Back in February, I visited Los Angeles with Kate Chase where we hosted group portfolio shows. Along the way, we saw old friends, met new people in the industry and hosted a very fun party where everyone got caught up and looked for ways to do this more often. Right in the middle of it all was Art Producer extraordinaire, Kay Gautraud. For those of you who do not know her, she is an amazing producer at TBWA Chiat Day in Lost Angeles. She is smart, funny and easy to be around. She knows her stuff and has great opinions on the future of our industry. As we solved all the world’s problems at the party, I realized she would be a fantastic addition to our Art Producer Series of blog posts that celebrate the producer for who they are and where they came from on the career path. And, just as I thought, Kay’s interview was fabulous. Thank you Alison McCreery for helping pie her words to paper – as always, well done!
Growing up, what were your creative interests?
I was very into photography. My dad always had a camera with him, and my grandfather was a war photographer.
I remember looking through my grandfather’s images, being amazed that he was actually at these events. That’s what amazed me about photography, you have to actually be present at that moment to make a photograph. Painters, poets, etc interpret an event or mood, photographers have to experience it, on some level, to practice their craft.
In high school, I was the photographer for the yearbook and newspaper. I attended Michigan State University, where I studied Fine Arts with an emphasis in photography. I continued onto Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, which is how I earned an internship at Chiat. While there I fell in love with production. It’s the perfect balance of right and left brain. For me, a color-coded Excel spreadsheet takes a close second to an amazing photo.
What did you “want to be when you grew up?” Are you surprised where you ended up?
I’m surprised I have a desk job, but it’s not a bad surprise. Growing up I wanted a job with the national parks. I was always running, hiking, or building something and never wanted to be at a desk.
My job doesn’t keep me at my desk too much though—I’m out on shoots quite a bit, and when I am here it’s all so different every day. After my internship at Chiat, I worked as rep assistant to Tricia Burlingham at Artist Reps Inc. It wasn’t as hands-on as Chiat, so I knew I always wanted to get back in. I went back a year later and it will be seven years in August.
What was that first moment of inspiration when you knew you would work in a creative position?
The internship at Chiat was when I realized the excitement of production. It was inspiring on many different levels and I knew this was where I wanted to be.
I loved how collaborative the process was. When I was just an intern, a photographer pulled me aside and asked me what I would put in the shot to make it look more realistic. Everyone is pulled in.
I also love that working in this environment expands my perspective. On any given day, depending on the conversation, I can talk with art directors, reps, photographers other producers who all look at a piece of art very differently than I do.
But the true first moment of inspiration was shortly after I was hired full time. I was working with Jigisha Bouverat. She asked me who my favorite photographers were and then told me to call them in. And they came in to show their portfolios. These were people I was inspired by for years. I knew at that point this was no joke. Anything was possible.
What roles have you held in the advertising industry?
Ad agency intern. Rep assistant and Art Producer.
At Artist Reps I was very involved in production and would produce some of the entertainment jobs. I loved that it was all-hands-on-deck.
As an intern at Chiat, I worked with the department assistant and got to help everyone with everything. We have cars, food, product, lifestyle, beverages, cosmetics and I had to learn it all really fast. When I returned after Artist Reps, I started as the department assistant and am now an Art Producer. As you move up, your projects grow. You slowly get more responsibility, larger budget and bigger more visible campaigns.
How many jobs are you working on at any one time?
At Chiat we have specific clients and every 2 year (+/_ ) we producers rotate. I’ve been on just about everything, cars, food, beverages, products, celebrity, lifestyle….Right now, I work exclusively on Nissan. They have such a large vehicle line-up each with their own set of trim levels, that I’m usually working on 9 or 10 projects at a time, three to four of them with budgets over $100k. I handle print, web, OOH, and social.
How have your life experiences influenced your job choice?
I’m sure my parents instilled this in me somewhere, but I don’t like to sit around and be still. I don’t feel fulfilled unless I’m in it getting my hands dirty. I think any producer needs that, they don’t like to sit on the sidelines.
And I realized early on that I wasn’t cut out to be an artist. I hated the critiques in art school and would cry before and after. I was so invested in my art and I hated having it taken apart on a daily basis. And it made me nervous to have something I loved so much and was so sensitive about be my sole source of income.
I love the idea of helping people build amazing art and not have it consume the rest of my lfe. I think artists can overthink and be over invested. I applaud the photographers and artists I work with everyday that can walk that fine line of emotionally invested. Where it doesn’t shatter your world when we retouch your image within an inch of it’s life.
How do you keep the same level of inspiration you had when you started your job?
Curiosity keeps me inspired. There’s always new stuff out there and I want to find it. I love seeing ‘New’ or ‘Latest’ sections on photographer’s websites. Even if a new camera comes out, I want to see how people are using it.
The artist’s dedication inspires me as well. I can’t imagine what it takes to be a commercial photographer and also do personal work. Their level of commitment is inspiring. When I go to a photographer’s website, I often go to their personal section first.
What one word describes your working style? Is it different than when you first started?
Calm with some humor. Wait, that’s four words! I would say that right now I’m in this vein of ‘It’s not brain surgery. Let’s just figure it out.” If there’s one word for that, then that’s the one I choose. The stress is different, and it doesn’t keep me up at night as much as it used to.
I might also have to say ‘curious.’ I’m very invested and the curiosity again keeps me very engaged in every aspect of my job.
How do you describe your job to your mother or someone not in our industry?
I literally tell her “the part in Mad Med right after they do a great presentation and everyone is excited, they walk out of the room and that’s where I would step in. Someone has to go make everything they just talked about.” I think some people in my family still think I’m a photographer.
My parents were a pharmacist and a dental hygenist. They still don’t understand how I work weekends or nights. They had office hours and a schedule.
Where do you look for inspiration? Stay inspired?
I’m always looking for something being looked at in a new way, something I haven’t seen before. Finding these things keeps me excited and inspired. I’d love to see someone playing with their tools in a new way.
We had a young photographer come in who had shot his entire portfolio with 8 x 10 black and white negatives. When the current climate of photography is all about hashtagging, he shot enormous negatives and printed them one at a time. That’s the kind of thing that really inspires me. It has no commercial use right now because no one will build that timeline, but it is inspiring and keeps me excited about my job nonetheless.
I also work in a department that is very encouraging of us getting out and going to galleries and shows. I also look at books, websites, Instagram, anywhere people are expressing themselves and their vision. And of course photographer’s personal work on their website. That’s where they spend their paycheck.
Because photographers have so many outlets for sharing their work, we’ll look anywhere and everywhere. I followed a photographer on Tumblr whose work on her main website wasn’t my favorite. But when saw some work on her Tumblr, we hired her for that.
You can tell if a photographer is excited about what they do. They change their site, maintain their blog, are on Instagram. We have all these feeds and methods. I’ll have dinner with photographers and every time we end up following each other on Instagram. You start to get a sense of their style and personality.
Do you share all this with clients?
If they have a strong social media presence and that’s something they want to include in the campaign, which we do more and more, we have to bring it into the client conversations about that person. Or in the situation where we hired the photographer based on images on their Tumblr.
What do you think is important to do outside the office to keep you inspired at work?
Getting out and meeting people is a huge part of it. I really do think meeting the people that you might have the potential to work with outside the office – making those personal connections – can be key. At the end of the day, it really is about the connections you make with vendors and artists. Whether it be over the phone, during creative calls or over drinks, it’s always easier to produce with a friend then with a stranger. And when that happens I get inspired to get to work!
Personally, I still have all my photo equipment from school and take my Mark2 on vacations, hikes and everywhere I go with my niece and nephew. Remembering what it takes just to carry a heavy camera around all day keeps me inspired and very compassionate for the photographers and artist I get to work with.
What do you love about your job?
I love that it’s never the same day twice. I get to spend ten days in the desert and then you’re at the beach or in a studio. As much as it’s a lot of hard work to shoot in the desert, then again I’m in the desert and not a desk. I also love the collaboration, the creativity.
My job really isn’t a typical desk job. I get to get out for shoots and work with amazing people who inspire me with what they are doing.
How do you not compromise creativity while finding a workable budget?
One of the first things I/we learned is the ‘golden production triangle’ (I think that’s what Jigisha called it.
FAST ————- CHEAP
The theory is: clients can have two, you never have all three. So to not compromise creativity (GOOD), it takes a lot of people working above and beyond, staying extra hours, calling in favors and finding efficiencies to make sure the project is as good as it can be, as cheap as it can be, as quickly as possible.
We talk within the building about how to be more agile and get the most for the budget without jeopardizing creativity or safety. I see myself having more similar conversations with reps and photographers that start with, “We have XXk, what can we get done?” These conversations will make productions move quickly and prioritize creativity and safety.
What about the industry/your job is exciting right now?
I do love the speed at which you can execute things. I love that in 48 hours we can figure it out, put it together and get it out in the world. That’s a result of how connected and collaborative we are. So many people are willing to help each other out.
People are collaborating and not so silohed anymore. Everything’s overlapping and so many different medias in one campaign are all married together. On any given shoot, you’re not longer capturing one print ad. You’re going in getting OOH, GiFs, print, web, detail shots, BTS content, photographer comments for tweeter, generated hastags, model interviews, opportunities to co-brand or create dual ads. It’s a lot and exciting. It can get stressful because you have to know all the potentials going in, and the teams working on one production swells as well.
What at the moment do you see happening in the culture that you find inspiring or interesting?
I love the positive sharing potential of social media. Because we are more connected, we are more aware of events or ideas and thus more willing to take part.
People are helping each other not for notoriety, but out of the good of their heart. It used to be that only a few people could see a problem and try to offer help, but now hundreds of thousands can. I want people to hold on to what good that can do.
If you weren’t an art producer what would you do?
I’d be a production designer on films and work in the art department on a movie. I love seeing how the sets are built in films, especially the details. Notes on a bulletin board in the background. If the character has a messy personality, the coffee table will have rings on it etc etc.
If you could change one thing in the creative industry right now, what would that be?
The timelines. I know that contradicts what I said before, but it’s hard to be creative with sets or locations or props builds, when you have four days. People have great ideas and it’s hard watching over and over these ideas get killed because we don’t have time to execute them.
If you could tell photographers one thing, what would it be?
Shoot what you like and not what you think the industry wants to see.
Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Outside in the sun doing something— I love to do anything outside.. I played sports in college, so I’m a huge busybody.
One thing people reading this would find surprising about you?
That I have 2 degrees in photography.
I am in love with the Marina Del Rey AMC dine-in movie theater. It’s the perfect way to spend a Tuesday night. It’s the most gluttonous thing ever. The chairs are like Lazy-Boys and they deliver booze and food right to your seat.