Michelle Chant is a freelance producer who has worked in our business for many years. We recently had breakfast in NYC and realized that since she was freelance, she would make a great addition to our blog team. We brainstormed ideas and decided to start with our Art Producer Insider Interviews. She loved the idea of celebrating the art producer for who that person was, their background and their interests; rather than asking them the typical marketing questions.
The obvious first interview was Sheri Radel Rosenberg. Sheri is a freelance art producer as well as a blogger of all things interesting and trending. Michelle and Sheri both grew up in Philadelphia and knew of each other, but never met. So many people suggested they meet over the years, Michelle immediately thought of Sheri for the interview.
These girls from Philly really hit it off and had a lot to discuss over breakfast one morning, just before Christmas.
We did not grow up in a creatively inspiring place. Growing up, what were your creative interests?
We went to a very traditional high school and I was kind of on the periphery of the popular crowd; I was artsy. I was reading the Village Voice in 9th grade. I guarantee I was the only person at Washington High School with a Comme deGarcon outfit.
( I agree!)
I took art classes at the Moore College of Art every weekend. I thought I’d be a fashion writer or illustrator, I was obsessed with the NY fashion scene. I read Vogue at a very young age.
What influenced you?
My aunts and uncles were young and very into music and I was always a girl who loved music. Music always shaped me and influenced my style.
When I was a little girl my mother got WWD, my grandmother had a clothing store, she was very chic, she had lots of fashion books and wore the most fabulous, outrageous clothes, she was really something. I used to draw pictures from the Times society column, Philadelphia wasn’t glamorous enough for me.
Did you always love photography?
I was very into fashion photography, my obsession was always fashion.
You’re like a millennial with the ’forward slash’ career: producer/writer/blogger. How does that give you an advantage in work and life?
I don’t think they really connect professionally. Having worked in trend forecasting helps me as a producer, I’m able to look at what’s coming. I really like creating the looks for photography and doing the right research – I don’t want to show AD’s anything they’ve seen before. A creative I worked with at Anomaly really pushed me to show him new things. What are you going to show them that they haven’t seen? I like that challenge. The research, writing and trends inform that. A few years ago there was a lot of talk about being a “generalist” and how great that is. Now I think its swinging back a bit, I see more of a need for “specialists”
Nobody at an ad agency wants to hear that you do different things. If you’re an art producer they don’t want to know that you can write. They’re very separate for me. The right creatives like to see that I have a blog but they’ll never see me as a writer. I’m not a copywriter, the writing for me is ghostwriting or doing website copy.
Is your working style different than when you first started?
Yes, 100%. When I was younger I lacked confidence. Now I know what I’m doing so I have more confidence and conviction, I’ll voice my opinion more freely, and I don’t freak out as much.
Working at Crispin taught me a lot, leaving New York and working with people not from New York, they handle stress differently. It’s less outward, more Midwestern. I learned to channel stress in a different way, to keep it calm and low key. I think as a producer it’s important to be the calm ship in the harbor. At a certain point, I learned to let go of certain things that you can’t control. I now have a more spiritual approach. In situations that get very heated I try to sail above it and not take things as personally as I used to. And I fight for what I believe in. I know when to give things up but I will fight for the right things.
Where do you look for inspiration? Stay inspired?
I’m online all of the time, I’m wired to look at everything and take it all in, I’m very exhaustive about living life that way. I do look at magazines. Walking the streets of New York is my true inspiration. Living here inspires me in so many ways.
How do you describe your job to your mother or someone not in our industry?
It’s so hard – a diplomat, a politician, a producer, a mixer, you’ve got to do it all. Good producers are intuitive about people’s personalities. You have to get people to trust you and you have to interpret them very quickly, especially as a freelancer. You’ve got to learn how to read people fast
If you could change one thing in the creative industry right now, what would that be?
I think I would change this whole us vs. them thing that’s happening. (This is in regards to hiring less-expensive Image Brief or Instagram-based photographers) Some agents are up in arms over this. The world has changed and you can’t approach projects the way you used to. I wish people would just adapt and not fight it. There’s nothing wrong with places like Image Brief – there’s room for everyone in the business.
Some agents think it’s taking away from the photography. To me, the fact that creativity is more democratic now is wonderful. There will always be room for professional photographers.
Our jobs are harder than ever. A way to look at it that reps might not understand – there is so much media and so much content that needs to be made. It’s not that anyone wants to shortchange the photographers; it’s just that the budgets need to be stretched even further. (But the exposure is greater too.) I adjust my rate at different agencies; I don’t get paid the same at every place. I will fight for photographers; I do want people to be fairly compensated.
(Well two things, actually!)
I’m also tired of hearing art producers saying that “print is dying” because it’s just not true. You can’t think about it as print any more, it’s all photographic assets and photography is more popular than it’s ever been because of the proliferation of Instagram. In a larger sense, in a social anthropological sense, photography is the way we document our lives more than ever. Why would that ever go away?
If you could tell photographers one thing, what would it be?
Know the importance of that first creative call with the agency. I can’t tell you how many brilliant photographers have blown it on that call by being ill prepared or just coming off as too crazy. That first call is not only a barometer of your enthusiasm for the project, but also a chance to see if there’s a chemistry fit – nobody wants to be stuck on set with a complete cuckoo bird, unless of course, that cuckoo bird is very charming. You get the drift. Mind that first call, friends. First impressions mean more than you know.
What at the moment do you see happening in the culture that you find inspiring or interesting?
I find the democratization of creativity to be really amazing. When people like me can have a blog and have people reading my stuff and when Instagram can be a great form of expression for someone who may have previously been shy about their creativity, the world is a better place. There’s nothing to fear about this. It’s a wonderful thing, truly and still allows the professionals plenty of space to work, play, and hopefully, collaborate
Favorite films, books, music, fashion designers?
How much time do you have? There’s so much to say here. A recent favorite film was “Only Lovers left Alive” with Tilda Swinton as a vampire living in Morocco, but I also admit I have a soft spot for dumbed down humor. “Hangover 3” made me laugh (Chow at his best), and Chris Elliott’s “Cabin Boy” is a movie my husband and I bonded over early in our courtship
For books, I don’t read nearly enough but really enjoy Gary Shteyngart and am obsessed with rock biographies and books about pop culture moments in time. I recently devoured “Champagne Supernovas” which chronicled the 90s ascent of Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander McQueen. Amazing story accompanied by many fabulous photos by Corinne Day, whose take on “real” was revolutionary and still looks amazing. I can’t wait to read Viv Albertine’s book, which is sitting on my nightstand waiting to be cracked open.
For movies, Marie Antoinette. I love the look of it mixed with modern music, it’s perfection.
For musical accompaniment, I consider myself a music geek but everyone knows Keith Richards and the Stones are my numero uno. But also I love so many genres and eras, it’s hard to even put it into words. In terms of newish music, I like anything a little bit psychedelic like Tame Impala. I think they’re lovely.
Fashion designers? Chloe, Celine, Isabel Marant, and vintage 70s for the most part and anything that feels rock and roll and cool. I am particularly in awe of Dries Van Noten and Marni for always bringing a sense of the avant-garde to their collections- though my style has become more spare and minimal of late, I’m an art schoolgirl at heart
I’m intrigued by a recent field trip I took with two girlfriends out to Flushing, Queens – it’s a largely Korean area and we found some fabulous skincare and makeup shops selling Korean brands (Korean skincare and cosmetics is a huge thing) and amazing BBQ.
In terms of photography, I have become a late to the party fan of Janette Beckman, who perfectly captured cool Britannia long before Liam Gallagher did.
In terms of perspiration vs. inspiration, I am obsessed with Pure Barre– amazing full body workout that gets harder every time you do it. (Just like making ads.)
And, how was the White House Hanukkah party?
It was ridiculous. I thought there would be Jewish luminaries there like Jerry Seinfeld and Seth Rogan, instead there were Rabbis from Topeka, Kansas . They were all crowded at the food like at a bar-mitzvah. (There were no fabulous Jews??) Not a single one. We thought maybe we saw Emmy Rossum. It was nice to be at the White House during Christmas, though.
As an aside, check out Sheri’s amazing blog post about her time at the White House. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the ride!