The Den editor on the importance of good support systems, lessons well-learned and the change he wants to see in the industry, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt
There are many paths which lead a person to the advertising industry. A penchant for writing, a keen eye for detail or the ability to create one’s own opportunities. But for Eric Alexander-Hughes, editor at The Den, a combination of talent, willingness to learn and pure hard work have been his tickets to success.
In part, Eric attributes this to his childhood years. Around the age of 10, he got his first DV camera which he used to pursue personal passion projects of filmmaking. He adds that when he was with his father - Allen Hughes - he got to experience being on a set and seeing how the industry functioned.
“In some ways, I do feel I was always groomed to be in the ‘industry,’ so to speak- whether I knew it or not at the time,” Eric says. “Although, to be clear, my parents never intentionally steered me down this path.”
In fact, Eric actually studied political science during his college years at SF State and Loyola Marymount LA. But during his tenure at the former, he landed an internship at Pereira O’Dell.
“I couldn’t really have asked for a better place to find my wings and grow early on,” he recalls. “I was able to hone my editing skills, even getting the chance to direct and edit a spot in-house for one of our clients.”
He adds that although he made spots he was proud of while working there, one of his most memorable early projects came during his time as a cutting assistant at Rock Paper Scissors.
“I felt differently after being able to work with my childhood hero Hype Williams,” Eric says. “That was a landmark achievement for me personally; and all now all these years later, he’s not just Hype to me - he’s my Uncle Hype!”
But according to Eric, some of his most valuable lessons came from outside the industry. “In order to accommodate my crazy class schedule and make some dough; I ended up taking my first and only job as a floor salesman at Petco on La Brea,” he says. “The time I spent working there really taught me a lot.”
First among these lessons is his firm belief that everyone will think their idea will be the most important. As such, he reminds himself to be patient and listen to everyone in the room before speaking.
Yet equally important is the idea of having fun and enjoying the people he works with: “you make better work plain and simple.” In pursuing this belief, Eric states that his favourite part of the job is getting to create beautiful art while working with the artists he loves collaborating with.
“It’s like one really big sandbox,” he adds. “Everyone shares each others’ toys when the process is at its best.”
Among his favourites is the ‘Black History is Happening Now’ campaign for Spotify which he worked on alongside Paul Hunter and Pharell. Eric says that it really helped him figure out where he wanted to go with his style for future projects.
“There was a subtlety and elegance to the messaging and aesthetic of the spot that brought me a great deal of joy,” he recalls. “I think it’s easy for us editors to fall into the trap of mistaking a lot of cuts on a timeline for a good edit, when in reality there’s so much power in holding on a few great shots with the right sequencing and attention.”
Eric has also applied these philosophies to his more recent work, including more recently the McDonald’s campaign for their new BTS Meal.
That being said, he hopes that in the future, agencies will be more willing to trust directors and the input they provide for collaborative work, stating that the US often treats directors “merely as insurance for the days they need to shoot their concept.”
“These directors are really passionate and knowledgeable about their craft; and I don’t think it’s right that they’ve been relegated to glorified DPs rather than being allowed into the process,” he says. “It’s a rarity that I’m able to have the luxury of presenting a director’s cut to the agency - and even when I do, it generally doesn’t receive its just-due.”
Aside from the work itself, something Eric is equally passionate about is the fight for equality within the industry. He hopes the trend of hiring people of colour continues, but he’s “leery of these kinds of passing trends’ longevity in the larger cultural consciousness.”
“I think it’s important that the industry keeps its eye on the ball in terms of hiring people of colour that are qualified not just because they’re people of colour, but because they're, in fact, capable professionals,” he adds. “No Black creatives want to ever be or feel tokenised. We need consistent allies, not trending hashtag allies.”
Nevertheless, he feels as though things are moving in the right direction - expressing his love for the allies in the business and asking them to keep the same energy.
Currently, Eric is based in east-side LA, something he adds he’s proud of as the post-industry is obsessed with Santa Monica office spaces. He does however, realise the irony of this, given the fact that he’s been working from home due to Covid-19.
Diligently following the rules in order to protect his older family members, “the novelty of being home definitely wore off after the first three months for me,” Eric says.
But he adds that he’s found several ways to cope, emphasising the importance of a good support system.
“I guess the way I’ve been getting through it is by holding my loved ones and support system close to me,” he says. “I recently got a puppy [named Yaddle - an Easter egg addressed to any ‘fellow nerds’] which has been keeping me very busy and active! I love her to death!”
Finally, he draws a lot of joy from gaming: “It’s my guilty pleasure and helps blow off steam at the end of the day. I love playing NBA 2k online with my homies - honestly it’s made the pandemic a lot more bearable.”