So often people want to know the story behind the photographer or the creative on a project, but what about the art producer? Art production is such an interesting job to say the least. The people I know in this position come from such rich and diverse backgrounds and rarely do they follow the same path to become one. Understanding this, I thought it would be fun to host a series of interviews with art producers that doesn’t just address how to get their attention, but instead celebrate the art producer for who they are, where they came from and what is important in their life.
Thank you Cliff Lewis for agreeing to be part of this series. Cliff is Director of Art Production at Droga and didn’t hesitate to write for this blog. I have know Cliff for years and he is always once to return an email and a call which is always appreciated. Ask anyone around and everyone says the same thing, “Cliff is one of the best.” It must be his open door policy and creative ambition. Either that or actually resting on Sundays.
Not all art producers take the same path to their job. Where did yours start and how did you end up as an art producer?
I started in advertising by chance. I answered an ad looking for a “runner” in a very small newly formed agency in London. Basically, the job was to do whatever needed doing in and around the agency.
I responded well to the agency creative environment, made as much of a contribution as I could and I was lucky enough to be around some of the legends of the business. They gave me a small client, I made plenty of mistakes, learned a lot and I loved it.
How does being an art producer differ from your other jobs?
It’s not a “straight line” job. A producer really needs to love what they do. It’s more of a mindset than just a job. They need to be curious and ambitious about ideas. The need to embrace uncertainty, take a chance or two and to run towards a challenge.
What are the most important skills from your previous jobs that transferred over to an art producer?
My first job, straight out of High School was as an Assistant Recording Engineer at Island Records in London. There I learned about collaboration, the value of the artist, to keep going until you get it right and that you cannot always rely on post production to “fix it”
A famous record producer once told me not to trust anyone who tell you that we can “fix it in the mix”.
Did you always know you wanted to work in advertising?
When I was at school, advertising was not even on the radar. We never thought about it as a career. I was on my way to medical school when I realized that my calling was actually somewhere else. It was a little scary but I took a chance.
Did you ever consider becoming a photographer yourself?
Not as a professional. I have always loved the camera and photography but honestly, I was so in awe of the work I was seeing by so many great artists and I didn’t think I could get close. I was moved by ideas. So naturally the role I seemed to fall into was to produce those ideas and to try and nourish and elevate them.
We all grow up with influences that make us who we are today. Can you share one or two experiences that have influenced your art producer style?
Growing up in London during an intensely creative and wild time, I had so many new influences coming at me and I was exactly the right age. It was like being a cultural sponge. Irreverence and bold directions through music, design, type, art, fashion …so many incredible inputs.
I think I learned the importance of having a point of view, a voice, a unique quality that creates value around your idea. Whether it is music, art, design, photography. It’s certainly not easy.
Collaborate with surprising artists, be scrappy when you need to be, never be lazy, remember that every brief, regardless of size, is an opportunity to do something brave and interesting.
Do you have a personal aesthetic that comes through in the photographers whose work you are drawn to?
I just love beautiful, intelligent work. Whether it’s an aesthetic beauty, an irresistible design or a commentary that has a unique quality.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
With so much unpredictability around our industry, I always want to make the smart choice about how we solve the challenges we face. We need to create a sustainable model that offers real value while at the same nourishing the artist community, without whom we are in peril.
What are you known for on your team?
Open door and creative ambition. I believe we can solve anything that is presented to us. And solve it well.
What do you love about your job?
Everyday brings a new idea. How can you beat that.
What one word describes your style as an art producer?
What is your favorite thing to do on a Sunday?