By Randi Altman
Crew Cuts, a full-service production and post house, has been a New York fixture since 1986. Originally established as an editorial house, over the years as the industry evolved they added services that target all aspects of the workflow.
This independently-owned facility is run by executive producer/partner Nancy Jacobsen, senior editor/partner Sherri Margulies Keenan and senior editor/partner Jake Jacobsen. While commercial spots might be in their wheelhouse, their projects vary and include social media, music videos and indie films.
We decided to reach out to Nancy Jacobsen, as well as EP of finishing Stephanie Norris, to find out about trends, recent work and succeeding in an industry and city that isn’t always so welcoming.
Can you talk about what Crew Cuts provides and how you guys have evolved over the years?
Jacobsen: We pretty much do it all. We have 10 offline editors as well as artists working in VFX, 2D/3D animation, motion graphics/design, audio mix and sound design, VO record, color grading, title treatment, advanced compositing and conform. Two of our editors double as directors.
In the beginning, Crew Cuts primarily offered only editorial. As the years went by and the industry climate changed we began to cater to the needs of clients and slowly built out our entire finishing department. We started with some minimal graphics work and one staff artist in 2008.
In 2009, we expanded the team to include graphics, conform and audio mix. From there we just continued to grow and expand our department to the full finishing team we have today.
As a woman owner of a post house, what challenges have you had to overcome?
Jacobsen: When I started in this business, the industry was very different. I made less money than my male counterparts and it took me twice as long to be promoted because I am a woman. I have since seen great change where women are leading post houses and production houses and are finally getting the recognition for the hard work they deserve. Unfortunately, I had to “wait it out” and silently work harder than the men around me. This has paid off for me, and now I can help women get the credit they rightly deserve
Do you see the industry changing and becoming less male-dominated?
Jacobsen: Yes, the industry is definitely becoming less male-dominated. In the current climate, with the birth of the #metoo movement and specifically in our industry with the birth of Diet Madison Avenue (@dietmadisonave), we are seeing a lot more women step up and take on leading roles.
Are you mostly a commercial house? What other segments of the industry do you work in?
Jacobsen: We are primarily a commercial house. However, we are not limited to just broadcast and digital commercial advertising. We have delivered specs for everything from the Godzilla screen in Times Square to :06 spots on Instagram. We have done a handful of music videos and also handle a ton of B2B videos for in-house client meetings, etc., as well as banner ads for conferences and trade shows. We’ve even worked on display ads for airports. Most recently, one of our editors finished a feature film called Public Figure that is being submitted around the film festival circuit.
What types of projects are you working on most often these days?
Jacobsen: The industry is all over the place. The current climate is very messy right now. Our projects are extremely varied. It’s hard to say what we work on most because it seems like there is no more norm. We are working on everything from sizzle pitch videos to spots for the Super Bowl.
What trends have you seen over the last year, and where do you expect to be in a year?
Jacobsen: Over the last year, we have noticed that the work comes from every angle. Our typical client is no longer just the marketing agency. It is also the production company, network, brand, etc. In a year we expect to be doing more production work. Seeing as how budgets are much smaller than they used to be and everyone wants a one-stop shop, we are hoping to stick with our gut and continue expanding our production arm.
Crew Cuts has beefed up its finishing services. Can you talk about that?
Stephanie Norris: We offer a variety of finishing services — from sound design to VO record and mix, compositing to VFX, 2D and 3D motion graphics and color grading. Our fully staffed in-house team loves the visual effects puzzle and enjoys working with clients to help interpret their vision.
Can you name some recent projects and the services you provided?
Norris: We just worked on a new campaign for New Jersey Lottery in collaboration with Yonder Content and PureRed. Brian Neaman directed and edited the spots. In addition to editorial, Crew Cuts also handled all of the finishing, including color, conform, visual effects, graphics, sound design and mix. This was one of those all-hands-on-deck projects. Keeping everything under one roof really helped us to streamline the process.
Working with Brian to carefully plan the shooting strategy, we filmed a series of plate shots as elements that could later be combined in post to build each scene. We added falling stacks of cash to the reindeer as he walks through the loading dock and incorporated CG inflatable decorations into a warehouse holiday lawn scene. We also dramatically altered the opening and closing exterior warehouse scenes, allowing one shot to work for multiple seasons. Keeping lighting and camera positions consistent was mission-critical, and having our VFX supervisor, Dulany Foster, on set saved us hours of work down the line.
For the New Jersey Lottery Holiday spots, the Crew Cuts CG team, led by our creative director Ben McNamara created a 3D Inflatable display of lottery tickets. This was something that proved too costly and time consuming to manufacture and shoot practically. After the initial R&D, our team created a few different CG inflatable simulations prior to the shoot, and Dulany was able to mock them up live while on set. Creating the simulations was crucial for giving the art department reference while building the set, and also helped when shooting the plates needed to composite the scene together.
Ben and his team focused on the physics of the inflation, while also making sure the fabric simulations, textures and lighting blended seamlessly into the scene — it was important that everything felt realistic. In addition to the inflatables, our VFX team turned the opening and closing sunny, summer shots of the warehouse into a December winter wonderland thanks to heavy compositing, 3D set extension and snow simulations.
Any other projects you’d like to talk about?
Jacobsen: We are currently working on a project here that we are handling soup to nuts from production through finishing. It was a fun challenge to take on. The spot contains a hand model on a greenscreen showing the audience how to use a new product. The shoot itself took place here at Crew Cuts. We turned our common area into a stage for the day and were able to do so without interrupting any of the other employees and projects going on.
We are now working on editorial and finishing. The edit is coming along nicely. What really drives the piece here is the graphic icons. Our team is having a lot of fun designing these elements and implementing them into the spot. We are so proud because we budgeted wisely to make sure to accommodate all of the needs of the project so that we could handle everything and still turn a profit. It was so much fun to work in a different setting for the day and has been a very successful project so far. Clients are happy and so are we.
Main Image: (L-R) Stephanie Norris and Nancy Jacobsen