. I was really into creative writing and being from a small town near Baltimore, I would sit on my bedroom floor for hours flipping through Photo Annuals for inspiration for my stories and poems.

Fast forward to 1982 when I moved to SF after seven years in Aspen. I began my job conundrum doing a myriad of things: national sales manager for a clothing manufacturer, an Airport Health Spa Manager in Dallas, a concierge…. Finally in 1988 a friend introduced me to a wonderful photographer, Carter Dow, who was looking for a studio manager and I dove in head first as his assistant and studio manager, started producing and realized I’d found my dream job. I feel like I got my Bachelors degree from him after three years and then my Doctorate from Jock McDonald after the next 17 years.

"Rocket Boy" Photo by Jock McDonald

For full interview, please click on link below.

POP: What made you decide to go freelance?

After 17 or so years as in house producer and studio manager for Jock McDonald, it was time to spread my wings.

POP: What do you bring from working in-house for so many years to freelance producing?

I guess I have developed the ability to relate to and bond quickly with a variety of different personalities within the species of:  art director, account exec and client.

POP: What is required for being a producer? What is needed on set to keep everything running smoothly?

The patience of a kindergarten teacher, hearing of a bat, palate of Thomas Keller, intuition of a psychic, and the humor of the head writer of Saturday Night Live. Also it helps to be a teensy bit OCD, as you need to triple check everyone and everything before a shoot as inevitably something will have fallen through the cracks.

Woodbridge Winery Photo by Jock McDonald

POP: For photographers who are just starting to book big ad jobs, why should they hire a producer?

One very important reason a photographer should hire a producer is money. The photographer should never ever discuss money with the art buyer or art director. Photographers are hired for their ability to create beautiful images. That is their role. Quite often during prep for a job, the expenses can increase due to certain factors relating to the layout and it is the producer’s job to diplomatically handle the overage with the rep or art buyer, depending on the situation.

Kleenex UltraSoft Photo by Graham Brown

POP: You’ve worked with many, many photographers over the years. What makes for the best producer/photographer working relationship?

The best producer/photographer relationship works well when there is honest consistent communication. I never second-guess my photographers, I ask them about details before the shoot: types of beverages, amount of noise in the room, types of snacks wanted, where he wants the client to sit etc.  A simple thing like when to break for lunch can aggravate the most patient even-tempered photographer if it is not handled properly. During the shoot I am never above keeping the trash and recycling in order.

The more help the photographer has with the client/agency dance on set, the better he can do his job. I frequently act as a mediator between the client, agency and photographer. If the client whispers to the account person or project manager that they would really prefer a different background or lighting, I quietly go over and let the photographer know so he can gingerly bring it up in case the client is reluctant for many reasons, to make their desires known. This is a time when everybody’s job is on the line so clients and agencies seem even more stressed about making decisions on set.

Clorox Photo by Sven Wiederholt

POP: I’ve come up with some of my best ideas in the most challenging budget situations. Do you find that you find savings when estimating that you might not have before?

Absolutely, and the longer you have been in the business the more you have a chance to become close to talented crew members (also talent, casting, catering and locations) and they will do favors for you in certain situations. Also things like using a good location scout to help find one location that is large and varied enough to shoot all day versus picking up and moving to a second location twice in a day. This saves location fees, frayed nerves and cuts down on overtime. I can’t tell you how many times talent or clients get lost or stuck in traffic and the good light is almost lost. I always keep a bag of balloons in my glove compartment and do a Hansel and Gretel thing with balloons on trees, stop signs, the mailbox….

Cornerstone Gardens Photo by Chris Gaede

Cornerstone Gardens Photo by Chris Gaede

POP: With tighter budgets, how has your role been impacted? What has changed?

I would say in general that with tighter budgets and less prep time, it has created more of a vital role for producers. I am finding more photographers who were used to producing their own shoots and then in the middle of their prep a very large job would come in and they are not prepared to handle two jobs at once. It makes good business sense to find a producer you get along with early in the game before you are up against a wall.

What I can bring to the table during this time of tighter budgets and less prep time is my large arsenal of seasoned uber talented crew that I can tailor to the job and sometimes even persuade to work for a lower rate.

One thing that seems to have changed in the past 10 years or so is there are fewer sets being built and more jobs are shot on location. I think this is mainly due to the new teensy prep windows that seem to be the new norm. Sometimes it seems like the larger the job the less time to prep!

McGuire Furniture Photo by Anita Calero

POP: How do you balance the needs of the client and the photographer when estimating? Where do you make sacrifices when necessary?

This is tricky. I try to get a sense of budget before I start the estimate and then I use crew and resources that I know will fit the client and budget. Frequently, I do not have the luxury of knowing the client’s budget so I try to put disclaimers on things like props, talent and location. I like to spell everything out as best I can on the estimate so later on (like at the pre pro the day before the shoot!) the photographer and or agency is protected if the specs change. The more specific you can be with your estimates before the job begins, the happier everyone will be come time for invoicing. I want to add that if you ever have to do an estimate and there is no layout—be very, very careful and spell everything out on your estimate especially with the shoot description.

POP: What are your favorite types of jobs/clients?

In my five and a half years of producing freelance, I have been very fortunate with the caliber of photographers, design firms, and clients I have come in contact with. There are two that come to mind that rise above the rest.

One is a sustainable division of Steelcase Furniture called Coalesse. I work with them through Tolleson Design. The other is The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that I have worked with through Daylight Design. Both of these firms are supremely ethical and a pure joy to work with.

Daylight Design for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Coalesse Photo by Noah Webb

Coalesse Photo by Noah Webb

POP: Story of crisis averted?

Once I was shooting in a beautiful park near Livermore and my client was a bit out of control about staying out of a certain forbidden area. Eventually the ranger arrived and threatened to shut down the shoot but I calmly talked her out of it.

Another time we rented the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and one shot was on the roller coaster. I do not ride roller coasters. The shot was of one kid and we did not have a back up. The talent was refusing to go on the ride by himself so I had to sit with him. It the first time I have ever been on a roller coaster and I had to say on it for three rides.

POP: Recent jobs and any stories behind them?

This is not a recent job but it is a serious story that turned funny. Man years ago on a shoot that involved small children, there were parents off set grazing the breakfast selection.  All of a sudden one of the dads started choking on a bagel. I was upstairs in the crow’s nest at my desk. The art director panicked and started yelling up to me to, “Call 411, Call 411!”.  I started dialing 911 but before I could finish dialing, the photographer swooped in and Heimliched the dad and popped the blueberry bagel across the room.

POP: How do photographers find you?

Besides getting work from clients and agency people I have met from the past, I can’t tell you how many jobs I have gotten through assistants, stylists, make up artists, and even location scouts. I am one of those people who treat the 2nd assistant as well as the client.

POP: Will you have your annual photo show this year? Why did you start doing this and how do you select photographers? Do you take submissions?

I started doing a show for assistants, lab rats, and rental equipment mavens back in 1998 as a way for them to get their work shown and to make some extra money. I also had a lot of friends who would see my small collection of B&W photographs from Jock and were constantly asking me where they could buy affordable photographs to hang on their walls. So, “Buy Fine Art before you are 60,” was born!

I have skipped a few years along the way and this year will be the 10th Annual show. I hope to have it at Cornerstone Gardens here in Sonoma, a very special place that I adore. This year will be the very first year that I will allow non film based images! I have a loyal group of photographers that have been involved in every show and each year I allow a few new ones to submit images. I am limited by the wall space in each new location so the loyal guard get’s first crack at submitting to the blind jury.

A big thank you to Andrea for her enthusiasm, patience and all around great spirit and sense of humor!



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