Meet Your Makers: Erin Hicke on Staying True to the Vision
Erin Hicke is a senior producer at The Mill Los Angeles where she oversees an impressive roster of award-winning VFX projects. With over two decades of industry experience, Erin’s passion for producing captivating visuals alongside talented creatives drives her work.
In her time at The Mill, Erin has led a number of high-profile projects including HP’s whimsical holiday spot ‘12 Days of Real Time’, Game of War’s epic campaign ‘Unfolding Empires’ as well as other visual effects heavy spots for Nike, Facebook, Google and Xfinity.
LBB> What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?
Erin> I’ve always loved production and the idea of being 'in front of the camera' but it was never a goal of mine to work behind the camera. I landed in the industry as a happy accident when I went to an interview for a receptionist position at a small post production company.
LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?
Erin> I started out as a receptionist, knowing nothing about production, post production and Visual Effects. I learned about the industry by asking questions and observing my co-workers, and working my way up doing various jobs.
LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?
Erin> Trial and error, long nights and hard work. Watching and learning from my many amazing mentors.
LBB> Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?
Erin> There was not one production that was an influence, it was a group of talented VFX artists that showed me the 'behind the scenes' of how things were created. I was astonished when I witnessed first-hand the process of full CGI projects. I was even more intrigued the first time I attended a shoot and watched how every member of the crew worked together. Like an organised orchestrated circus! It’s quite impressive to observe all departments moving in sync for someone young in their career and not familiar with being 'on set' and the many roles and people involved to make it happen.
LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?
Erin> I definitely agree. As a producer you have to be flexible.
LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?
Erin> You never know what new challenge you are going to be faced with. It keeps things exciting. There is never a production where you don’t learn something new. Keeps you on your toes. That’s what I love about this job, you learn something new every day and you never know what to expect.
LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?
Erin> Technology evolves constantly. Our business thrives on the technology. There used to be tangible tape formats and printed film as standard and now all files are digital. Production into Post Production pipelines change by the minute, not to mention the robust hardware and software that has changed. It surprises me every day the technology we rely on and how it has changed in the last 10 years. From camera files to rendering or the type of digital deliverable files requested and VR experiences.
LBB> And what has stayed the same?
Erin> Agency, Directors and Post production creatives passion for making great work – and staying true to their vision!
LBB> What do you think is the key to being an effective producer - and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?
Erin> Protect the client, protect the artists, protect the budget, protect the project and its creative. In no particular order, varies with each production.
LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?
Erin> I am proud of nearly every production for different reasons. The obstacles that they were challenged with and overcome, whether it be schedule, budget, technology, pipeline and creative.
LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?
Erin> Tight schedules in a working from home situation have been challenging, however very rewarding when you are able to produce a picture on time and budget that everyone is proud of! It’s amazing how productions have been able to adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?
Erin> As a young producer, I was attending a shoot where the production and agency closed down the 105 freeway both east and west for miles at peak commuting hours. At the time, it seemed extremely impressive! Driving on to the location, the police escorts had us entering the opposite way on the on-ramps and driving the wrong way down the freeway! Being a southern California native, this seemed impossible and a once in a lifetime experience. If anyone has had a long shoot day, you understand the hurry up and wait game, so we filled our down time taking reference pictures and doing things that you would never be able to do - like cartwheels down the freeway - in the fast lane! It was that day that I realised the powerful influence the film/advertising/entertainment industry has in Los Angeles and throughout the world. That was the day I truly learned to respect what our industry can do.
LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?
Erin> To be a positive working influence on the project, client experience and the fellow team/crew members.
LBB> As a producer your brain must have a never ending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?
Erin> I try to reduce ‘screen time' whenever possible, which allows me to enjoy other hobbies without distraction.
LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?
Erin> Working with a team and client to come up with a few options to solve a problem that seems/feels unsolvable. There are always a couple ways to ‘skin a cat’ so to speak.
LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?
Erin> There is no rule book or standardised job definition of duties. One day you’re a cheerleader, and the next an accountant…. You have to be flexible and adapt to situations.
LBB> From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?
Erin> Protect the client, protect the artists, protect the budget/schedule, and protect the project and its creative.
LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?
Erin> I think open communication. It is helpful to understand the challenges that all parties are facing so we can meet on common ground and come up with a good solve that hopefully can accommodate everyone’s needs.
LBB> One specifically for EPs: Producers are naturally hands on - they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?
Erin> Communication. It’s important that you trust the people you work alongside. Trust your team, but be available and willing to answer questions they have, and stand behind the decisions they make.