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Meet Your Makers: Veronica Diaferia

Meet Your Makers 362 Add to collection

Founder/EP at tinygiant on her love of craft and how she wants her production company to always to be associated with taste, talent and guts

Meet Your Makers: Veronica Diaferia

tinygiant founder/EP Veronica Diaferia was born the night of a pivotal World Cup qualifying soccer match between Italy and France. She has always considered it an omen of her future success and sense of timing. The Italian doctors had a different opinion and from the get go told her mom “that girl is a pain.”

Veronica fell in love with New York when she moved to the US to pursue her directing career in 2003. Despite winning several awards for her first documentary, she quickly realised her talent was in production. Getting an early start at Hungry Man as assistant to the EP, Veronica moved up the production ranks and became a producer. Since then, she has worked with major production companies on national and international spots, and with unrivaled directors. After a decade in the field, Veronica sought to create her own production company that could fill the voids in the industry, and tinygiant was born. Known for her unstoppable work ethic and taste for a challenge, Veronica is a proud mum who calls Brooklyn home. It turns out the doctors were right. She is a pain, but she says a tinygiant needs to elbow her way into the world or else she’ll have to sit and watch others have all the fun.


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?

Veronica> My father was an agency creative in Italy. He’d take me to his office and to set as a child. In my mind, there was no doubt that set life was far more interesting.  


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? 

Veronica> As a college student, I started as a runner and I never looked back. This line of work is the only one in the world where your education or where you come from truly doesn’t matter when it comes to ascending in the industry. Set life is ‘Hey kid, empty that garbage bin, will ya?’ - ‘Go get some dolce, triple non-fat lattes half without whip half with extra for the agency’. And if you do it right, and with a smile on your face, you’re in. You can literally go from being the PA driving the producer home from set to being the producer who thanks the PA for a ride home from set. I find it humbling and amazing.


LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?

Veronica> Doing it. No other way. Of course some of it is learning by seeing how others do it, but it really is a medium 'mastered' through practice. With that said I do believe certain people have a proclivity for producing over others. I now look back and realise I’ve always been a producer in one way or another. Whether you’re organising a group study, a party, commercial, or film, the skillset is the same. It’s about working with people, putting them in the best position to perform, and doing so while managing expectations, while basically trying to make sure the whole thing doesn’t explode in your hands. Either you're into this sort of thing or you aren't. That’s really the question you have to ask yourself when you start to study the craft of producing. 


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?

Veronica> Oh God, how much time do you have? I think one of my first producing gigs was a big job for an airline. It was a truly international production, director from South Africa, agency from Singapore, client from the Middle East and they wanted a lot: Times Square, a ton of extras, high end look and feel...It was truly logistically complex and it was a blend of a lot of different cultures and work practices coming together. It kicked my ass. To give you an idea of this thing the main talent lost her engagement ring in one of the subway grates in Time Square. We managed to get the MTA to open it up and incredibly we found it days later, but it was one of those shoots. Ultimately it looked gorgeous and turned out well. I guess the takeaway is what doesn't kill you makes you a producer? 


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?

Veronica> The Italian in me agrees because our culture is not focused on specialisation. Everyone wears multiple hats and learns how to do everything. That’s how it’s done there. The American in me strongly disagrees. The ball is the same, the sport is the same, but the rules are different. If you want to do it right, you need to know the rulebook and you have to hire the experts. At tinygiant, we have a relatively young scripted division and we’re developing and producing features but it’s just a very different process. It’s a fascinating one and I would be a fool if I sold to anyone the idea that a good commercial EP is by default a good feature film EP. 


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

Veronica> The bond you create with the people involved in the process. You become family. You know their kids’ names, you know their hours and routine. You go very deep in a relatively small amount of time. And you do it over and over again. In the end, it makes you a more connected human being. 


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

Veronica> Vastly. I started at the very beginning of the digital revolution but most of the jobs I did in my first years were shot on film. The turnaround, the process, the staffing requirements were different. Unions were a lot stronger and people knew a lot more. Now the process is a little more forgiving and because of it, anyone thinks they can do it. While it has been propelled by a very democratic process, which is something I welcome and the reason why I could even dream of opening my own company, it has also allowed for a lot of shit to be produced and lots of self-proclaimed producers. No offense to the self-proclaimed producers out there... just saying, try and go processing some film stock where the gate wasn’t checked properly and you have to explain that to the agency...


LBB> And what has stayed the same?

Veronica> The love for the craft, the dedication. People still wake up at 3am to go to set, people still go through three hours makeup sessions to look the part. The spirit of creation is still alive and well.


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?

Veronica> I think you have to be a natural diplomat and a ruthless tyrant at once. A producer is an oxymoron. You have to be a patient impatient type. A producer has to be generous and must know when to say NO. Too much of either and you’re not an effective producer. You’re the one people turn to and you’re the one who needs to be ok when everyone else freaks out.


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

Veronica> It’s a documentary I made many moons ago called Closing Time. It truly affected my life. I got it done during lunch breaks as an intern and it gave me a reason to stay in NY. It proved to myself I could deliver, it helped the people that were featured in it, and years later, I met my husband during a festival where it was screening. I’m still close friends with most of the people that were behind and in front of the camera. Had I not done it, I am confident I would be in a different place now. 


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

Veronica> We just wrapped a campaign that had live-action and stills and required a very cohesive look and feel for the two portions. We did it with a director and still photographer who directed and shot the whole thing in NY while sitting in her flat in London. It was a pretty huge effort that required a lot of people to work in concert. In general, we have done a ton of remote directing work in the past year and all of it had talent and performance and our incredible directors rose to the occasion, becoming a strong presence on set despite the physical distance. It’s no small task and it’s not for the faint of heart.


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?

Veronica> Oh God… I plead the fifth. Aside from the countless times a celebrity was passed out at pick up time? Let’s see, I think there was a big department store job I worked on where we had every single celebrity you can think of on the damn shoot and to maneuver and coordinate their egos, their schedules, their needs and their entourages... I remember receiving the rider for then-reality TV star Donald Trump with the do’s and dont’s about how to film his hair and thought “how the fuck does he go through life?”... We now know how.

On that same job we had Santana and he gifted us with a powerful guitar solo after the last take that was so transcendent I wanted to change vocations to be a musician for four minutes… But I mean, I knew production was nuts and amazing and was going to give me endless stories when less than a month after I arrived to NY, I had to go to the White House to deliver some equipment for a shoot with President Bush, Clinton and I think Carter. I remember my roommate saying ‘most Americans don’t get to step in the White House and you’re going there tomorrow?!’. She said it horrified and quite pleased at once and I thought - “That’s production for you, baby!”. 


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

Veronica> I want to grow my company and see tinygiant producing for all the media and producing impactful stories and good content all around. I also want to keep representing a diverse roster of talent and their voices. We’re launching a dedicated roster for the Hispanic market in the US, which is the fastest growing market globally. It’s terrifying and exciting to expand at a time when most companies are struggling. Ultimately I want tinygiant to always to be associated with taste, talent and guts.


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

Veronica> I practice ‘patience’ every day and that relaxes me. 

Being a mom helps with that because you learn how to let go of your plans and expectations. Kids don’t care about your plans, much like clients don’t.

I think producing is a way to ‘sainthood’ because you constantly practice patience - towards clients and their impossible expectations, towards agencies and their impossible budgets, toward directors and their impossible goals and dreams. And everyday you work on a kinder answer, a gentler version of that budget, a warmer approach towards that dream… And eventually people will turn to you and say ‘I don’t know how we did it but look at this!. 

Also, I’ve always cooked a ton, even pre-pandemic. I’m blessed: I watch movies with my kids, I tend to my garden, I facetime with my family back in Italy. I talk shop with my husband, who’s a DP. I used to travel a lot more but this year I’ve only flown to LA a couple of times, which is crazy to say out loud.

Truth is my idea of relaxing is to take on even more. It’s the New Yorker in me and it’s the working mom attitude. 

I guess my way to switch off is to create new lists and work on new projects beyond production, ha!


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

Veronica> There’s always something to learn and a better way to do things. I’ve been in production for a long time now and yet every time I bid something, I learn a new thing, a new technical aspect I wasn’t aware of. It keeps you on your toes and it keeps you curious. I’ve been in NY for 17 years and there are still streets I don’t know, stories I’ve never heard of. Life and its never ending storybook fuels me. Yesterday I learned that the street I live next to is named after New York born politician, Daniel D. Tompkins, who was one of the youngest Vice-Presidents this country had and apparently ruined himself financially during the War of 1812, when he spent his own money to equip and pay the army when the legislature would not approve the necessary funds. Crazy stuff. 


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

Veronica> Find all kinds of ways to work in every position on set before making the jump. It will give you immense knowledge later down the road. Find a creative partner who has ideas but doesn’t have organisational skills. Grow with that partner and become his producing buddy. And find all kinds of ways to put your name on the project. It doesn’t matter if it’s small or pays nothing. A producing credit is the jump start to it all. Until you can show credits as a producer it will take a while for people to trust you with their projects aka their babies. So think about junior-level producing much like that babysitting record in high school. Eventually, you’ll find a family who will trust you and will pay you a good hourly rate.


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

I think part of the charm is that there is no winning formula. It constantly changes and has to be rethought for each and every endeavor. I think if you come from a bloodline in the industry producing can be a ready-made career, if you don’t have a network but you have people skills and you can make people excited and they can rally around you and a project, you’re halfway there.

I started my shop with no money and no household names. That hasn’t prevented us from becoming successful but I couldn’t tell you what the formula is other than what a successful film director told me once: ‘set that alarm every day, even when you’re tired, even when you’re hungover, even when it’s Sunday’. 


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

Veronica> Patience and a good smile.

Nobody wants to be around whining people who tell you ‘no can’t do’.

You may have to say no at times but you better have a solve readily available.

You always need to be empowering the client with solutions and not bogging them down with all the things they don’t know or don’t understand. It’s a client-facing business and you must treat everyone like if they were your only job, whether or not they have the brand recognition or the right amount of money. That’s how people remember you and eventually come back multiple times. I’m of the school of thought ‘get them with honey’. I’ve never understood the assholes who go on a power trip and want to immediately set very straight who holds the power. I’ve recently had a Zoom where a creative turned everyone off by letting everyone know it’s her ideas and opinion that only matter. I was like ‘wow...you just lost half of the room. It’s 2021 and we’re totally ok never working with you again’. Producing is about emotional and situational intelligence. And yes, at times you have to be ruthless, but there’s a way to do it that can be subtle and surgical. You remove the problem, not half the people somehow connected with it. 


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

Veronica> I think I’m a very hands-on EP because I’m at the helm of a boutique size shop and I don’t plan on changing that any time soon. That said there are ways to stay involved in a project while having others manage it that are very empowering. Sometimes is about letting the line producer do what they do best even if the way you’d approach it personally would be different.

At times all that a line producer needs is for me to be there on a call where they just want to tell me how hard things are. It’s ok to just listen and be the shoulder to cry on. Sometimes all a producer needs is another producer to tell them it’s going to be ok. Sometimes a good EP jumps on a flight to show their face and that’s all it’s needed for it to be ok. It’s up to you to gauge the situation and what it needs each and every time. That’s EPing in a nutshell.


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tinygiant, Thu, 18 Mar 2021 13:44:52 GMT