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Producer: Katie Juras
Katie Juras loves film — a passion she feels is essential to being a great producer. As part of the creative team, producers work with writers, artists, directors and clients to take ideas from the drawing board to your TV.
Katie talked with JMA about how she started her production career and what she loves about her job.
JMA: There are many kinds of producers. How do you explain what you do?
KJ: I am an ad agency producer. At an agency, there’s a creative team that pitches an idea to a client and once that team sells the idea, it’s handed off to me. The first part of my job is asking questions in order to fully understand the idea from all angles. Once I've wrapped my head around the idea, it's all about finding the best partners — directors, editors, music houses, etc. — for the budget and timeline. A good producer will look for the unexpected route and work with the team to produce the best ads possible, no matter what the constraints might be.
JMA: Did you plan to get into a career in production?
KJ: I always wanted to do something with TV, media or film. I started studying journalism and communications and I took some film courses and editing courses. The more journalism I did, the more I didn’t love it. I just didn’t have a passion for it. I interned at a radio show and Chicago’s public television station, channel 11, which I really loved.
JMA: How did you get your start?
KJ: After my internship at channel 11, I was hired as a Production Assistant (PA) — the ground level. You do coffee runs and a lot of note-taking, but it’s a great experience. If you work really hard and pass the initiation of being a PA, you get promoted to Assistant or Associate Producer. That's where you're given more responsibility like doing research, and coordinating production teams and schedules. It's a lot of long days and nights working your way up the ladder.
JMA: How did you move from working on television shows to working at an agency?
KJ: The show I was working on went into hiatus for the summer and I decided I was ready to move on. My sister and I moved to Ireland for the summer and I stayed for six months and did a variety of production jobs there. When I came home, I just wasn’t super excited about going back to the show, which was a business series, so I started networking and a friend of a friend owned a small ad agency. I really didn't know anything about advertising, but it was a really creative place with great people so I pursued it.
They weren’t hiring at the time, so I worked on a documentary for WBGH-TV in Boston about the history of Chicago and kept in touch with the agency. Six months later, they hired me as an Assistant Producer. It was great. I worked under the head producer, shadowing him. He taught me the ropes. He left soon after I started and the guys who owned the agency were like, “You can figure this out, right?” They empowered me and I figured it out. It was a great time to be there. One of the very first spots I did on my own was a Super Bowl ad. Looking back now after having worked at bigger agencies, I realize what a special place that was.
JMA: Why did you leave agency life to freelance?
KJ: The timing fell into place. The agency where I was working lost a lot of their clients and I was at a point in my career where I had enough experience under my belt to go out on my own. That was in 2009 and I haven't looked back. It's the same job, but there's something very liberating about being a freelancer. It really suits me.
JMA: What is your life like day to day?
KJ: One day I might be in the office reviewing budgets and bids, another week I might be out of town on a shoot, and then the next week back in town but at an editing studio. The days and weeks can vary quite a bit, which I really enjoy.
Sometimes, people think it's amazing when I go to Italy or somewhere exotic for work, but I always remind them, “It’s location, not vacation.” That said, I do enjoy traveling for work and gaining production experience around the globe.
JMA: What makes you a successful producer?
KJ: I say I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. So much of the job is being able to work with people from all of the different aspects of production. You need to be able to collaborate with everyone from clients to creative teams.
Strong negotiation skills as well as a genuine interest in and understanding of filmmaking are really important. It's also important to have your own creative sensibilities to understand when an idea works and when it doesn't. Cultivating this sensibility through immersion in culture, film, books, art, music and TV is an essential part of being a successful producer.
JMA: What has been the most surprising thing about your career?
KJ: The path has been surprising. I didn’t know this job existed when I was younger, so I feel lucky to have found this niche in the production industry.
JMA: What is the hardest thing about working as a producer?
KJ: One of the hardest things about producing is turning people down. We competitively bid directors on projects and only one of them will get the job. Each of them puts a lot of hard work into a treatment and building a relationship with us during the bidding process; then, we end up narrowing it down to only one. I hate making the calls to let people know they didn't get the job after working really hard to get it. But, oftentimes, it's how you handle those difficult calls that makes you a better producer.
JMA: What do you love about your career as a producer?
KJ: I love the creative aspect of it. One of the most gratifying parts is when you have a great call with a director and he or she explains their vision for the project and you can start to see it all come together. It’s really satisfying.
JMA: What’s the salary range for producers?
KJ: The salary varies a great deal depending on your experience level. Starting out, you might make around $30,000. Once you're more experienced and managing large productions, the range moves into six figures. From there, the more in-demand you are, the more you make.
JMA: What’s the bottom line about life in production?
KJ: I go back to the jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You have to know a little bit about a lot of things and be able to collaborate and communicate well with all types of people. You have to have good creative instincts and strong problem-solving skills. This job is not for the faint of heart. You have to be fearless, but always have a good sense of humor.