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Meet Your Makers: Jennifer Siegel


Managing director at Framestore Pictures on producing plays as a kid and how the money will come if you put the creative first

Meet Your Makers: Jennifer Siegel

Jennifer Siegel joined the NY office of Framestore Pictures in October 2014. She has over 20 years experience in TV commercial production and has been responsible for all facets of managing production companies. Before joining Framestore Pictures as executive producer and then being promoted to become its first Managing Director, she was executive producer at Shilo TV where she oversaw live action, visual effects, animation, CG, design, post and editorial. Prior to that, she was executive producer at Tool of North America, where she held various positions since 1997.

LBB> What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?

Jennifer> I always knew I wanted to work in production, starting with producing plays in the neighborhood as a kid. My aunt was an agency producer at Chiat Day\LA so I went to my first PPM when I was in high school! I think I’ve always been a planner and I love film. I never thought of doing anything else.

LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?

Jennifer> My first job was as a receptionist at a production company in New York. I did everything I could while working there to gain experience - I was a PA on nights and weekends, staying late to work with the production team. I think you either have it in your blood or you don’t. I remember my first job as a PA and I was in heaven just seeing my name on the call sheet (even though it was a hidden camera and all I did was sit in the van all day). My brother, who is now in banking, was a PA one summer and he said “all I did was hold a cable all day”. That was literally heaven to me at 22.

LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?

Jennifer> I am naturally nosy so I read every script, every bid I had to fax, and listened to every call I could. I learned from some amazing EPs and I can hear their words in the way I speak to clients today. Three very specific people influenced the kind of producer I am. My first mentor taught me the basics (as well as the fact that producing, even at EP or MD level, is about the team), and my second and third taught me to keep going the extra mile for the creative. It’s not always about the budget - the money will come if you put the creative first.

LBB> Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?

Jennifer> I’ve been an EP much longer than I was a producer, and have a line I often recite that says, “We can’t put a footer on work that says ‘we had to cast this during Christmas, so forgive us if the casting isn’t great’”. You can substitute the words casting/Christmas for art department/budget - it works for a lot of situations that may not be perfect.  But it’s our job to make them perfect. 

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Jennifer> I’m not sure if it’s that black and white. In terms of general skill set, yes, of course. But in the past I’ve worked with digital producers who didn’t know what MOS stood for, which just goes to show that each medium tends to have its own language and intricacies that producers may not be aware of if they have only worked in a particular field.  Producing commercials is a very niche part of the business, but I do believe that great producers are born, not made...

LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?

Jennifer> I love being part of a team. I could never do a job where I’m sitting in an office alone writing for hours on end. For me, it is the perfect intersection of business and creativity.

LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?

Jennifer> At the end of the day it hasn’t really changed that much. When I started we shot on film, the production teams were smaller, the budgets were bigger -- but really we are making short films. We find great casts and locations that help tell stories. The process hasn’t changed,just the tools we use to get there.

LBB> What do you think is the key to being an effective producer - and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?

Jennifer> It’s definitely a little of both, but experience counts for so much as a producer. When something happens on set you learn from it so that you can anticipate it the next time and get ahead of the situation.  I think the remaining 40% is innate - you need to be a natural born leader and a great communicator. If you don’t have both of those skills, producing may not be for you. 

LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?

Jennifer> I was the EP on an American Express commercial starring Robert DeNiro. Martin Scorcese was the director and Bob Richardson was the DoP. When you see those artists work, it is pretty magical. Not to mention, we shot all around NYC - acquiring the permit to shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge almost didn’t happen! Bob is one of the most amazing people I have worked with.  What he can do with a camera is spectacular.

LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?

Jennifer> Framestore worked on an immersive project forLockheed Martin alongside McCann, called “Field Trip to Mars”. It was the first-ever headset-free group virtual reality vehicle experience. Taking the literal shape of a classic yellow school bus, the vehicle was home to an immersive virtual experience that transported passengers to the surface of the Red Planet.  It was the first time any of us, including the agency, had created something that was so untraditional for any brand. It was by far the hardest project I have ever worked on - I pulled two all-nighters the week leading up to the event. But it was also so rewarding to be involved in a project that still gets talked about today.  And the 19 Cannes Lions didn’t hurt either.

LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?

Jennifer> You wind up with a close relationship to your higher power! The Lockheed job was by far the hardest of my career. Everything went wrong - we lost power in the warehouse two nights before the launch and were calling electricians in rural Maryland at midnight! Or another time when a director I represented got into a race car accident three days before a $3MM shoot. 

I find that as hard as it is, honesty is always the best policy. If you are honest with your clients and your team, you don’t get caught in even more tricky situations. Sometimes it’s difficult and you know it is going to be a very uncomfortable conversation, but it’s much easier than trying to cover something up that will inevitably be uncovered.

LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?

Jennifer> I sometimes regret not starting my own company like a lot of my peers. I learned a valuable lesson in the middle of my career: if you aren’t changing and evolving, you will eventually fade. I love working at Framestore, every day is something new - new technology, trying to figure something out that has never been done before. Some days I miss the cereal commercials in the Valley, but there is nothing like the thrill of working in a new world.

LBB> As a producer your brain must have a neverending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?

Jennifer> I try very hard to stop looking at email after a certain time in the evening and even harder not to check first thing in the morning. I would be a difficult person to be around if I didn’t have my SoulCycle bike nearby. Cooking and baking are also great outlets for me - I can get caught up in the kitchen for hours (I just hate the cleaning up part).

LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?

Jennifer> Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As you say, you have to be curious to be a good producer so be nosy! Ultimately you have to be a great communicator - that is the most important skill in producing. And you have to love it. If you don’t love filmmaking, you should work at a bank.

LBB> From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?

Jennifer> Communication will always be my number one rule. You can never over-communicate. Never assume someone knows what needs to be done or how something looks. And as an MD/EP, I insist on producers communicating with me daily. The more we talk about the project, the better it will be.

LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?

Jennifer> I grew up in the industry truly believing that it shouldn’t be an “us against them” attitude with clients. We are all in it together, working towards the same goal. So my two favorite words are communication and honesty. It’s the only way.

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Framestore - New York, Tue, 10 Aug 2021 10:36:00 GMT