Creative Lives — Pragmatic freelance photography producer Vinita Davé on multitasking and thinking on your feet
An organisational whizz with a pragmatic mind and a permanent smile, photography producer Vinita Davé has been planning shoots for the fashion and advertising industries for over a decade. Her clients include Virgin Media, United Colours of Benetton, Cos, Nike, and Ikea – she recently masterminded a shoot involving a high jumper leaping into bed for the latter’s Win at Sleeping campaign. The rise of digital and social media means that creating moving image is now also an increasing part of her job description and with all the weird and wonderful demands of a shoot, Vinita feels she’ll never stop learning – it’s one of the things she loves most about production.
Freelance photography producer (2007–present)
Mother, Charlie Clift, Howard Kingsnorth, Still Productions, Truro Productions, We Are Another, Ragi Dholakia Productions, Wren Artists, Making Pictures, east.co; Virgin Media, Ikea, United Colours of Benetton, Cos, Nike, Mazda, NSPCC, Sainsbury’s, H&M
Junior producer and assistant at Bareface Productions, Dubai (2007)
Office/Studio Manager; Digital Operator and Producer to Gary Salter (2003–2007)
BA Photography and Digital Imaging, Reading College of Art and Design (2001–2004)
How would you describe what you do?
I organise photo shoots for the fashion and advertising industries, including some moving image content. I work for a variety of different clients, from photographers directly to photo agents and production companies as well. I don’t tend to work directly with advertising agencies, more on the photographer side.
What does a typical working day look like?
Every single day is different. It’s one of the reasons why I do what I do. You can get thrown anywhere in – or outside – the country, especially when you’re shooting, location scouting or casting. When I’m prepping a job, I need to be in front of a computer. That stage involves going to meetings, getting through all of the logistics, pencilling in studios or locations and so on.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
Quite often I work in-house at different production companies and photo agents if that’s better for the job. I also work from a shared studio or sometimes from home – I don’t always have a set place. I’ve always got my computer with me everywhere that I go so my office isn’t restricted to where my desk is, especially as sometimes I’ve got to do things at the drop of a hat.
How do projects usually come about?
I always put everything I can into every single production and so it’s really rewarding to get calls and emails from people saying that they’ve heard of me or been passed my details. LinkedIn is really a great platform; I see people looking me up a lot on there. But the majority of my work comes from recommendations from existing and regular clients, which is really fulfilling. When I get involved in a project depends on who I’m working with. Sometimes I’m brought in after the concept had been approved by the agency but before any quoting has started. Sometimes when I’m working directly with photographers, I’ll work on a job right from the beginning. Often there will be between three to five different photographers that are up for a job. At other times I’ll cover holiday or come in because it’s busy. The project will be just handed over to me. I’m used to starting at any point in a job.
“Be keen to learn, smile and be happy to do anything. You might think it’s a really small thing that anybody else could do, but it’s so important for the producer to trust you.”
How collaborative is your work?
Extremely. I have a team that I surround myself with. Your team is really important in this industry. It’s not just the production assistants, runners, other production coordinators or fellow producers, it’s also the people like stylists, hair and make-up artists, the set design team, photo assistants and the digital team. You’re all there making it happen. Everything is a team effort.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your work?
Being on set is really enjoyable as is meeting new people. I’m constantly meeting a new stylist or casting person or photographer. Another really amazing thing is when you’ve been involved in job from the beginning, from a drawing on a piece of paper. You’ve budgeted it, you’ve been on set and you’ve shot it and you’ve seen it through all the post-production. Then you drive down the motorway and there it is on a massive billboard, and you can say, “Yeah. That was us.”
The least enjoyable is invoicing and taxes. Being self-employed, taxes are something that you’ve always have to do. I’ve got an accountant but I do my own books; I’ve always got receipts coming out of my ears. I make sure I dedicate at least one day a month to sit down and do it. I’ll procrastinate but I have to do it. Same with invoicing.
Work for Absolute, with Gary Salter, 2012
Work for Ruffles Crisps with Gary Salter, 2008
Work for Shreddies with Gary Salter, 2009
Work for Virgin Games with Wren Artists, 2009
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
A technically exciting job was one I did for IKEA with photographer Marcus Smith, who came over from the US to shoot it. We shot high jumpers bounding into bed with the tagline ‘Win at sleep’. It was really fun to cast and also fun on set. Not only did we have to think about how the sports elements were going to fit together with the products, but sequencing the images in post-production was quite technical too.
I worked on a job for Virgin Games with a photographer called David Stewart. I’ve known of David for a very long time. I’d always wanted to work with him but never thought that I would. I’ve actually ended up doing a few shoots with him this year. The Virgin Games project was also a set build shoot, which I really enjoy because there is so much creative process in it.
What skills would you say are essential to what you do?
You need to be a people person, be approachable and not be afraid to approach others. Organisation and time management is important, but at the same time something else might crop up that you’ve got to get done immediately so you’ve got to know how to prioritise. The casting might change all of a sudden or something could happen with the location. Everything else on your to-do list has to be halted because, if you haven’t got a location you haven’t really got a shoot.
Remembering names is really important. When you’re a producer people look to you to remind them of other people’s names. It’s good if you don’t have to keep constantly looking at the call sheet [the document that details who needs to be on set when]. Understanding how to work with lots of different types of personalities and intuiting how people might work best is also useful. Also, Excel. It’s not just budgeting and adding up numbers, but keeping yourself organised. Producing call sheets for example, they’re mundane but actually very, very important because you pretty much do a walkthrough of the job while you make the call sheet. After that you know it inside out.
What tools do you use most for your work?
My phone, my laptop, Excel, my notebook and a smile.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Either a dancer or an optician. I did classical Indian dance lessons for quite a while and really loved it. Then I guess the teenager in me took over and I ended up letting it go by the wayside. I really looked up to somebody that was an optician, I did some work experience and I quite enjoyed the technical side of it. When I got into photography I really enjoyed the technical side there too. I guess I’m still working with lenses.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
So much. Having a passion for photography and understanding the creative process is really key for my job, even though people think that being a producer is just logistics and money management. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a production assistant or producer, if you’ve got an understanding of lighting or cameras, it’s a real advantage. I can look over equipment lists and know whether a big item is missing or estimate a budget based on how expensive the lights are.
What were your first jobs?
In my college years I was a waitress. As a waitress, you’re constantly multitasking, you’ve got numbers in your head, you’re approaching people all the time and looking after people. Within production you are often looking after people and making sure everyone’s okay and if not, how can you solve that. Bizarrely it is relatable. And then I worked with Gary Salter, coming in one day a week to help the studio with the paperwork. By doing all the invoices, you see everything coming in and going out and so you kind of build a map in your head of how everything fits together.
“I always put everything I can into every single production and so it’s really rewarding to get calls and emails from people saying that they’ve heard of me or been passed my details.”
Behind the scenes on a shoot for IKEA
Behind the scenes on a shoot
Behind the scenes on a shoot
Behind the scenes on a shoot
Behind the scenes on a shoot
Work for IKEA with Marcus Smith and Mother, 2016
Work for Nike with Rick Guest, 2015
Work for United Colours of Benetton with Annelise Philips, 2015
Work for Mazda with Rick Guest, 2015
Was there an early project you worked on that helped your development?
When I was about 25, I went out to Dubai. At that point I was more of a photo assistant, digi operator and production assistant. I ended up being thrown at the deep end into a job with a really big client. There were some unforeseen circumstances where the producer couldn’t be there so I had to step in. Daunting as I’d only been in country for three weeks. It really proved to myself who I was and what I could achieve, plus how adaptable you have to be really in this job.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
What’s really great about this job is that you’re always constantly learning because you never know what job you’re gonna be on next. I end up having to research all sorts of interesting things. You have to be approachable, diplomatic and conscientious of the people around you and how they might be feeling. I’ve brushed up on Excel a lot since working in this job.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
The project I mentioned in Dubai, plus I worked on this shoot with a photographer on a personal project that he really wanted to shoot. It was really exciting but he didn’t have any budget for the rest of the team. It’s sometimes okay if you’re doing it for a particular platform, or a prestigious magazine, but he didn’t have the budget to pay for anyone’s time. What I learned was it’s just as important to know when to say ‘no’ as ‘yes’. Nothing is too big or too small for me in any way whatsoever but I never want to compromise on the quality of my work.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I set out to be a photographer and I fell into the magical world of production. It’s very addictive but there’s a lot of stress. But then with stress comes adrenaline and rising to a challenge and problem-solving. That feels so good. Again it goes back to, it’s so important the team you’ve got around you so you’re all collaborating together and making something happen.
Work for H&M’s holiday campaign, 2012
Work for British Skin Foundation with Gary Salter, 2012
Work for Cos with Ilaria Orsini, 2015
Work for Philips with Gary Salter, 2009
What would you like to do next?
At the moment I’m establishing more international connections. I’ve got a really good solid base in London, which is fantastic, but I’m thinking about how I can do it in other places too. I’m picking my camera back up again, so that’s exciting for me personally. I’m also getting quite interested in post-production following a job I did with a photographer called Rick Guest for Nike where I learnt so much about CGI and 3D mapping. I’m constantly learning; it’s all about future proofing, staying ahead and progressing with time.
Could you do this job forever?
Why not? It’s so nice. When you’ve got good regular clients as well as friends and teams of people that you work with, you’re a well-oiled machine. You also have a really nice day with your friends, as well as your team members. Why couldn’t I do this forever? It’s such a varied job and you’re always learning. I thrive off it.
What do you feel is the natural progression for someone in your current position?
A natural progression would be to see what being a producer is like on the ad agency side or on a client level. Also setting up your own production company. This industry is vast. You can move around and always be adapting and changing things up.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to somebody wanting to become a producer?
I would say go and work with production companies, or photo agents, or photographers or anyone within the industry and learn everything. A lot of the time, doing production is problem-solving and having knowledge of all the aspects of a shoot. You’ve really got to know how it all works. Nothing is going to be a wasted experience. Be keen to learn, smile and be happy to do anything, however small it seems, even if you’re booking cabs. You might think it’s a really small thing that anybody else could do, but it’s so important for the producer to trust you. Always be really personable in your approach to people and don’t just send out blanket emails saying “Hi there”. It’s easy when your busy and have autocorrect but be careful as I think it shows attention to detail.