SHOOT: Women in Production
Lauren Schwartz, owner/executive producer, kaboom productions
Primary Business: Advertising & marketing content
1. Do you own the company? If so, what year did you launch it?
Yes – isn’t that why I’m being profiled? With male partner in 1996; rebranded with sole ownership in 2001, a WBENC certified company since 2008.
2. If you business model has changed over time, please briefly tell us about it.
We started as a one director, regional shop doing corporate and commercial projects and have grown into a national, multi-director company, internationally recognized for creating a myriad of advertising content, feature films and TV shows.
3. How did you get your start in the business?
I started as an assistant account executive at BBDO NY in their training program. I was told that I “hung out too much with the creatives” and “dressed too much like one” and would “never move up unless that changed.” I started wearing pumps and pearls and continued to hang with creatives. I got promoted. Yearning for a less corporate experience I landed at FCB/SF as an account exec on Taco Bell where I was hired as AE but ended up playing junior producer to Rob Thomas. There, I much preferred my time on set and in edit rooms…to the tasks of doing decks and strategy. I decided to leave agency life, and had prospects at ILM and a small place called Red Sky Films. I chose small, hoping I’d get more experience. And I did. I went from answering phones (for a day) to assistant to the EP and then got pulled onto a shoot in LA as a coordinator when a job lacked production support for the poor line producer. Two plus years later I left Red Sky as a producer and went traveling around the world. A director I had worked with, Jim Barton, asked me to come back early and produce some jobs for him, which led to our partnership in kaboom. We started a company with no name recognition, a young director (him), located in SF. Needless to say, we didn’t realize we were doing something unheard of. I didn’t know any better. And that proved to be a good thing.
4. What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you faced as you made your ascent in the industry?
I think the biggest challenge we faced was being located in San Francisco and convincing people that we were not a regional SF shop, but rather a production company of national merit that happened to be based in SF. Of course none of this struck me as a problem until I “knew better” years later. It did not help that I was a woman, nor had I come up through the ranks in the Los Angeles production business. My other challenge–as a woman–is “spin.” Even today, men are often better at self-promotion-–whereas women seem to naturally gravitate to the promotion of others. I work really hard but have had to learn how to be better at promoting myself along with the company and directors. Perhaps that’s why I rely so heavily on my PR gurus at Hype.
5. What do you think would be the biggest challenge or obstacle if you were just starting out today? Would it be easier or more difficult (and why?) to establish yourself professionally and to attain your current role as an executive or leading creative or artist?
I would never start a production company today. Part of that stems from the fact that I never really set out to start one. It just happened. My then boyfriend had broken up with me after our round the world jaunt together and I needed something to throw myself into and provide a distraction. Enter: kaboom. Having said that, there are multiple challenges that companies face that would be hard to overcome as a start-up today including insane competition and ever-dwindling budgets with the same or higher expectations. Becoming an EP was the confluence of hard work and events that just conspired to create the right opportunity. I don’t know that I would have the energy to build a company today with the myriad of forces working against us. Then again if I stated with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm and lack of obstacles that I did then, maybe I would be able to do it!
6. Is there a shortage of women in the advertising and entertainment production community? If so, do you perceive this as a problem and why?
I recently attended the 3% conference in SF–focused on women creative directors in advertising (and the lack thereof). The same lack of female representation is true in production. Women have decent representation in the EP role, often running those companies for the men who own them. But there are very few women who own their own companies, and even fewer who don’t have a male business partner. Why is that? I think it’s the same reason it happens to women creatives in advertising. It’s incredibly demanding and as women have families and a career, it becomes more difficult to “have it all”. There is a real push for EPs to be available all the time to directors, and running a company is stressful. We all need a better work life balance, one where men and women are okay having a dynamic personal and work life. I went back to work at week 6 and 5 respectively with my two kids. That’s really not ideal; but it’s what I felt was expected of me. The 3% conference spoke of the “male lens” and how so many images of women and girls in society come from how men perceive us to be. To grow a better human population we need to reflect a lens of advertising which rings true to the reality of the marketplace and society, one that is not all male focused.
7. And if so, how can the industry improve the situation? What steps can be taken to rectify such a shortage?
Women mentoring other women, having men create a balance in their work lives so women don’t feel guilty doing it too, encouraging men to lead a more balanced work/home life so they can support their working wives without being emasculated in the process. And need I say it?- hire us! There are many steps being taken by agencies and clients alike including diversity goals, but there is more talk than action. All business is about relationships and then doing great work OR doing great work that opens the door to relationships. But if you can’t access great work or pivotal relationships then neither happens. So we need some forward-thinking folks to break the cycle. GSD&M is an agency on the forefront. I went to a diversity day at the agency where they welcomed women/minority owned companies to meet the decision-makers. Like this experience, we need people to put their money where their mouth is and support giving women-owned companies a shot.
8. In what roles is the shortage most profound? Directors? Producers? Executives? Creatives? DPs? Editors? Post artisans? Music/sound?
I think the shortage is most profound in the actual creative people in our business: directors, DPs, editors, composers and so on. kaboom represents ricki+annie–amazing doc directors–but I have had a hard time sourcing more female directors. We don’t do enough to encourage women to engage in these aspects of our industry and we need to. And the more women that enter the ranks of these professions, the more who will feel the door is open to join them. To quote the 3% conference: “you can’t be what you can’t see.”
9. Are you married?
Yes, but it took me awhile to get around to it!
10. Do you have kids – how many, how old?
Yes I have two kids. One girl aged 5 and one little boy aged 3.
11. Can you share a poignant or funny “being a woman in a man’s world” story with us.
Here are a few highlights: going to a really grungy strip club with a group of male creatives and their male agency producer (who chose the venue); the trend of male creatives and directors always casting a normal looking guy with a beautiful woman in the role of girlfriend or wife; pumping (breast milk) while still typing emails at my infamously fast two finger typing rate.
12. What’s the biggest challenge in balancing your professional and personal life?
My first response to this question is to counter with, “Would a male industry leader be asked these personal questions about children and the balance of work and home life?” Doubtful. But maybe we’d all be healthier if we were more open about our personal lives regardless of gender. The reality is with the 24/7 work week, the ability to work anytime, anywhere using an array of technology; and the use of social media, those two worlds have been blurred in a way that did not happen a decade ago. But to answer the question, the biggest challenge is all of it. Not wanting to let anyone down; family or directors or staff. I think women have this feeling or are pressured to feel that we can do everything and be kick-ass at all of it. Amazing at our jobs, doting mother, great wife/partner….and we need to look good too. Admittedly, it’s hard for many working women to let go of every responsibility. This morning, as I prepared my husband to take over on the day before a sales trip to Chicago, I was prepping him on making my daughter’s lunch and told him how to cut the cheese just the right way. What’s that about?
13. If you could have a do-over, what career would you pick for yourself?
When I was in my senior year at Dartmouth, the CIA recruited on campus and I went through the whole interview process. And that seemed cool to me, to be a field officer in the CIA, traveling and being involved on the ground in international geo-politics. Towards the end of the process they informed me that when you do get accepted -no one but your immediate family can know. Everyone else has to be told you didn’t make the cut. As it turns out I did not ultimately get accepted to join the CIA. At least that’s what I am telling you…