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Meet Your Makers: The Creativity in Problem Solving with Kathryn Henderson


Versus executive producer and head of production on trying new things, accepting your to-do list, and prioritising effective communication

Meet Your Makers: The Creativity in Problem Solving with Kathryn Henderson

Kathryn’s experience ranges from commercial and animation production to documentary and independent film. Beginning her career as a line producer, she found her way into agency production. Following a move from Chicago to New York City, she expanded her capabilities once again focusing on post-production inclusive of 2D&3D Animation.

As an executive producer and head of production for studios including Sibling Rivalry, KingBoss, and PepRally, Kathryn has been able to combine her varied producing experience with her passion for bringing together the industry’s top talent in collaboration with the world's leading brands, agencies, and networks. 

Kathryn’s eclectic career is no stranger to the spotlight. In 2022, the rebrand of BET Network ‘Black Canvas’ took silver from Promax and in 2021 A&E’s ‘Voices Magnified’ was recognised with gold for Best Integrated Corporate Responsibility Campaign and Best Social Good Campaign by Promax. She managed the animation department for Jason Segel’s ‘Dispatches from Elsewhere’ premiering on AMC in 2020 and was a line producer on the Emmy-nominated documentary ‘Coded Bias’, available for streaming on Netflix.


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?

Kathryn> My small-town high school had a media production class with a very passionate teacher who was able to convince our modest school to get a brand-new Mac for video editing. He was one of the first to ride the digital filmmaking wave at a time when film schools were still teaching students how to shoot and edit with film. This class changed everything for me! Instead of becoming a social worker or an analyst, during senior year, I surprised my family and even myself by deciding to go to Chicago to pursue a career in film and media.

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?

Kathryn> During college, I interned at Ebel Productions, a prominent children’s commercial casting and production company in Chicago. I was able to get experience running casting sessions and PAing on commercials while having access to a collection of mentors from production coordinators and producers to our in-house accountant. I learned every facet of production – one of the most important being bookkeeping and financial tracking. The experience early on of logging receipts, filling out crew time cards, and managing invoices reinforced my attention to detail in the wrap process. For a long time, pre-digital bookkeeping, my favourite part of production was taping receipts and filling out the log as it was a very quiet and meditative process after the chaos of preproduction and production. 

LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?

Kathryn> I learned about being a producer mostly by doing – office/set PAing, many unpaid internships and indie producing gigs, and working my way up in the commercial industry one job and set at a time. It took time, but the variety of experiences across narrative, indie, doc, and commercial has been beneficial as I transitioned into a HoP / EP. I did have one dedicated class in college and a really, really great teacher for this who noticed my natural abilities for project management, so that also helped inform my decision to pursue this role.

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?

Kathryn> Very early on in my career (just graduated from film school), I produced a short film that was shot on 35mm. The shoot was multiple days in Illinois in stretches of corn fields. It involved relocating a 30+ crew from Chicago, finding old vehicles off the side of the road to use as picture cars, and even shutting down long stretches of highways. To save money, I even put up all the detour signs with our crew personally. It was a lot! 

Although we got everything we needed, it definitely stretched me really thin. One of the biggest lessons I learned was not to skimp on production support or enough people to carry the workload. Just because you’re capable of doing everything, doesn't mean you should! I’m glad I learned that early on – and happy to say that I’ve been a diligent delegator and team leader ever since. It’s more fun for everyone that way. 

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

Kathryn> So many things have changed since I started my career. When I entered the industry, we were shooting on film and MiniDV, processing film and digitising tape. Now we shoot on cards and the cameras have evolved too – Gopros, phones, drones, security cameras - it’s a lot!

One revolution I am definitely supportive of is the digitisation of the production binder and prepro-books as well as collaborative editing tools like Google Slides / Google docs. We used to waste so much paper and lose so much time handing these things off to each other. 

I’m excited about the progress of project management software (Airtable, Asana, Trello, BaseCamp). I’m currently in the process of developing a custom project management system at Versus that will streamline every part of our process, integrating all of our tools from sales to project management to accounting and invoicing. It’s been a really fun project and it’s helpful to finally get information consistently flowing to everyone across departments.

The evolution of communications tools (Slack, Google Spaces, etc) has also allowed work to occur collaboratively anywhere – including internationally spanning multiple time zones! It’s empowering to not be restricted geographically on the talent we can partner with at Versus.

LBB> And what has stayed the same?

Kathryn> The process. Though the tools and methodologies have changed, the process of how we create content remains the same from development to distribution. Just how we do it and the time it takes that has evolved.


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?

Kathryn> Two key areas are keeping organised and communicating effectively. They really go hand in hand! As for being innate or learned, it can be both depending on the person. Some people have a natural tendency for organisation and experience developing their communication skills depending on their upbringing, environment and/or personality. However, I believe everyone has the ability to develop capacities if they’re interested and open to putting in the effort. We’re human after all - it’s part of our DNA to learn and try new things.

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?

Kathryn> I’ve had a lot of random situations – most of them are more “cool” than “insane”. I’ve had crews nearly arrested for a shoot with a well-known comedian (this person years later did get a crew arrested filming in The White House which didn’t surprise me), but my favourite shoot was at the Long Island Aquarium. During lunch we had a visit with Kevin the penguin, our scout day included a kiss from a sea lion and craft services were located in the Shark Aquarium room - intimidating but very cool! 

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?

Kathryn> Well, it’s been a journey! Over time I have developed systems to manage my work by utilising tools like Asana and recently Airtable. Using these, I can prioritise and schedule my to-do list by date which spreads tasks out over time so it’s not as overwhelming as looking at one huge to-do list. A long list can be broken down and become manageable - the same process for phasing out projects. 

On a philosophical level, I know I will die with a to-do list! No one has it all done and wrapped up at the end. I’ve accepted that on a practical level, so my systems are designed to have an underlying feature to transfer information to others. In our industry, we frequently move around to different projects and life is filled with unexpected surprises, so having contingencies is a service to those you work with and is easily achieved with the right tools and protocols in place.

Relaxing to me is scuba diving, visiting my family, and spending time with good friends - which I am thankful I have made more time for the older I’ve gotten.

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

Kathryn> I enjoy the creativity involved in problem-solving. It’s a very active process and requires a balance between curiosity (how can we solve this? What are the impacts?) and the desire to make that happen by inspiring others to align on that mission together. In high school, I loved calculus because so much of it is figuring out  A. what information you have and B. what information you need in order to C. figure out the problem (X = what now?). Producing and EPing feel very much like real-time calculus and it’s fun to get to have that as a natural part of my day-to-day - though the variables aren’t always equations and numbers. Figuring out the solution to anything is a major motivation to me and I am not sure how to be any other way!

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

Kathryn> My approach as an EP is to have a lighter touch and be more observational before stepping in on a granular level. I develop relationships with producers so they know they can seek consultation and guidance on their projects, but I also look to them to keep me informed of the day-to-day (what’s needed to know) so I don’t have to feel the need to dive in too deep. Although I’m still aware, I practise letting little things go and trusting the producers I work with, giving me more time to focus on the bigger picture as well as developing the client relationship. 

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

Kathryn> This is a big question! I love to build things – my aspirations at Versus are to continue within this spirit. We have a lot of big plans and ideas in store for 2023 given all the work we are doing across the company with agencies, brands and in development with our Original Content division. Eventually, I’d like to EP a few of our Originals, continue to build our cross-department project management platform, and help Versus expand by finding ways to take on bigger and more challenging projects.

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

Kathryn> Since being at Versus, I’ve had a pretty good variety of fun and exciting work! We partnered with R/GA for a few high-profile phone launches on both production and post. We also delivered a beauty campaign for Sephora that we did the post/VFX for just in time for the holidays. Right now we’re working on an especially fun project with an agency and brand we’ve been trying to work with for a while now. It feels good to have won the work and gotten the chance to collaborate on something together – especially with such a fun campaign that we’re touching at every level from production through post. 

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?

Kathryn> Great question! While I think you can be a good producer at many mediums, you can also be a great producer honing in on one. There’s something to be said for both kinds of producing experiences. When building a team, having a variety of experiences is important - not everyone can be a generalist. With that said, generalists often help improve the overall process and bridge the gap across departments, phases, and provide important big-picture thinking. At Versus, there’s a wide variety of projects from brand design, to live-action production and traditional post-production - let alone the creative development we do on our Originals work! With such a variety of projects, I, along with Rob Meyers, executive producer/partner,  play to our producers' strengths and lend our experience for big-picture thinking. However, when there is an opportunity for development, we don’t shy away from mentoring our producers to continue their growth across mediums.


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Versus, Tue, 20 Dec 2022 14:14:31 GMT