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The Directors: Erin Sarofsky

The Directors 67 Add to collection

The Sarofsky founder and ECD on the director's need to know everything and the problems with filming a unicorn in an office

The Directors: Erin Sarofsky

Sarofsky founder and executive creative director Erin Sarofsky kick-started Sarofsky in 2009, and she hasn't looked back since. Her work with top-level marketing and entertainment industry executives is based on deep relationships forged over time. For example, her experiences with directors Joe and Anthony Russo, with whom she collaborated on main titles for ‘Community’, ‘Happy Endings’ and ‘Animal Practice’ led to her studio's selection to create the main titles for the Marvel blockbusters ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, ‘Ant-Man’, ‘Captain America: Civil War’, ‘Doctor Strange’ and more. Her wealth of industry connections also draws from past experiences as a creative director for Superfad in New York and for Digital Kitchen in Chicago. So far in her career, she has led commercial projects for Absolut, Apple, Aleve, Capital One, CenturyLink, General Motors, Jeep, Les Petit Marselleis, McDonald's and Spotify, among many others.

Erin earned her BFA in graphic design and an MFA in computer graphics from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Erin's recent career highlights include being interviewed by Lee Cowan for CBS Sunday Morning; breaking new ground with Hulu, Netflix and YouTube Red to create main titles for their popular new original series; winning Animation Effects Award Festival Gold and being named among Newcity Magazine's Film 50 in both 2017 and 2019. A past Women in Film Chicago Focus Award winner and a 2017 Graphic Design USA Person to Watch, Erin is also the Honorary Chair for Women's Global Education Project's Annual Ndajee Fundraiser. In 2018 she was named one of Studio Daily Magazine's Exceptional Women in Production and Post.

Looking to the future, Erin and her talented crew of artists, designers and producers at Sarofsky are excited to continue to bring new levels of conceptual design to major brands across the advertising and entertainment industries.


Name: Erin Sarofsky

Location: Chicago Illinois, USA

Repped by/in: Sarofsky, worldwide


Rochester Institute of Technology Distinguished Alumni of the Year 2022

Cannes Lion Award

Brand Film Award

Newcity Magazine's Film 50 Honoree

Women in Film Chicago Focus Award Winner

Graphic Design USA Person to Watch

Studio Daily Magazine's Exceptional Women in Production and Post

Multiple Animation Effects Award Festival (AEAF) Awards

Nominee: EMMY Award, Outstanding Main Title Design

Art of the Title: Ten Women of Title Design​


LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Erin> I like when I read a script and I understand why the team is considering me for the job. So basically seeing myself and my expertise in it. I like when people are more than props, when they are a part of the story engine and even in a 30-second spot can have a little of an arc. I love when animals are in a script, even though my line producers are like, ‘Oh god, why?!’ I love humour or seeing an opportunity to infuse a moment of being real into something. It could be as simple as a knowing glance. But it will make it land less robotically and create a stronger connection with the viewer. And I love when I can also use some of my design, animation and VFX skills. 


LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Erin> I start by thinking about the narrative and all the must-haves. Once I immerse myself in that, I can look for opportunities to surprise, delight and elevate. One of my specialities is the ability to integrate design, CG and editorial trickery. So it’s nice to think beyond phase one, which is capturing the footage, right at the beginning of the process. 

LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?


Erin> If I don't know about the brand I do a ton of research. I am not so worried about their past ad work, unless they want to build off of it or the new work needs to relate in some way. But my main focus is on the products or services, who their audience is, why people love them, and if I can I even pop out and pick up some product to use. Also looking at their social presence can say a lot about the brand, how they interact with their audience and their overall conversational tone.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Erin> For me it’s my agency partner. Likely a CD, but it could be a producer, copywriter or art director (or team). Every job has a different dynamic so you really have to listen and follow along with who has the lead… and that's your person. They understand the brand, objectives, limitations and opportunities better than anyone, so leaning into that gives me the best opportunity for success and to be able to do something a little extra every time.

LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Erin> I like a lot of different things and don’t think of myself as a one-trick-pony. To be more specific, I love ‘magic realism’ - the work that is grounded in humanity and truth and reality - but has a magical quality. Oftentimes this comes from my ability to mix live-action with CG. 

I also love comedy. I get that my reel isn't a typical comedy reel. Still, some of my best work is on shows that are rooted in humour, or drama/humour. And I am able to home in on that thing that makes something funny, or winks at the viewer. Also, I am great with casting real people for real talks, even kids - though on those days, I feel like I should double my rate!

LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?


Erin> Oh I love this question. Thank you for asking.

My director's reel is filled with a lot of entertainment work, specifically main title sequences. There is a preconceived notion that because it’s fancy entertainment work, somehow it has less client feedback or constraints than commercial work. Well, that’s not so; if anything the feedback can be a little nuttier because often there is no paradigm for success, other than someone's opinion. Also, my background is primarily in ad work, so I am very familiar with what the process is like. And yes, how pernickety feedback can be.

LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Erin> All. The. Time.

It’s rare these days to not have to deal with cost consultants - especially on big brand work. It’s just kind of business as usual now. Our experiences have ranged, but honestly, it’s just having a conversation and building bids accordingly.

LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Erin> Well, recently we needed to film a unicorn in an office space. It was a maze of problems. Once you solve one there is another. But it’s called production for a reason. You just over-prepare, have great line producers and be really thoughtful and quick to make decisions on the day. 

LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Erin> Sometimes I do have to create boundaries for when and how we share our process, but that's because the process can be very complex and frustrating. You want to share when stars are aligning and not when you are building the telescope. But you also need to make space for them to be able to influence the outcome. So it’s just about communicating where you are at and what you need from them to keep the ball rolling. 

For me this isn't adversarial and I certainly never assume it will be. My best friendships have started as clients. That happens because I am a good listener and genuinely concerned about the success of what I am making.


LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?


Erin>More diversity results in more innovation and insights. I am all for finding and engaging with talent in all sorts of ways from on-set to post-production.

LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?

Erin> Well we filmed a documentary series entirely remotely, so while it was not ideal, we were forced to be incredibly resourceful. I think a lot more pre-production can be done siloed, with remote check-ins and I also think clients won't need to be on set as much.  

LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?

Erin> It is so important to get your deliverable lists before you even pitch, as all of those uses and formats can and should change how and what you shoot.  It will also influence budgets, so planning at the beginning instead of in post is best. As a director, knowing everything helps with everything… even if it’s just to set realistic expectations.

LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

Erin> Did you write this question just so I can show off? Our entertainment work fits into the most cutting edge of VFX pipelines; colour space, resolution, 3D-stereoscopic. We are engaging with virtual production, sometimes for cost savings and sometimes for creative reasons. Data-driven visuals or just generative art is also something we have been experimenting with as well. And while we don’t code for interactive storytelling we have made assets and previsualizations for those kinds of projects.

LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why? 

Main title sequence for ‘We Crashed’

I think this idea is well executed and in a way that makes efficient use of our time with the horse… I mean unicorn. The unicorn has a prosthetic horn so all of that is in-camera. The macro, slow motion shots are all CG. We scanned the horn and modified the texture so that it really looked amazing close-up. We also recreated the wallpaper background in our CG world. These created the visual connections we needed to make the edit seamless. 

Commercial and Art Film for Apple iMac Pro

When Apple created its most powerful Mac ever, few artists realised its capabilities. And so it was that Apple came to Erin Sarofsky with a simple request: Show the world what iMacPro can do. Erin’s film for Apple’s Artist Film series does just that with a magical mix of live-action, CG (both photo-real and illustrated) and compositing.  Her simple concept? Bring an old sketchbook and its array of contents to life.  Magic realism at its best.

Main title sequence for ‘Full Frontal’ with Samantha Bee

Designed, written and directed by Erin Sarofsky, the highly stylised 20-second introduction presents Samantha the way the world increasingly sees her: A curious giant in the cultural landscape. The look is reminiscent of punk posters and is very fitting for the only woman in late night. Crush it Sam!

Main title sequence for ‘Shameless’

An oldie but a goodie, the task of concepting and executing them was a feat to be sure.

But when you cram a family of six with one alcoholic father, several teens and a couple of spirited youngsters into a ramshackle, back-of-the-yards house in Chicago, and it doesn’t take much to figure out there won’t be any privacy. Except…maybe the bathroom. Throw that door open and who knows what you’ll find?

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Sarofsky, Mon, 16 May 2022 09:03:00 GMT