By Amy A. Ross
For someone who hadn’t the faintest idea of what she was getting herself into when she founded her own production company in 2009, Erin Sarofsky certainly didn’t let it show.
In a matter of just five years, Sarofsky Corp. has allotted an impressive portfolio with work for clients as noteworthy as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Verizon, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, Fox TV Studios, the Russo Brothers and John Wells Productions. In 2014, Sarofsky Corp.’s work made its way into movie theaters across the country, after creating the main-on-end titles for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a custom-made typeface for Guardians of the Galaxy. Her success in the commercial and film industries earned her a spot as an honoree at the 2014 Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards. Sarofsky describes her work as design driven production, which encompasses all types of graphical products from live action production, visual effects and 3D development, to design and animation for both the entertainment and advertising communities. She is a graduate from of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in graphic design and an MFA in computer graphics, both with a strong photography influence. In 2006, Sarofsky was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her work on the Ghost Whisperer main title sequence. Sarofsky Corp. company now consists of 15 full-time employees, but often has twice that many people working on projects through freelancing.
A few weeks ago, Sarofsky talked to the MSLCE blog about her experience in the design industry, her success as an entrepreneur and the direction of her creative work.
Your company does work both with entertainment and advertising. Where do feel most comfortable now and where do you allocate most of your time?
Even though our website looks like a lot more entertainment it is actually about 80% commercial and 20% entertainment. The budget from the entertainment side is significantly lower so in order to be able to afford it we have to make sure our work is firmly rooted in advertising.
What made you want to pursue a leadership position with your own enterprise, rather than work at some of the big name companies you were previously associated with?
It is interesting, I thing naivety is the biggest reason. I had the talent and resources to be able to put it together but I didn’t necessarily know what I was getting into. If I knew then what I do now, I think I would have thought about it more. I grew up in New York and came to Chicago to work at Digital Kitchen. I returned to New York but missed Chicago. I wanted to come back but no company aside from Digital Kitchen was doing the level of work that I was doing.
What was the biggest challenge?
Getting access to the work and convincing people that you are worthy or their jobs; it wasn’t actually the work itself… It was like starting over to prove to people that you are capable of bigger projects. It’s all about relationships. When I was at Digital Kitchen, I also became friends and a resource for my clients so even as I moved and started my own company they would come to run things by me. I was a resource and I was helpful. If you are good to people they will be good to you when it is appropriate. All these people that were my clients became my friends and then became very supportive of me as I started my own company. A lot if it comes down to word of mouth. That is how we got work, especially in the beginning.
How did your company start and how big is it now?
The initial mindset was to depend a lot on freelance because there is a lot built into the overhead. At first it was just me and some of my freelancers who are now full-time employees. Now we are 15 full-time and double that half of the time. Sometimes we have people in animating or story boarding artists. I usually hear about them through word of mouth. It’s a pretty small design community so we generally share resources and recommend them to other companies. I ask my friends that are professors at the Rhode Island School of design about their upcoming designers and I call dibs on them. When designers are starting out, I like taking them in and teaching them. You do lots of work across platforms from television and film to the Internet.
How does this multiplatform context affect the creative work?
For the most part it doesn’t. For me production is production. It’s all moving pieces that go somewhere. Now content is becoming more about the person getting it than where it is coming form, and that is key. It’s really about what you are all about as a user and if you like to watch on your phone while you commute that is fine, we can supply content for all of that. It just depends on the client and who they are talking to.
Where do you think industry headed, and how do you see your business fitting into that?
There are two sides. On the creative side it is the trends. We have just been through this dry trend that has been going on for a couple of years, like a guy with kitten for a shirt and Old Spice. I think that is running its course. I think the design and illustration and hand-done looking work is starting to come up. Even though things are digital, there is really a movement for it to feel crafted by hand or like stop motion animation, etc. I think there is an art to that. Either it looks so seamless or it looks hand made and there is a crafty quality. There is also a rise of paper, natural materials, and everything has very natural feel. I like that, creatively. On the tech side, it’s matter of how to best produce things smartly and cheaply. With all the media, the advertising budgets aren’t changing and there are way more delivery mechanisms. It is challenging to continue making the budgets work even for a Samsung or a McDonald’s. Now they do audiences; they want apps to speak to different people. Everything is becoming more segmented. You can tailor the content but the issue is that they still need the content and the challenge is producing it for those different audiences.