Marina Taylor is the Creative Director and Producer at HiHo Kids and a Producer at Cut Video in Seattle, WA. She has experience in all aspects of video production from research, filming, and editing and has even stepped into the spotlight herself. This week, we got the chance to sit down and talk to her about digital media production, representation and creation post-election.
Interview conducted by: Tiffany Chan
Edited by: Morgan Moore and Tiffany Chan
Photographs courtesy of Marina Taylor
Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with storytelling/video production?
As a child, I idolized the female news anchors I would see every morning and night on TV. I got into my first video production in the fifth grade for my elementary school’s newscast and never looked back. In college, I was lucky enough to intern for the morning talk show at the same station that I looked up to when I was a kid. I was working side-by-side with producers and realized how much I enjoyed being behind the camera, crafting the story, and being responsible for the production.
Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get to this job?
In college I made an effort to get my feet wet with various video and media related opportunities. I built a portfolio with short videos I made and got professional on-set experience through multiple internships and freelance gigs. To be honest, a combination of really good timing and hard work got me to the job I have now.
I reached out to Cut via Facebook message on the day their first video went viral, asking if they needed an intern. I landed an interview, and shortly after I was accepted as Cut’s first official intern. As an emerging media company with just three people, I was lucky enough to work directly with the head of each department. I watched and learned from the best and took initiative to help in every aspect of the business. Shortly after my internship, I graduated from the University of Washington, and Cut offered me my first full time job! I started as the Studio Manager, but after about three months I climbed my way onto the production team. From there I started down the production track, and in about a year, I went from a Production Coordinator to a Creative Director for our kids brand – HiHo.
Q: What is the quirkiest side job you’ve ever worked?
One summer I delivered newspapers on foot. I also used to Skype tutor high school kids in Japanese for a bit.
Q: What does a normal day look like for you?
I usually get to work around 10am. Check email and read comments on the videos released that day. I like to know what’s going on within our community, even if I don’t have time to respond to every single person. Throughout the day, I review videos and provide editing notes. I also do pre-production work for upcoming shoots— this could range from casting, thinking of new video ideas, to researching, or writing treatments for pilots. Then around 3pm, the first group of kids arrive to the studio and we start filming. The kids are in school, so we can only film with them after school and on weekends. We typically film from around 3 to 7:30 a few nights a week. During shoots I am herding the kids, putting on mics, and directing the videos. By the time the shoot wraps, the kids have left, and the studio is clean, it’s about 8:00 PM and I call it a day.
Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?
One thing that I love about my job is the direct relationship we have with our audience. When you post your work on YouTube and Facebook, you get instant feedback from both fans and haters. If a video goes out and there’s a typo or something they disagree with, you will hear about it…immediately…from hundreds of people. But make something great, and you are met with a wave of supportive comments. I’m not always able to respond to all of the comments, but they are always being read! If not by me, by everyone else at Cut. We’ve actually made friends with many of our viewers all over the world, and I often consult with viewers living in specific countries while researching for videos. The HiHo and Cut community is so lovely and supportive, and I really value their thoughts and opinions about our videos.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced working on projects?
Our mission for HiHo is to create empathy through play, helping mold the next generation of critical thinkers. However, a large portion of our audience are adults. The challenge is in making content that both kids and adults find sincere, educational, and entertaining. I always find it fascinating to observe kids as they watch YouTube. Kids have such different ways of consuming the video content than adults do. Finding the sweet spot requires a lot of experimenting and creating videos that totally flop, and others that kick ass and reach a super wide audience. Navigating these kinds of challenges will help determine success for HiHo. We’re excited to see our audience continue to grow.
Q: What inspires you? What motivates you? How do you work out of a creative rut?
This summer we were contacted by the Make-A-Wish foundation and helped grant a wish for an 8-year-old girl battling leukemia. She and her mother are fans of the American Kids Try Food from Around the World videos, and her wish was to try food on the show. We’ve made nearly 40 episodes of Kids Try Food, and at times making the same kind of video over and over again can become monotonous. But moments like those, or even a kind email, DM, or letter, remind me that there are people all around the world watching our work, and depending on it to help brighten their days. It’s also important to keep reinventing and reinvigorating existing series like Kids Try Food so they don’t get stale—for both the people making it and the people consuming it.
Q: What has been your favorite video to work on so far?
So many to pick from, but #1 is 100 Years of Beauty: Navajo (Diné). It’s a favorite of mine for so many reasons. It was the first 100 Years of Beauty I cast, produced, and directed on my own. I had found the model, Sage Honga, about 6 months prior from a Marie Claire UK photo. Research was done by an incredibly talented Diné jewelry designer and native fashion blogger Naniba Beck. She sourced authentic accessories and jewelry, much of which was generously lent to us from the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. All of the pieces fell into place for this project, and I had such a great time directing Sage, who chose to use the video as an opportunity to stand up against DAPL. The final product is a mesmerizing 90 second time lapse paired to music by the Physics, edited beautifully by Cut co-founder Jason Hakala.
Q: What is the funniest/snarkiest/most memorable reaction someone has had to your work?
Ever since my intern days at Cut, back when we only had about 20 videos on our page, I have been repping Cut proudly. Our merch items were (and still are) staples in my wardrobe, and sometimes I feel like I’m a walking billboard for our company—mainly because I’m so proud of who we are, what we make, and the unique voice we have. During an interview for another internship (you can never have enough!), I was speaking about my experience as an intern at Cut, and how much I loved and believed in the company; the interviewer looked at me and said “Wow, you’re really drinking the Kool-Aid.” Guilty. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Q: In your opinion, what is an under-researched topic in the field? (or topic that you would like to/plan on addressing more in your work going forward?)
The digital media landscape is constantly changing, so it’s difficult for creators to come up with best practices for each platform before they all completely change again. We do our best to interpret the data provided to us to make thoughtful decisions about our videos so they continue to be seen by our audience and others who are potential audience members. As technology changes, and publishers adjust their methods, we will continue to adapt with our content.
Q: What has been one unexpected but necessary skill you’ve had to learn “on the job”?
When I came in for my first day of full-time employment at Cut, I never imagined I’d eventually leading our children’s brand, working with kids nearly every day. I’m not just working with kids, I’m working for kids. Meaning I must be caught up on the latest toy trends, most popular movies, TV shows, and YouTube channels. In researching for future videos, I watch tons of YouTube Kids, and my entire Amazon order history is toys. I’m not sure if it’s a skill I’ve had to learn, but finding the kid in myself has been an unexpected requirement for the job.
Q: What is one contentious issue (in the art world or otherwise) that you are very passionate about?
YouTube videos are already on the fringe of what we consider art. Yet Cut is a group of creatives trying to flex our creative muscles in a marketplace that rewards other things. It’s a race to gain influence—that’s the way the streaming media market is set up. The danger is that people with influence aren’t always in the position to make the right calls, when it comes to representing other people. YouTube and social media promote cultures of blind consumerism and loudness without thought and reflection. But in our experience, we know that audiences also crave vulnerability, growth, and meaningful interactions. It’s up to publishers (like Facebook and YouTube) to create platforms with algorithms that reward creativity and new ideas, it’s up to creators to make original content that adds unique perspectives to an oversaturated market, and it’s ultimately up to consumers to speak with their views and clicks. Big controversies involving YouTubers and social media influencers remind us that our responsibility is to put more contemplation into the world when everyone else is making a distraction.
Q: Were there ever moments throughout your career when you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those moments resolve?
Absolutely. I work with a group of super talented, hardworking people, and sometimes I wonder how I wound up in the same room as them. Or when a bunch of videos perform poorly, I start doubting my abilities to do my job. Am I creative enough? Do I know enough about production? Does anyone even care?
I think it’s totally normal to doubt yourself. So when I start feeling this way, I try to take a step back and view everything from a macro perspective. Sometimes I go back and rewatch our old videos that I’ve helped make over the last 3 years—the videos that kept me up all night with stress, the videos that pushed me out of my comfort zone, the videos that went viral and were shared on TV and top media publications. It’s a gentle reminder of how I pushed past previous moments of doubt and how much I’ve learned from working here. Speaking with our CEO, Mike, also helps me out of these moments. He’s a great cheerleader and mentor to all of us here at Cut.
Q: How has the current presidential administration affected your own work, if at all?
I work with kids, and those are the last people you’d expect to have consciousness around politics. Although we make content that’s not overtly political, these kids have families and lives that are caught up in everything that’s happening around the country. One thing we strive to do at HiHo is create scenarios where kids are encouraged to be open-minded, be curious, ask questions, and be comfortable with our differences. We aren’t interested in promoting specific political agendas, but what we are interested in is making sure that we are raising resilient, compassionate, and open-minded citizens.
Q: What is one (or two) things you would like the general public to know about working at a video production company? (Or specifically at Cut)
I feel really lucky to be in my position so early in my career. A major reason that I’ve been able to be successful at my job is because of the people around me. I’ve never worked anywhere like Cut where there are so many POC and women on the team. What makes Cut special is that we address the industry’s diversity problem by embodying community amongst people with very different backgrounds. This happens within our teams in the office, with the talent we work with on camera, and with our fans online. In media, “diversity” is a buzzword that often means that people are tokenized. We work through complicated social issues by combining the power of all of our perspectives.
Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?
It’s totally natural for parents to be concerned about their children. Lucky for me, both my parents have a media background. They initially tried to steer me down the STEM path, but they were just as supportive when I chose video production. I think it’s important to listen to what parents or loved ones have to say, but to prepare thoughtful defenses for each point you disagree with. You might not be able to address all of their concerns, [but you should] develop a game plan and present it to them. Do your research, and provide them with examples of people who found success doing what you want to do. Tell them exactly what steps you will need to take to get there and how you plan on attacking it. Not only will it provide answers to your parents questions, it will demonstrate your passion and determination for doing what you love!
Just for fun…
Q: Can you recommend a wine (any alcohol/cocktail) and cheese (any drunk food) to us?
My go-to drink: Lemon Drop
Drunk food: Akai Kistune instant udon noodles. You can make it in less than three minutes, so it’s perfect for the lazy drunk—aka me. I keep two in my pantry at all times.
Q: What do you do for self-care?
I’m always plugged into work in some way or another, because my iPhone is like a mini work computer. The line between work and personal time has blurred, to say the least. One way I force myself to disconnect is by getting my nails done regularly. It’s kind of superficial, but it’s nice to have a standing appointment somewhere. It makes me feel adult. I’m also very into skin care. I love testing out new products—especially ones I get from Japan.
In general, I practice self-care by listening to my body and living life without too much influence of others’ opinions. I’m a firm believer in the principle of everything in moderation.