I have never met Susan Shaughnessy but when I do I will give her a big hug. She has helped me and some of my photographers produce some really amazing projects (and, I wont mention the challenging ones!). She is always available, never flustered and 100% open to figuring out multiple ways to produce a project if needed. She is resourceful, fast and unflappable. Maybe I will have to give her two hugs!
So, it is with great enthusiasm that we share this post about Susan so that you too can get to know her and maybe have a reason to hug her too!
Growing up, what were your creative interests and what things interested you most that led you to your current position as a producer?
When I was young I was a very good writer, an avid reader and loved to draw. I loved having a clean room and putting everything in its place from a very early age. I had a strong work ethic very early on. I would clean the house, mow the lawn, wash the car and babysit as much as possible. I would do anything to make money each week, and I was a good saver. At 11 yrs old I started my first business painting barrettes in my basement. I would take the painted barrettes to the pool club and sell them for $2. At 12 I sent my barrettes up to my parent’s friends store in Maine, and she sold them there for me. After saving money for several years in babysitting, barrette making, holiday gift money, etc, I invested my first $1000 in the stock market with my parent’s help. Over ten years, the company went public, and I made an 800% return. The process and reward was so incredible to me. These early experiences set me up for life.
Did you ever consider becoming a photographer yourself?
I knew very little about photography until after college. When I was young, we had disposable cameras and simple point and shoots. My college degree was in journalism with a major in Advertising, and I wanted to be a copywriter. During my search for a job in copy writing, I met my first real advertising photographer. He impacted my life greatly at 22 years old, and he ended up helping me buy my first Nikon camera. Although I played with the idea for a moment, I quickly had a sliding door moment. This photographer helped me get a job editing for a stock photography agency one summer to make some summer cash, and this changed my life. I never went back to writing, and photography became my career. I learned I did not have a strong interest in holding the camera, but more so enjoyed the photographer relations that happened behind the camera, along with the business of photography and the collaboration that went along with setting up shoots. I had no idea what a producer was. Several years into my job as a photo editor, a photographer hired me away to produce for him out of his studio in Oregon. He taught me so much about shooting on location, travel, and the business of national advertising photography, and it eventually led to my starting a production company.
How do you describe your job to your mother or someone else not in our industry?
It took years for my parents and friends to understand what I do. The industry, and production in general, is so prevalent now, it’s less of a mystery. But when I was starting out, as I mentioned, I didn’t even know what a producer was. So for my parents and friends, it never made sense. Everyone thought I was the photographer, and some still do. I tell people I am the business partner with the photographer, and handle the behind the scenes and communications needed to make a shoot happen. I try to explain it’s the producer’s job to create a budget, hire a crew, manage the details, create a schedule, own liability and responsibility, and to follow through with billing and a deliverable, among various all else. I think the main thing that people get is, I collaborate with the photographer, as a partner.
What one thing has changed in the industry since you have started that you think makes for a better production experience?
The internet and a digital experience. Some below are redundant :
- All research for estimating
- Communication with all parties to set up meetings, get approvals, have discussions, documenting comversations, agreements, expectations
- verification of vendors
- location ideas
- web deliveries of all casting and locations
- speed of information being presented and delivered
- travel research
- vendor research
- signatures for POs, contracts, releases, permits, anything
- in general – the Polaroid is now a digital file that is approved instantaneously. What used to take days to do, can now be done more efficiently and globally, with or without a client on set.
- I wont go into retouching !
What do you love about your job? What is the most challenging?
What kept me in photography, and what I first loved about it, was and is the collaboration experience. This still drives me today. I love my phone calls, the emailing, my back and forth on ideas, problem solving and the personal communications that stem from the process. I often know my photographers’ families, life stories, ups and downs, the good and the bad days. They are there for me in many ways, and I for them, and the more they trust me, the better I can be at my job. It’s also a great reward when the crew becomes a family, and the shoot is filled with laughs as well as work. Having a great wrap party with the client and agency is always a huge benefit, too. But truly, the relationships that are created between the photographer and myself are what keep this exciting and fulfilling. When I’ve successfully settled into repeat business with a variety of talented photographers who I really care about, that’s when I feel I’ve done a great job, and I love it.
What’s challenging is hearing how a client and agency have worked on the project for a year, and production needs to get the shoot done in 2 weeks on a limited budget with a definite timeline, including a diverse cast in challenging locations that require some travel. This is hard and happens more than often.
What one thing would you want someone looking to become a producer themselves to know about the skills needed to get the job done?
Being resourceful is key – which encompasses being self-disciplined, unafraid to reach out to people and able to use tools like the internet and computers to full extent.
Photographers tend to find a producer or team and use them consistently making it hard for a new producer to get noticed. Do you find that most of your clients are long term? And, if so, how do you handle new photographer requests?
I value my long term clients as discussed above. We become family and trust ensues that is almost irreplaceable. New clients do come my way – mostly through word of mouth or via resources like workbook. With new requests, I try to represent my personality honestly through phone, email and even a lunch or coffee. I don’t meet in person often, but when there is time and proximity, I do so. My presentation is straight forward, honest, casual and light humored. I am very reliable and trustworthy, and need to see projects through successfully. There is a lot of time invested in learning to estimate with clients, as well as building those lasting relationships. I have a great client base working with me now, and it seems to grow naturally and appropriately over time. The main thing for me is the new connection should be genuine and mutually beneficial for both client and producer.
What one thing would you want a photographer looking to partner with a new producer to know about you?
Before deciding to take that producer job in Oregon, and before I quit that full time job as a photo editor, I went parachuting. I felt that if I could jump out of a plane and love it, I could make it as a producer.
What are you known for in the production world?
I think people believe I’m easy to work with and fair. I pay my vendors immediately, and I let people do their work without making it harder. I’m great at delegating, and I don’t need to micro manage people who are great at what they do.
Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
I play a lot of tennis and love bbq’s, ping pong and red stripe. Travel is my greatest reward besides my kid. If I can combine any of these things in a day, this is a perfect Sunday. I definitely like to unwind on Sunday and not work.
IDK. A little bits Korg synth kit I bought for my daughter. A cool zipline adventure park in Sandwich on Cape Cod where you can climb on obstacle courses tree to tree and zip line hundreds of feet between trees.
Might need to think on this…
To contact Susan about a job or just to say hi, you can reach her here.