Freelance Art Producer Feature: Heather Black
The advertising world is always changing. Clients always want their next campaign to be ahead of trends and stand out amongst a sea of creative content. The art producer role is pivotal in the success of projects, and behind every campaign is an art producer meticulously crafting the perfect atmosphere, sourcing talent, and ensuring every detail falls seamlessly into place. They are the invisible hands that turn imaginative concepts into tangible works of art, serving as the vital bridge between advertisers and photographers.
Oftentimes, agencies will work with freelance art producers who have the challenging task to not only jumping into a new campaign, but a new agency, often working with creatives and producers for the first time. They must be nimble and adaptable in order to actualize the vision of a client. We created the site FreelanceArtProducer.com years ago, in an effort to make finding a freelancer easier, and also to help freelancers get their name out there to more agencies. As the end of the year approaches and agencies are looking for freelance work to complete quick end-of-year projects, we wanted to highlight some of the freelancers on our site and share their answers to questions about their work, trends in the industry and some of their favorite past projects.
Our current feature is Heather Black. Heather is the Owner and Executive Producer of Black&Co., a production company providing freelance staffing and production support to agencies and brands. They produce Broadcast/Content, Photography, Art/Design, and Post Production. Agencies and brands that she has worked with include 72andsunny, Chase Bank, Callen, Comcast, Droga5, Deutsch, Havas, Joan Creative, Johannes Leonardo, The Martin Agency, Preacher, Wieden&Kennedy, and Yard NYC. Her experience spans across a broad range of brands such as American Express, Anheuser Busch, Coca-Cola, Google, Meta, Motorola, Samsung, Prudential, Under Armour, and many others. In addition to her work in advertising, Heather is also a food, interiors and travel photographer and director.
What inspired your transition to freelance? What factors influenced your decision to branch out independently?
I finally went freelance in 2018 to allow more time to pursue my other career in photography and film. For a couple of years before that, I thought I would work on my portfolio while I still had a full-time job and then go freelance once I started to book jobs, but it was just too hard to find the time while working a full-time job in production. I knew I needed to step away from something full-time in order to be able to carve out the proper time and space.
I also wanted to go freelance when I felt financially stable and was prepared to not have a job for a few months. I luckily booked a freelance project before my full-time job ended so I didn’t need to rely on reserves, but I would recommend in this market especially to colleagues to make sure they have 3-6 months in reserves before going freelance.
What is your favorite part of your job/role?
I love having the ability to work with a lot of different agencies, clients, brands and team members I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to if I were in one place full time.
How would your team describe you?
The feedback I get the most is “you’re so calm!” No matter what goes wrong, I now know from years of experience that it’ll all be OK and come together. It always does.
How do you find new talent?
I find new talent through a variety of ways: Keeping up to date with artist representation agencies and knowing who’s new on their rosters, asking for recommendations from colleagues, staying active on social media where you see new work that’s being made and who was involved, and also through magazines and editorial outlets where less commercial work can be found and artists are given more creative license.
When you’re on a creative call, what do you look and listen for when selecting talent?
I always look for collaborative partners who listen well and show they want to be a part of a team and can be flexible to work with.
Being an art producer means managing a lot of different people and projects simultaneously, what is your trick to balancing it all?
My secret recipe is usually the people I ultimately hire to handle the line production. I tend to go into a job now with a production company or line producer already attached that I know is highly competent and super nice to work with.
There is a lot of flexibility in being freelance, but it surely comes with challenges. What do you see as one major advantage and one major disadvantage you've experienced?
I think one of the best advantages is being in control of your schedule and deciding when and how much time you want to take off. I’ve worked more than ever being a freelancer, but I’ve also taken significant time off of freelance production to work on other things and feed other passions.
One of the biggest challenges I think is not knowing where the next job is coming from and being comfortable and staying calm during the lulls.
Financial stability can be a concern for freelancers. Do you have any tips or practices that have helped you maintain consistent income and manage your finances effectively?
I would recommend that freelancers speak with an accountant to get advice and assistance on opening an LLC and an S-Corp, along with discussing options like retirement plans for business owners and tax filing.
How do you stay connected with other art producers?
The art producer community is pretty small so we all stay connected through social events, social media and have friends in common.
How do you gather feedback on your work, and how has it helped refine your craft?
I don’t deliberately ask for feedback after a project, but perhaps I should! But I do check in with folks throughout the process to make sure they’re happy and if I ever get the sense something is going south, even if it’s out of my control, I like to do whatever I can to bring it back on track and make everyone as happy as possible. Sometimes things like deadlines or lack of budget are factors that I cannot change, but I try to make every project an enjoyable experience.
As freelancing often requires constant upskilling, are there any courses, books, or resources you'd recommend to budding art producers?
I don’t think there are any resources that teach art production, but I would recommend that budding producers stay connected to agencies that are producing creative work by following their newsletters, websites and social channels to see what new work is coming out, sign up for newsletters from artist representations agencies and follow ad awards to see what’s getting acknowledgment in the industry.
How do you stay creative when you’re not working?
I shoot photography and make films, so I am usually working on a creative project or in creative development on a personal project. I also love to go to museums and and have started watercolor painting, so I like doing both of those things to fuel my creative needs.
Can you list one project you are most proud of and why?
I don’t have just one, but the ones that really stick out to me are always my favorites because of the people on my team. Sometimes you just get that special casting which makes it a dream project. One of the projects that sticks out most to me was with one of my favorite agencies, Preacher and the creative team Joe Hartley, Jimmie Blount, Rob Baird and Jessica Vaughan where we filmed a 90s themed broadcast spot for Capsule. And my first project for Yard NYC with Emily Green, Ulrika Karlberg and Brit Larson where we produced a spot for the 2022 US Open for the USTA.
How do you stay updated on current trends in the industry?
I find that I learn something new on every shoot. I try to absorb and retain as much as possible with every project, but I don’t necessarily seek out new trends and practices.
What is a trend you've noticed in the industry this year?
I’ve just worked on two projects this year where we’ve incorporated emojis into the creative, which are IP owned by Apple so that has been an interesting legal hurdle to approach, but a necessary one as so much of what we say these days is communicated by an emoji.
As we approach the end of the year, what are your predictions or insights into how the industry might evolve or change?
Well, I think right now in Q3/Q4 of 2023 we are in an interesting time for freelancers. With over a year of layoffs at major companies and agencies, the freelance market is oversaturated with freelancers and there has been a decline in the amount of work being made, so there a lot of freelancers currently not working. I do think 2024 will be busier and full-time roles will need to be filled again and the freelance situation will stabilize.
Thank you Heather for your perspective and be sure to check out her profile on freelanceartproducer.com!