Jumanah Shaheen a Visual Effects Producer
talking about her unique approach in VFX production
Ms. Shaheen is a prominent Visual Effects Producer who has contributed to some of the most well-known productions internationally such as THEEB; cinema celebrated not only by the general public but critically acclaimed as some of the most outstanding in the industry, as demonstrated by the film’s BAFTA Award win and Academy Award nomination. Ms. Shaheen has also worked on feature films of many renowned and lauded directors and producers including 2013’s FRUITVALE STATION, written and directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, the duo who went on to collaborate again for the critical and cultural phenomenon BLACK PANTHER in 2018. Ms. Shaheen has lent her exceptional abilities to some of the most watched music videos ever produced, the most notable of which is Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do”, which has been viewed just shy of one billion times on YouTube. Additionally, Ms. Shaheen took on a challenging role as Visual Effects Producer for the production of ADVANTAGEOUS, which took the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize in 2015, as well as nominations for Independent Spirit Awards John Cassavetes Award and the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.
Visual Effects Producer
What does it mean to you personally to be a Visual Effects Producer?
To me personally, it means a lot of things. The central part is to act as an artist representative. To keep them in mind when each decision is made and to work alongside them. Second, it is able to make something that represents our talents. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing your work on the big screen and realizing that the surrounding people can’t tell whether it’s not real. I’ve always loved the mixing of technology and art. I’ve always found what we can create using a program, creating a world all our own with a group of like-minded people, absolutely fascinating.
UNIQUE APPROACH AND STRATEGIES
How did your unique vision and philosophy in creating VFX become a remarkable signature of your talent?
I believe patience and believing in your team is key. I’ve found throughout my experience that the more I believed in my team and supported them, the better production flow was. In my previous experience as a PA or a coordinator, the artists always talked about how the producers never understood their process and only pushed them to meet the deadline. From that experience, I wanted to make sure that the relationship I built with my artists stems from trust. It is my job to ensure they have all the tools and information needed and to represent them and guide the client properly. In that way, we do not end up with unusable plates.
Do you have special strategies in planning and process coordination?
I explain to the artists and supervisor from the beginning about what the business purpose is. I make it clear what the priority is and to let me know if it’s an issue for them. My goal is always to deliver something visually attractive, but at the same time, I want to make sure we don’t go over budget and deliver on time — every project I’ve received I make sure to go over all the details with the Supervisor. We create a game plan in the best way we approach the shots received. For example, if we received three different sequences, we start by creating a hero shot for each sequence (for the different angles, framing, etc.). We then work on getting that approved so we can seamlessly apply it to the rest of the sequences.
As usual a big project is a collection of big and different tasks. Do you have experience of working with freelancers who were involved only for a specific task on the current project? What is the difference in your approach for such a coordination? Is working with a freelancer for a specific task for a limited time useful? And how does it affect the budget planning in your vision?
Each project is very different, and sometimes hiring a freelance artist to fulfill a specific task is very helpful, not only for budget purposes but for the production itself. Many times when we look for freelance artists, we look for a particular style, skill, and experience. For example, if our project has a lot of fluid simulations, we look for an artist that has experience with fluid simulation. When it comes to integrating the artist into the production, the only difference is communicating the company’s workflow, who the key people are that they need to be in communication with, and sharing the project bible, (this bible is a sheet that contains all the project information, from resolution to where to save your dailies and so on).
For example, on Maroon 5 - Three Little Birds, we needed an additional FX artist to help us with the simulation. Once we found the one that had a similar effect to what we were looking for on their demo reel, we were quick to reach out and request to book them. Their contribution to the project was extremely helpful as they could focus on that one specific task and deliver. The only difficult part for hiring freelance artists is if they’re not able to integrate within your company’s pipeline and work efficiently. However, it quickly addressed with the support of management and the leads.
WORK FLOW ON
TAYLOR SWIFT: LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO
What was your experience in working on Taylor Swift: Look What You Made Me Do with director Joseph Kahn?
Working with Joseph exposed me to different aspects of the production flow. What I really learned from him is that each shot/scene has to have something interesting that captivates and keeps the viewer engaged until the following scene. His determination and commitment to the project were inspiring and definitely helped push all of us to do our best.
TEAM AND MANAGEMENT
What was the team collaboration like in the projects, and how do you optimize managing resources?
Encouraging and working with the artists, as one team was indeed the reason this project was a success. When we first got the project, I asked the artists which sequences they preferred working on and did my best to put them the sequences they wanted to work on it. This approach helped motivate the teams to operate on seeing something and saying something even if it wasn’t their task or position. And this helped create a wider net of ensuring nothing fell between the cracks.
What difficult decisions did you face working with VFX Supervisors and how did you solve them?
Thankfully, I haven’t had too many hard situations with the VFX Supervisors I worked with, but when a conflict occurs it usually happens because of one of these two scenarios: 1) requesting something that can’t be done in a hasty manner, and 2) what they’re asking doesn’t line up with the client’s request. When the first situation occurs, the supervisors will either adjust the work order or find a workaround to finish the request hastily. When the second situation arises, I discuss with the Supervisor why what their request isn’t in line with the client, and we either clarify with the client or adjust the work order. But with any of these tough situations, it’s important to remember that the Supervisor is only trying to make the project look as best as it can with the restrictions we have.
What kind of issue caused a lot of stress for you in a project, and how did you overcome it with you team?
Due to the tight turnaround and the change in work orders, the biggest challenge was ensuring each team member was up to date with the changes made. I solved this issue by creating daily morning and early evening rounds where I would check in with each artist about their progress, along with the VFX or CG Supervisor. This deep vision of workflow helped minimize any confusion. It’s crucial to remember mistakes always happen in production. How we choose to react, and problem solve is the primary key to keeping things moving forward.
MARKETING & COLLABORATION
How often do you work closely with the marketing department and how does it influence the production?
Each project is different. We have worked with clients to ensure that the release video will be in time to hit their marketing strategy, along with sending out specific deliverables for the brand’s Twitter/Instagram/Facebook account. The influence it has depends on our deadline. A lot of times these requests happen in parallel to our delivery, which makes things a bit tough but mostly since it is the same content we can push it out.
What are the main three qualities that a VFX Producer must have? And how has it personally helped your work?
I think there are various styles to produce, but the essential qualities a producer has is patience, understanding, and foresight. During every production, mistakes happen, and that is the case for each type of production, which makes a production successful is the ability to work through those mistakes and adjust to them quickly. For example, I found out that one artist on a project was working on a task that wasn’t needed for two weeks. Meanwhile, I thought they were working on a task I needed that week.
I quickly asked them to shift their focus on the task, requested to have artists help them with the task, and emailed the client mentioning there might be a delay. Being able to quickly act on the spot in a manner that doesn’t stress your team members or the client really sets the tone on how others will react to you.