Being a “green” producer just breaking into the industry, you encounter everything. Peaks, valleys, successes and also, problems that spawn from the depths of hell (okay, that may be a little much). Most of the time producers are running around, managing a multitude of issues, all while focusing on an imaginary “to do list”.
Camera Ambassador recently had an opportunity to talk with Producer, James McKinney. Our chat revolved around his growing experience in the industry and specifically with his recent Rick Ross music video. James was part of the Camera Ambassador family for a while, so hearing about these opportunities and seeing how he has grown is exciting and motivating for us. We hope it is for you as well!
“Your best tools are your team. As a Producer, your job is to hire the best people you can and set them up for success. If a project fails it’s your fault, and if it succeeds it’s your team’s victory.”
Inspiration is a train that conducts action, to motivate it. When James was asked about how he broke into the industry he said, “I started out acting when I was in high school and studied theatre at Loyola Chicago. I never enjoyed the auditioning process because I always felt like I was wasting so much time and effort, all to let another person determine whether or not I was able to be a part of something. I decided that I really wanted to create my own work, where I could create roles I wanted to play, and help my friends get the experience they needed as well. Logan Stone sent me one of his earlier scripts for his feature, Noise and Color, as an opportunity to act - and I ended up producing the project (with an amazing team) to make it happen. From there I started producing narrative marketing content and using that to connect around New York.”
Beginning his career from the perspective of an actor, James has had a dynamic perspective on the industry and the creation process. Now that he produces, James believes, “Producing is such a fantastic role because it’s one of the select few where I get to empower the creators around me. Nothing to me feels quite as good as connecting with creators and working with them to create a project I feel passionately about. When a project succeeds, or fails, the incredible thing is that it’s really a manifestation and a reflection of the team and environment created.”
“Produce what you can, connect to your community and create good work - I’m a firm believer that the jobs you want will manifest.”
Locking down projects with big artist is no easy feat and not a lot of filmmakers have the opportunity to do so. When asking Jamie about how he scored such a great gig, he says, “Honestly, just connecting and making myself available to people. I hit up instagram, begged a lot of people to let me buy them coffee so I could learn more about what I wanted to do. Most people are happy to share advice when they can. There was no real “ask” in mind, other than getting better, which definitely happened. For this particular job, the budget was relatively low and no other producers wanted to take on the job..the Director and EP were two people I had previously connected with and chose me as somewhat of a last resort.”
"If a project fails it’s your fault, and if it succeeds it’s your team’s victory."
As creatives across different mediums, we use different tools as resources to support the final vision. James believes his best tool is his team. He declares, “As a Producer, your job is to hire the best people you can and set them up for success. If a project fails it’s your fault, and if it succeeds it’s your team’s victory. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to put your team in a position to succeed, wipe the floors, slate, deal with the neighbors that yell at you even though you have all of the permits you need and your team will take care of you.”
The memories and connections we make on set are big pieces to what makes this job so rewarding. When James reflects on this project with Rick Ross, he bring up the memories from one scene in particular. He notes, “We were set to shoot on the roof of this beautiful townhouse, in downtown NYC. The scene consisted of Rick Ross sitting on a throne (ala Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), as somewhat of his hero shot. NYC was in the background, framing him as the “King of NYC." When the throne arrived however, it was clear it wasn’t going to fit like we thought. We weren’t going to get up the stairs (my fault for not measuring twice). This was a big problem, the hero shot simply couldn’t get done without the throne. When my UPM approached me about the issue, I called a 10 minute break and brought the team together to discuss. I’m very proud to say I didn’t even open my mouth during the brainstorming session. Rather, the team worked together, impressively quickly, to come up with the best solutions at hand to make the shot even better. That scene was such a great example to me of the importance of team and a healthy collaborative space. It literally saved the project! Also, funny enough, it hands down became everyone’s favorite shot of the whole video.”
James knows and preaches the importance of hard work, creating a community, and supporting others. We hope this inspires and leads you to do the same in your network.
Music video Directed by Michael Parks Randa