I met Monica Zaffarano for the first time at an event in Chicago that I was speaking. I knew right away that I wanted one of my photographers to work with her. She was smart, friendly and totally with it. She knew everyone in the room and her smile lit up the room. Well, when we finally did work together she did not disappoint. Just like when I met her, she was a powerhouse.
So, it is with great excitement that we share this post about Monica in the hopes that you too can get to know her and consider her for a project.
Being an on-set producer is such a unique position. You do not really learn about it in college and many tend to discover by means of another job. How did you discover what the role entails and how did you know you wanted to hold this position.
Organically would be the first answer that comes to mind. I decided to become a producer after life’s many chapters led me there. I had been working in the industry for most of my adult life but on the other side of the camera. At some point, a seed of discontent began to grow in my belly. I became keenly aware of the “family” of people that made it all come to life on the opposite side. They were the ones I wanted to hang with!
In short, life led me to my current career. So when the light went on, I truly had that “aha moment” and everything made sense. I learned much of what I know about producing by actually doing it. When I look at estimates I created at the start of my career I see how clueless I was on so many levels. While that is a dangerous way to begin a career, I got lucky. I learned quickly being deeply immersed from the start.
I do feel my nurturing side suits the career of producer and I strive to make sure everyone has an enjoyable experience on my set.
Growing up, what were your creative interests and what things interested you most that led you to your current position as a producer?
My first career was a professional dancer, followed by several years as model & actress. I’ve always gravitated towards creative fields and creative people. I’ve worked as a painter, a personal assistant in addition to producer/director/dancer/bookkeeper of a large stage show I dreamed up (we filled a 300 seat house…but that is a whole other story). In retrospect, it all makes sense. Every turn in my path, every step I took led me to this exciting, challenging and awesome career.
Did you ever consider becoming a photographer yourself?
I love shooting pictures and people seem to respond to my view but I don’t have the desire to be a photographer, I shoot just for me and usually Instagram is where my images live.
How do you describe your job a family member or someone else not in our industry?
I describe my job in short; I am caretaker, plumber, truck driver, accountant, super woman, therapist, entertainer, pack mule, travel agent & general problem solver. I often feel like a juggler in a many ringed circus. Sometimes that leads to more questions and sometimes the conversation switches to the weather.
What one thing has changed in the industry since you have started that you think makes for a better production experience?
Perhaps one thing that makes for a better experience in the business of producing is the birth of the estimating software called Blinkbid. Thank goodness it seems to be more the norm. It streamlines the conversation with reps and photographers when creating bids and producing the myriad of revisions we typically need to do.
What do you love about your job? What is the most challenging?
My job is never the same. Every time I put a crew together, a new dynamic has been created. Each time I will have new set of circumstances to handle, a new client and even a new city. Change is one of the things I love.
The challenging piece for me is keeping balance between work and my personal world. It’s always a little tough to say “no” to projects. When I get a call from a photographer I adore or someone I’ve always wanted to work with, or simply a project that sounds intriguing…of course I’m going to say “yes”. Even if I’d planned to keep time free to breathe, I still say “yes!” I do realize it is a very lucky problem to have and I don’t take it for granted.
Additionally, I now live in two cities, which seems glamorous, however I am on a plane every other week and that disrupts all personal routine. As a note, I am writing this while flying from Colorado to Iowa, followed by two more states for a shoot. Four states in seven days, I love what I do J.
What one thing would you want someone looking to become a producer themselves to know about the skills needed to get the job done?
Job requirements are: you must love people, be able to multi-task and be cool under pressure, but its imperative to check your ego at the door. Being a producer isn’t about you, it’s about everybody BUT you.
Kindness and compassion go a long way, treat your crew well and they will go that extra mile for you. Many of the photographers and reps who hire me are repeat clients. A certain trust is built when you work with the same folks. You get to know their likes and dislikes and their work – flow. In this extremely fast paced business, the efficiencies found in the familiar, helps the process.
I have had the fortune to mentor some young up and coming producers. My first advice is always, slow and steady wins the race. Some heed that advice and are building solid futures and some choose to ignore it. In the latter case, I have known a select few to make some critical mistakes along the way and the fall out is that it will take time before those hiring ring again.
The bottom line is, learn the details and learn them well because sometimes you won’t get a second chance. Take it easy and build your knowledge slowly.
You can always learn something from everyone. When the opportunity presents itself, work as a PA. Watch and learn as everyone has their own way of doing things. Slowly you will build “your way” but it can help to see the variety of other ways people do things.
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 love working with photographers I’ve worked with before. To me, that is the highest form of flattery. Most of mine are long-term, repeat clients.
Opportunity will always happen for up and comers – do good work and build your reputation. The word will get around. When a photographer calls and I am not available, they’ll typically ask me for reco’s. I will always suggest producers I know but have also suggested producers I’ve heard good things about from crew even though I’ve never met them. I trust my crews and word gets around.
I also love working with new people. I am often surprised how my name floats around. I get calls from people in other cities or overseas who say they’ve gotten my name from an Art Buyer or photographer or rep, and it may be someone I’ve never worked with. Word travels, so create your “A” game as the reputation you build is what will keep your career sustained.
What one thing would you want a photographer looking to partner with a new producer to know about you?
I like creating an enjoyable experience for not only my crew but also my clients. To date, I feel pretty content with the reputation I have built and the respect I have from my colleagues. Most people in this town know me or know of me so just ask around. I have a great amount of love for my community, most all who know me, know that.
If you are at all interested in getting to know Monica or hiring her for a project, you can reach her here.
What are you known for in the production world?
I have a great amount of respect for every cog in the wheel of a production. After every wrap I put a shout out to everyone I hired – in my mind, every single person on my set has contributed to the success of a project. Besides getting the job done well and having happy clients, I truly hope this trait is what I am known for, respecting and caring for my production and all involved.
Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Sleeping. Resting. Having the phone being a little more quiet than normal. Unless of course, I am working on a super fun project which requires a Sunday work day!
I have discovered a strong desire for directing. Just another feather in my cap, I suppose! Every challenge before me, every new chapter I begin makes me a better producer and a better human in the end. So stay tuned!
And, thank you Andy Mahr for the cover shot of the dog!