Greg Young’s Live Pictures

Greg Young

by Rasmus Rasmussen on September 13, 2011

Greg Young is an executive producer and director at University of Washington, which means working on programming for UWTV, as well as all the administrative work that comes with such a position. And it doesn’t end there. Greg is involved in several projects and interest groups, centered around his passion for media production and visual storytelling.

I met Greg at the studio where he does most of his work. When we talked, it was clear that not only is he an excellent listener, but also a fast thinker with a lot on his mind. In the following he shares some insight into his work and advice to those who have an interest in making pictures move on screen.

AP: You’ve known you wanted to be behind the camera doing television since you were a kid. What is it about pictures moving on a screen that’s kept your interest all these years?

GY: I honestly have no idea. I remember as a child always telling my parents I wanted to be a filmmaker. Every single year for Christmas and my birthday when they asked what I wanted for a present, the answer was always the same, a video camera. Never got it, but I still ended up here.

My interest shifted from film to TV after seeing a behind the scenes of what it took to produce a Monday night football game. I was enamored at all the moving parts and no one had a clue what it really took to do all this.

What’s really kept me interested all these years is the variety and constant challenges this industry has to offer. Every project presents it’s own challenges to over come. I guess for me it’s a puzzle and I have a blast putting all the pieces together.

AP: What’s your mental approach to producing? Is there an underlying philosophy or does it always depend on the project?

GY: I speak a lot about the psychology behind video. This is an art that that many new content creators have yet to learn. There is a process to bringing in your viewer and one that is even more important today with the amount of content available. You need to be able to captivate someone within seconds and hook them within minutes.

Many people don’t know, but they are drawn into a video by a series of subliminal actions. One of the best analogies of this that I like to use, is the comparison of the Burger King/Carl’s Jr. ad campaigns from the mid to late 90′s. Burger King had a very successful ad campaign that ran for a few years that features beauty shots of their burgers set to popular music. Then Carl’s Jr comes and does something no one else had done. They showed real people eating their burgers.

Have you ever wondered why the food you buy doesn’t look the same as in the commercials? Because the food in the commercials aren’t edible. At least they weren’t in the 90′s. The hot lights would wilt the food before the commercial shoot could be done. They were props or coated with a glycerin to help the food continue to look fresh, so they could never have people eating. Edible food is unpredictable and messy, so the geniuses that came up with the campaign incorporated this hurdle into the campaign with the famous tag line, “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.”

Since then, you’ll be hard pressed to find a fast food commercial that does not at least have one scene of someone eating the food. The reason is because this connects with people subconsciously. Viewers see “real” people eat this burger and on a sub-conscious level they are relating to that.

Psychology also plays a huge role on the success of a viral campaign. Even the way you conduct an interview with a subject is a play on a series of subliminal actions. Although I don’t post regularly, I like to post my theories on this topic on my blog.

AP: You’ve done all sorts of work, but seem to have specialized in live production. What appeals to you about the live element? How important is having a specialty or niche?

GY: I LOVE live television. There have been times where I’ve spent days preparing for a live broadcast only to have the whole thing go to hell in a hand basket. At that moment, in an instant, you need to know exactly what to do. At best, you’ll have a couple minutes during a break to retool your whole plan. You’re basically making split second decisions on the fly. As a producer, you have a whole team waiting for directions from you on what will happen next. For some, this is extremely stressful and for others, like myself it is exhilarating.

This type of work perfectly fits my personality. When I need to make a decision, I make it. And quickly. I don’t need to weigh options and I almost never second guess myself. In this business, I don’t have that luxury. Have I made bad decision during a live production? Of course, but it’s like someone learning to ride a bike or a horse. When you fall off you need to get right back on it and not be intimidated by it. Like every great producer, our career is built off our ability to constantly adjust to our mistakes.

As for your second question, I’ve always been one that believes you should at least hold every position in production. Learn to shoot, run audio, lighting, editing. Be a PA or grip on a few productions. Having experienced nearly every position, this has given me a unique perspective on production processes. I can better calculate how long or how much it will cost to do a production. I can more easily communicate and delegate to my team what needs to get done in a way that they understand. Knowing all these positions, I can better anticipate trouble areas and build contingency before they become a problem.

AP: What’s your take on the future of television and video online? Where would you like it to be, and where do you think it’s heading?

GY: I get asked this a lot. I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that the access to video content is going online. Things like Hulu, Netflix, Roku, Apple TV have started to become household names. User generated content is on the raise and I’m not talking about funny home videos on YouTube. I talking full, self-funded internet series like The Guild and Journey Quest. We are essentially drowning in online video content. But nobody knows about it.

I believe that the next huge boom for online video will be in aggregation. The person or company that figures out a way to aggregate all the video content online into one place will put the cable industry out of business. I honestly don’t think we’ll have to wait too long.

Think about it, for those who already consume content online, we have already conditioned ourselves to aggregating all the content we want to come to us. Services like Tumblr, Stumble Upon and RSS feeds continually satisfy our need for content.

Now I need that one service that is on my internet enabled TV that gives me access to all this great user generated content, blockbuster movies and network shows. Honestly, we’re not that far away from this. If I were the CEO of Hulu, I would be taking a serious consideration at merging with sites like Blip.tv. In my opinion one of the greatest contributors to the success of UGC web series.

I can go for hours on this topic. Buy me a beer and I’d be happy to ramble on about it.

AP: You’ve pretty much worked your way up from a teenage assistant to senior producer. Is this a path you’d recommend in the age of YouTube? What advice would you give a kid wanting to do what you do, starting out today?

GY: My biggest mistake was not getting a college degree. I am 20+ years into my career and I’m more than ready for management, but I am continually looked over because I don’t have a piece of paper that says I’m qualified to do what I do. If you’re trying to get into this business, go get a BA in business. This will come in very handy later on. While you’re doing that, volunteer, intern, work on any production you can. Be humble and never assume you know what you’re doing.

Occasionally I like to take on simple low level gigs, like PA or grip on low-no budget projects. Usually a bunch of weekend filmmakers who think it would be fun to “make a film”. I don’t tell folks about my experience, because I’m usually using it as a recruiting tool. I like to see how people handle their work, their interactions with others.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of dicks and know-it-alls at this level. But I always find at least one person that I then hire later on. Someone who is humble, yet confident in their abilities and respects and solicits input from others. These are the folks who should be in this industry, not the assholes who think they’re the shit because they got best in show at a film festival no one has heard of.

I’ll conclude with one piece of advice I give lots of young people that almost is never followed, NEVER oversell your capabilities. Don’t say you have “experience” on a piece of software or equipment you have been using for only a couple months. You will be put to the test and when you fail, you’re done. This is a small and very competitive industry and we all talk to each other.

If you’re curious to know more about Greg Young, be sure to check out his website and blog. You can also follow him as @CoolGuyGreg on Twitter.

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