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  • Katelin Kinney

Producer Bryan Sheffield Q&A

In my quest for learning more details about the world of producers I knew I undoubtedly needed to contact Bryan Sheffield. I became familiar with Bryan and his work via Wonderful Machine. Bryan shared with me details about how he got into producing, his work with Wonderful Machine, and his advice from years of experience in advertising photography and producing.

Q: What drew you to producing and how did you get started in it?

A: Production came to me as a natural progression through commercial photography. I had been a full-time commercial photographer for 15+ years working with clients internationally. Through most of those large projects I was acting as the production company with all decisions and billings running through me. I love working in this capacity where the client brief could turn to execution and all talent, locations, crew, and production support would be within my vision.

This progression led to working with photographers that I had established relationships with on cost consulting and production support needs. The work grew from there to full support for photographers on everything from client conversations, cost estimates, creative/licensing fee advising, and on-set support.

Q: How did you get involved with Wonderful Machine?

A: I’ve been with Wonderful Machine for the past 3 years. As a commercial photographer, I had been familiar with the company for the past 10+ years. Upon relocating to the East Coast I began conversations with our CEO Bill Cramer and Executive Producer Craig Oppenheimer about coming aboard! Wonderful Machine operates to support photographers in any/every facet of their careers. I am on the production team, but glad to work amongst a talented team of photo editors, marketing specialists, and designers. With many past/and current photographers on our staff it’s a unique company that is organized to set photographers up for success.

Q: Generally how much time should a photographer ask for once getting an inquiry in order for them to find a producer to help with bidding?

A: I always recommend responding to the client promptly. After an intake of the client brief/needs, I suggest asking initial questions, and conveying your interest on the project. Within that email some of the questions should be when they would they like to see an estimate, and when do they hope to award the project. Depending on the complexity of the estimate needed (and the photographer’s schedule), I would hope most clients would offer at least 3-5 days for estimate delivery.

To be clear, I see a lot of photographers being awarded a project and then reaching out to producers for help. I recommend that the producer is there from the ground up to be a help with the estimating, creative call, and revisions process.

Q: Normally how quick is the average time period from when a photographer contacts a producer to when the producer delivers an estimate/bid?

A: Again, depending on the complexity of the production, the questions needing answers, and the schedules of all involved, I would say that a 1-3 day turn is reasonable. For what it’s worth, I have seen RFQs sit in email inboxes of production companies, and talent agencies, for over a week sometimes! When that is the case, we use our experience of working on similar projects to estimate responsibly for all location, talent, crew, and travel needs.

Q: As a producer when you're in the role of hiring a photographer, what do you need to see in order to feel confident hiring that photographer?

A: I always want to feel 100% confident when recommending a photographer to a client for a project. The photographer should have a strong alignment to the scope of the project. Above all else, the photographer’s style and specialty should fit the project need. Their location, previous clients, ability to get the job done within the budget we have outlined, and the photographer’s personality all play a part in decision making. No matter how great a photographer you might be, no one will want to work with you again if you make their job more difficult.

Q: What can photographers do to make your job easier?

A: I fully understand that a producer wouldn’t have a job without a photographer/director/designer, etc. That being said, clear/often communication and transparency is king to me! When learning about the project, ask me all the questions you may have! Make all the suggestions you have for shot list efficiencies. The more creative collaboration the better. I want to know all your needs in order to make this project as smooth as possible, and so I can be a help.

Q: What are some red flags you've seen when dealing with a new photographer?

A: Clients and producers want to see confident, charismatic, and enthusiastic photographers/directors.

A few suggestions below based on red flags that I have experienced when working with photographers:

  • Know your value and know your worth. Unlike an hourly contractor, a photographer’s fees are based upon the project needs including final deliverable quantity, use, and duration, as well as the photographer’s uniqueness to a project. Are you the only person that can execute this job well, or are their many others nearby that would also be an appropriate fit.

  • Understand how important it is to clearly direct talent and/or the styling team on set.

  • Understand the importance of conveying your creative decisions and defend those decisions appropriately when needed.

Q: What gets you excited about working with a photographer?

A: I love to work with a photographer that has a unique approach to client problem solving, as well as making their crew/team, and talent feel like this is going to be the best project they’ve ever been involved in!

As a photographer and producer I always want to express gratitude to everyone involved for their hard work and diligence within a project. Saying thank you and paying people quickly goes a long way the next time you reach out to hire that person! I love to see it when a photographer has these same sensibilities.

Q: What should photographers be looking for when finding a good producer?

A: I certainly recommend looking for someone who understands the project, your needs, and how to take the lift off your shoulders so you can focus on the creative needs of the shoot. Find a producer that is the best fit for your needs, and that can help solve your particular problem. That might be a specific location based producer (think an Alaskan mountain expedition shoot, or permitting needed to stage a production at pyramids in Egypt), or someone whom has executed this type of production previously.

Talk candidly about your needs, and budgets, and creative desires! As a photographer hiring a producer, you are the boss and should have absolute trust in the team you’re building.

Q: Do most producers help photographers in the process of bidding/estimating? How is that portion of work typically priced? (hourly/percentage of the project income)

A: Yes, I would say most producers can be a great help when estimating a project. At Wonderful Machine we can be a help in the client conversations, speaking with you to help flesh out your creative needs, and use this info to build a responsible estimate. Where as an agent, or production company might take a % fee from the photographer’s revenue on the project, Wonderful Machine charges hourly for the estimate/consulting help regardless if the project happens or not. Generally this fee is less than a commission could be.

Q: What advice do you have for photographers transitioning from doing smaller self-produced projects to trying to win larger projects that would involve a producer?

A: Just as hiring an assistant, or retoucher is needed on a per-project basis to help your work be at it’s best, find and work with a producer when the project is outside your wheelhouse and you need the support. A producer will have the tools you may need if there is ever a part of a client brief you don’t understand, agreement needing to be reviewed, or numbers for an estimate that are outside your expertise.

As far as attracting those larger clients, my suggestions would be showing the appropriate hiring parties work that not only aligns with their needs, but impresses them greatly. What are the brands you’d like to work with? Who are your dream clients? If Nike, Patagonia, Apple, Marriott, and Delta Airlines can hire any photographer in the world, why should they hire you? What are your unique skills and expertise that can impress a brand? Showcase your skills and uniqueness.

Q: Any favorite production projects you've worked on?

A: There are so many great experiences that set the bar for all future work! A few that come to mind include:

Leading Hotels of the World, Sonnenalp Resort - Vail, CO

Photographer: Bryce Boyer

Agency: Bright Red

Never is there a bad day among the mountains of Colorado!

ConEd - NYC, NY

Photographer Emily Andrews

Agency: Code & Theory

A week long production in the 5 boroughs of NYC was seamless and perfect due to perfect team communications, and surprisingly great weather!

Starbucks - San Francisco, CA

Photographer: Bryan Sheffield

Agency: BBDO

We had a damn perfect agency client, crew and talent communications and production experience over this week long shoot, and a hotel rooftop wrap party that lasted into the morning hours that no one wanted to end.

Q: If a photographer wanted to work with you how should they contact you?

A: The best way to contact me is via email, I’m looking forward to being a help and learning more about the scope of the project, any budget guidelines, and the photographer’s individual needs!


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