Susan Lewis – The Real Deal: 2024 ICON Award Recipient

What lead you to PR for the entertainment industry?

The day after graduating UCLA in Communications Studies, I walked into the office of the only company I knew in the business, Cinema Products. I was hired as a secretary. I worked hard and learned about cameras, lenses, and all the new technology that poured out of that company. No matter which of the many job titles I had, I took pride in knowing the gear. I could thread a camera, balance a Steadicam, and most importantly explain it to others. I worked with the inventors who were transforming the technology and the filmmakers who hungered for it. Regardless of how obscure an item or how remote their location, customers knew they could count on me to get them exactly what they needed to shoot their project. I never became the filmmaker I had intended to be, but landed in a niche that has morphed with the times and stayed with me until today.

Why did you start your own business?

I established Lewis Communications to fill the needs people came to me with, mainly in the areas of professional motion picture, television, and still photography. A designer at heart, I took classes in graphic design, and combined with my explanatory skills we produced ads, brochures, manuals, logos—anything that introduced new tools that would eventually be accepted as standard on set and post.

My clients brought me to trade shows and events, so I had a constant ear to the ground getting unique insights into the industry. By having a tight focus on the production industry, I was able to grow my company’s capabilities as the technological times changed from an analog to digital world.

What is it you do now?

We create genuine content for websites, articles, blogs, ads, and social media. Folks still need to know the benefits of new equipment, processes, and the nuts and bolts of what they are about to buy or use. People appreciate getting opinions on how things work in actual production from colleagues. So we interview, write, art direct photo shoots, produce videos, and create artwork.

We are connectors — filmmakers with manufacturers, writers with users, creators and makers with orgs like Women in Media. While some are online, we are big believers in in-person connection. Hence, we participate in live happenings like trade shows, screenings, festivals, award shows, etc. and often help our clients put on their own events — small and large. That’s where our friendships and personal touch come in.

What is your superpower?

Friendships. When you have been around this long you meet people along the way. And I think that people in our biz are terrific. We’re all there to bolster the artists who are responsible for telling the stories of today’s culture. Folks that started out when I did are now in respected industry positions — owners of top brands, rental houses, union and organization execs, filmmakers, trade shows, publishers, etc. Practically speaking it makes it easier to get things done when you call on friends. If we recommend a product to a filmmaker, they are usually happy to try it out and give us honest feedback. If a news story suggestion comes from us, the trade press gives it consideration.

The most empowering element has been the extraordinarily talented people on my team throughout the years. Each has shared our philosophy of going the limit to help clients get new tech to filmmakers. It is always fun. Each has made a contribution to the business — regardless of whether they are with Lewis now or in other positions, we remain great friends.

You’ve seen so many changes to how we produce film and television. What have been some of the most significant advances you have seen in your career?

At first the change from analog to digital crept in slowly just like the personal computers that took over our desks. As a neophyte I saw news gathering go from 16mm film to ENG. When the camera company I worked for, Cinema Products, saw the writing on the wall, we took action. We showed a filmmaking package with an Ikegami camera surrounded by traditional cine equipment and called it Electronic Cinematography. Their Steadicam came out with a Universal model for either film or video and the unions, which were separated at the time—took notice. Simultaneously advances in editing came along, using VHS tape in individual decks. I was behind the scenes for the first “nonlinear” system, the Ediflex system which was a precursor to more sophisticated systems like Montage and eventually Avid. I was also at the forefront of the LED lighting revolution which I fell into with a team of gaffers who had designed new lower energy draw lights, called Lite Panels. Video cameras are now called “Digital” and today camera brands vie for market share, as film stock seems limited to a chosen few.

Now the field has grown exponentially. With the advent of streaming, there is content needed of all types. Plus as equipment continues to come down in size and new methods of mounting and moving it are devised, we hope that it will kill the stereotype of men doing the heavy lifting. Now if we could just get the strike issues behind us maybe we can get more diverse crews back to set.

Has technology helped level the playing field for women behind the scenes?

I could see early on that strides in digital technology helped women move into the effects and post production world. But I am afraid we are still far away from equality on set. Yes it is better, thanks to the passionate work of a handful of inspirational women who worked their butts off because nothing ever came easy. Now there are more women coming up in the camera department than ever before.

owever it is far from equal. After 100 years of father-to-son nepotism there is still a glass ceiling. That’s why groups like WiM are so vitally important to push the needle. I always encourage women to learn about technology. Don’t give up —it takes hard work and patience. And when you finally make it, give back — please hire other women.

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