Nikki Di Franco, Freelance Art Producer, Shares Her Path To Art Production

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 Nikki Di Franco for agreeing to be part of this series.  Nikki is a Freelance Art Producer who has the unique experience of doing integrated production before there ever was such a thing.  She is up for any challenge and is not afraid of outlandish requests. You can find more about her at her profile on so be sure to check it out and consider her for your next project. 

Here is what she had to say:

What did you “want to be when you grew up?” Are you surprised where you ended up?
I am surprised, not because I didn’t want to do it, but more I was a complete idiot about how things worked in our business when I set out to do it.

I wanted to be a photographer and I wanted to be in advertising. I was dead set on this. However, my exposure to photographers were the guys doing the crime beat for newspapers. (My Dad was a police officer.) I knew even less about actual advertising. I also chose the absolute wrong university to learn anything about either of these fields.

My sheer determination to “be in advertising” was the only thing that kept me moving in the right direction. I graduated and got that job in an ad agency…answering phones. I quickly realized I had no idea what I really wanted to do. Eight long months later, the Print Manager at the agency needed help, and any excuse to stop answering the phones is what led to me being what I wanted to be when I grew up.

What was your path to becoming an Art Buyer and what was the first moment of inspiration when you knew you would work in a creative position?
The agency I started at was small and growing quickly. As a result, I grew quickly with it. I’d been working with the photography after it had been delivered but had yet to be on a shoot of any kind. Then the agency needed to do a TV spot. I was still very junior and we’d hired a freelancer to handle the shoot. I was a sponge for everything that came out of her mouth during pre-production, it sounded so fascinating. She mentioned I should come down and observe. I took my own vacation days, drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and just showed up at the studio, which just happened to be the Universal back lot. What I observed was the most magnificent undertaking I’d ever seen. All the people, all the equipment… the sheer size of it all… Hooked!

I did this a few more times before the partner/creative director called me in and asked if I was going to stop. I told him I wanted to produce shoots; TV, stills, didn’t matter. I just wanted to be on set as much as possible and he agreed to let me do it.

Growing up, what were you creative interests?
I don’t know that I had “creative interests” in the way people usually think of them. I can only say for sure, and this holds true today, when I look at a photograph someone else took, I try to imagine myself in the scenario seen there. I’ve always been a daydreamer and photography is an easy way to indulge this.

Do you have a personal aesthetic that comes through in the photographers work you are drawn to?
I tend to get wrapped up in the project requirements, the client expectations, the creative team’s ideas, the logistics; I’m seeking who best can fill all those needs. Even if I have a personal preference for someone’s work, if I know he/she is not going to be able to hit all of the requirements, I’ll forgo my own desires. When someone I really like does hit the requirements I’m fingers crossed he/she is selected. (If only I was the final decision maker!)

Are your talents being needed in ways that you didn’t expect?
Absolutely. Even more interesting to me, is learning I have actual talent to apply in places I never thought I could. Staff people tend to be regarded as being capable of only doing the job they were hired for. This simply isn’t true. As a freelancer, the projects are so varied. In a given day I could be doing traditional art buying, casting and running talent agreements, drafting marketing communication plans, prepping a TV commercial shoot…and then back to the top.  I’m constantly being pushed to tap into all the experiences I’ve had working in advertising, marketing and entertainment.

How have your life experiences influenced your job choice?
I grew up in San Francisco proper and the surrounding areas. It’s one of the coolest cities with influences from all over the world. I assumed I was very wise and very cultured. However, I’d never really been anywhere else so the truth was I knew nothing about the ways of the world.  San Francisco is its own bubble different from anywhere else. Different places, with different ideals, different cultures, different needs can impact art and the creative process, and how things come to life. I had an opportunity in Miami and I thought, “oh it will be like paid vacation!” Within three weeks the culture shock was so intense I was desperate to get out. I stuck it out and thankfully grew up and learned a thing or two. Miami was also the start of being exposed to how varied art is, and a launching pad to other places. I’ve been fortunate to also live and work in Toronto and Los Angeles before I came to the Mid-west. I’ve met some amazing people and as such get the opportunity to work in cities all over the country and beyond…each one unique and inspiring.

How do you describe your job to your mother or someone not in the industry?
I find, hire and manage all the people required to make ideas come to life. If I’m in a surly mood, I’ll likely say herding cats.

Where do you look for inspiration? Stay inspired?
If I’ve learned anything, inspiration is all around. If I sit a moment, and I’m quiet enough to truly observe, I find it. That sounds really cliché, but I’ve been inspired by a piece of driftwood out of Lake Erie, so try and argue it.  In order to stay inspired, I also know I have to slow the hell down from time to time. It requires turning everything off and disappearing for a few days. It’s one of the reasons I backpack.

If you could change one thing in the creative industry right now, what would that be?
Providing time for our craft. It’s all so frenzied and needed in a moment’s notice.

I love the challenges that come with producing something well, quickly. Those are some of my favorite projects. Technology has provided us with so many ways to accomplish things in a timeframe we never imagined even 10 years ago. This is truly awesome.

Though, how many times have we all joked, “fix it in post”? Fixing it in post is now an integral part of the process. I also think it’s a myth it saves time. Long gone are the days of making sure it’s as close to perfect in the camera as we can get it. This takes away from our photographers and devalues them unfairly.

Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Hiking and/or chasing my 5-year old around. There is a “castle” at one of the trail heads near our house so I can usually persuade her to come with me.

One thing people reading this would find surprising about you?
I’m not as extroverted as I seem. I believe the new terms is ambivert? I do enjoying being around people and socializing. However, when it’s time for me to recharge, I want to cocoon.

If you weren’t an art producer, what would you do?
It took me a very long time in my career to decide this as I never wanted to do anything other than what I’m doing. The experience of thru-hiking the John Muir Trail gave me another passion. If this art buying/producing thing doesn’t work out, I’ll be starting backpacking clinics for women.

Latest discovery?
I’ve been in the mid-west for a while now. I have a few favorite, local “gems” I work with, but still tend to look to the coasts or Chicago. However, I was recently challenged with ensuring we stayed within the region. I had (2) days to source from a pool I thought was very limited. I discovered a number of people from Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Western Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These places are not known as hot beds of high-end photography, yet here were some great photographers doing all kinds of interesting things, oh and for not nearly as much money.

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