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Production Line: Cultivating and Nurturing Relationships with Elizabeth Thuvanuti Keating


Artjail’s recently appointed head of production Elizabeth Thuvanuti Keating on her path to VFX production, the pivotal moment she joined Artjail and leadership that looks after its team

Production Line: Cultivating and Nurturing Relationships with Elizabeth Thuvanuti Keating

Previously a producer at Alkemy X and MPC, Elizabeth joined the New York-based VFX boutique Artjail in August of this year. She believes a good producer can produce for any medium and feels a responsibility to nurture young talent, as she had the opportunity to observe her mentors when she spent time as an assistant producer. She speaks to LBB about building trust in her new role, working closely with her artists and how the pandemic impacted the industry.

LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?

Elizabeth> There have been some very positive changes that have come out of the pandemic. One of the biggest takeaways for our industry has definitely been that we can be more flexible with how and where we work from, while still remaining confident that we are putting out quality work. 

The changes last year have also created this amazing pursuit of what I call constant evolution. We’re continuously looking for solutions and efficiencies to keep improving on all levels. We can now adapt to the client’s preference for how they like to work and pivot accordingly. 

The pandemic really showed us how resilient we are.  We were not only able to adapt but also able to come out stronger than ever before. That means we can absolutely rise to any challenge that comes our way.

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

Elizabeth> I believe a good producer can absolutely produce for any medium. I am always open to candidates with unique backgrounds and feel that a good producer can transition seamlessly into VFX with the right mentoring and training. That being said, it’s vital that the VFX production team understands the process and is comfortable with the technical workflow and language. I feel it’s the responsibility of the Head of Production to nurture this transition for new team members.

LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time?

Elizabeth> My career path to VFX was quite unique! My first job out of college was in hospitality at a luxury hotel in NYC, first as a front desk agent and then in front desk management. I have so many stories about crazy celebrity demands, outrageous requests and pressure-cooker situations! 

Through serendipitous connections, I eventually landed my first VFX interview for an Assistant Producer position. I remember explaining my career history, thinking my lack of experience would prevent me from getting the job. The interviewer assured me that my experience would translate and that’s really how my career started. And it turned out that she was absolutely right. The lessons I learned in customer relations, service recovery and working with a team did 100% translate and help me get to where I am today in my career. 

LBB> Why did you decide to join Artjail? And what are your initial plans? 

Elizabeth> Artjail’s focus on close collaboration - within the team, with clients and with directors - really makes it a special place. The company also really takes care of the team in a very human way. In an industry of impossible deadlines and long days, it was so refreshing to see leadership strive to look out for each and every team member, whether it’s giving time off before and after a long project, listening and offering advice on career goals or simply having a one-on-one check-in to see how things are going. I love that we take a proactive approach to caring for our staff. A lot of companies talk the talk but I have seen action at Artjail time and time again.

LBB> What changes are you excited about making? And how do you plan to grow ArtJail’s success?

Elizabeth> I’m beyond excited to lead the production department at such a pivotal point in Artjail’s growth. In addition to budgets, schedule and overall organization, production is also responsible for cultivating and nurturing relationships, with both clients and within the team. Good relationships are built on good communication and communicating effectively is more important now than ever. There are so many ways to communicate and it’s our responsibility to find what works best for every situation. My goal for the production department is for us to continue to evolve, adapt and grow as a team, finding solutions and improving every day we come to work. 

LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?

Elizabeth> A magician never reveals her secrets! 

LBB> When joining a new team or company, how do you go about establishing trust with your colleagues?

Elizabeth> Trust within your team is essential. I believe trust is firmly built on listening, observing and being open to new and different ways of working. When I first joined Artjail I started producing right away. This gave me the opportunity to work closely with many of the artists, learn the processes in place and allow the rest of the team to get to know me as well. 

LBB> What do you find is the most effective way of mentoring and leading newer and junior colleagues who may be just starting in the industry?

Elizabeth> I believe the most effective way of mentoring and leading newer and junior colleagues is to give them the opportunity to observe as much as possible. When I first started as an assistant producer, my greatest gift was being given the desk next to the senior producer. I would listen to every phone call and conversation with artists, clients and management. I would peek at emails and watch schedule updates and billing. I learned so much this way! And when my time came to step up and actually start producing, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity, put into practice what I learned and move up quite quickly. 

LBB> What new skills must you have in the team as a result of the pandemic?

Elizabeth> As a result of the pandemic we’ve really been able to nurture and develop our communication skills.  Whether it’s through Slack, Zoom or ftrack, communicating effectively and concisely has become even more crucial to a project’s success and, as a result, a company’s success. This time has been an amazing opportunity to find improvements in everything we do, especially communication. 

LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?

Elizabeth> Production should absolutely have a seat in the c-suite. I truly believe that production has a finger on the pulse of everything going within a company because they work with every department and see the day-to-day ins and outs. We are an amazing resource to management and often can provide insights that no other department can. 

LBB> Clients’ thirst for content seems to be unquenchable - and they need content that’s fast and responsive! What’s the key to creating LOTS of stuff at SPEED - without sacrificing production values? Is it even possible? 

Elizabeth> Clients come to us because we are experts at what we do. It’s our responsibility to work with each client as a partner in this way and communicate what is needed to get the job done and done well. 

LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this?

Elizabeth> Because Artjail collaborates so closely with directors, I’ve really seen first-hand how valuable it can be to have VFX be part of the process from day one. In the long run, it can save so much time, money and stress. Having a VFX supervisor on set can also be critical when last-minute questions come up or decisions need to be made. 

LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?

Elizabeth> VFX is such an exciting industry to be a part of right now! The pandemic has really opened the doors to so many possibilities and I truly believe the industry as a whole will continue to grow on the same trajectory. Everything now evolves at such a rapid rate, whether it’s software or communication tools, and there are new ways popping up all the time for production to improve and become even more efficient.

LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring producer?

Elizabeth> My advice to an aspiring producer is to take advantage of any and every opportunity to watch and observe. Relationships are everything - so talk and connect with everyone who crosses your path! 

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Artjail, Wed, 10 Nov 2021 10:05:00 GMT