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Meet Your Makers: Jim Huie on Why Problem Solving Attracted Him to Production


Executive producer at Alkemy X discusses producing music videos during the height of the hip hop era and why communication is key

Meet Your Makers: Jim Huie on Why Problem Solving Attracted Him to Production

Jim Huie is a seasoned executive producer, fusing over two decades of production experience across all disciplines with a dynamic, solutions-oriented approach to emerging media. He is the director of production/executive producer and member of the senior leadership team. 

Overseeing live action production across Alkemy X’s global network of offices, he spearheads strategy and execution throughout the entire production process, with a focus on talent and superior production value. Over the last seven years, Huie has been a key player in honing Alkemy X’s creative focus in response to the evolving media landscape, applying the company’s integrated approach to produce original and branded content that resonates with modern audiences. 

Huie has produced commercials and branded content for such top clients as Fox, Mitsubishi, YouTube Music, Buick and BMW. His decades of experience and strategic management skills have been instrumental in the growth and expansion of Alkemy X’s live-action branded content offerings.

After studying film at Penn State, he kicked off his professional career in NYC, learning invaluable commercial production lessons from industry leaders at Crossroads Films, H.S.I and The End. He moved on to spend eight years at SBK Pictures, where he first established his trajectory as an Executive Producer, learning the ropes in all aspects of production hands-on. He joined Alkemy X in 2012, following a stretch  as a co-founder of Accordion Films, a commercial production company based in Philadelphia. There, he spent four years fine-tuning his filmmaking skills while producing the company’s full slate of projects. 

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?

Jim> Problem solving is what attracted me to production. Early on in film school, I was surrounded by aspiring directors, writers and creatives of all kinds. But everyone seemed to struggle solving the logistical challenges that allowed their visions to flourish towards execution. It came easy to me and I realised that that is what producing is and also how much of an impact the producer can have on a project. I ultimately ended up producing not only my own team’s senior thesis film but the films of two other teams as well who needed production help (just for fun). Most of my career has been spent in production. In fact, if you consider reshelving VHS tapes at my local Blockbuster Video to be, “the distribution side”...then I’ve actually never worked in another industry. 

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? How did you learn to be a producer?

Jim> I interned at Crossroads Films in New York in the late '90s. All of the other interns wanted to hang out with the directors or watch showreels. But me? I hung with the old ladies in accounting because no one else wanted to. And I loved it. I disassembled wrap books for them, and photocopied invoices, and did whatever else they asked. I became a sponge.

In doing so, I learned a lot about budgets and how production companies made money. Specifically I saw first hand where projects usually went over budget and under budget. I learned which freelance line producers and production managers were the best, and then I started asking them questions and building relationships with them. Then when I moved into freelancing as a PA, I focused on those relationships and grew my career with the best people in the business.

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?

Jim> Early on, I produced a lot of music videos during the height of the hip hop era. Those videos generally didn’t have a ton of money and they presented good opportunities for up-and-comers like me to LP. One day I was shooting a typical hip hop video scene on a rooftop in Brooklyn. The scene was to feature the artist performing his song to the camera with the skyline in the background surrounded by four gorgeous women—the typical '90s hip hop video formula.

The artist was running really late and the talent refused to continue to wait for him and I can’t say I blamed them. They left. I called our casting director and asked for them to book replacement talent for each role with similar looks. They started working on it and I started biting my cuticles. About an hour later, the hip hop artist arrived with the owner of the record label. I explained the situation and the fact that we were waiting for our casting director to send replacement talent. They took the news well.

Then the label owner (I don't think the label was his main source of income) quietly pulled me aside and asked me exactly what kind of women we needed for these four roles. I showed him the casting pics and within less than 20 mins one of his “associates” arrived on the rooftop with eight women—two options for each role. They were super excited to meet the artist and be in the video. We reworked the shot to accommodate all eight talent and I cancelled the search for replacements through the casting director. Although I personally didn’t solve this problem, and I didn't ask any questions that I didn't want the answers to at the time, this situation illustrated to me that there are a lot of ways to solve conventional production problems. It’s something that has stuck with me for my whole career and I intentionally seek out producers who showcase fluidity and flexibility during production. I don’t rehire people who limit themselves to industry norms.

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?

Jim> I agree with that in principle. Producing is organising, problem solving and communicating. It’s glorified wedding planning (or maybe wedding planning is glorified production). 

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

Jim> We don’t have real jobs. We get special privileges to do special things and we get paid to do it. We get to fly on airplanes to special places that most people only dream to visit. We get special permission to shoot in awe inspiring places where the police actually work for us. We not only get to meet celebrities, we work with them. And we get to see our work on TV a month later. It’s the greatest job in the world.

LBB> How has production changed since you started your career? And what has stayed the same?

Jim> The things that we need to communicate, and the reasons why we need to communicate them have always remained constant. The ways in which we communicate, and the timing of that communication, have changed dramatically through shifts in technology and the ways in which we’ve adjusted our workflow around that technology.

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?

Jim> Communication is the key. I think it’s learned but I think it’s learned early on in life. I think the best producers are smart but more than anything, likable and approachable by all. They need to be able to communicate well with anyone. They need to be just as comfortable in a boardroom talking to millionaires about an idea, as they are thoughtfully asking a mentally ill homeless person to move out of our shot for a few minutes. I think that we’re mostly products of our environment, so I look for producers who have lived a less sheltered life. Think public school, not private school. Someone who has friends of all shapes and sizes and colors and who can talk to anyone about anything.

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

Jim> I have two.

I produced a pretty complex project for BMW when they launched the 4 Series. We had two crews working simultaneously on both coasts. We essentially staged kidnappings of two BMW superfans, blindfolded them, and took them to undisclosed locations where we awarded each of them a 4 Series BMW—the first two cars to be released in the country. We took them to racetracks and followed them for the weekend with doc crews while they each posted on social media about their experience. We needed the reveals of the cars to happen at exactly the same time so that the images of each car/experience went public together. This job had a lot of unique challenges. Two Directors, two shoots, happening simultaneously…and two really fun kidnappings.

I also produced a fundraising film for a non-profit organization called Project Home, whose mission is to end homelessness. We produced a documentary about homelessness and focused on individuals before, during and after, their interaction with the program. I spent about a year filming the homeless on the streets, as well as bringing them into the system and watching them transition through it. I learned a lot about life and people and the film made a difference in the world by attracting funding from sources it had never seen before. I also met Jon Bon Jovi. 

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?

Jim> We were shooting a Christmas spot in October in a quaint town with a busy Main St. Our entire shoot was to happen on the sidewalk in front of a group of storefronts—real Frank Capra stuff. We secured a $200 permit from the town to occupy the sidewalk and got permission from all of the stores on the block who also agreed to location fees. The morning before the shoot, we were told by the permitting office that the Town Council was pulling the permit because our crew size was too large, parking would be difficult, and a few other concerns that would have been easily addressable had they simply engaged in open communication with us.

We pushed back and were told that it was a done deal but that the Counsel was actually gathering for their monthly meeting that night which was open to the public if I wanted to come plead my case to them. At that point, it was too late to cancel our shoot or to move it to another town. Cancelling the shoot would have created a loss of nearly six figures for our production company which is something that the Counsel wouldn’t believe, understand, nor care about. So speaking at the Counsel meeting was our only chance. I went to the meeting like Ren McCormack in Footloose—my notes in hand, ready to wow an inspired crowd. Instead I sat and listened to each department head read their extremely boring status reports to the 10 person Counsel.

The board was pretty much split 50/50 on every topic which is why nothing ever got done there. But when the Dept of Recreation said they wouldn’t be able to open the public pool the next year because of a lack of funding, I noticed that almost everyone on the counsel board was bummed about it. Still the meeting moved forward without any action on the topic. Finally the floor was open and I spoke about our shoot. Immediately it was clear that most people on the board didn’t want the shoot to happen and I was quickly shot down. But before they officially voted, I asked the Counsel to consider increasing my film permit fee to $5,000 to allow them to open the pool the next year, and they unanimously agreed. Some would call that bribery. I call it producing.

Had the initial permit fee been $5,000 I would have gladly agreed to it and the Counsel wouldn’t have rejected the permit. But we didn’t really communicate until that night. 

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

Jim> I just want people to be happy and make a difference in the world when they can.

LBB> As a producer your brain must have a never ending to-do list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?

Jim> The trick is to get the to-do list out of your head and into whatever To Do List app or notebook you like to use. I use the app, Todoist, but there are several good list apps and none are really any better than another. The important thing is to immediately jot down the action when it’s in your head.

Sometimes I feel like a Triage Nurse in an ER. At times it’s all you can do to just organize what needs to ultimately be done when there’s time to do it or to delegate it. In those moments, you need to stop doing and just focus on the triage. Then bang through the list in the hierarchy of importance when you can (a good list app will let you easily rearrange the hierarchy). I spend most of the work day looking at my to-do list or my calendar. It gives me calm at the end of the day to just review everything on the list one last time. That last review affirms for me that everything is under control and that I have a plan for completing each item.

I’ve grown to learn that only then am I able to switch it off and focus on the life part of the work/life balance. By choice, I generally don’t relax on a regular basis. I’m just not that guy. I try to take one vacation each year with the goal to do absolutely nothing. That’s the only time that I truly relax, completely disconnect, and refocus. Normal people don’t like to go on vacation with me.

LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?

Jim> I love learning new things and new solutions to old recurring challenges. I also like seeing creative personnel do new and interesting things with the tools that our problem solving solutions provide to them.

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

Jim> Find a mentor, or mentors, and ask a lot of questions. Stay engaged during every opportunity you’re given. If you’re a PA, do your job as a PA. But don’t just do that one thing and then check out during down time. Stay engaged in every aspect that you can, ask questions of other crew in other positions and learn about other parts of the process beyond just what you’re being paid to do.

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

Jim> Clients who are engaged through the entire process of the project and offer good feedback and direction. A director who is energised and creatively stimulated by the project, who knows what they want and how to communicate it to the team who can help them capture it. And producers (from both client/agency and the prod co) who are working together for the common goals of the project’s creative.

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

Jim> Clients need to pay attention. They need to be engaged in the process and offer good meaningful feedback to the production team who are working their butts off for them. They can’t blow off meetings and calls in prep and then stare at their phones in video village on set only to ask to ‘see playback again’ when we ask for their feedback. They’re the clients. They can do what they want. But I’ve had a lot of great clients on great projects and those are the ones who are engaged. They talk a lot, but in a good way with clear and meaningful feedback. They’re pros. On the flip side, those clients need to be heard, and feel heard, by the director and the rest of the production team every step of the way. They’re entrusting us with their ideas and they need to know that we’re energized by them and working towards the same goal as them.

LBB> Producers are naturally hands on - they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?

Jim> Well first off, I obviously like to hire and manage line producers whom I trust and with whom I have a long standing relationship. Apart from that, I like to stay involved in the location scouting and casting process at the beginning of the project. That’s normally around the time that I‘m onboarding the LP anyway so it’s easy for me to see it through or at least do so with them. And those two components affect the outcome of a project more than any other two.

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Alkemy X, Thu, 06 Jan 2022 09:03:00 GMT