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Land High-Profile Clients w/ Erin Sarofsky & Duarte Elvas
We chat with industry legend Erin Sarofsky and Creative Lead Duarte Elvas about building an elite brand, landing big clients, and a new mograph workshop series called Sarofsky Labs.
To say that Erin Sarofsky is a successful motion designer would be a severe understatement. As an Emmy Winner and Studio Owner, Erin is one of the most accomplished artists that we've ever talked to. If you've gone to the movies or turned on the television in the last 5 years there's a really dang good chance that you've come across her teams work.
Sarofsky's latest adventure is one that is very near and dear to our hearts. As an advocate for sharing your knowledge with others, Sarofsky is starting up a new weekend workshop series called Sarofsky Labs. Notable lab topics include 3D Motion Graphics, Branding, Producing, Title Design, and more. The labs will be taking place periodically over the next few months so if you're interested in attending we highly recommend that you browse their page.
As a woman-owned business, Sarofsky is on the cutting edge of social change and artistic achievement and we are thrilled to have Erin and Sarofsky Creative Lead Duarte Elvas on the podcast. Now with all that being said let's sit down and hear some fun insights from some of the best in the biz.
Sarofsky Show Notes
Speaker 1: You have 455 [inaudible 00:00:02]. He's gonna hit about at 200, I think.
Joey: This is the School of Motion Podcast. Come for the MoGraph. Stay for the puns.
Erin: I think what separates amazing creative directors from terrible creative directors is the ability to impart wisdom and direction on people, and allow them to do their work. So, you know, instead of saying, "Make that 30% bigger and change the color from white to gray and move that over here," you might as well be doing it yourself. But if you walk over and you say, "Hey, you need to emphasize that a little bit more. I'm not really getting a sense of X, Y, or Z." Then you're allowing them to use their skills to solve problems.
Erin: And if they then ask, "Well, how would you do that?" That's a different thing.
Joey: It's not every day that you get to wake up, go to the office and talk to one of your heroes. Well, people, today is one of those days for me. Holy schnikes! Erin Sarofsky is on the podcast.
Joey: Erin and creative lead [Dwart Elvas 00:01:09] from Sarofsky Studios in Chicago are with us today to talk about oh so many things. For starters, Sarofsky just hit ten years in the business and has been doing bigger and bigger jobs as they've grown. For example, they have worked on the main titles for films like Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Not small projects by any means.
Joey: So, in this conversation I dig into just how Erin and her team have managed to pull in such high-profile work. And the secret is actually much simpler than you'd think. We talk about a brand new initiative that they're launching called Sarofsky Labs, which I think all School of Motion listeners will be very very interested in. We talk about the business realities of running a studio. And we talk about some of the issues that Erin champions in the realm of empowering female artists in our industry, and promoting equal pay, equal opportunity and other noble things like that.
Joey: This conversation left me buzzing after it was over. And I know you are going to learn a ton and be inspired as hell! Alright, let's get to it.
Joey: So, this is hard for me to believe, but we have Erin Sarofsky and Duarte Elvas from Sarofsky Studios on the podcast today. Thank you so much for being here, both of you.
Erin: Thank you.
Duarte: Thank you.
Erin: That's awesome.
Joey: This is very exciting. And I told myself when I came into work today. I was gonna try not to fanboy out too much, so we'll see if I can actually pull that off.
Joey: First of all, Erin, I saw when I was doing my research that you're studio is now, I think, ten years old. So first of all, congratulations. That's a huge milestone and it's a place that a lot of studios fail to get to. I thought it'd be cool just to hear from your perspective. What are some of the highlights of having a studio go from zero years old to ten years old?
Erin: Yeah. I mean, it's an interesting thing. A studio changes quite a bit over the course of ten years. It goes from a small startup. It almost feels like having worked at three or four different companies, to be quite honest, with how the work has grown and changed and our relationships have and certainly our location. I think a big milestone was moving into the building in 2012-2013. I bought a building in the West Loop when it was still a pretty shitty place. And now it's my retirement plan, so that's good.
Erin: So moving into the building was a big deal. It really felt really real. You know, moving out of a rental space into our own space.
Erin: I think one of the thing's I'm most proud of is that we have calls and work on jobs with some of the same people we did back ten years ago when it started, and believed in me enough to give me work back then. And they've been clients the entire time, like [Matt Canzano 00:04:04] and the Russo Brothers certainly, and [inaudible 00:04:08], even John Wells and Andrew Stern and [inaudible 00:04:13] at Lionsgate.
Erin: I think that it's an interesting thing to watch how our careers have evolved a way, our client's careers have evolved, which is special. And obviously that led to Marvel, which is the reason why people care about us. And certainly that is a huge milestone and continues to be [inaudible 00:04:37] in the studio.
Joey: [inaudible 00:04:41].
Erin: Yeah. And it's practically a new milestone and a new way of us engaging in the community and all of that.
Joey: Perfect. And we're gonna talk about that in a few minutes. I have quick question about the building because I found your personal website, Erin, and you had this really cool time lapse of actually gutting and building out your studio. And I'm always curious about that. Was that more of a business decision, like this is gonna save us money in the long run to invest and buy a building? Or, was it I want total control over the layout and everything about that and the only way to have that is to own the building?
Erin: I think it was the first. It was it's gonna cost 13-thousand-dollars a month to rent, and the kind of style of building I want, knowing that it was gonna go up in the future. If I buy this building and do a build-out, my mortgage will be cheaper. I mean, that didn't put into account how much work it was gonna take to build the building. Again, more naivete. But just like, "Hey, we'll do this. It'll be cool. I know an architect. And I know somebody that does building. And it'll be fine."
Erin: I would say, yeah, it was definitely more of a business decision. It wasn't about control, 'cause you can do a really nice build-out in almost any rental space.
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Right.
Joey: Cool. We'll link to that in the show notes, in case anyone's curious. And you just mentioned a work I wanted to ask you about: naivete. So you have this amazing feature on Motionographer from last October. And there's a quote that I really thought was interesting where you were talking about the initial conception of your studio. And you said, "Sarofsky the company came about both out of talent and naivete. I had the talent and some connections, so I thought very naively I'd start a company."
Joey: And I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about that. Why did you use that word naïve?
Erin: I honestly had no idea how much is involved with running a company outside of making work. I thought like there's a job. I'll make it and deliver it and that's cool. Most people can't do that. I can do that. I know how to do that.
Joey: Should be enough.
Erin: But there's production side. There's operations. There's technology. There's sales. All the stuff that I think creators never really think about that are quite costly and time consuming.
Erin: There's also things like insurance, like every kind of insurance.
Erin: Production insurance to general insurance to just health insurance. You could possible imagine. Payroll taxes, billing, invoicing, bidding, tracking, estimating, banking, managing lines of credits, getting financial accountants. There's all sorts. I could just keep going.
Joey: Tell me about it.
Erin: And that side of things, like making sure that everybody gets their yearly review and a proper raise. If there are issues, bringing them up in a constructive, positive way. These are things that you're just not taught in art school.
Erin: And even MBAs I think struggle with. I think that running a company is a wholistic thing. You gotta take care of your staff in a way that supports them and their families, and it's really important to get that right. If you mess up somebody's paycheck or health care or benefits in some way, you're really messing with them in a terrible way. So we have to take that really seriously and I've learned all of that on the fly. And so that's where the naivety came from.
Joey: Got it. Yeah. I was gonna ask you about that. And just selfishly because we're going through the exact same things. I thought, well, I could just make tutorials and that'll be enough. And, of course, there's a lot more to it than that. So, you just sort of learned on the fly? Did you ever hire a business coach?
Joey: You know, it's funny. We just had Joel Pilger on the podcast, and this is his thing is like helping studio owners grapple with that. Did you ever work with someone like him?
Erin: No. You know, I think my lawyer and accountant were like speed-dials. And what happens is your network grows. And they're like, "Oh, if you're gonna start hiring full-time and move from freelance, then you need to talk to this person. And they're a health care broker, and then they come in and they sit down and they talk to you and you get it set up. And you go from there." And then 401(k). It's just like everything is just a little bit at a time, which was I can say it truly grew organically.
Erin: It wasn't like I just opened an office and had millions of dollars flowing through the place immediately. It was pretty slow growing. And that's really how it worked.
Erin: But everything was just a reference, meeting somebody, having my core two people that then introduced me to other people as I needed.
Joey: Yep. That all makes sense. And I wanted to ask you about the name because now, ten years in with Marvel title sequences on your portfolio and you've spoken at [Fitzy 00:09:38], all these sort of things, having the company named Sarofsky, it seems like–
Joey: It was fate or something. I was gonna use a different word, but that is hilarious.
Joey: But, in hindsight, at the time were you like, "You know what? I am just so confident. I'm gonna name this after myself"? And the reason I ask is because if it was me I'd be thinking, well, this could be great because if it does really well, then it's like I'm a name brand. But if it goes poorly, then there's gonna be a headline somewhere: Sarofsky Goes Bankrupt. Right? So, what was the story behind choosing that?
Erin: I didn't have a name. I didn't know what I wanted to be. I was considering opening a company and somebody was like, "We have a job for you." And so needed a name. And so I just called it Sarofsky because later on if you wanna change it, you could just do a DBA, which is called a Doing Business As.
Erin: And so it really is not a big deal to change it. I'm not a Weinstein, so I'm not too worried about.
Joey: You're not gonna get hashtagged or anything.
Erin: Being associated with absolute horrible behavior.
Erin: Unless hanging out and sitting on your couch and watching bad TV is crime. But I think the thing was it was just necessity. It happened out of immediate necessity. We've seen so many companies have terrible names. I just didn't want it to have a bad name. And so I didn't wanna rush into a decision. And then what happened is it was just like we had that job, and then we had another job, and then it started to become a thing, like become real.
Erin: And it's interesting, because I remember the first time I answered the phone here and I was like, "Sarofsky. This is Erin." And it wasn't weird. And it took like five or six years for it to not be a weird thing that it was my last name.
Erin: Now we go to meetings and Duarte will introduce himself: "I'm Duarte from Sarofsky. I'm a creative lead." And it's not weird. But it's always funny when it gets to me and it's like, "Hi, I'm Erin Sarofsky."
Joey: Yeah. Right. "Oh, that's what a coincidence that you work at a company named Sarofsky."
Erin: So it's kind of cool. I don't know that I'd necessarily had the confidence that is required to probably do something like that. I certainly didn't necessarily have the name recognizability or even the portfolio to warrant that, but it's grown quite nicely. And now my name is a brand, which is really a special thing.
Erin: It does worry me, like someday if I do ever want to sell or something, I will literally be selling my name.
Joey: Your name. Yeah. Exactly.
Erin: And that changes how you think about that. So I warn anybody if they want to build a brand around their name, it's not like when Digital Kitchen sold it wasn't like Paul Matthaeus and Don McNeill sold their names to somebody; they sold Digital Kitchen. And they could continue on in their own name and do whatever. If ever that happens, or if ever I wanna collaborate with somebody, it's different having your name attached to it, I think.
Erin: Not that that's happening. But it's something to think about.
Erin: One of your later questions I think is gonna get into that a little bit.
Joey: Yeah, for sure. And it's funny, you just reminded me, it's almost like picking a band name. And in the end it doesn't matter if you say it enough times it loses all meaning. I love it. I love it.
Joey: So, Duarte, I'd love to hear a little bit about you. First off, why don't we start with how did you end up working with Erin at Sarofsky? Because I can remember ever since the studio came onto my radar, it was like, oh, okay, that's one of the coolest places. That would be like a dream gig for me, if I lived in Chicago. So how did that end up happening for you?
Duarte: Yeah, you can say it is kind of a dream come true. I first heard of Sarofsky at a conference, where Erin was speaking. It was before all the Marvel stuff. And I remember really loving the killing title sequence as what really drew me, and also Shameless, I think. But I love the work. And I really especially loved Erin's vibe. I thought she was really funny and kind of approachable. And I thought, "Hey, one day I can work with her."
Erin: One day.
Duarte: One day. And then a year later Erin was doing a program evaluation at [Skaad 00:14:15], and part of that program evaluation was talking to students about the program. And that's how we had a chance to meet.
Duarte: We talked about the program a little bit, talked about design. And [inaudible 00:14:29] we really hit it off.
Erin: Yeah. I remember coming back to the studio and saying to [Halle 00:14:34], "Oh, I met this guy. And he's [inaudible 00:14:36], and let's see what comes of it."
Duarte: It's cool. I emailed her my work and applied for a summer internship, 'cause I needed one for my MSA.
Duarte: Eventually. I think a month and a half later I get a response.
Erin: Before we had people nudging me to make decisions and do things.
Duarte: Hey, it was an internship offer, so it was worth the wait. And I think it took me about 48 minutes to get back to her and accept it.
Duarte: Yeah, and I've been here since.
Joey: Erin, what was it about Duarte that you saw? That you thought, "You know what? This is like a diamond in the rough. I could do something with this."
Erin: Well, he just had raw talent. And his communication was incredible. It's funny. You go to these conferences. And in this case it was for [inaudible 00:15:37]. They asked me to come and evaluate their entire program, so they had me at the Savannah campus and the Atlantic campus. And we had to fill out all these forms and do all this crazy stuff and do all this write up afterwards, and meet with all these students.
Erin: Duarte was so articulate and communicative. And, I don't know, there was just something there. Plus, his work was amazing.
Duarte: Well, I had been working for a few years by then.
Erin: Right. Yeah.
Duarte: Six years working professionally, I guess.
Erin: Yeah. So that obviously helps, going back to school, and with all of that under his belt changes that, for sure.
Joey: Yeah. So, Duarte, I wanted to ask you because you're one of the few motion designers I've spoken with that actually has a master's degree in motion design. I mean, that's pretty rare. Although, when before we started recording Erin told me that actually several people at Sarofsky have a master's degree, so maybe that's the secret sauce.
Joey: But I'm wondering. Can you talk about what caused you to make that decision to go back to school? And it sounds like you were doing it while you were working, so I'm sure that was kind of difficult to juggle. What was that experience like? And why did you do that?
Duarte: Yeah, so I majored actually in film and television. And in college I had a few friends that knew after effects and showed it to me. And I had a little bit of experience with after effects coming out of school. And my first job at a production company ended up being as motion designer, so there was a lot of going home after work and looking at tutorials and trying to figure out how to do stuff.
Duarte: So I was able to build a successful career in Portugal as a motion designer. But it got to a point where I felt like I needed more. I wanted to take it to the next level, so I decided to return to the US and get a formal education in the field, specifically in motion design.
Duarte: And I'm happy I did. All the people I met and all the opportunities that it opened, I feel like it was worth it.
Duarte: It was more like going from film and then self-taught, and then to motion design specifically.
Erin: Yeah. Do you feel like if you could do it all over, you would just go for motion design? 'Cause I love that you have a film background.
Duarte: Well, yeah. That's the thing. I feel like motion design encompasses so many disciplines.
Duarte: And I definitely feel like my background in film has helped me as a motion designer.
Duarte: It's just sensibility for cinematography and editing and all the things: splicing, storytelling.
Erin: Exactly. Yeah.
Joey: It's interesting that you say that, Erin, because I agree. I think that that's kind of the secret sauce in a lot of really great work. It has nothing to do with how good you are at after effects or 3D, or anything like that. And even how beautiful the design is can be secondary to the pacing and the concept and the juxtaposition of one cut against another. And that's not something that you're gonna learn from a tutorial, frankly. Not yet anyway. We're working on it.
Erin: You know, I used to teach, when I was at Digital Kitchen like a billion years ago, I used to teach at the Art Institute here in Chicago, motion design, which is fun. And one of the assignments I would give is to take a track of music and to edit with just colors, just like solids, to the music. It's basically you're just cutting. You could do maybe a cross dissolve or something like that. 'Cause I really wanted these kids to understand, or students to understand, that just with the pace of something and working with the music, you can create a beautiful piece. It doesn't have to have all these crazy transitions, or really require any skill at all. You just have to understand editing.
Erin: It was probably one of the most important lessons I taught all year.
Duarte: Yeah, when you restrict everything else.
Erin: Yeah, and you're just changing a solid. And you go black to white, black to white. Now maybe you're working with gray. It was really kind of a cool, interesting assignment.
Joey: That's brilliant! I'm gonna steal that. I'll give you credit though. I'll pay you a royalty.
Joey: So this segues very nicely because obviously, Erin, you've got a teacher inside of you, in addition to an artist. And, Duarte, you've obviously studied and you've learned this stuff and you really have a strong grasp on it. And so now Sarofsky, the studio, and Sarofsky the person, is doing something very very cool that I'm trying to think. I'm sure other studio are doing stuff like this. But you guys are doing it in a big way. And there's a new initiative called Sarofsky Labs. And you can just go ahead. Let me just throw it to you. Just explain to everybody what it is.
Duarte: It's a series of motion design workshops that happen every month.
Duarte: And they're a weekend long, very small, 12 people workshops.
Erin: Yeah. Each week, we're covering a little disciplines, so to speak. The first one is going to be design for motion, which doesn't actually entail any motion. It's just making boards, how you communicate what this will be once it's in motion. That's a big part of what we do when we do style frames and pitches and things like that. So that's the first week.
Erin: Second week, big one for us is main titles.
Duarte: Main titles.
Erin: Like how do you look at a show and come up with ideas, and then pitch them to show to producers and directors and what is that like. And people are very very curious about that.
Erin: And then we go into 3D in motion for design, and just like all those different–
Erin: Producing is one of them, because I feel like actually this is probably a big opportunity for you guys. But a real hole in the industry at large is creating creating producers out of school. I think a lot of people fall into producing through other methods. But I think it's kind of a weird thing to say, but that person that's always organizing the group and getting the equipment, planning things and just really good with schedules and really has a passion for the craft, but might not be the best at animating, that is your producer. A person that loves the medium and is super organized around it but doesn't necessarily know exactly where to place themself in the field, usually those are the producers.
Erin: And so, I think identifying those people a little bit earlier and getting them on track, because there's so much involved with producing. I mean, you heard me talk about operations and bids and schedules and all of that. Having a strong producer is probably one of the parts that makes this place so successful. So we've decided: let's do a producer lab, as well, to get people open to it.
Erin: What's funny is a lot of the agencies we work with they're starting to say, "Hey, we wanna send some people." It's interesting the people that this is resinating with it actually surprised me a lot. I thought it was gonna be very student oriented, but it's actually not.
Duarte: Yeah, it's working professionals.
Duarte: They're freelancer.
Erin: Yeah, freelancers.
Duarte: There are obviously some students.
Duarte: Yeah, people from everywhere really.
Erin: Yeah, and I know people are always asking us who it's for.
Duarte: Yeah, "Is it for me? 'Cause I'm just starting out."
Erin: "Is it for me? 'Cause I'm this." [inaudible 00:23:24]. When we were conceiving this, we really thought of three different people, what this is for. And the first one is the person that goes to conferences, that is just looking for access to people making this work. And we even heard of people doing studio tours, paying to go and looking at people's studios. I think that's incredible. And this is a way of where when I speak at a conference they get me for like 45 minutes to like an hour an a half, and I can scratch the surface of something but this is like a intimate personal experience where we get to work on a project together.
Erin: The other thing is, and what I have actually real life dreams about, is going back to school. Somehow recreating that feeling of when I was in school, where there's no client and you're just exploring because you're exploring. And one of my favorite parts of school was the comradery and the atmosphere created where we all were working on a project in tandem, offering support and bias. And we always had classes that were kind of learning parts and then labs parts.
Erin: And so this is the labs part. This is where we're all just working together in the same room, feeding off each other's energy.
Duarte: Yeah, so like a nice design jams.
Erin: Yeah, it kinda is. Exactly.
Duarte: [crosstalk 00:24:43] It's just an opportunity for us to be creative without ten levels of approval.
Erin: Totally. Yeah.
Erin: It's making cool stuff. Exactly. And then lastly, I filled out an interview from you guys, from School of Motion, and we've done a couple other things. And I was thinking, this would be a fun supplement to an online education.
Erin: People are coming out with all of these skills, but having never maybe been in a real studio, they don't necessarily know how people have things organized. Or this could be just like a good weekend or two weekend dips into something, just to get a sense, so that they're not walking in cold. You know?
Duarte: Totally. Yeah.
Duarte: I can think of when I was learning.
Duarte: If there was an opportunity to spend the weekend at a big studio, I would've been crazy all over it.
Erin: Yeah. I would've been all over that. If I heard that Imaginary Forces was doing this in 2000, I would've been there.
Duarte: [inaudible 00:25:47] for me.
Erin: Yeah. Absolutely.
Duarte: Absolutely. Yeah.
Joey: Well, it's funny. So you brought up the producing thing earlier. And I think you're probably the fourth or fifth person to say this to me, that there's not a great resource yet to really teach that side of things. And producers are often the difference between success and failure. So that's amazing that that's one of the things you're offering.
Joey: And I just wanna make it super clear for everybody. These are in-person at Sarofsky Studios, with Erin Sarofsky, and I know Duarte's involved. I'm assuming other members of your staff will be leading sessions, too. This really is a dream thing. I will probably take one of theses at some point.
Erin: I'd love that.
Erin: In terms of who's leading these workshops, I think each workshop is built around specific core talent here. So while I want to be at all of these, I don't know that I will be because sometimes I have to go on a shoot or something like that. But if I am in town, I will be here and working.
Erin: Yeah, but trust me. You don't want me leading the 3D workshop. [inaudible 00:26:56] on the work maybe, but not leading.
Duarte: But, totally, and it's interesting 'cause everybody at the studio is just so excited and engaged, and everybody just really wants be here.
Erin: Be here.
Duarte: And some people want to take it.
Duarte: And just participate. So it's cool.
Erin: And it's cool, 'cause you don't necessarily need anything. We're gonna open up half the studio's workstations, so people can just show up and get to work. It really is like hopping into a studio environment. I thought that was an important aspect of it.
Erin: On the technology side, it's taken us a little bit of time to make sure that's feasible, just 'cause we have very high security here 'cause of a lot of the work we do.
Erin: So we're carving up a part the server and doing all sorts of things to make sure that it works out.
Joey: Well, it sounds like it's gonna be incredible. And so my next question is: what sort of the logic behind doing these? 'Cause I'm imagining, having taught and having built courses and workshops and stuff, it's a lot of work to set them up and to run them. So what's the main motivation behind it? I mean, is this eventually, hopefully, a revenue source? Is this really just a way of giving back to the community?
Joey: One theory I had was that there's not enough really high-level talent when you're a studio like Sarofsky. There's always a shortage of the cream of the crop. And so maybe this is a way of generating more of them. So now you'll have an easier time getting freelancers and stuff. So I'm curious what made you decide to pull this off.
Erin: Well, I mean, yes. It's not as a revenue stream. What we're doing with any money that comes in is really just kind of going to the artists, teaching the workshop. And we're doing all this food. And we really want to make a fun, positive experience.
Erin: This is, I think, two or threefold, the reason that we're doing it. One, we wanna get more talented people through the office. We wanna meet more people. We wanna become a more active member of the community. We wanna have a bigger voice in the community. Right now, I would say, it's been, Duarte's very involved in the community. I'm, I would say, passively involved. I go do these conferences. But I'm actually quite overwhelmed by them. I feel like I do an okay job speaking, but just milling around I feel a little overwhelmed by it.
Erin: Sometimes there's a lot of people. It's interesting. For me, this is a way of being involved in the community in a more intimate way.
Erin: That's for me personally what it is. But then, on the other side, it's like if we meet people [inaudible 00:29:34] mutually wanna work together with, that is a complete win-win.
Duarte: Win-win, yeah.
Erin: And we are always always looking for talent. And I'm always especially looking for, I wouldn't say necessarily junior talent, but talent that has not necessarily arrived yet. We love growing talent. I love growing talent. While we don't necessarily see these as teaching classes. And I'm putting quotes around the teaching. They're more like guided workshops, 'cause I think there needs to be a base to come in and really get somewhere.
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Erin: But it really is open to anybody. And I think people will learn no matter, and evolve their skills no matter what.
Duarte: And I feel like we're gonna treat these workshops a lot like they treat a project that comes in the studio.
Duarte: [inaudible 00:30:24] to have the same sort of dynamic, with the briefs and with checking in and feedback and just sharing thoughts on everybody's work. And it's supposed to be very collaborative, just like environment.
Duarte: So it's really about sharing our process and workflow and all these parts of [crosstalk 00:30:48].
Erin: Yeah. [inaudible 00:30:48] is part of it.
Joey: Well, I think our students are gonna absolutely eat this up, 'cause right now we're very focused on building that base of technical competence, core creative competence, and then this sounds like the perfect opportunity to then go try these skills out and see what you can do with some guidance.
Joey: I'm always curious when I talk to creatives, like the two of you, that do really high-level work. When you meet junior talent and you say they're raw, but you can kinda recognize there's some talent there, but it's not quite polished, what do mean by that? What actually are they lacking at that point that needs to get better before they can lead a project for Sarofsky?
Erin: Leading a project, that's time and experience.
Joey: Lower the bar then. Maybe I jumped ahead. But I mean even just doing style frames, or something like that.
Erin: Yeah, I mean at first certainly any level can contribute on a job, whether it's a Marvel job or a social media kind of get it out in a couple days kind of post. I think we can talk about talent and skill set. I think there's other really important things, so organization, dependability and ability to collaborate.
Erin: Those are absolutely essentials. And that, by the time they get to us, is not something that you can really teach. At that point, it's like personality traits.
Duarte: Personality traits. Yeah.
Erin: And either they been taught bad behaviors in terms of organization. Dependability is really important. Are you gonna show up for the people around you? Nobody's on a team of one here. Our teams are range from three to four people to dozens. So everybody's sharing files. And it's okay to get it wrong, to mess up, to not put something in the right place, to have to re-track. But do you do that every time?
Duarte: Do you learn from that?
Erin: Or do you learn from it when we talk to you and show you? Those three things are, for me, probably the most important. And then I feel like if there's even seeds of talent as a designer or as an animator, which by the time they've been through a few courses and some animation tutorials and a couple years in school, you could really see. On the design side, I feel like it's pretty there or not there.
Duarte: Yeah, it's about taste and [crosstalk 00:33:28].
Erin: Typography, finished, things like that that you can tell in like a poster design. And so five nice pieces, even if they're stills, I can tell if somebody's got it or not.
Duarte: Absolutely. And also when you look at reel, seeing if they can discern the good work from bad work.
Erin: Good work from bad work!
Duarte: Why are you showing that one, when you have that one that's so good?
Erin: Right, like show me 15 or five of amazing seconds. It's better than 45 seconds with one nice piece, 'cause I'm wondering, "Do you know that that one piece is amazing and the rest is kinda garbage?" 'Cause that's what you expect when you're in school. Even when we look back at our school work, once you hit senior year and you're doing those projects, you work from junior year is gone. It just doesn't hold up. So you gotta be able to discern the good work from the bad work, and not be attached to it, which is another important aspect of what we do here.
Erin: I think when you're in school, you have comments from your peers and your teachers, but you don't really have to do what they say.
Erin: Here, when you have a client, you have to address it, for better or worse.
Duarte: For better or worse.
Erin: And our job is to keep up the positivity and the energy. And even if it's a terrible comment, to make it acceptable visually and make it work. You know, Tim Gunn style.
Joey: Love it. Tim Gunn style. That's awesome. And so I'm guessing over ten years you've had a lot of junior artists come through and interns, things like that. When you can identify those people that have the raw talent but they're used to being able to just blow off their professor's notes, which by the way that is so true it's like scary how true that is. Oh, my gosh.
Joey: What do you find is a good way to help them grow and level up in those areas? I mean, do you actually sit down and sort of consciously lead them through it? Or, do you just throw them in and just let 'em get beaten up and then recover and learn from it? Is it trial by fire?
Erin: Well, we've tried a bunch of different things here. We've actually had active conversations and try things here with little mentorship things.
Duarte: I'd say it's a little bit of both.
Duarte: But mostly fire.
Erin: Mostly fire.
Duarte: Yeah, we actually put our talent right in.
Erin: Right into the situation. Right in. Like, "Here's a job. Here's your part of it. Check in with me in two hours."
Duarte: I think there's a sense of responsibility that comes from that, that you don't get with the hand holding.
Duarte: Obviously, we're thoughtful about how we–
Erin: Yeah, we're not gonna give people work that, one, if they don't do a good job on that it's gonna be make or break for our job and for our clients. And we also make sure that it works with the kind of work that they've been doing. We're very thoughtful about the work we give. But we do like it to be a little bit aggressive in terms of, "Okay, this is your responsibility. This is what you're doing. Here's all the things you need. Absorb it. Come get us. [crosstalk 00:36:42]."
Duarte: And I think people, after talking to a few people, they really appreciate feeling like they're part of the jobs right away and the team, so it helps it at many levels.
Erin: Yeah, it's interesting. When we bring in interns, they're actually paid and they're members of our team. I don't believe in free work. But as a result, I want them contributing. You know?
Erin: And not just getting coffee. I think the methodology here is if you're gonna be here and you're gonna be sitting on a workstation, which we don't have that many of, you're gonna be a contributing part of this.
Joey: That's really cool. I mean, I can tell that nurturing talent and retaining talent, which is a whole other thing sometimes, it seems like that's something that you focus a lot on. And that brings up this other quote that I wrote down from the Motionographer article, which I thought was really cool: "Talent is our biggest expense. And for me that's where the money should go, not for the cool address and fancy couches. But for the people making the work."
Joey: And I wondering if you could just elaborate on that a little bit, because obviously when your studio grows to the size yours has, there's a lot of ways you can blow money. Right? Things get really pricey. And so to have that philosophy and truly live by it, what does that mean at Sarofsky?
Erin: I think you could just look at how we break down our budgets. You know, minimally, at the very least, 60% of any budget somebody spends here goes to talent.
Erin: You have to get it on screen. You have to see the money on screen. That is what they're buying. That's what they're paying for. Now, we do have a new studio. We have a lot of nice things going on. But, at the end of the day, that's all paid for now.
Erin: But it's just important. And then out of probably the other 40% that remains, probably at least 20% of that goes towards technology, just having internet, having backup internet, having–
Erin: Yeah, well. Electricity I wouldn't necessarily consider technology.
Erin: But it kind of is, if you really think about it. But I mean like workstations, software, even like online tutorials, which we subscribe to. All that stuff really really adds up, and so that becomes a big part of our budget as well. And then we go to overhead, which is rent/mortgage.
Erin: And I would put electricity in that. Insurance goes into that. Some insurance I would put into actual staffing, 'cause when you pay for people's health insurance and make sure they're taken care of there, I think of that as towards talent.
Duarte: Towards talent.
Erin: But just out of workman's comp insurance every year is like astronomical, because we pay for it not just on full-timers but I don't think freelancers realize we pay that on top of it. If something happens to them, they're guaranteed workman's comp insurance through people like us. You know?
Erin: It's like all of the money that's being spent a year really is going towards talent at the studio. But it's interesting because when you watch the video of the building being built, you're like, "Wow! That's so amazing. It must've took gillions of dollars." But really it was because I didn't wanna pay a lot of money in rent.
Joey: Right. [crosstalk 00:40:14].
Erin: All this money went into building this building, but really it's essentially a different kind of rent payment. It's just to a bank instead of a–
Joey: Landlord. Yeah. Gotcha. It's really cool to hear that. And I think that that's something that a lot of studio owners and people who are thinking to start in studios should really hear, because when you're a solo freelancer and you daydream about the studio, maybe you're daydreaming about the really cool office with a roof deck and a kegerator, or something like that. And maybe you'll get all those things, but really the first thing you're gonna have to do is pay some really talented people probably a good salaries to do your work.
Erin: [inaudible 00:40:55] salaries. Yeah.
Joey: Yeah, for sure.
Joey: I wanna talk a little but about the pre-Sarofsky the studio. It's really awkward sometimes to be clear about what I'm saying.
Joey: But you got your start at Digital Kitchen. And you were there during I think some of their golden years. They were still on Motionographer, doing lots of stuff. And a lot of amazing talent came out of there obviously.
Joey: I'm wondering what lessons and habits did you develop there that you've taken to Sarofsky. And I'm sure there were also things that maybe worked for Digital Kitchen, but when you started your company you thought, "I'm gonna leave that, because I wanna do something different."
Erin: Yeah, it's interesting because Digital Kitchen's still around, but they're a much different company now.
Erin: And I'm still close with one of their owners. What I will say about my time at Digital Kitchen is there were a lot of positive and negative things all swirled into one.
Erin: But what it ultimately taught me is the kind of person I wanna be and the kind of business owner I wanna be and collaborator. And that's that I need to treat people the way I would want to be treated. That extends to my employees. That extends to my clients. That extends to everybody.
Erin: Before, I like just shoot off my mouth, I think, "If I were them in this situation, how would I be feeling?"
Erin: Sometimes that means you just need to take a minute, or I need to take a minute or a day or two days and really think about that and not be so immediately reactionary to things, and to give that thought. Even if it's a hard conversation, like if it's not working out anymore with an employee or if something with a client isn't going well and hard conversations need to be had, I need to take that step back and say, "Okay, this is where I'm at. Can you explain to me what's going on on your side?" And get to the bottom of that.
Erin: And there were definitely a lot of things that happened at DK. And it was such a young company. And we were doing work that frankly had never been done before. And there was very little producer or creative leadership there. It was like a lot of kids making things. You know?
Erin: It was kind of bananas, you know, especially in the Chicago office. The Seattle office had a bit more in terms of on the creative side leadership there. And it was very hard for them to find and to secure until they got [Colt Schneider 00:43:26], a creative director. So I was there through all of the ups and downs of bringing in creative directors, giving it a try, bringing in additional talent, giving it a try and watching that work and not work many many times. And really how they handled that was hard. It was hard to be a part of. But at the same time, it was them growing and learning as a company And certainly now, having grown a company and been through all the experiences I have been through, it gives me a totally different way of looking at that experience. So my answer to that now is completely different to right when I left in 2006-7.
Joey: Yeah, it sounds like you probably learned a lot just from seeing that and being a part of that. And I'm sure you experienced then first hand some of those growing pains once Sarofsky started to grow.
Joey: One of the hardest things I think for people who start studios to figure out how to do is to let go and to let other people do it, especially if you yourself are good at it. So I'm wondering what that learning curve was like for you. You know, learning to trust other artists to do the work.
Joey: One of our teaching assistants, when I told everybody that we were going to be talking with you, he said that he feels like he has to be good at everything. It's hard for him to let go and let someone else animate it. So can you talk a little bit about how you develop the ability to do that?
Erin: Yeah, I think it was definitely hard. The hardest thing, especially about being a creative director, there's so many. I definitely think about my job in multiple ways, but I think what separates amazing creative directors from terrible creative directors is the ability to impart wisdom and direction on people and allow them to do their work.
Erin: Instead of saying, "Make that 30% bigger and change the color from white to gray and move that over here," you might as well be doing it yourself. But if you walk over and you say, "Hey, you need to emphasize that a little bit more. I'm not really getting a sense of X, Y, or Z," then you're allowing them to use their skills to solve problems. And if they then ask, "Well, how would you do that," that's a different thing. But I like to be a person that just gives quick little inspirations. You know what I mean?
Joey: It's almost like they have a problem, right? And they think they've solved it. And then you walk over and give them another problem. You know? Like, in a way. And then you let them. I mean, there's something pretty insightful about that, 'cause I ran into that in my career when I was running a studio and my default was make it 30% bigger, open up the graph editor, pull that [bezier 00:46:16] this way. And then I learned over the years to say, "Yeah, it's not snappy enough," or, "It's too cluttered. The logo needs to be the f-" Stuff like that. Okay, that's good to hear.
Erin: Yeah, also saying, taking a step back, "Okay, the client said this in the last round. Have you really solved that? Or, have you created new problems? Or, what are the new problems they are going to be seeing?"
Erin: I think one of the things I'm good at doing is being able to anticipate a little bit of what clients are gonna say and to pre-solve for that, knowing of course a client's job is to make comments every time you send something until they run out of time and money. You know? There's that whole aspect of it, but it's basically keeping the quality up and allowing people to have ownership over the work, both the client and our artists. Everybody owns it. Everybody feels attached to it, and that's what you want at the end of the day: everybody to feel like without them this wouldn't be as amazing as it is.
Joey: Right. Yeah. It just takes time to learn that.
Joey: I mean, that's a very zen sort of business lesson that you learn over the years. And I wanna dig in a little bit deeper with your actual business practices, 'cause one of the things I've noticed, especially since we've started being in touch with each other, is just how incredible you are in your company at doing PR. This is not something I'm used to seeing and getting press releases and things like that, and really well-written, targeted emails. And it's very effective. I'm fully on board with it. But, for some reason, it feels almost old fashioned in today's social media world.
Joey: There's studios springing up, where their marketing strategy is Instagram, or Dribble or something like that. So I'm just curious how your studio approaches the outreach and the marketing side of things. Is Sarofsky also doing the social media thing and trying to do the bottom-up approach to getting work? Or, are you pretty much, from my side, I see you being very targeted and very direct with people you wanna get in touch with.
Erin: Okay, so there's a couple ways. First of all, we think of PR as sales.
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Erin: So when you do that, a different kind of respect level. And so we do have a person, Roger Darnell, who does our PR for us. He's quite amazing. When we have a specific contract to talk about, he targets who we think might be interested in it. Obviously, if it's a main title, maybe it's something Variety's interested. If it's a piece for P&G product that's kind of fashiony, maybe it'll go to some cool French vlog. He's very very good at identifying where to send releases and how to talk to people and all that stuff. And we take a lot of time in crafting those releases and talking about what's special about each project.
Erin: I like to keep in touch with people and create personal relationships. That's how I built my business. There's probably three or four clients that legitimately built this business that I've connect with over the years and worked with. And I feel the same way on the PR side. Once you meet somebody and connect with them, you develop a personal relationship with them, and then it becomes a friendship. You know? That goes all the different ways and this community is really not that large, so I think that that's an important aspect of it.
Erin: Duarte's really really good at that, especially in the Chicago community, which is great. But I think at the end of the day why we consider PR sales is because it takes people a certain number of times, and I think there's actually metrics on this, they need to see your name in order to have the confidence giving you a job. You know?
Erin: And [inaudible 00:50:08] just for new people in the industry that they'll see buck a thousand times, and all the blogs and all the places. They'll see. You know what I mean? They just have to see your name a few different times in a few different places.
Duarte: Yeah, I mean, same to send you a reel.
Duarte: And wanting to work on a story with you. Yeah. It works both ways.
Erin: Yeah, a sale is not just towards clients but also sales towards recruiting talent and getting in at schools and to career days and things like that. You know? Both sides.
Joey: Yeah, that's really really smart. And so, on that sales side, obviously the outbound approach, sending out press releases and emails and things like that. That makes a lot of sense. Does the studio also do modern social media marketing and try and get lots of Instagram followers and get work that way? Or, is that just kind of different thing?
Erin: Well, we are of different minds here about Instagram, because I feel like for me Instagram is about imparting company culture.
Erin: And I think that that's an important part of selling to people that we want to work here. It is completely, we do have that many birthdays, when you see people with cakes. It's very strange how much, for being a small studio, how many birthdays we have here.
Duarte: A birthday every week.
Erin: It's like there's a birthday every week, so we always take a picture. We always have dogs in the studio. I just got a puppy, so people are literally just showing up here to hang out with the puppy. And they see it on Instagram. You know? It's kind of a hilarious thing.
Erin: For me, that's what Instagram is about. But we have been adding a little bit of work here an there to it, because it's like, "Well, maybe we should use this as a way." But to me, that's what our website [inaudible 00:51:58] for. That's a little bit old school. Like you said, "Dribble." And I looked on Twitter and I'm like, "What's Dribble?" [inaudible 00:52:13].
Duarte: [inaudible 00:52:13].
Erin: [inaudible 00:52:13].
Joey: Dribble's old now. No one uses Dribble anymore, actually. I shouldn't have even said it.
Erin: The whole thing. You know? I remember when Vines were a thing.
Erin: Oh, my God. So funny. Like if I check an animation, what and who would do that? You know?
Joey: I think it's really interesting and I'm glad to, frankly, to be honest, I'm glad to hear you say this because for A, I think it's really smart. I've never thought about using Instagram in that way, and I think that that's really smart. And there's a lot of interesting things I'm picking up from you and Duarte about the way Sarofsky runs. It's a very mature way of running a studio. You put as much effort into locating talent and building them and retaining them and all of that as you do actually trying to get work.
Joey: And a lot of times it's backwards. It's like, a lot of people put so much effort into marketing but in these kind of like low-friction, easy-to-do, I'll make an Instagram post, rather than doing the hard work of researching and reaching out and building relationships.
Joey: On that note, I wanna talk about relationships some more, 'cause you've said that word a bunch of times. At the beginning when we started talking, you said that one of things you're proudest of, one of the highlights, is that you have clients that you've had for ten years, like the life of the studio. And it's funny 'cause you mentioned the Russos, right. Did they direct Civil War, or did they direct Guardians of the Galaxy?
Erin: They did Civil War.
Duarte: Winter Soldier.
Erin: Winter Soldier is when we started Marvel with them. And Civil War and Infinity Wars. Yeah.
Joey: I was gonna ask, because when I told our team that we were gonna talk to you, the most asked question was how do you break into the world of these feature film titles. And I'm sure you get that all the time. And you answered it right in the beginning. You have a relationship with someone who's in a position to let you pitch on that.
Joey: Can you kinda talk about, maybe using them as an example, how did that relationship and turn into this insane opportunity to be doing gigantic title sequences?
Erin: Definitely tag this section, 'cause if anybody listens to anything they should listen to this story.
Erin: Because it's one of the most important thing, 'cause you never know who's gonna be what, when, where, why, or how. So right when I opened the studio, had an opportunity. We got a call to go Community, a television show. They were having a problem wit their main title, and they were calling in basically every main title designer they know to come up with option, because they were out of time and all that. And I happened to be in LA at the time. Thank God.
Erin: And they were like, "Can you come into tomorrow to meet with everybody?" And I was like, "Yes, of course. I'll come in."
Erin: Cut to the next day, like it's a movie, like I'm reading a screenplay. And me and my producer at the time, it was an hour and a half from. And, you know, you always go a little early, so we're having pizza [and motsa 00:55:20], which is an amazing restaurant in LA. And we're sitting at the bar and the producer calls and he's like, again, this is the next day that we're about to go in, and he goes, "So, I'm just curious. Do you need anything for your presentation?" And I go, "Presentation? What presentation? You're giving me download." He's like, "Oh, okay. I'm sure it'll go well."
Joey: Oh, God.
Erin: And Jake is still their friend, you know. And we work together all the time. So I hang up the phone and I'm like, "Oh, shit. I better come up with some ideas for this main title," sitting at a bar. I'm like, "Give me another glass of whine, 'cause this is gonna be weird." So I just open up my journal, like my little notebook and I start writing down ideas. I'd watched the show. And I was like, "Okay, so this is a show about people coming together, all different ages and ethnicities."
Erin: Thank you, Duarte. Thank you.
Erin: "And they're coming together in a community college environment. Let's just start from there." My first idea was, I think, what if it's based on a rejection letters? So like Yale, forgetting the fact, of course, that we can't use any of these schools, but you are rejected from all these places, so this is where you land. And the next idea is them waiting in line to get their school ID, like it's a DMV. And I just idea, idea, idea, idea.
Erin: Now I come from Digital Kitchen. Remember we used to do these beautiful design boards. So this is like kinda bananas that I'm sitting in and doing this. So I [inaudible 00:57:01] like six, seven, eight ideas written down. And we go to this meeting. And it's in the actual library on the set. They pushed all the tables together. And one after another these people walk in. It's all the show writers: Dan Harmon, the show creator, the Russo Brothers, and all the producers. And they sit in an horseshoe. And I'm sitting on the other side of the table and I'm like, "Holy shit!"
Erin: So I just open my little journal and I just start saying, "Well, we could do something like this. You know, da, da, da, da, da. Here's this idea about rejection letters."
Erin: And one of the writers is like, "Oh, that's a cool idea." And I saw them throw the idea around the table, how they would. It gave me a glimpse into how, when they look at our work, what actually happens.
Erin: And the idea seemed like a good idea and I'm like, "Oh, they're liking it." And then somebody goes, "Yeah, but it's based on rejection. And even though our cast, they're like kinda rejects, they still lift each other up. This is a place of acceptance."
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Erin: "Doing a main title where rejection's not appropriate."
Erin: And so then I saw the idea deflate and fall apart. And I was like, "Okay, next idea." So I just went one idea after another, and they really loved the cootie catcher idea. They felt like, yeah, it's an extension of 13th grade. It's something you would do with a big pen. And I kind made one there. They could visualize it. It was like a really interesting kind of thing. And so they were like, "Go board that. Make a storyboard out of it. Show us what the narrative would look like." So I did. I went back to my [inaudible 00:58:39] and I actually made the cootie catcher and took pictures of it. And [inaudible 00:58:43] something like this. And they were like, "Great, you got the job." You know?
Erin: So that's what started my relationship with the Russo Brothers. And I think it's because I feel like most people would be like, "I'm not going to this meeting. I don't have any work to show." And I was just like, "No, no. I'm going to this meeting. And I have ideas. I can come up with some ideas."
Erin: And what to became was just like talking to them, like, "Here's some scenes of ideas," listening to what they have to say and kinda working with them. And that's really how the relationship with the Brothers got started. Then when they moved onto their next project, which was Happy Endings, they brought me into that. And there were a couple of other pilots that really didn't go anywhere that we worked on. We're like, "God, why am I working on this? It's like such a garbage. It's doesn't seem like great work." And I won't say garbage. I almost caught myself.
Erin: But you're like, "What is this?" And, you know, any other studio or person would say, "Yeah, I don't wanna do that." But I'm like, "These are my people. They took care of me. I'm gonna take care of them and make this as amazing as it can be."
Erin: And then we were working on a show called Animal Practice with them, which was like another one of those shows. It was like, "Well, maybe this will get good over the course of the first season, like Seinfeld. It's not gonna be good out of the gate, but as these people get together." And as we're making this title sequence for them, it was announced on Variety that they landed Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Erin: And I immediately email them. I'm like, "I am so happy for you, but I am more happy for me. Please do not forget your girl when it comes to main titles. It's like a dream come true to work on one of those jobs."
Joey: That's amazing.
Erin: Yeah. And so they were like, "Of course!" You know? But it worked out not to be that simple, 'cause Marvel has certain kind of guidelines with security and this and that.
Erin: And we'd never worked with them before, so they really had to, I don't know if the word is insist, or just say like "Give them a shot." You know what I mean?
Erin: Like really stick up for us, or tell them. And, you know, since then we moved right into Ant-Man and the Guardians. So we met all of these other amazing directors and obviously the executives at Marvel that kind of keep us in the mix.
Joey: That is one of the best stories, I think, has ever been told on this podcast, Erin. Thank you for that. That was so good.
Erin: But it's interesting, 'cause in those situations there's a lot of reasons to walk away or to not go or to be worried or to not have the confidence just to show up. And then not only to show up; but then, to kind of keep nurturing and maintaining that relationship to say like, "Oh, I don't necessarily know that the show is gonna go, but I believe in these people. And they have good taste. And they gave me Community, which is like a coke head. It's like the funnest, one of the coolest main titles I've ever done." It's such a fun main title.
Erin: I think you have to really be thinking about that when run a company. When somebody gives you work, you have to take care of them, unless they're total monsters. You know?
Duarte: And at the time we didn't know how successful Community was going to be.
Erin: I had no idea. And I most certainly didn't think they would be directing Marvel movies and have this amazing [inaudible 01:01:58] pictures, where they're making all this amazing content.
Joey: That's awesome. So I have a couple questions about specifically doing title sequences. I've never worked on feature film, anything. On paper, when you do the title sequence for Winter Soldier or Civil War, you're dong the exact same thing you would do for a 30 second spot or an explainer video. You're designing and you're animating and you're concepting. But I'm assuming that there are some pretty big differences, just because of the scale of what it is you're a part of.
Joey: I'm wondering if you can talk about what's different about the process when you get to the level of something that has $150-million production budget. And I know that doesn't all go to Sarofsky, by the way. I know they have to make the movie also. But, you know, I mean to make a movie and market it is like half a billion dollars, probably at the level of a Marvel movie. What kind of strings are attached? What's that process like?
Erin: Well, there's a few things that make it different. One, just technically you're in a different color space, a different resolution. And in these situations, you're delivering stereoscopic. Our pipeline and infrastructure is totally different, in addition to our security. All our artists are working in what we call in Marvel mode, which is basically on an island, which means there's no internet connection or USB, or anything.
Erin: It makes it exponentially more challenging.
Joey: Right, I could imagine.
Erin: Yeah, just to be working like that is just harder. But there's also, both from them and for us, a level of [gronitas 01:03:45] in this situation, like you know billions of people are gonna watch it.
Duarte: Yeah, there's expectations.
Duarte: Something that's going to live forever.
Erin: Forever. There's like an archival quality to it. And at the end of the day, I know if anybody at Marvel is happy, like if Kevin's happy, Kevin Feige and Victoria, and whoever the director is, then I know I've made a good piece.
Joey: The bar's high. The bar is very high.
Erin: They see everything And you know when they make comments, they're good comments. They're not always easy comments, but they're really insightful, good comments.
Erin: It's rare to have a client that consistently makes the work better.
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Erin: For me, sometimes it's about deciphering the comment and understanding it completely with the amount of time and talent here that we have, and render capabilities and all of that stuff, knowing all of that, to be able to move forward in a productive kind of way. But you do feel the weight of the situation, certainly.
Joey: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And another thing I was always curious about is it used to be that music videos were these neat things that motion designers would do, not for money, because they never had the budgets you needed to really do it. But it was more for prestige, or make a nice piece for a portfolio or something. And I'm curious if these main title sequences actually have the budgets that would be justified by the level of work and security and gear and all of that that it takes to pull it off.
Erin: Yeah, they certainly don't.
Joey: Let me be blunt.
Erin: In short they don't. We don't take any main title, whether it's a Marvel main title or a TV main title for money.
Erin: We take it 'cause it's an opportunity to create a piece that can play a roll in [inaudible 01:05:42] society.
Erin: You know, like the [inaudible 01:05:46] vibe of the world.
Duarte: The evolution of society and who we are. Yeah.
Erin: I'd hate to reference a piece that we didn't do, but True Detective was a big marker. We've certainly done things with that double exposure style since, and it's because of that. They're what I think are tent poles, like visual tent poles.
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Right.
Erin: And if they're attached to a really beautiful piece or a good show, they have even more weight. Stranger Things winning the Emmy was a testament to the success of the show. Now I think it's beautiful typographically, but was that the best main title that year? No.
Duarte: It was very appropriate.
Erin: It was very appropriate. You see, we argue.
Duarte: [crosstalk 01:06:33].
Erin: I think it fits the show very well, but like they're like the crown. Come on. Come on. Right?
Erin: So that's why when we talk about like the gravitas of like a Marvel show, you know, and by that point we've probably seen it, like how good the movie is.
Erin: And so, it's gonna have with it that. And that's part of why I love the Community opening and Shameless. Certainly the longer Shameless is on the air the better that main title gets.
Erin: Having it tied to it is like really important. So we kind of assess whether we're gonna take a main title based on relationships, how great we think the show is, whether the studio can handle it, whether we have the capacity to give it what it needs. And now the paradigm is we don't wanna lose money. So basically it has to have enough budget to at least break even, which is a new thing for us.
Joey: That's progress.
Erin: Something worth standing behind. And if that means we have to pass on some stuff, that means we have to pass. But at this point, I feel like we're in a place. And with Netflix and other and all of things and all of the content being created now, people can at least pay what it costs to make things.
Duarte: 2019 resolution.
Erin: 2019 resolution. Exactly.
Joey: Awesome. I love that. And I have so many other questions about titles, but I wanna move this along 'cause there's a topic I wanna get into before we run out of time that I think's really important. And especially because, Erin, you've been outspoken about this, and you've said some really cool things.
Joey: You had this amazing quote in this video I saw, and we're gonna link to it. And I think–
Erin: Such a disastrous still frame.
Joey: Your mouth is half open.
Erin: I'm like, oh, my God. I can't close this thing, 'cause I look insane.
Joey: Awesome. Now everyone who listens to this will get to look at it, so that's really good. But you said something like you've built your own little matriarchy with Sarofsky, which I love. And so we actually had a lot of questions from our team, specifically on this topic. Zack Lovett, he's an after effects script developer, and he's a buddy of ours. He asked, he said, "There's a dearth of female-led design studios, especially at the level of fame and success of Sarofsky." And he was wondering are there any actionable steps that you took to get where you are, where others haven't been able to?
Joey: And I guess to kind of focus that a little bit: Did you run into, as a female studio owner, did you run into things that maybe male studio owners wouldn't have that you had to get through? You know, just to kind of help any women that are coming up in the industry and might open a studio one day, like they'll know the answer before they get there. You know?
Erin: Yeah, it's interesting. There's only one job for sure I know I didn't get because, not 'cause it was a female-owned studio, but because I was a female director. And they just felt more comfortable with a guy.
Joey: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Right.
Erin: It's like a guys-guy thing. But I think, you know, the interesting thing about business and just people in general is people feel comfortable with people that remind themselves of themselves. Right?
Erin: It's, I think, a natural thing that when you're hiring somebody you are hiring somebody that reflects to you all the qualities about yourself. And if you're a white dude with certain sensibilities that make you laugh a certain way, it makes sense that you would be naturally attracted to hiring somebody like that.
Erin: And I think that goes the same way when you're hiring a director. And I think that makes a lot of sense, so I think as other people's positions of power surrounding, what we do kinda changes, having more female executive producers and creative directors at other companies. And as people embrace diversity, I think it'll feel more natural for other people to own studios, besides just like your standard guy.
Erin: Your standard, you know. [inaudible 01:11:05]
Joey: Your standard bald white dude with a beard. So let me ask you this, because you know that is a very very good point. And the tension that I see, and it's not just in our industry obviously, like it's everywhere, and it's just we're more aware of it now. On the one hand, you have people saying, "Well, I don't really care if someone's male or female. I don't care what their native language is, what color their skin is, I just wanna hire the best. I just wanna work with the best."
Joey: And then you raise an excellent point, which is that we all have this bias that we're not probably aware of, where we're tribal and we like to be around, you know, it's comfortable to be around people who are like us. There was another question someone asked about what are some steps that you think the industry can take to sort of help promote diversity and give everyone equal footing. Do you think that this idea of intentional diversity is kind of the answer?
Erin: Yeah, I think making an effort to hire people, talented people that are different than you is important. And it's really that simple.
Erin: You know, being aware of the bias is the start to solving the problem.
Erin: There was a point at which I looked around a couple years ago and I was like, "Ah, there's a lot of guys here."
Erin: "And I'm."
Joey: That's ironic.
Erin: "I'm going to make more of an effort to hire women." You know?
Erin: And not just like producers or studio managers or things that [inaudible 01:12:42] naturally, but artists.
Duarte: And it's true that it's not that difficult now.
Erin: No, not now.
Duarte: When we go out on trips to schools and see the ratio between male and female designers, it's probably 80% female now.
Erin: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Duarte: And I think that's going to reflect in the future of the industry, 'cause everybody's gonna be working.
Erin: I think, yeah. I think a big difference between men and women just in general, is men are better self-promoters. Women are more apt to say, Always a team effort." There's less making a website, surrounding. I was probably one of the first people to make a motion graphics website, where I started putting my work up. And I remember doing it as a way of archiving and just for me personally being able to look through my work and to reference it and to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it like caught on. And then Justin put it on the Cream of the Crop list, and it was like, "Oh, my God. People know who I am."
Erin: It was an accident. I wasn't promoting myself. I wasn't looking for a job. I was just doing it as a way of, again, being organized and creepily OCD. You know what I mean?
Erin: But I think guys are very very good self-promoters and good at acting in their own self-interest way more than women are. Women are more about, of course this is like a generalization.
Erin: I think, in general, if that's just a generalization and not true at all, like every single woman of the time or for everybody, but I do think there's something kind of natural that happens there why men wise out of that, and sometimes women don't. 'Cause they're not gonna necessarily put in the time to making this big amazing website around themselves and do this whole thing.
Joey: Right. I've noticed that too. And I've heard other people say that, for example, Paul Babb, who's the head of marketing for Maxon, he's said publicly that when they ask female artists to come out to say NAB to present, it's harder to get a yes, 'cause there's just something. And so I'm curious. And I say this too, I have two daughters, and I'd like to think that the way I'm raising them, I'm gonna give them the same confidence that they would have if they grew up to be a six-foot-six linebacker. Right? You know, it shouldn't matter. I want them to just feel like they can do anything. Where did your confidence come from? And why do you think that there is this in general tendency for men to feel more comfortable than women promoting themselves?
Erin: God, I'd love to talk to some kind of scientist [crosstalk 01:15:41]. 'Cause I don't really know. I mean, I definitely had a happy childhood and my parents always encouraged me to do literally everything I wanted. I was like, "I wanna go space camp." They're like, "Okay, go to space camp."
Erin: "I wanna take these art classes at blah, blah, blah, St. John's or at Parsons for the summer." And [inaudible 01:15:56], "Okay, I have no idea what that stuff costs or anything." They just were doing it. You know. I just said I wanted to do something and they were figuring out a way for me to do it. So I think I never felt limited at all. I always felt encouraged. And I was never one of those people.
Erin: When I was in college, I applied to do this work-study thing in Germany, with the [inaudible 01:16:27], and I came in second. I was like, "Oh, their loss." You know?
Erin: I was just kind of like one of those things. I was just never put of by rejection. And I don't know if it's because I was raised a certain way. I guess I always just was able to kind of grace through it.
Erin: And if you look at all the boards that we present and all the work in general, at a certain point you learn it's not about you. It's about other people when they're making the decisions. You just do the best you can. And if it works out, it works out. And if it doesn't, it doesn't. And there's always been something better that's come when something goes away, like that one job that I was talking about that I know I didn't get because I was a female director. Two days later, Marvel called with Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Erin: So I was like, "Oh, my God. How would I have done both of those things?" At that time, it wasn't a huge studios, so I was very grateful that I wasn't working with a bunch of sexist assholes.
Erin: But you know what I mean?
Joey: It all worked out.
Erin: I just tend to see the positive. And I don't know if that's something you can teach, or if that's like an innate thing. I wish I knew more.
Duarte: I do think a lot of the confidence also comes from your experience.
Duarte: I think people out of school, I almost hope they're not too confident. I think the humility is a quality that we also look at, because the will to learn.
Duarte: And I think that after having experiencing, you naturally become more confident about who you are and your work.
Erin: Yeah, and I think there was a point at which we realized design's an opinion. Once you kind of have hired all the people you have with the right skill set and you have your skills and you know you can do it right and do an amazing job at it. At a certain point, you know people are hiring you for your opinion. And so if they don't wanna take your opinion, then it's like hiring a lawyer and then not following their advice, like you could do that, we'll see how that works out for you. You know?
Joey: Yeah. You're right. This is like a whole podcast episode with like a psychoanalyst or something. But I wanna get a little bit more ground level with this too, 'cause there's the kind of the overall thing of trying to overcome like our own biases, and stuff like that. And also trying to make it okay for men and women to both promote themselves at like equal levels of aggressiveness. But then there's another great quote that you had from that video, with the really weird thumbnail.
Joey: And you said it in this really interesting tone too. You said, "Pay inequality is definitely a thing." And you mention that you actually had some experience with that, where at one point in your career you found out you were being paid, I think you said, half of what a male counterpart doing the exact same job was being paid.
Joey: You can obviously omit details and all that, but I'd love to hear a little bit about that story. And then to make it really tactical for our listeners, when female artists are negotiating salaries, you said that they generally don't push back as much. What would you tell them?
Erin: Well, I would say do your research, know what your worth. I think a lot of times women come in and accept what they're told, and kind of use that as a place to negotiate from. Were guys come in with probably 20% higher than the position [crosstalk 01:20:08], and they start from there. Usually women start from a pretty realistic place to start with, so I appreciate that as a business owner, 'cause that's about where I wanna land, and that's nice.
Erin: So usually negotiating with a woman is a little bit easier and not necessarily 'cause we're gonna wind up in a air quotes cheaper place, but a more realistic place. Sometimes with guys I just have to be like, "That's not what we're dong here."
Erin: And the interesting thing is with past experience when I found out a coworker was making over twice as much as me, I think it was, then I went to the business owner and I was like, "This is completely unacceptable." And they were like, "Okay, well, we'll give you a little bump." And I was like, "It's still completely unacceptable." And they were like, "Well, you have two options. You can either accept this or you can go." And I was like, "Okay, I accept."
Erin: So, I mean, It was kind of one of those things where now, being in the position that I'm in now, negotiating salaries, I could see how company can wind up in that situation. You know, if you have a person that comes into the mix after you are already paying your people what you're paying them, and they say, "Well, I want X-number of dollars." And you know like, "Oh, my God. That's twice as much as this person's making. And 25% more than this person's making." How is that fair?
Erin: But you're like, "Well, this guy is really good. And it'll be a test. We'll see. Let's see how it goes. Maybe they'll be worth it. If they're not we can just let them go. Like, let's see." And I think that's kind of what the situation was where I was working. And of course it didn't work out with that person. They eventually let them go because they were not worth the money.
Erin: But I do think that, as a person now hiring people, I'm super super hyper-aware. So if I'm hiring a certain level position and I know that the rest of my team is making a five-to-seven-thousand-dollar spread or something like that, based on where they are in their pay cycles and in terms of their raises based on the time of year they came in, I know that there is no way that I can pay this person outside of that. You know? And if it means I have to let the person walk and take a job somewhere else, then that's just what I have to do.
Erin: Because there is absolutely no way that I, Erin Sarofsky, am gonna overpay for a position because it is completely and totally unethical for me to run my company like that. And so there are plenty of people that I have been interested in hire, that I've made offers to, that have wanted outside of that scope [inaudible 01:22:47], that I've said, "I cannot go that high, not based on that title and that position." And then they're all like, "Well, if you're not willing to get even closer to that," they thought it was like a negotiating goal, like, "Well, meet me halfway and then that'll put me at the absolute high end of what you're looking to spend."
Erin: Well, yeah, but then it puts me out of the scope of what everybody else is making, and that's not fair. You know?
Erin: And so where somebody else might go, "Oh, it's on the high side but, you know, let's give a test and see," I'm just like a solid "No." You know?
Joey: Yeah. I love that. And I don't think I've ever heard it put quite that way. That's it actually kind of unethical to overpay someone. You'd almost think, no, you're being really nice to them, you know. And hopefully they're bringing the value back. Buy, yeah, that's really fascinating. Interesting.
Erin: And to me, I found out and I was on the other side of that. I mean, great for that guy who was making twice of what I was making. But I was the one actually doing the work and winning the jobs and producing the jobs. And then I wasn't even compensated to that level, and it just was incredibly demoralizing.
Erin: So I don't expect that people here are necessarily talking about their salaries. But if somehow it comes up, I know that everything's gonna be okay because we are completely on the up and up about it. You know, in terms of [inaudible 01:24:10] making and how it all fits together.
Joey: First off, thank you Erin for talking about all that, and being honest about it. These are conversations that, frankly, we've been having more and more on this podcast. And I'm really fascinated by it, but I also think it's really important to, you know everyone do their part to try and do right by everyone.
Joey: I think one cool thing about motion design is that, in general, pretty much everyone's on the same page about this. I haven't ever met someone who said, "Nah, you know what? Men should be paid more than women." So I don't think that there's like a conscious effort to do that. I think it's just these systemic things. And, frankly I say this a lot, having role models like you, a female studio owner who's been really successful and puts her money where her mouth is, that goes a long way.
Joey: There may be a lag, where it takes ten years. I know you've worked with Alexis Copeland, so I was gonna bring her up. The Alexis Copeland's open their own studios and they embody the values that they kinda see you living up to. So that's really awesome.
Joey: And I only have a couple more questions, 'cause I know the two of you are super busy. You're probably doing something really cool, after we're down, much cooler than being on a podcast. I wanted to. So one for the meal; one for the reel. So maybe today's for the meal.
Joey: So there was another quote from the Motionographer piece. In that, you were asked what's next for Sarofsky. And this question that I always find really fascinating when I talk to people like yourself, who have "made it." Right? Like you opened a studio and it didn't go out of business. And you have this great team and this great culture. And you've done Marvel title sequences. What else is there?
Joey: So, like you said, "Personally, I've achieved a lot of the goals I've set." And that this is a question that you've been asking yourself a lot. You know, what is next? And you've been an artist on the box, and now you're business owner. You're a brand ambassador. You're a personal brand. So what is it that keeps you excited to keep pushing and growing and showing up to work everyday?
Erin: So it's funny 'cause when I hear somebody list all that shit I'm like, "Wow. That person sounds awesome."
Joey: It doesn't connect, right?
Erin: 'Cause I'm so motivated by the work. And I think it's so interesting, we just get that call with that weird project and I'm like, "That's awesome. I wanna do that." And my focus is so on that. And I think that's a big part of why I love doing what I'm doing.
Erin: At the end of the day, All of this other stuff is in service of that. And I think our clients understand that. And I think the team here understands that. If you live the [inaudible 01:27:01] that we're working on now, it's so all over the place and it's so diverse and so interesting. And our clients just like for the first time ever, we have the biggest range of clients, from Telecom to film to TV to network TV to sports stuff, which we would never even, you know, we call it "playing ball, just balls." Sports balls. Yeah.
Erin: It's just kind of funny. It's just such an interesting, you know, financial services, like we're all over the map with the kind of work we're doing, so that's really just super exciting, super exciting.
Duarte: And instruction labs.
Duarte: That's coming up. That's a cool, new, exciting thing for us.
Erin: I think it's a way of introducing ourselves to new talent, invigorating the studio in an interesting way. When I had the idea I was like, "I don't if people are gonna like this, or if they're just gonna see it as more work we have to do now."
Duarte: It has been a ton of work.
Erin: It has been a ton, but it's been different work.
Duarte: But it's been worth it. Yeah.
Erin: It's different work.
Erin: And it's kinda interesting, and it's been fun. It's kinda brought us back to this place of hwy we started and what we miss a little. Then again just mentoring talent. It gets back to that.
Duarte: And creating relationships.
Erin: Yeah, we don't know where that's gonna go.
Duarte: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Joey: That's awesome. And so, Erin, as you got your studio to ten years and you've done all these things, do you ever start thinking even further down the road. I mean, something I've just been made aware of by Joel and actually by another studio owner I know is seeling his studio, is that there's actually sometimes exit plans for this sort of thing. You mentioned that you own the building that you work out of and that's your retirement plan, so maybe that really is your retirement plan.
Joey: Do you ever just daydream about like, "You know, maybe someone buys out Sarofsky for a few million bucks and I just eat deep dish pizza and hang out all day paint, or whatever."
Erin: Yeah, I mean, maybe. I just had a baby. So I had a baby a year ago, so that kind of–
Joey: Hey, congrats!
Erin: Thank you. So being a very full-time working mom who travels a lot, there has been some brain wandering there. But I think it's interesting having here grow up with a stay-at-home dad, who's wonderful. And he worked in production designing theater, so he set filming and all that stuff. So they have these wildly imaginative days together, where the house was like transformed and it's so crazy and fun.
Joey: I love it.
Erin: So I just kind of imagined her growing up seeing her mom do all these amazing things, and that makes me wanna do more, even more. So it's kind of been an interesting dichotomy of both wanting to spend time with her, but also knowing that not spending time with her it's going to enrich her.
Duarte: [inaudible 01:30:06].
Erin: Yeah, enrich her in a way that you can't, you know. Yeah, just seeing it happen, seeing it is believing. It's like all of a sudden seeing an African American president or a female president, it's like now you can see yourself in that role and that becomes a viable option. So I think that's going to be really cool for her.
Erin: And there is no plan to sell Sarofsky. If ever there was, I would for sure wanna be part of it because my name is attached to it. But at some point I'm gonna wanna retire, right?
Joey: In theory.
Erin: [inaudible 01:30:40] ask myself that question, so I don't know. It depends on what the brand is worth, what the name is worth, what the portfolio, what the reel is worth. I don't know how you put a value on that. And we've worked so hard building a company culture that I think that even just expanding to another office, and we every once in a while talk about that, but how do you get the same company culture there as you do here? And why are we dong that? What's the intention behind it? What's the point?
Erin: I think there could be a day where there's an offer on the table and it's just too good to refuse. You know?
Erin: But just make sure that it's also worth it for the people that have contributed, so it's not just you walking away and leaving a bunch of people in the dust.
Erin: And that's that. But I still see that as a long ways away. I think for this company to be really a brand and worth something, it's gotta hit 20 years. You know?
Erin: And in the meantime we just get to make amazing things, and be a part of the conversation. Yeah, I think that's the focus right now.
Joey: Well, you can definitely do a lot worse. And it's been so awesome talking with you both and hearing the story of Sarofsky and how it's grown to where it is. And my very last question, what I was gonna ask you is what would you say to the young female artists out there that are coming up, that they're listening to this and they're thinking, "You know what? One day it's gonna be me on the School of Motion podcast talking about my ten-year-old studio."
Joey: But actually I didn't realize that you had a daughter, and I think that that's incredible. Let's say, God forbid your daughter wants to be a motion designer, the family business. But let's say that she grows up and she wants to follow in mom's footsteps, what would you tell her that maybe, I don't know, some advice that you wish you'd gotten earlier?
Erin: Focus less on the long-term results and more on each specific job. You know, each step. And enjoy it. It's hard and challenging. But when you're a young junior designer, you're only gonna be a young junior designer once, so enjoy it, absorb. Ask a lot of questions. I think a big thing that I'm noticing a little bit of, not so much with people out here at our studio, but maybe the younger generation, and maybe I was like this as a kid, it's very like I-centered. And what I've learned is the way to really make friends and to know people is to ask them questions about themselves.
Erin: And find out. Be curious about the world. Be curious about the people that you're meeting and learn about them. And they'll learn about you, and that'll enrich them. But to ask more questions, to be more curious and more interested. And don't be so focused on one tiny thing. If she's interested in motion graphics, I'm gonna be like, "Okay, you should also [inaudible 01:33:42] pottery class and [inaudible 01:33:44] class and learn what it is to actually make things with your hands and finish things." Finishing things is very very important. 'Cause it's one thing to start and be excited when a job gets going, but the real joy comes when you deliver and get your final paycheck.
Erin: You know, there has to be joy in each part of that process and to really embrace wherever you're at in it. And so just continue to be curious and ask a lot of questions.
Joey: After chatting with Duarte and Erin, it was pretty clear to me that there's something very unique about Sarofsky. It was really cool to learn about the ethics behind running a growing company, the business considerations, the focus on cultivating talent. I'm really not surprised that Erin and her team have managed to not just survive, but really to thrive in a changing market for over ten years.
Joey: And I'm really pumped to see what happens with Sarofsky Labs, which kicked off in early February and will be running throughout 2019 and hopefully beyond. Check out sarofsky.com/labs for all the info. And, who knows? You might even see me there. That link and everything else we talked about will of course be in the show notes at schoolofmotion.com.
Joey: I wanna thank Erin and Duarte for hanging out and for being so awesome and open about everything. And I wanna give you the biggest podcast hug you've ever gotten for being a part of the School of Motion community. It's because of you that we get opportunities to talk with amazing people like the Sarofsky crew. And I hope we're delivering the goods.
Joey: So let us know what you though of this episode at School of Motion on Twitter, [email protected] And we are also on Instagram now @schoolofmotion. I know, welcome to 2015, huh. Gary Vee sure would be disappointed.
Joey: Anyway, that's it for this one. See you next time.