Featured Member: Dana Popoff
I like to do puzzles. I grew up doing puzzles and I think of every production as a big puzzle and figuring out all pieces and the best way for it to go together.
You have projects that span from commercials to television and more. Did Popoff Enterprises start with one thing?
"Well, I started on staff with several companies at the early part of my career. I didn’t actually even start in this business. I studied architecture and interior design in college. I was in between jobs with interior designers and I took a job with a production company and never looked back. I learned the business from the ground up by doing it and after I had been in the business for a while, and had worked in several cities, I was working mostly freelance as a producer. My accountant said, “You need to incorporate so you can take advantage of the tax advantages as a corporation.” So basically I was a one-person corporation.
So, working mainly as a freelance producer, I worked mainly in commercials until around 1999 and then I started working more in series television and culinary series television. We did the first two season of Rick Bayless’ show “Mexico - One Plate at a Time” and then I got hooked up with Alton Brown and “Good Eats” and I did that for twelve years. But I was freelance and billing myself as a producer through Popoff Enterprises. So in between runs of shooting with Alton I was doing commercials and corporate projects.
What was it like working in Atlanta before the tax incentives brought more of the film industry over?
"Well, it was still a very production-oriented city. There was still a lot of commercial work being done here… “Good Eats” was one of the primary series being shot here at the time. But is was still a fairly robust production community. Actually, in the early 90’s the film industry was booming, even before the tax incentives came in."
What’s it like working in culinary television? What was your experience like?
"Working on “Good Eats” was a completely different thing than working in culinary television because each episode was its like it’s own little story. A lot of the episodes were themed off of movies or other television shows or things like that. It’s not your average cooking show. Every day was different. There was always some sort of science project or tool or something or other that we were teaching people about. But, you know, cooking shows are really fun and interesting to work on. One, because I’m a foodie and love to learn more about food and you meet really interesting people. And the chefs are becoming superstars on their own."
For sure. Wasn’t “Good Eats” one of those benchmark shows that started the television foodie craze?
"Yes. Emeril Lagasse probably was the first one on Food Network that started getting people excited, but Alton was the first one who really catapulted it to a different level and just took it to a different direction, and the show won a Peabody Award. And it’s still around. they recently just put it out on Netflix and there’s a new group finding it for the first time and think it’s something new and different, even though it’s fifteen years old."
As a line producer, what were your responsibilities day-to-day on a show like that?
"Managing the crew and making sure everyone has all of the information they need to do their jobs. We used to laugh about the fact that “Nothing ever changes on ‘Good Eats’” because every day something would change. You’d think you would know what we were doing that day and then inevitably something fairly major would change. Whether we needed all of the sudden another prop or the procedure was going to change or whatever… You just had to be ready to adapt, and everybody did. It was like a semi-dysfunctional family the way we all worked together. We all worked together for so long. We kind of completed each other’s sentences and supported everyone in every department so it was really nice to work like that. But I was responsible for managing the budget and doing all the scheduling and organizing the days and keeping everything on track?"
How did you prepare mentally for that sort of controlled chaos?
"You just have to not get flustered. I guess I’m kind of known for my even-temperament and I don’t get very flustered very often. I try and use the energy to not get upset about something but to focus in on finding a solution. That’s kind of the day-to-day of “Good Eats” was finding solutions for things. That’s kind of my forte."
So once “Good Eats” was over, what did you do afterwards?
"It was a little bit of a challenge because everyone thought we worked with Alton all the time. It took a little while to get our names back out in the community and start getting ourselves circulated again. Not too long after “Good Eats” wrapped I got hooked up with the Bridgestone Golf folks and have been working with them for five years; doing their annual commercial campaign and doing a lot their secondary video and corporate work and stuff like that. They’re great people."
Awesome. What’s next for you?
"At the moment we’re bidding on several things… We’re just looking to fill in a couple of gaps here and there."
Can you describe what the bidding process is like?
"Typically a client will come to us and say, “I have this project and these are the basic needs.” We sit down and strategize the best approach, how big of a crew we’re going to need, what the most important areas of concentration are. We’re bidding on a project that’s sort of a man-on-the-street situation and the interviewer is sort of a critical piece of the puzzle. Probably one of the biggest line-items on the budget is paying that interviewer. Someone to attract the people to talk to us and keep them engaged and get good information on camera. It’s taking each project individually and looking at what the primary needs are and also taking the budget into consideration. How low can we be? How efficient and how many jobs can we expect each person to do within the budget? Do we have enough to hire 15-20 people to get it done?"
Any advice for someone who’s looking to get into television producing?
"I would say, stay nimble. Learn what other categories on the crew do so you can be more efficient at your job. Know the questions to ask to produce most efficiently. Also, learn some skills so you can multitask yourself if you need to keep the budget slim."
What has kept you motivated to stay in this field as your career has progressed?
"I like to do puzzles. I grew up doing puzzles and I think of every production as a big puzzle and figuring out all pieces and the best way for it to go together. It’s fun and every day is different. You get to meet really interesting people and you get to see really interesting places. I’ve produced in many different place in the world… The Caribbean and Mexico and other places. It’s really interesting and I probably would not have had half of the experiences in my life that I’ve been able to experience without having been a producer."