|Featured Member: Karen Sutton|
Producers Guild Northwest
I’ve always had a passion to understand how things are made. When I watch TV, I’m always trying to count the number of cameras used and always have my eye on the details in the shots.
2. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?
My first production-related job was working for a caterer at Jones Beach Theater in NY. We provided meals for the crews and artist dressing rooms. It was really a great learning experience to absorb everything involved in a live event, the staging, lighting, cameras, etc.
3. HOW DID YOU START OUT AS A PRODUCER?
I started as an Associate Producer at Stanford University and had the opportunity to grow the business and move up the ranks.
4. WHAT LED YOU TO JOIN THE PGA?
I started with the PGA through friends in production who introduced me to the group. I attended events and decided to get involved.
5. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE VOLUNTEER/COMMITTEE WORK YOU DO FOR THE GUILD?
I’m on the Event Committee now. The events we’re planning will be educational and social, including our annual Guild & Grapes this October. We’ll also schedule joint events with other industry groups in the Bay Area.
6. WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
Roundtable 2012 Gray Matters: Your Brain, Your Life and Brain Science in the 21st Century, a production with 5-camera live switch, live webcast and live captioning.
The Uncommon Knowledge series is ongoing and airing bi-monthly.
Redesign of our studio sets.
7. WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST INTERESTING PROJECTS, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THEM?
One of my most complex productions was back in 2005, a visit from the Dalai Lama. This event included 3 locations on campus over a 2-day period on a bootstrap budget. This was also our first webcast with live captioning. I was coordinating multiple crews and transferring equipment from venue to venue. Many things went wrong but in the middle of the chaos, I stopped to really listen to his message, "…compassion, combined with wisdom, always helps a broader perspective.”
Another production, also in 2005, was our Commencement speaker, Steve Jobs. His speech was one of the greatest reflections on life I’ve ever heard.
"Every day I have the opportunity to work with political leaders, Nobel laureates, journalists and thought leaders who are changing the world. It’s live production that’s in the moment. You do whatever it takes to make the production run smoothly.”
Karen Sutton’s position as Executive Producer/Director at Stanford Video (Stanford University) requires her to produce 175 events every year. She’s clearly in the right place to leverage her experience and well prepared to successfully negotiate the visibility, challenges and craziness of live event production.
Born on Long Island, Sutton went to college in Buffalo, majoring in broadcast communications. She was immersed in all aspects of production, including learning the ropes by producing a current affairs cable access program. "Early on, I worked for a direct mail agency on Madison Avenue, where I absorbed an understanding of marketing, corporate budgets and navigating a bureaucracy. My favorite project was the launch of the first Mercedes SUV, which was well received in the ad business at the time.”
After 2 years in NYC, Sutton decided to move west to get into traditional production. She was a freelancer in various roles in film and television before landing her first job managing a facility in Silicon Valley, where she produced corporate videos. Shortly thereafter, she learned of an opening as a teleprompter operator at Stanford. "I thought ‘I can do anything’ and took the job. This is where my Stanford career began. I worked in various roles including associate producer, director, camera, floor operator, audio and make-up.”
At the time, Stanford’s video group was part of the Stanford Center for Professional Development. Their mission was to get faculty on the networks and the local cable access channel in Palo Alto. "The business quickly grew and we began to capitalize on the constant change of the industry and broadcast standards. We invested in a multi-camera flight pack system, which allowed us to produce the video board shows for all the Football home games, medical training conferences with live surgeries, ‘Uncommon Knowledge’, a TV series for local and national PBS stations in partnership with the Hoover Institution, and our first-ever live webcast, Doug Engelbart’s ‘Unfinished Revolution’, which was a 30-year celebration of his contributions to the computer revolution.”
"With this growth, we no longer fit into the mission of the Stanford Center for Professional Development and found a new home with University Communications.” This new partnership allowed Sutton to work with Capital Planning to locate a site where a new facility could be built. After about 14 months, they finally did it without ever shutting down production. "We even ran live shots from a trailer in the loading dock at one point. The networks never knew we were in process on a major change.”
"The build of Stanford Video’s production facility is the proudest moment of my career. I was involved in all aspects of the design, build and equipment integration.”
One of Sutton’s favorite efforts was Stanford’s first-ever TEDxStanford event, which featured digital innovation, philosophy talks, student inventions, virtual reality, yoga, Taiko drumming, dance and musicians. The one-day event included 27 different talks/performances, which was one of her most technically challenging events. "I am so honored that TED.com has chosen to air 2 of our talks on their website. You can access the others on the TEDxStanford website.”
Sutton’s team also produces an annual event during homecoming called the Round Table. It’s another high profile event – moderated by talent such as Charlie Rose or Tom Brokaw. "We’ve held Round Tables about climate change, education reform, the aging population. These events are streamed live to an audience of more than 5,000 and we get an additional 1,000 viewers on the web. We market to Stanford Alumni and active university faculty and students. Round Table 2012 is titled ‘Gray Matters: Your Brain, Your Life and Brain Science in the 21st Century’ and will be a production with 5-camera live switch, live webcast and live captioning.”
Sutton’s team is small – there are seven full time staff, who are supplemented by a huge base of freelancers. Stanford Video continues to operate as a self-funded entity of the University and Sutton attributes their success to the long-term relationships formed with key University personnel and the trust and knowledge her team brings to the table.
Sutton started with the PGA through friends in production who introduced her to the group. "I attended events and decided to get involved. I’m on the Event Committee now. The events we’re planning will be educational and social, including our annual Guild & Grapes this October. We’ll also schedule joint events with other industry groups in the Bay Area.”
"I spend a lot of time assisting groups who are developing interactive courseware. The Stanford Center for Professional Development is producing courses in advanced project management, innovation and entrepreneurship, energy innovation and advanced computer science.
"Our next live webcast will be available on multiple platforms. It’s important to reach the audience where they are. In 2004, Stanford launched their iTunesU channel, which was a cost-effective way to provide access to an archive of Stanford content to alumni and the public as well. In 2008, we shot Oprah at the graduation ceremony to launch the Stanford U-Tube channel, another early adopter move for education. Today, all the classes on the channel are free. We produce much of it, but several departments originate their own programs. They can use our fiber lines and multi-camera packages and cover larger events.
"We've been putting lectures online for years, but Stanford is looking at expanding the quality and scope of online education. So we are in an experimental mode, trying out different technologies to capture and publish the videos more efficiently.”
"A lot of my job is educating the community about video and how to convey a training or promotion message. It’s ever evolving. I like that I’m traveling now and working with new crews in other states. That’s a great learning experience.”