Erin Goodsell is the Head of Production for Mother, AdAge's winner of International Agency of the Year. With experience as a producer for Wieden+Kennedy, 72andSunny and Deutsch, Erin tells us her story of paving a career path in the production industry.
Nate Watkin: Welcome to the Creative's Off-script podcast, hosted by Assemble. I am your host, Nate Watkin, and today I'm excited to bring in Erin Goodsell, the head of production for Mother a self-described fiercely independent creative agency and winner of Ad Age's International Agency of the Year. Erin cut her teeth working as a producer for the likes of Wieden+Kennedy, 72 and Sunny and Deutsche, producing work for the world's best brands, including Nike, Koch, Verizon, Airbnb, and many more. Welcome to our podcast Erin.
Erin Goodsell: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Nate Watkin: We talk to a lot of directors, creative directors, but I am excited to finally talk with a real producer or in your case, head of production. Unlike a director where your career rises based on your portfolio and industry buzz, what makes a successful producer in this industry?
Erin Goodsell: That's kind of a difficult question to answer as the first one. I apologize for that. It's really what you're excited about and if you're pursuing what you're excited about and you're organized enough to figure out how to do it, that makes you successful. It's just not an easy one to answer.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, that makes sense. Piggybacking off that and getting into excitement around your career, tell me a bit about your origin story. Where did this all begin? When did you decide you wanted to be a producer and how did you first break into the industry?
Erin Goodsell: Okay, well, I grew up on the east coast. I was born in Massachusetts and grew up in New Jersey. I went to art school at Rutgers University and I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do after that. I, through a headhunter, found myself at Ammirati Puris Lintas in New York. I was working in account management and my amazing mentor in that first position, said that I needed to be a producer that I was too creative to be an account person. Sorry, account people. But that I had the organizational skills and sort of craftiness to be a producer. So she hooked me up with Ozzie Spenningsby, who was my first real production mentor.
Anyone who knows who Ozzie Spenningsby, he passed away sadly a couple years ago. There's probably about five active heads of production currently now, that have worked for Ozzie at one time or another. He instilled great things in all the people that worked for him, that we have amazing production partners, they're not just vendors. Facilitating relationships with everyone, making sure that you are working hard and being nice to everyone. So much more than that, he was so beloved and respected and we just kind of gleaned so much from him. That was kind of like my jump off from there.
So I was in New York at Ammirati Puris Lintas and then I was there for a good amount of time through a bunch of different mergers with IPG. Then I went through some personal stuff and decided to kind of move west and see what the west coast had to offer. Through some mutual friends, found myself at a company called. Triple Double that worked with mostly the NFL network. They did some other stuff with the NFL league, but I really sort of cut my teeth on working with athletes and celebrities at Triple Double.
It was a bit like production boot camp, learning how to maneuver and being able to deal with really fast turnarounds and being able to not panic in a crazy situation and just solve problems creatively. That was really exciting. After that I was freelancing. So I freelanced at a few places. Of course, this is at the time of the crash, so it was kind of hard to get in the door anywhere. I was freelancing actually in New York a bit, but ultimately I ended up freelancing at Wieden+Kennedy.
The first job I worked at Wieden+Kennedy was with Joe Staples, who is now the CCO of Mother. It was their first Dodge job and I was the producer and I was so excited. I felt like this is it. I've made it, I'm working on a Wieden+Kennedy job. It was a really incredible experience. So I was able to stay on after that and the next job I was supposed to do for Wieden+Kennedy was going to be a Nike job. Which was even more exciting to me because, as every young producer knows or feels, that once you do a Nike job at Wieden+Kennedy, that's it, you're set.
Then unfortunately that job went away and Ben Grylewicz, who was the then head of production of Wieden+Kennedy said, "Well, I'm going to put you on this project that's going to shoot over Christmas break. It's for Old Spice. Are you available to do it?" And I was crest falling, because I was so excited to do this Nike project. Little did I know it was, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. So I had seen the script and I didn't quite know what to make of it and I was excited because we were bidding really exciting directors for it. Ultimately it was ended up being Tom Kuntz, who's a genius. Eric Coleman and Craig Allen are wonderful to work with, but it was quite the experience.
There was a swell, we had to move the boat set 150 yards from the shoreline because it was going to get washed away. Weeks before we even filmed, we were already $80,000 over. Then we had the good fortune of finding and casting Isaiah Mustafa, who's so wonderful and a legend. But in the middle of the shoot, he almost got killed by the bathroom set because it was held up by a crane and the wench failed and then the safety wench failed. Then the bathroom set came crashing down into the boat set. Isaiah being so agile, he felt difference in the wind and he took a step to the left and missed being smashed by the bathroom set. So that was kind of crazy.
A lot of people know the story about the 57 takes to get to the one take. It was done in one take, I can corroborate that. I think it was take 57 and we got to take 57 because during the shoot it rained one day. So we had a half a day of shooting, which ended up being a rehearsal, but that third day was the magical day that we got it. Once it was in the can, we were all really excited that we actually were able to do it. But the clients were kind of afraid of it because it was so weird, that they didn't want to run it during the Super Bowl after like legions of people and were working night and day to try and make it happen. We still didn't know how crazy successful it would be, but it was definitely one of the highlights of my career for sure.
Nate Watkin: I think it's probably one of the most memorable campaigns in advertising and it definitely spawned so many spinoffs, especially in the YouTube generation. You think of Dollar Shave Club and all these types of ads that really felt inspired by that. It's funny. I met Eric back in the day and he had told me a bunch of crazy stories about the production of that as well. So very exciting to work on, but it sounds like there was a lot of setbacks. You had the swell of the ocean, you had the bathroom set being destroyed. What were the overages on this project like?
Erin Goodsell: Oh, I don't remember, but they were pretty substantial for a 30 second commercial. I think it's one of the more expensive 30 second commercials. That's a lie. That's not true. There's definitely more expensive ones, but more about the talent. They were significant. All of the people that were working on it, we were all in it together and everybody really held hands to make it happen. Including the client at the end.
Nate Watkin: Of course. Yeah, and at the end of the day, well worth the cost given the exposure that brought about.
Tell me a little bit about the transition from the freelance producer to coming onto Mother as Head of Production. How did that happen? Also, what are the differences in your mind between being a freelance producer versus staff producer?
Erin Goodsell: I really like that question because I really enjoyed being a freelance producer for the time that I was. I guess it was maybe on and off for like 11 years. I enjoyed it because I was able to be very singular and devote my whole life into crafting one job at a time, which I really enjoyed. However, I missed the comradery of being in an office and being part of something bigger than just me and my own little silo. And I also missed developing younger producers and helping them on their way. I freelance at a few places mostly, you mentioned earlier. I was staffed in the middle of it at 180 and then I went back to freelance again. I kind of thought that my next move would be going to the production company side, but then I never really found an opportunity that spoke to me.
Then almost four years ago, I saw that Joe Staples, again full circle, had gone to Mother. I sent him a note because I've had a crush on Mother since the late nineties, when I got my little hands on the manifesto. I wrote him a note, congratulations. Then a couple months later, he called me and he said, "When are you going to stop freelancing?" And I said, "I guess now."
Working with Joe has always been such a joy. Because the first time I worked with him, I remember thinking to myself, I've never seen anybody be able to like solve a problem like that, so elegantly and succinctly in that moment. Having an opportunity to be around Joe all the time. When I was working on and off at Wieden+Kennedy, as he ascended, I would have less face time with Joe. So, to have an opportunity to kind of like be a lieutenant and help do the best creative work in the world and shape a culture of a place, sounded extremely ideal to me at this point.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, that is an exciting opportunity. It sounds like now you made the transition, like you said, from working on one project, dedicating your focus, to now, you're running multiple productions at once. Overseeing producers, I assume.
Erin Goodsell: Yeah.
Nate Watkin: I think a lot of our listeners are really interested in process and how some of the world's best production companies run. So I'm just curious if you can give us a peak inside Mother and maybe give us some insight into how you operate a production department. If there's anything special that you do to really create a world class production organization.
Erin Goodsell: I think it really starts with the people. I think if you find producers who share your values about making the best creative in the world, while being a good human and trying to be innovative, how you do it, I think you can't go wrong. You just have to get out of the way. So it starts with people first. We're an agency and not a production company and I think the lines are blurred in that more and more as we locate makers that are sometimes outside of the regular production company construct. But I think it really comes down to how we all work together and finding people who are really excited about making amazing creative.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, absolutely makes sense. Obviously our entire world has changed a couple of years now ago. Seems crazy to say that, but the COVID pandemic really, really affected production and just changed the way that our entire industry thought about producing content. So I'm curious, how has remote production changed your workflow?
Erin Goodsell: Well, it's definitely changed the workflow. When we started and we had to figure out how to shoot things remotely, it seems so crazy. Now it seems so crazy that it was so crazy because we've gotten pretty good at it. I think the industry as a whole has gotten really good at making things remotely. People have really come to the table with a lot of solutions of how to really experience it as if you were almost there. We all, through trial and error, we got to a place where we could make the same amount of work in a remote way without having to leave the house.
I do feel like we are missing a little bit of the special sauce, as you said before, from having some in-person collaboration. Especially on clients like Sonic, we've really like been able to make it into a machine of shooting things remotely. Sending a very small team out to the actual production while we have everybody else in on by Zoom. Then we've gotten to the place where we are just posting edits and finishing and we don't need to go to a live session anymore. I think it'll probably stay somewhat similar to that process with some additional in person collaboration. But I think now we're working faster than ever in these new ways while not messing up the creative output.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. It's just so funny to think how production was 10 years ago. I heard stories of clients helicoptering in Mr. Chows on the set and he's just extravagant.
Erin Goodsell: That's definitely not the thing anymore.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Yeah. It does just feel more efficient now, but I can understand you are missing a little bit of that personal touch.
Erin Goodsell: I think so, yeah. I haven't seen Mr. Chows in 20 years though. So I think that's a little bit like maybe Sugar Fish.
Nate Watkin: There you go. There you go. Little more budget friendly.
Erin Goodsell: Yeah, exactly. No, I don't think anybody's helicoptering anything anymore. It's definitely leaner. We definitely have to make a lot more assets for a lot less money. There's a lot more channels and platforms that we need to be considering when we're doing content captures. It's like, how do we optimize how to capture all of this content while keeping people safe? And then as things start to open up and we still feel a little bit safer, how do we get to a little bit more of a normal production situation while still keeping some of the optimizations that we've discovered along the way?
Nate Watkin: Yeah, totally. Out of curiosity, what do your collaboration tools look like? What remote tools have you adopted?
Erin Goodsell: Well, we've definitely been doing QTAKE, but mostly Zoom. Then having in camera be one of the squares in your zoom that we're all observing as we go through. Then in editorial, I've been mostly doing links. I haven't been in that many live edit sessions. I know a lot of people who have been, but mostly we've been doing it through postings.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, it makes sense. Mother is a bit of a hybrid. Obviously creative agency, but has head of production, yourself, on staff. I assume a pretty robust production department and capabilities. Have you ever considered repping a roster of directors?
Erin Goodsell: We don't necessarily do that at Mother but at SuperBloom, which is Mother Industries production company, they a network of something like 300 creators at their disposal that they can tap into at any time. So it's not so much part of Mother LA, as it is at Mother Industries.
Nate Watkin: That's pretty interesting model there. You have through Mother Industries, a creative network that essentially is approved creative talent or how does that work?
Erin Goodsell: Well, they bring their partners to us as needed by the project. SuperBloom is the name of that arm.
Nate Watkin: So I saw you launch a really cool new office space. Curious how you guys are thinking about office space as well in this pandemic. Is it something that you still feel is important in terms of winning jobs, to have a cool creative space to bring clients to and to attract employees or does a remote model work for agencies in this new age?
Erin Goodsell: We've been remote up until about a month ago and we have started going back to our current office, doing the 3/2 model. Three days, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in the office, Thursday, Friday, remotely. It's going really well. I was really nervous about people wanting to come back to the office, but seeing the collision of creative folks with people in IT, to the mothers, to business affairs, just everybody getting into a same space together. The energy and excitement of people being back together is palpable and I really truly believe will lead to even better work than we were doing before.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. I think that is really important for a creative company. Makes a lot of sense. So just some more fun questions. Craziest production story ever outside the crazy Old Spice shoot. What other crazy things have happened to you?
Erin Goodsell: That one's tough too, because I can't mention a lot of crazy production stories by name because they incriminate people. Not necessarily incriminate. Because there's celebrities and athletes or production companies or whatever. But I can tell you that any producer who listens to this will groan in agreement that about 80% of every production, especially if it's overseas, will never receive the product it's supposed to be advertising, in time for the shoot. And that you have to kind of either put people on planes of the last minute or download some artwork and try and apply it to something that's available to you local and fix it in post.
I've definitely been on more than one occasion on a shoot where the product that somebody was wearing didn't show up and had to be helicoptered in after we've been shooting the celebrity for an hour and a half with the celebrity director. I've definitely had that happen. I've been on a shoot where the client wanted us to use different food than what they sold. That was a crazy one. I did not sign the producer's affidavit and it was a long time ago, but that was a crazy one. There's been some wild rides, but you get kind of addicted to the crazy ones because you're like, alright, how am I going to handle this one? And it's really fun to try and figure it out, even though you kind of lose some years off your life.
Nate Watkin: It's a good way to approach it though. I think that's a producer mindset to the core. Not a lot of people think that way.
Erin Goodsell: Yeah, it's fun. Then also you have the other opportunity of being able to tell your parents where they're going to see your ad. Because that's the thing that you go home at the holidays and they go, "What are you working on?" And you say and they actually recognize it. That feels pretty good.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. That's very cool. So for the sixth year in a row, you've been named as one of the top companies that creatives want to work for. What do you think makes working at Mothers so great?
Erin Goodsell: I think it's the combination of, what you said at the top about, it's a fiercely independent agency that puts creativity first and it also champions being a good human and working with good humans. I think that we walk the talk and I think that is seen every day in our halls or our virtual zooms. Soon to be our halls all the time.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, amazing. Would love to know more about that culture. I don't know if you have any funny or heartfelt office stories, we'd love to just get a little bit more sense of what it's like working at Mother.
Erin Goodsell: I can tell you that my second day at Mother, almost four years ago, was the summer party and it was at Paradise Cove in Malibu. We all had like matching robes. There was some theme. I can't remember the theme, but it was really funny and everybody was super into it. We got on a bus and we went up there and there were all sorts of like team building games and stuff like that. But towards the end of that day, the leadership team offered the two summer interns full time jobs there on the spot that day. It was such a moving moment to me at the time. Everybody kind of got misty and it was really, really sweet. I was like, all right, I've made the right choice here.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. That's a great bonding moment.
Erin Goodsell: Yeah.
Nate Watkin: I'm sure all the up and coming creatives out there will probably want to know, is Mother hiring?
Erin Goodsell: Oh yeah, definitely. I think pretty much every department. This is going to be a pretty pivotal, really groundbreaking year for us. We're going to be pitching very aggressively. We have really amazing clients that we're doing the best of class work for. So it's an amazing time to come to Mother right now.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Great to hear. Last question, looking back in your career. If you could talk to a younger you fresh out of college or just any young person that really wants to break into the industry and become a producer, what do you think is the number one piece of advice that you would give them?
Erin Goodsell: There's a couple things. I think I mentioned before that my first mentor instilled in me is, work hard and be nice to everyone. I personally have worked with people who are my peers that went on to be a vendor and then left to become my client. And I've been their vendor and vice versa. So you never know who you're going to be working with in the future and you have to work really hard no matter what. This can be a very tough job, but it's extremely rewarding and enriching from a creative and an intellectual standpoint and you meet the best people on the way.
So I would say that and then find what you're passionate about and get organized. Find out who's doing the work that you want to do. Find out who the vendors are and partners that they work with are. Explore all of those things. Talk to as many people as you can and just keep at it, keep plugging away. If you show the desire that you want to be somewhere, especially if it's a creative place, you're going to do well. They're going to take you and you're going to go.
Nate Watkin: Amazing, great advice. Thank you so much for the wonderful interview. It was really great to chat with you.
Erin Goodsell: Thank you so much.