Interview: Waiming Wee talks production, creativity and communication

Forest – production by Waiming for Marsmallow Laser Fest

I had the pleasure to brainstorm the subject of production with Waiming Wee – an Executive Producer, a producer and media artist who will soon organising her own workshop on production. Waiming has worked as Executive Producer and producer for Marshmallow Laser Faest, a Senior Freelance Producer for North Kingdom and as Executive Producer and producer for Unit 9. Some of her notable and award-winning projects include HD DVD, Comcast, Sony VAIO, Sony PlayStation, Paranorman movie, digital archive installation for MOVE (exhibition) and a musical laser installation (Forest). She debuted herself as a visual media artist at London Architecture Festival in 2008 and is currently preparing another piece for 2014. During the past year we have been exchanging thoughts on production, creativity and communication and I thought it would be interesting to share some of her insightful thoughts with you.

Hi Waiming! To start I would like to ask how did you end up as a producer?

My master degree is MA Design – research-based studies on design methodology of problem finding, problem solving and creativity. it applies to any creative disciplines and I was interested in multimedia and digital stuff at that time therefore I had chosen “interactive” as the major discipline in my final thesis.

I wasn’t thinking much upon graduation but an opportunity led me to unit9, one of the top 10’s production agencies. I remember I was showing my creative portfolio and the Managing Director, Piero Frescobaldi, asked me a question – are you here to be a creative or a producer (he was looking for a producer).

I didn’t know what it was but he explained that a producer should have a good insight from budget, creative and technical knowledge to client relationship management. I thought it’s right on my sleeves that what I wanted to learn to be. that’s how my life as a producer began. Until today, I still appreciate the opportunity he had given me!

Waiming Wee in Lisbon while working the exhibition Future Perfect for the Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2013

Waiming Wee at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2013, Future Perfect.

How would you describe what function a producer have in a production?

A producer is someone who pulls all team members together to find problems (anticipate issues/outcome ahead), find solutions through creativity and technical understanding, and negotiate with clients for a reasonable compromise to deliver the desirable result that everyone would like to have. That’s my main task every day!

How do you think the roles in the team change during the process?

Good question – we learn and grow. we learn to understand each other’s personality, working ethics, strengths and weaknesses through the dealing of everyday’s todo list in the project. these dynamics bring out different results on the table, some aren’t as good as we want and this is where teamwork begins to complement each other especially with the responsibilities.

Of course there’s a lot of frustrations and pain along the way and some undertake a bigger responsibility than others but it’s interesting as part of the process to evaluate yourself and do better for the next project.

Lack of communication is a common problem when you start getting closer to deadlines. What are the best ways to communicate with each other within the team?

Todo list and daily update. I prepare a todo list for every team member in the project including myself – some read and some don’t therefore transparency is the key. It serves as a reminder and reference for everyone to comprehend their role/responsibility of the day. I like 15-minute catch up session to go through any issue that might arise before the start of the day – it’s a good practice to read the updates/todo list before the session and when we gather together, we discuss issues, possibilities and exploring solutions.

The updates comprise my communication with the clients, potential issues/solutions and the team members delegate conversations among themselves say tech lead with his developers and he comes back with an outcome – either a solution or another set of issues, and it goes on and on 🙂

What do you do as a producer to improve the group dynamics of the team?

I am a fan of “teamwork”. the word is easier said than done. It’s something that I always foster but in a team itself, there’s a lot of compromises, tolerance and flexibilities towards each other and this is what I find lacking in most project teams that I was/am with. It annoys me a lot as my patience layer is getting thinner day by day until the day it explodes – a contradiction to the fundamental requirement of a producer!

Perhaps some people find it “cool” and that’s what it’s called creativity. I say this is selfishness, if you aren’t capable to find a creative strategy and work around the problems but insist on what you want only.

What is the role of the client throughout a project and how do you communicate?

It is always good to build a friendship with the client, it helps in understanding each other’s way of working behavior and build trust as opposed to taking it for granted. This is developed through daily updates even if it is just a few lines in an email and phone calls to hear your tone/manners. Many times, a client turns on the panic button because there isn’t any response though things are in progress. Nobody likes silence too much as it could be interpreted in a negative way.

You have had the opportunity to work on many exciting projects with interesting clients. What do you think is the secret behind landing a project with a new client?

Have you heard of the song – Honesty by Billy Joel? That’s the key word to sell a project to a client – being honest. Honest about what you know and don’t know that might be beneficial/detrimental to a project. Honest with the budget, don’t ask for more if you know you aren’t delivering more – if not that’s the end. There’s really no more!

Interactive Installation by Waiming Wee

Do you need a deep technological knowledge as a producer to be able to manage projects with advanced technological solutions?

I don’t come from a technical background but surrounded by technical experts and that’s how my technical knowledge kicks in, in addition I have a lot of curiosities about how things work and like finding answers – it’s like solving a mystery and being a scientist and detective… you make your own discovery channel!

Technology facilitate an idea/concept but it doesn’t dictate the essence.

Do you use any tools you would recommend to use as a producer?

I have been introduced to different tools! Basecamp is probably the most well-known tool but lately I’m using Teambox – it’s good for task delegation, time management and having conversations in relation to a task. Asana is another tool that I am playing with….I also send daily updates to clients just like I do to the team members – it keeps the communication going and the panic button off. crucial!

Every producer has its own way of creating a project budget sheet and I prefer to have 3 sheets.

1. internal estimate: this is actually the most important sheet….it should list out all the scope of work within a project and it actually shows how much you understand a project when preparing an estimate

2. client sheet: this comes from internal estimate but some of the items are re-categorise in a different ways for the client’s easy understanding

3. internal cost: the actual expenses when production begins… a lot of times you see that there’s a lot of unforeseen expenses no matter how well you plan the contingency cost

ParaNorman – production by waiming wee for north kingdom

What is your contribution in the creative development of an idea?

WIth my artistic background, I am very meticulous not to cross the line when I’m a producer. I will only give my feedback once an idea is formulated, any loophole to be shared with the creative director but s/he is still the main decision maker. it’s important that a producer and creative director work closely together as it determines half of the success of the project.

But when I’m doing my art projects as a media artist, it’s totally different from being a producer, it helps because of the logistics issues that involved.

As a production company the idea usually come from the client while you as an artist usually come up with the idea by yourself. What is the biggest differences between productions where the idea comes from the production team or from the client?

There’s a difference in terms of ownership, like copyright to an invention and flexibility! A production person can be a thinker and a doer but clients are mainly a thinker and a speaker. When an idea is transformed into visuals, the outcome can be slightly different, either more or less, from the original interpretation in mind.

Some clients can be quite stubborn if the outcome is less favorable than imagined. Having said that, as technologies evolve and integrate into our lives, clients are more sophisticated and willing or pretend to understand. On the other hand, the production team is more receptive to the changes of plan due to the constraints that they know how and why as long as they know what the objectives are.

Hayward Gallery Digital Archive – production by Waiming Wee for Unit9

What do you think happens to a production when there is no producer?

Producer is a beautiful title but the job is hard. It’s like jack of all trades, dealing all issues from small things like the team’s stomachs to big things like fixing the projectors! It really trains a producer to be an all-rounder, like it or not however it doesn’t guarantee smooth operation all the times..

Having said that, if a team is independent enough, it doesn’t really matter whether a producer exists or not. Teamwork is strong – the tech team takes the initiatives to speak with the creative team directly and all we have is a weekly update to go through issues, milestones and solutions. I love the team – we play our roles well.

But this is a rare occasion.

What tips would you give me and other young producers? What are the most common mistakes I should try to avoid?

Over ambitious with the idea, budget and timeline. As a result, compromises have to be made in the process of making to find a balance in order to have a happy face on everyone!

You recently decided to leave MLF to spend some time working on your own projects. What do you have planned?

I would like to start giving workshops in production to share my experience.

What insights about production are you most excited to share in your workshops?

1. Sharing of my experience in different project types as guidelines…
2. Sharing of my methodology in problem finding, problem solving and creativity with the projects that the participant(s) is/are going to or already involved
3. Research skills and planning within budget and timeline
and Exploring new creative issues

If someone is curious to know more about your workshops after reading this interview, how can they contact you?

Send me an email at waiming.wee@gmail.com

Thank you for sharing! Good luck with your workshops!

Thank you! Good luck to you too!