Jonathan Craig is a 26-year-old television producer and investor from Los Angeles. He was born in California to two loving and supporting, working class parents who devoted all of their time and energy into providing opportunities for him that neither had in their youth. He suspects they recognized very early on that he was a creative child, and it was all they could do to occupy his mind by giving him tools with which to draw, color, paint, build, and otherwise express whatever it was that he was thinking or feeling.
The Art Career Project was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to pick this young professional’s mind about his career. Here is what he had to say:
Tell me a little bit about your background and what made you want to become a Television Producer.
When I was young, around age six, my parents bought our first family computer, an old PC from my uncle, and it happened to have a copy of Adobe Photoshop on it. I naturally gravitated towards the program, playing with it until I taught myself what each and every tool could be used for, and then I began recreating logos and advertisements I saw online or in magazines. When I was a teenager, I was introduced to video editing software for the first time and it quickly consumed me. I spent every moment I could making video game compilations, short films, and promotional videos for anything and everything that needed the promotion.
Eventually it became time to make a decision about college. My mother didn’t graduate from college, and my father didn’t graduate from high school, so though they both recognized the value of college, they weren’t going to support such a great expenditure unless I was sure about what I wanted to pursue. By this time, I was taking graphic design and video production classes offered through special programs in my school district, and I was staying after school nearly every day to work on extracurricular projects. The choice became obvious, so I looked at my options and chose to study Television Production at San Francisco State University, since it promised to be a hands-on program and I didn’t want to stop creating.
I have to clarify, though, that even at this time I didn’t expect or even desire to become a Television Producer. I just loved video production and wanted to spend as much time as I possibly could doing it. Any one of my friends or family members will attest to the amount of time I was (and continued) devoting to this pursuit, but it wasn’t until I had moved to Los Angeles and worked as a production assistant on my first television show, nearly ten years after I began working with video, that I actually decided I wanted to become a Television Producer.
What do you enjoy and find most rewarding about being a Television Producer?
I most enjoy the storytelling elements of my work. Every subject I meet on every show I work on has their own unique story, and I am grateful for the opportunity to listen and share them with the world. I have a genuine appreciation for everyone that I have the opportunity to work with, and I tend to learn something from each and every person whose story I get to tell.
Did you have any surprises while you were “learning the ropes”?
I have been surprised by every opportunity I have received, at every stage of my career. When I was a teenager, shooting and editing videos with my friends, I could have never imagined myself working in Los Angeles as a Television Producer, so the result of my efforts has surprised me quite a bit. I had an aha moment when I was working my very first show as an associate producer and was sent out completely on my own for the first time, lights and camera in hand, to shoot a segment for a network television show. Though I had been producing segments just like these for over a decade, it had suddenly dawned on me that I was being paid by a television network to produce it, and a potential million viewers would be tuned in. Quite the realization! Little moments like these continue to surprise me as I progress through my career and, honestly, they propel me forward. I could have never imagined myself here now, and I dare not imagine where I will be in the future, but I am eager to find out. The opportunities will still surprise me every step of the way.
If you could go back in time would you do anything differently?
I have made many mistakes along the way, but I believe they have all been essential to my development. As painful as some of them have been, I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. In that respect, if I could go back in time and do one thing differently, I would worry less about my future, I would reflect less on my past, and I would enjoy the present journey so much more.
Have you ever had challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Television is a career with constant challenges; that’s part of the fun of it. The most difficult challenge I faced, though, and one that I’ve watched discourage and defeat many of my peers, was the challenge of breaking in. The first job in television, specifically in Los Angeles, is incredibly difficult to get, regardless of your skill or experience, unless you have a personal contact who can gift you a position. I was not so lucky. Even though I had been working freelance video production jobs since I turned 18, and had even held an associate producer position at the local CW affiliate in San Francisco, the process of breaking in to television in Los Angeles was grueling and felt impossible at times.
To give you an idea of the process, when I graduated from college in May of 2010, I moved back in with my parents and applied for jobs like it was my full time job. Two weeks and more than 300 applications later, I was offered a temporary (two week) position doing data entry for the Sony PlayStation Store. Not quite what I had hoped for, but it was good enough to move me down to Los Angeles and bring me one step closer. I worked very hard at that job and they kept extending my contract, one month at a time. Eventually, I subleased an apartment so that I could live month-to-month, and again I was one step closer. Every day I would go to work at Sony and every night I would return to my apartment and send in more applications and resumes. It took twelve months and well over a thousand applications, but eventually I was offered my very first production assistant job on a show called Top Chef: Just Desserts. The rest is history!
You have quite the resume. How did you get started and break into such popular shows?
Truthfully, I have not yet reached a stage in my career where I have much control over the projects I work on. I am totally beholden to fate, and have been very fortunate in the opportunities that have come my way.
Because television production is based on freelance work, and many positions only last for months or even weeks at a time, we are often required to take any offer that comes our way as long as we have the opening in our calendar. The only time a television producer will have a choice between projects is when their services are in high enough demand that they have multiple offers coming in. The few times that I have been faced with the decision to choose between two different projects, I have chosen based on what I could learn from the subject matter and what I could learn from my potential coworkers. Sometimes these decisions have led me to work on popular shows, other times they have led me to obscurity, but they have always taught me something.
This long explanation only allows me attribute most of my career success to fortune, but I believe what is left should be attributed to hard work. I love practicing old creative skills and studying new ones and devote the majority of my free time to these pursuits. The joy of practice consequently adds value to the creative services I can provide employers and better prepares me for new career opportunities when they present themselves.
Do you have any advice for new Television Producers who are just starting out?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer a person who wants to be a television producer, or anything else for that matter, is to welcome failure. Do not be afraid of it. Do not let it deter you. Do not dwell in it. Set your sights high, make small and actionable goals to move towards your target, and welcome failures along the way. Every success represents a thousand failures, so get to failing.