I have had the pleasure of working with Lisa Maria Cabrera, producer and owner of Tenth and Hudson only a few times but I do hope we get to do so again. She is resourceful and professional and always had a good sense of humor when it came to all the changes that were thrown at her. When she and I recently connected on another matter, I asked her if she would like to be featured on our blog. She was more than happy to answer my questions.
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.
Straight out of college I took a job in marketing because it paid well and sent me to the LA area. I quickly realized that I was not meant to work in a corporate office, in a cubicle, in that environment. With only similarly depressing options available for job #2, I made the choice to move back home, regroup, and dedicate some time to figuring out what my future plans were. Luckily I happened to find a documentary production looking for help with a feature documentary that they planned to film in Cuba. I’m a first generation American, and my parents came from, you guessed it, Cuba. What a great opportunity this would be for me to try something new and also head to Cuba, as I still had some family there. So, I told a bit of a lie when I reached out to the production and told them that by “sheer luck” that I was going to be there while they were filming and would be MORE than happy to help out for free… you can see where this is going. They said yes, and I bought a ticket to Cuba, and suddenly I was working alongside the local line producer. I did everything; location scouting, pre-interviews, etc., and in a very short time I became the bi-lingual production coordinator. I knew instantly that production was what I was meant to do in life; I was happier than a pig in shit!
Growing up, what were your creative interests and what things interested you most that led you to your current position as a producer?
As I was growing up, my family always joked that I was meant be a school teacher because I have a tendency to be bossy and feel most comfortable in what others would feel are chaotic or out of control situations. While the latter part is true, I can’t say I’m totally bossy, simply because I too get bossed around quite a bit, and well that’s just a part of the collaboration process that I truly love. While that portion of the job fulfills all that left brain stuff for me, I’m also a fairly active artist on my own, and have been drawn to the arts since I was young. From an early age, when I wasn’t figure skating I spent all my free time either building sets for the school plays, or throwing clay in the art room, or doing crafts with my niece and nephews. As I began to learn about the various roles of department heads in production, it became abundantly obviously that I had found a sort of symbiosis of both job and mind; bossy pants meets love for creating.
Did you ever consider becoming a photographer yourself?
No. I don’t even like taking pictures. Can I appreciate a beautiful image? Absolutely, but I’d much rather be a fan, an admirer or an evangelist for a photographer. It’s not my calling, and as you mature in life, knowing yourself, what you like and what you’re good at is very very important.
How would you describe your job to your mother or someone else not in our industry?
Hahaha, that’s a great one, as no one ever seems to get it at first. The conversation always goes like this:
“So what do you do?”
“I’m a photo producer.”
“Ah, so you take pictures!”
“No. I organize and help put together the shoots for the photographer.”
My mother didn’t understand it for years, until she finally got to visit one of my shoots. I happen to be shooting for AT&T in Atlanta, where my family lives, so she and my father stopped by. The next thing you know, my mom is on the phone calling all her Cuban friends, telling them how I was running the whole thing and that they should come by to see. I of course had to tell her that was not going to happen to which she replied, “but I’m just so proud of you and I want them to understand what you do.” That was a great moment.
What one thing would you want someone looking to become a producer themselves to know about the skills needed to get the job done?
You really have to have the temperament for it. It’s hard to really say what it takes, because it takes SOOOO many different skill sets, none of which I think can be taught on the job, rather you already have them and you’re simply being groomed. So you either ARE or ARE NOT a producer. That’s how I knew it was for me.
If I had to boil myself down, here’s what we’d end up with:
Producer: a workaholic that loves traveling, obsesses over details, enjoys organizing EVERYTHING, never accepts no as an answer, has an unhealthy desire to pull off the impossible, can get yelled at, praised, criticized and lauded and have the same emotional reaction… “what’s next?”
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?
Absolutely. I have worked with some of my photographers for over 15 years. That’s good and bad, and for the same reasons you just said. I think you sort of find your tribe in the same way a director finds a crew. There is safety in consistency, especially in regards to work expectations, work relationship, problem solving, etc.
However, you have to shake it up. I love to work with new talent, especially young photographers (young to the photography game, not necessarily age) who ask me to work with them. It’s great to be able to embrace a new and exciting point of view, but to also help guide them on how best to accomplish their goal within the confines of the agency/client relationship, which can often times derail a career before it starts, if not handled appropriately. However, each photographer I’ve worked with is so incredibly different and unique in how they approach their imagery from the next, that I really truly get excited to see that. It’s always an honor when a photographer or rep reaches out to give me an opportunity to bid for them.
What are you known for in the production world?
I think I’m known for pulling off the crazy: 300 people, 3 days, check. 10 shots, 4 locations, 1 day, check. 4 different countries, 1 week, check. Producing while in labor with my first child for 36 hours, check. My partner wasn’t happy about that last one.
Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Hiking in the Angeles Crest mountains or eating Blueberry Ricotta pancakes at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. If I could do both in one Sunday, my heart might just explode.
Screeners. My partner’s in the DGA and they send him screeners every awards season, the lucky SOB. I still find myself dumbfounded that movies just show up at the house like some UPS fairy godmother. Really good movies too, that we may or may not have just paid $40 to go see in the theatre or maybe aren’t even in the theatre yet. For the first time in my life I think I may be in the wrong industry!