Amy Yvonne Yu
Art Buyer • Producer • Creative Consultant
Diana Mulvihill: I will introduce Amy by saying that I met Amy at a birthday party where she was DJ-ing. After a brief conversation I realized Amy was that person who can do the jobs of three people in half the time, highly competent. She'll make you some baked goods with chocolate ganache and DJ for you. She is that person. This isn't something that people fail to notice. She has worked with some really big names in our industry such as Peggy Sirota, Todd Selby, Albert Watson, and in her current incarnation she is an in-house Senior Integrated Content Producer at AKQA. Tonight Amy is going to tell us a little bit about what she's done, how she's come to be doing what she's doing now. For those of us who are photographers she's going to give us some tips and she's going to show us some crazy Photoshop pictures of some cats.
Hello. It's the Apple Personal Training section over here so for the next hour I'm going to put you guys to work. I'm not sure what it will be, but it will be really weird. I am Amy Yvonne Yu. My site is virtuallynonexistent.com. I am known as an Art Buyer • Producer • Creative Consultant. I'm going to walk you through all the things that I do. This lecture in particular is more catered to still imagery but I will allude to the other mediums I work in. Then I'm going to do a rendition of West Side Story at the end. Also for those of you on my mailing list we are going to do an Ask Me Anything session at the end where I will choose the winner. There is a special prize.
For this lecture I have asked two people at AKQA to give me a new quote. This is from my Executive Creative Director:
In pursuit of the right shot Amy has MacGyver like ingenuity and stop-at-nothing persistence. She's also Tardar Sauce's biggest merchandise promoter and a delightfully positive person.
-Neil Robinson. Executive Creative Director. AKQA.
To thank him for my beautiful quote I wrote him back.
MacGyver just found these for you. MEOW.
Not surprisingly these have impeccable production value Amy!
Well yeah…Then unbeknownst to him I sent these images to The Selby and this is what he writes back.
Dats my new screensaver!
That's very Todd.
I am an art buyer. What does that mean? Normal people usually think I collect Monets and sell them. Not exactly. I can secure licensing for Monets for ad campaigns. What it actually means is that I curate creative campaigns for advertising. That includes photographers, models, wardrobe stylists, prop stylists, makeup and hair stylists, illustrators, retouchers, CGI artists, typographers, designers, etc. So as you can see from this edited list, and this is only pertaining to still imagery, photography is a small part of it. As I go through this lecture you will see what does that mean when it comes to your promos.
I am also a producer. I actually produce the shoots when it's signed off on budget and on time. I do it for stills, video and experiential. What experiential actually means is weird digital mappings, if you want a hologram I could probably find you one, you want Jesus walking on water; sure, I can make that happen. How much you got and how much time do you have for me to make this happen? Because I deal with video and that has very different needs, I am also looking at directors, motion graphics people, special effects, music, music supervision, sound design and all that stuff. These are all the vendors I deal with across all the different mediums.
As you can imagine, I get an insane amount of promos daily. That's why I sometimes don't get back to you. I'm sorry. It's physically impossible and I'm supposed to only work eight hours a day and I don't. I try to however. And I like to have lunch sometimes. Anyhow, I digress…
I am also a creative consultant. Before I joined AKQA I was freelancing for a year. What that actually means is consulting for photographers, videographers, directors, agents, on who to bring on, what is your career path, editing portfolios and websites, launching new brands actually. Currently I'm a business partner in a new women's intimate wear line. It is a very exciting time because my business partner and I have figured out something that's never been done before. So I think this is going to revolutionize how we look at the women intimate wear category down the line. Also I do a lot of mood boards and treatments for a lot of directors. I am an encyclopedia of imagery and artwork. I can think of imagery pretty quickly.
I've been a photographer since 1997. How that started was because I put myself through college. I've been supporting myself since the age of 19 and I put myself through college. I've been in the music industry as a performer for a very long time, as some of you may already know. Music's always been a big part of my life. Because I did not have money to go to concerts and I was a photographer, and I turned out to be a good one, I somehow became a photojournalist for the music industry. At first I shot a lot of skaters and punk bands and indie rockers because those were the scenes I was hanging out in. These were shot in film, very lo-fi with flash. I do actually print my own black and white photos.
There are a lot of limitations in shooting all kinds of music. If you are shooting The National at a big music festival there are all these rules. This was for my friend Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine. Nowadays I don't shoot music as much because I like to go to concerts and have a good time and not carry a camera, which is quite nice. I don't have to have a camera around my neck all day. Which is funny because my friend Joseph Llanes, who some of you may know, shoots for The Rolling Stones. He and I had this discussion. He goes, "Amy I don't know what it feels like." I said, "You should just try and just go to a show and not shoot it."
From that I worked at ATTIK for a bit. Because of my background in photojournalism the Executive Creative Director asked me to shoot b-roll on the Scion lifestyle shoots. These are some images that came out.
As I said I am very much a photojournalist so I like to document moments that are happening live. Because of the success of those images the client eventually actually hired me to shoot the commercial campaign. This is what it looked like.
However, because most of the images were from an actual shot list, I felt that it was not a good representation of what I'd like to do. From that experience I decided I'm truly just a photojournalist. I have no desire to be a commercial photographer. But because of these experiences I understood I how to be an art buyer and produce big shoots. I understood how to produce really massive shoots with 18 models a day and four locations. That's where it started in a way. Nowadays I get it out by having a blog, which amazingly a lot of you follow (thank you). That's how I get it out of my system. I love storytelling.
I love doing my photojournalism with all my stories. For example this image:
It wound up winning some award for Planet Magazine for their travel edition. This is the behind the scenes story of this amazing image. Albert Watson and his wife took me to my first Broadway show ever this night, which was The Book of Mormon. I laughed so hard my face hurt. Then afterwards my friend Valery Gherman and I decided to walk to the Empire State Building. This is where it's at. There was zero visibility. He goes, "Amy you are not going up." I said, "Why not? We are already here. Have you ever been upstairs with zero visibility?" He goes, "No." I said, "I'll just pay for it." So I paid for it. I paid for it because he's Jewish. And I'm Chinese. Isn't that funny? A Chinese paid for a Jew. We went up and it was actually very cool. It was completely covered in fog. How often do you get to go up to the Empire State Building to see nothing? There was also a bunch of prom going people that night. We were making lots of jokes. It was fun.
These were actually only taken with my iPhone at Versailles. Again a lot of the images on my blog are actually with my iPhone unless it specifies it's shot with film or SLR. My iPhone is always in my pocket and the SLR is not. This is actually shot with film. I still shoot a bit of film. I have a Nikon F2A. It's kind of like lugging a Mercedes around my neck, which is not so fun but makes beautiful imagery. These were shot on slide film and cross processed.
1998 conceptual artist
Now we are going to talk about my conceptual art career and how that relates to advertising. I've been a conceptual artist since 1998. I am a little more intellectual so I like smarty things I guess. What I've realized is that it's helped me in conceptual thinking for advertising. I am going to read you my artist statement. I am very much a minimalist.
I like to examine and exploit daily minutiae. It is not so difficult to do really. To examine, I freeze things in motion. I call this the glacialis phenomenon. To exploit, I use repetition and simplicity to create an illusion of grandeur. I believe it is not what more can you add to make it better; I believe it is what else can you take out to make your concept clear - simple and easy to understand, not confusing. After all, chaos without order is just chaos. So why confuse yourself and others more?
It's interesting because as I went into advertising you realize how quickly messaging needs to read to the masses for it to be effective. In a way my background in conceptual sculpture helped me. I'm just going to breeze through a couple pieces that I've done to show you what I did.
glass bowl, water, transparency, glass
This is the first sculpture I have ever done. It's called "ex nihilo" which is Latin for "out of nothing." It's from my self-portrait series. It's kind of logical because first I'm a photographer so obviously I incorporate a lot of photography in my sculptures. It's interesting because it's just a self-portrait form suspended in water. As you walk around it you see it from different angles.
net force upward = adhesive force* - (density of dye) (height of paper towels) (length of paper towels) (width of paper towel) (acceleration of gravity)
*adhesive force is a function of the width of capillary tubes, surface tension of dye, and molecular properties of paper towels.
white paper towel roll, black liquid dye, white plastic bucket
This is called "net force upward." I'm not going to read the whole title. This is a roll of paper towel with black dye going up it. The title is actually the capillary action formula which I've rewritten. I'm a mega nerd. I can't help it.
white paper towels, white cotton thread, white synthetic yarn
Then I started making really laborious things. I hand stitched all these paper towel scarves with thread. Every time I hang it at a gallery it's different and I light it differently with the gallery light. So it's a play on texture. I've also made paper towel umbrellas. I started collecting them from cabs and hotels that people have left behind. I would hand stitch them with black thread so you can see every single stitch I've made. It's my dream to do an entire room instillation of them. This is just a small selection as I've done a lot of work. "Igniculus" is Latin for "small flame." It was cheeky because it's made of matches and charcoal.
matches, charcoal, tealight, wax
2002 retouching: FatCat Digital
Now onto my other experience in the industry. In 2002 I started working at FatCat Digital, which some of you may know. It's one of the very high-end retouching places on the west coast, $350 an hour kind of a situation. From that job, because of my background in photography, I really understood how to do composites and look at retouching and imagery. At the same time for me that's when CGI was getting really heavy handed. Seeing it from that inception to what we are at now on the post production side of things. I actually didn't do the retouching. I'm not very good at it. I just do minor color balance maybe and some light cleaning up stuff. But I was a project manager so I bossed people around.
Working at FatCat, I got to work with the likes of Eric Almas (below left). He was a retoucher at FatCat. He was also back then Jim Erickson's assistant still. Then the image on the right is by Mark Holthusen who was also a retoucher at FatCat and now he shoots a lot of conceptual stuff. But you know working there has made me look at imagery differently. It's kind of insane. Let's face it; no commercial imagery is not retouched. It's just a matter of how retouched it is. I guess I have a very trained eye when looking at things that way.
2004 agency side: ATTIK, Draftfcb, AKQA
In 2004 was when I started the agency side. I started working at ATTIK, which used to be one of the best design agencies in the world, and turned into advertising because they won Scion. I saw the whole transition of the agency shifting paradigm from just pure design to advertising and all the growing pains of that. I was the Traffic Manager and the Art Buyer, so I ran the creative studio. They had no project manager either so I was also the project manager. Since it was so short staffed I worked on broadcast pieces. I did the art buying. I produced the shoots. It was kind of like here, dive into the deep end. OK. I've learned a lot from that job. I owe a lot of my career to ATTIK I would say. It's still some of the most talented people I have ever worked with. That was great. I was there for almost four years.
Then I went to Draftfcb and I was just the Art Buyer and Producer but for the whole west coast. I also worked on things for the Chicago and New York offices. Then I took a year off to freelance. Now I'm at AKQA. My official title is Senior Integrated Content Producer. I think I may actually have the longest title in our agency. If anybody knows a longer one I'd love to hear it.
To show you a few things I've worked on, this was at ATTIK. For Scion I had to hire the right illustrators to go with the right imagery for cars. All kinds of weird popup illustrations. Lots of car imagery there.
This was at Draftfcb. This was shot with Matthew Brooks. This was for Dockers.
This was shot by The Selby for Dockers and this is our first commercial shoot ever together.
I know this question is going to come up, so I'm just going to answer this for you right now. How did I end up meeting The Selby? He and I have a lot of common friends in fashion. I've been very involved in the fashion industry since the mid-90s. One time I was doing casting in New York and I was having dinner with a fashion editor at the Mercer Kitchen. She goes, "Amy is really funny. Who can I bring along that's also funny?" So Todd Selby came.
Obviously we hit it off because we are total weirdoes. This is what we bonded over. You are going to like this. He was telling me a story he read in The New York Times. There is a Russian cat circus that came into town. What is a Russian cat circus? You can look it up on YouTube. What happened was because they were coming to town and he was dating a woman at the time with a cat, he got two tickets to go on a date with this woman. However during this show, everything went wrong apparently. All the stunts did not go well.
So after that conversation, the next day I'm doing go-sees at my casting. I decided to type in YouTube "Russian cat circus." Bad idea because as the models are doing their thing and I'm supposed to take notes, I started laughing and turned bright red. They were all looking at me very confused. I was very apologetic. "No, it's not you; it's the cats. No really, you're fine; you look great in those pants. Everybody looks great in double pleats…"
So that's how I met Todd Selby. It was through this shoot, because it was so challenging, and so many things were going wrong, I had to be very hands on producing it. Because of that he realized that I am a very tight producer. That is why he calls me to help him out on his work. It was also through this shoot, as I took him to all the weird places to eat that are my favorite; we realized he and I have very similar palates. That is how I became involved for the Edible Selby. I eat all kinds of weird stuff. His palate and I are very similar. That's how it happened.
This is EA Games shot by Jill Greenberg.
This is a really strange shoot. All post production, shot by Moshe and Eddie Brakha in Malibu. My favorite part was the golden toilet, but it's not in this shot. There was a golden toilet for the dogs to drink out of. It's not really gold. It was spray painted.
Now at AKQA, because of the nature of interactive media ,we do a lot of videos online. AKQA is mostly an interactive agency. Obviously the type of imagery I create for them and the content are a little bit different. I also create a lot of experiential things. Right now I'm working on a million things for All Star Weekend in New Orleans.
I did a lot of art buying. I did some fun projects on the side where I art directed some stuffff. I shot some stuff for Interscope Records. It was Keisha Cole. From that experience, I got to meet the Black Cowboy Association in Oakland. I did a lot of cost consultation, estimates, trying to lock down talent for a lot of people. I was very fortunate that people wanted to work with me. It was not slow. I'm now going to talk through the more interesting projects I worked on.
I worked on this for Chris Milk and Kanye West. I got a call or an IM. It was, "Hey Amy, Kanye West called and he wants to scan himself for a magazine cover, I need your help. Can you hop on a call?" "Sure…" It turns out Chris Milk, director that does Arcade Fire, U2, Kanye videos amongst many other things, needed help on how to execute this for print. So I told them the kind of vendors they would probably want to use, this is how much it's going to cost, this is how you go about it, call me back if you have questions. And that was it. This is the outcome of what it looked like.
Then with The Selby I did a few Edible Selby pieces. This was for the Chez Panisse 40.
He and I went to 13 dinners in one day. It was all dinners at people's home included Alice Waters' house and it was a benefit was for the Edible Schoolyard. We went to 13 of them. I actually calculated how much that would have been if we actually had to pay. It was something like $18,000 or $19,000 worth of dinners. It was hilarious because we started at noon from the Berkley Museum. Then we went to house after house after house. Then we ended up at Chez Panisse. When we ended up at Chez Panisse we ended up at Alice Waters' table and Jake Gyllenhaal was the guest of honor. He was standing up at the time elsewhere. I looked at Todd and I said, "I need to take a picture of you right now. Don't move." He goes, "Why do you have that grin on your face?" I said, "Because this picture is proof that you are Jake Gyllenhaal's seat warmer." Then we ended up eating pie at Michael Pollan's house at the end of the night, which is pretty awesome.
There are lots of other funny stories behind the scenes
which are all on my blog. I guess that's why people read it. I have all kinds of weird pictures from Jill Greenberg, Albert Watson, The Selby, and all the weird behind the scenes stories. It's definitely entertaining.
Obviously more Edible Selby pieces we produced. We shot the mushroom forager Connie Green who forages for French Laundry, Chez Panisse, and other places. Kirk Lombard the sea forager.
Now we are going to segue into my next secret Selby project which everybody's been asking me about. I've been working on this since last January. It's the next Selby book. Everybody's been asking me what it is. It's top secret. Now I can talk about it because you can pre-order it on Amazon. It's the Fashionable Selby.
It's the third Selby book. I hope you will enjoy it.
This is actually a guerilla campaign I did for H&M and Maison Martin Margiela, which is actually one of the craziest things I've ever had to pull off besides the shoot I just did last week for Air Jordan. Hurricane Sandy had just hit and this is the Silent Manifesto that was happening worldwide for H&M. They moved this event from New York to San Francisco in a matter of days. It was crazy pants. I helped a friend produce it; I was the headquarter producer. I personally would not have picked up this project, as I guarantee all my work and I could not guarantee this one.
Behind the scenes
Here is some behind the scenes information for you. This was last Wednesday on set. I took a picture of Justin Timberlake and posted it online and everyone freaked out. It's to the point where I was on IM and people were asking how's JT on set? I'm thinking seriously people? You are in this business. If it were actually Justin Timberlake I'm shooting, can I actually release it in the public domain? No. Of course not! Aside from the fact that there's a freaking line in there. It's a cardboard cutout. But everybody thought it was Justin Timberlake and they were totally convinced I was on set with Justin. I just kept it mums the word.
This slide wasn't in the lecture. I just added it on my flight back from New York because I was thinking that you can't post anything you are shooting live. It's proprietary information. In fact, I'm working on so many things I can't discuss for some time. If you are shooting on set or you are a crew member you cannot post this stuff anywhere. It's not cool.
Lots of other weird behind the scenes pictures you can find on my blog
like weird zombie pictures with Jill Greenberg, me on a SFPD motorcycle with five nuns doing this by the way, a female bodybuilder bench pressing me. The Selby got a picture of me asking Alice Waters something insanely funny of Tom Waits at Chez Panisse. Those are all on my blog. There is a picture of me with a 6'8" basketball player. I actually asked him if he could slam dunk me and jump over my head on set. There are pictures of me with Florence Welch and Chuck Close. Really weird stuff I promise you. It's worth your while.
Work & Promos
Now I'm going to talk about you guys that actually shoot and do work and your promos and what it means. Obviously as a curator of content, and a fussy one at that, I think for me the most important thing for me to see in a person's work is that I see you having a clear vision and a voice. Once you don't have that I probably don't want to look at your stuff. I can see it. It's diluted. I've lost interest.
The other things I've noticed is that photographers are their worst editors. It's typically in chronological order or autobiographical order. It's no good. Let me tell you, as a reviewer of your work and as a potential client you have about four seconds before you lose my attention. I've timed this out. I have given this a lot of thought. For instance in an email promo: I see who it's from, subject line, and then I have to unblock the image and actually look at it. That's about four seconds right there. If I don't like it you've been deleted. If I do like it I may click on your link if I'm not familiar with your work.
Once I go to your site, if the flow of your imagery is not smooth I've already lost interest. You have a four second rule to capture my attention before you get deleted. I am unlike most people. I look at every single one of my promo pieces. Today I got 75 in my inbox. This is just a reality of what I do. I get promos from photographers, illustrators, all the agents, directors. You remember that list I told you guys about earlier? I get promos from all of these people. I work eight hours a day. I have client work that I have to pay attention to first. Be efficient. Be good at what you do.
Same thing for mailed promos. I see it in my mailbox. I look at it. I open the envelope. Again four seconds before I toss it into the recycling bin. This is a reality. Have good work. Have a good promo. Be smart about it. Four seconds is about all you've got to capture somebody's attention. Have a great website to back it up and a portfolio. Every step of the way is an opportunity to lose a potential client's attention.
Specifically to photographers' books versus iPads. That's a question I get asked a lot. If I'm going into print I need to see it printed. I need to know that what you're capturing is going to be resolution wise going to look great in a large resolution format. iPads are very convenient in terms of uploading more work and for me to flip through your work and to see your videos. Since a lot of photographers now "direct," I see that a lot because of the change of different mediums and the need for online content. Like I said previously, I do a lot of video nowadays, a lot of photographers turn into directors. Sometimes it works, a lot of times it doesn't. This is why.
There is always a need for a director that shows a lipstick turning and coming out of the base, but are you really directing in a storytelling sense? No. You are a director of Photography. There is a need for that for a lipstick commercial I suppose. But if you are trying to get me to hire you and I'm shooting a lot of documentary style pieces and it's conversation based and I need storytelling, you are not a director. I'm sorry. I see a lot of that. My cat can turn on my iPhone and shoot video. You want to be better than that. Spend a little more time on your storytelling please before you call yourself a director.
On my ending slides from my Jordan team they've requested this. One of my other quotes I asked for my Creative Director Joshua Bletterman. Which is the dude here with his shoe up for our shoot for Air Jordan with Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan. He calls me Yu-Tang now, by the way, which is hilarious. The last time I shot him again he just went, "What's up Yu-Tang?" I was like WHOA. So Joshua Bletterman said, "Yu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin' ta F wit." I kept that PG thank you very much.
That's the end of my presentation. So now to my favorite part. You can Ask Me Anything. I have a prize for the best question for asking me anything. I do mean anything so bring it on.
Ask Me Anything
In your line of work you were wearing a lot of hats. My question is where do you draw the line so you are not doing everything? Also I understand you probably have conflict of interests probably hiring people to do something you cannot. Where do you decide to pass it along and when do you decide to take it on?
That was not one question by the way. I did not NOT notice that so you are not getting the prize. The real answer is having worked at ATTIK; I was very young at the time. I was hungry to learn. I love making awesome things. I never stop. As you can see I still do a lot of stuff outside of work. I crave it. I need to be intellectually stimulated. However, at work I'm very good at telling people hey I don't have the bandwidth for this right now so you need to find somebody else.
For example currently I've bid for a giant stunt for the Super Bowl. I'm working on a million experiences for All Star Game weekend for the NBA and a couple other things. Then I got more requests today for estimates. I just said: my work load is too heavy right now, so I cannot take this on. In terms of conflict of interest I don't really see that as a problem. I think there is some crossover in terms of what program managers at AKQA do and some of what I do. In terms of what I do currently I'm solely a content producer and I curate that so there's a bit of art buying and just dealing with that stuff. I don't think there's too much crossover.
My question is you said you are getting into the women intimate apparel business. What experience do you have in terms of revolutionary technology?
In terms of direct experience starting a brand like this, none. In terms of strategically starting revolutions I have a few ideas. I am very biased however. In terms of women's intimate apparel I think I've been wearing them for some time from a personal experience level, probably since the age of 13 to have an opinion on this. So my business partner and I have decided that this is onto something. She's the one who actually came to me and went, "Hey I want to do this." And I said, "You are onto something." Lately I've been doing a lot of market research in terms of what we want to do and what's not been done and strategically what it means for us. So far it's very exciting. No one has touched this and we intend to do it right. We are going to patent the crap out of this.
Obviously you are working on the cutting edge of digital marketing. What do you think the future of that is? What is the most forward right now?
Interesting question. There have been a couple new thoughts this week as I was using social media. Like how Facebook almost feels like a news company in some sense that those of us who utilize it are reading articles and things off of it like a news channel. I do wonder if a lot of these social media avenues are going to become media companies in that sense. A lot of people are creating content. You've got Netflix and YouTube channels. I don't really know but that seems to be the logical way to go. Definitely a lot more online content. There is too much content so hopefully there is going to be a lot more curators of this content. There is this giant pile of garbage out there and you have to sift through it to get to the good stuff. Those are my thoughts.
Other than the women's apparel being a great project for you what sort of still photography projects have tickled your fancy?
Do you mean personally that I shoot? My blog. I don't know. Here is an interesting story. A college friend of mine, Alex, he and I graduated at the same time. He went on to be the art director at Spin magazine and then at Nylon magazine became the creative director of Vogue China. He and I are still in touch. He said to me once many years ago, "Amy I love your work as a photojournalist. You are brilliant at capturing caught moments. But what does your own stuff look like if you had an idea and you need to execute it with some lights? What does that look like?" I said, "Interesting." I did it. This is when I found that I have no interest in doing that as a medium.
I had some ideas that are super random: that would be cool the way she looks and if it's all white on white and she's just fading out. But those ideas are few and far between. I'd rather focus on my sculptures. I'm much more interested in making things with my hands that way. So I really actually thoroughly enjoy using my background in photography in producing shoots for other people. As a medium of my own, no interest other than photojournalism. So really I'd rather focus on my blog and writing about all the weird stories and things that I see and whatnot.
We are wondering what's the craziest thing you've ever had to procure for a photo shoot?
I've got a few answers actually. A trained polar bear once I had to work on for a bid. This was eight or ten years ago. At the time there was one trained polar bear in all of Northern America. I don't remember how much he or she cost or how much the trainer cost or how much food it needs to get or how big of a Taser you need. That was one that was memorable. Another one that happened on set a couple years back… I was on a shoot and I got a call from an art director. He goes, "Amy I need a picture of a bear with a rocket strapped to its back." I said, "Hold on. What is it for? Is it a CGI bear? Can it be drawn? Is it a real bear in a studio? What kind of rocket do you need?" I am super calm. Those would be the weirdest things I've had to procure or asked to procure.
What are some of the best and worst things that free media vendors can do for an art buyer that's working with you? What are the best and worst things to aid the process?
I'm not sure I understand the question. You mean free media?
Once you finish shooting and you go into retouching or CGI like communication. What are some of the things you value most and what are some of the worst?
Let me take a stab at it. I think you mean after the things are delivered what is…
You work the photo shoot and you said you oversee the retouching and things like that. What are some of the best and some of the worst?
I don't know if I can actually speak to some of the worst things. Maybe if I just take out their names and not disclose them. One of the most unprofessional experiences of my life, it had to do with a very high profile shoot. It has to be one of the most unprofessional experiences of my life. I'm very buttoned up for those people that have worked with me. I tell you what the schedule is. I follow up on it. They completely ignored all of it. It was an international campaign, very high profile with lots of media placement. I just let them have it at the end of the shoot when they called me on a Saturday at 10AM telling me they didn't see my schedule. I just went, "Oh you mean this email I sent you like three times? Let me find them for you again." That was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had.
Some of the best, hard to say… For example last week I just did a crazy shoot for Air Jordan. Things were moving a million miles a minute and honestly I couldn't have done it without the partners I had for the shoot and just being so nimble. To them I am eternally grateful.
If you don't want to bank on the four seconds of getting in front of you what's the best way to foster relationships with the art buyers for photographers?
I would say personally for me it's the work that speaks to me. I don't do bribes. To be frank I can't even really take too many meetings. I don't have time. I barely have time to have lunch sometimes. You could try cold calling but like I said I get about 75 promos a day and god knows how many calls for meetings. I just cannot take them. There's no time, especially if I'm working on projects. Client work is always going to take precedence over any kind of portfolio showing. Really again be very good with work and your promo. Have a strong voice and get it out there.
When you are doing an ad campaign and you hire a photographer most likely you'll also be hiring a producer to produce the job. How does the responsibility split between you and the outside producer? How do you work together as a team?
Traditionally I take on the art buyer role on the agency side. My interest and my loyalty are to the agency not to the photographer. I have to take into consideration of my creatives, what they are trying to do and make sure that my vendor which is the photographer and the producer are executing to those needs. If I absolutely have to step in during production because things are not happening I will. But it's more of a divide and conquer. A producer on agency side and a producer on photography side have different needs, therefore a conflict of interest.
Audience member: I saw your Justin Timberlake cutout last week in the studio. I was wondering if it was you or if you sent a minion in to put the other one next to the men's urinal.
I personally did not make that request. Somebody else did. Funny though.
As a entry level photographer without a formal education, how does somebody like yourself get jobs as shooting b-roll or being assistants on set at all without getting it on paper?
Interesting question. Anyone shooting b-roll. assisting, obviously the rule of the industry is if you are assisting you are not able to claim the work as your own for your portfolio. That's just the rule of thumb. When you are assisting you are being paid to learn from the primary photographer. Shooting b-roll is something else. If you shot the b-roll you were hired to do it. Of course you can feature it. I think for a beginning photographer gaining entry level it's good to assist as many people as possible to learn the business and see how it works. Different shoots have different needs. You can learn them. Then obviously if you work with bigger names that really know their stuff you can learn quite a bit. That's how I would advise somebody in that predicament to try and beef up your career.
How do you see the role of the photographer changing in the next five to ten years?
I don't know. I'm not a mind reader. I would like to think I work on the side with Latoya Jackson's Real Psychic Hotline. I do not have her crystal ball right now on me. In the next five years, personally I can speak to why I cross mediums. I did not see a career sustained in producing only still photography. The days of having $200,000 a day to do a still shoot are long gone. I had one of those in the last eight years. Budgets are diminishing. People want twice as much for half as much. They want behind the scenes. They want social media. They want video. That's just the nature of media driving it. I think what this means in terms of photography, you're going to have to be nimble. You're going to have to be able to produce a lot of content. And you're going to have to be able to do it quickly.
What is your favorite Bukowski novel?
None actually. I don't have one. I haven't read any of them. This quote kind of sums me up. I knew he was a big old drunk. I'm too busy reading like dystopian young adult trilogies right now so leave me alone.
I was wondering if you have a favorite iPhone app for photography.
You guys are going to like this one. I don't know if any of you know who Albert Watson is? He's kind of a legend now since Iriving Penn and Richard Avedon are gone. Now you have Albert Watson. I was doing a shoot with him. This is my favorite app. I introduced it to him on set and he's been addicted ever since. It's Shakeitphoto. I love it. It's funny because I showed it to him on set and he calls me to run over. He goes, "Amy come with your phone. I want to take a picture." The first Albert Watson Shakeitphoto image is on my phone. Then the funniest part about this is I got a call after the shoot. I was in the office. It's nobody I recognized. He goes, "Amy, it's Albert." "Oh hi…" I was thinking why the hell is Albert Watson calling me? Doesn't he have better things to do? He goes, "I've called with a complaint." I think I either turned green or white and just became quiet all at once. I was thinking, "Oh crap…" He goes, "I am now waking up in the middle of the night taking pictures of my faucet and it's all your fault." I said, "Well thank God. But if you sell those pictures in a gallery I want 5%." If you see any Albert Watson Shakeitphoto images at a gallery you tell me right away.
It sounds like you are saying in terms of the role of the photographer in the agency; it sounds like you are saying that the photographer has to produce a lot more work. You deliver a lot more different content. Do you see video motion production companies coming the other way and adding on a still side to their team? Do you see that edging out photographers or do you see there is still a place where a photographer can move up and for the two worlds to coexist simultaneously within the needs of an agency? Or is the third possibility is an agency will just develop their own team and whoever is in-house can create a catalog of imagery they use for the vast campaign?
I've seen all of this that you just discussed. These are my thoughts on it. I've worked on clients where they just pull stills from a broadcast shoot and do it high res for a billboard. It doesn't look good. When you are just pulling a still from moving pictures that was not framed for a still picture it doesn't look good. The amount of retouching you spend on that you might as well just shoot it properly. For me, ideally you shoot each individual medium properly as much as you can. Obviously not every campaign is going to have the budget to accommodate that. But I try to have that happen as much as humanly possible.
In terms of photographers, back to Pete talking about shooting b-roll, it may be smart for some of these still shooters to hit up production companies and team up and let them know this is what I do and see if there is a synergy. Brigitte Lacombe shoots all the b-roll for Martin Scorsese's films and it's synergetic. You can have that. A lot of directors and DPs shoot stills. Some are very good, not all. Some people can do both very well. There are people in both businesses that can do both very well. But then there is definitely a market for one to utilize the other and have that symbiotic relationship.
You are an art buyer and you are in a situation where you can hire a photographer you've already worked with where you know what's happening or you can enter the danger zone of trying someone new. I'm really curious other than obviously having a portfolio, what is it that actually takes you wider, that takes you out of your comfort zone and hire someone new? How does it happen?
Various factors to be considered: budget, complexity of shoot, etc. The thing I saw with the recession. What happened is you have a lot less money to do what you need to do and the pattern I saw during these times is you tend to hire the people that really know what they are doing rather than going with a novice and taking a chance because of the fact that there is so much to be accomplished, there is no room for error. People tend to go with the more seasoned safe bets. Some of the shoots I do are so complicated, there is no way I would even contemplate taking on a chance on somebody very novice.
At the end of the day, if I'm producing a $60,000 shoot or a $200,000 shoot, that's on me. That's on the agency. We need to make it look good. To be able to take a chance on something really complicated or high profile it's hard. I have taken chances on new comers and kind of helped their careers along the way. There is a time and place and the projects for it. You just have to wait for that to happen. I do throw it in the mix. At least minimally my creatives are exposed to the work in their mind. They also know that anyone I put in front of them is because I think they can actually do the work.
Best question prize… I'm going to let you guys choose actually. I don't remember all the questions. Let's see you had a question about how to get in the business. You had a question about me putting Justin Timberlake in the men's room. That's pretty funny. Your question was Bukowski I did not read. That's a good question because you stumped me. You didn't stump me. I was honest. I didn't read any Bukowski but now you all know that I read dystopian young adult trilogies. I guess that's the best question unless there are objections.
There is a story of mine, this gift. Every time I see The Selby he wears a weird kitten shirt. The time before last he was in San Francisco he wore this kitten shirt. Deb Ayerst is the proud winner of this Grumpy Cat shirt. Which I also gave Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan the first time I shot him. He said, "This shit is hot!" It really is.