Susanne Preissler is Founder and Executive Producer at renowned production company Independent Media (IM). Having been in the entertainment and advertising industries for over 15 years, her directorial roster boasts household names in filmmaking - such as Janusz Kaminski, Doug Liman, and Claire Scanlon among others.
A consistent characteristic of Susanne’s career is her drive to champion the voices of female directors, writers and producers we desperately need more of in Hollywood. She has spoken to female-driven publications like Free the Bid, and most recently produced the inspirational and rousing spot for Adidas ‘Here to Create Change’ that celebrates the highly underrepresented women athletes that often don’t have a voice.
Her ability to consistently deliver innovative and impactful work comes from the progressive style of collaboration honored within IM’s culture: entirely open, dynamic and free-flowing. Susanne argues that all creative processes should welcome a more interactive, balanced format in order to discover further groundbreaking visions.
How would you describe the overall culture at your company and would you say that there is a separate female culture?
As with most production companies, there are a lot of personalities one has to juggle. It’s part of what makes working here enjoyable. People can be themselves and I think that’s the way it should be.
The #metoo movement has inspired a lot of self-reflection. People are more aware of what they are saying, how they are saying it, and how their words and actions affect others. I hope that this new awareness is not just a form of ‘political correctness’. Dialogue is critical. It’s important to know what people are actually thinking and feeling. Censorship (whether self-imposed or culturally demanded) doesn’t move us forward.
As a woman-owned company, female culture hasn’t been pushed to the fringes at Independent Media. However, over the years, I’ll admit that I’ve been aware of certain rules and ‘norms’. In fact, I’ve been keenly aware of being female in a male-dominated industry. But this is a longer conversation…
In your opinion, what do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?
We still have a long way to go. I wish more women would truly support one another. Be team players, for real. Show a different side of how things are done and stop using the perceived ‘rules of the road’ for men. It’s changing, but we need to move at wicked speed.
It’s funny, I just heard a female agency producer gossip about another woman in the business in a negative way. I thought “here is the problem”, stop denouncing your own kind. Every time a woman makes a step forward and stands up for herself, we need to celebrate her and support her. If you feel something negative or have a problem, have the courage to tell her directly, so that you can both fix it. It’s important - and beneficial - to have a meaningful conversation about whatever it might be versus perpetuating something that might just be utter gossip.
What are some of the challenges that women still face in the industry?
If they are strong, direct, and smart, they are often labeled as “difficult”. Women deserve to have a voice and we need to all support that.
What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
Ensure achievement? That’s funny. I was feeling pretty good about striving for (but not achieving) a healthy work-life balance! There are a lot of messages out there that women can achieve it all today. While that’s true in some sense, I also think that this notion can create a lot of stress (along the lines of, “what’s wrong with me, why can’t I keep everything in balance?”). Be kind to yourself. Set realistic goals. Don’t let setbacks defeat you. My mom raised four kids, and had a career. She even said there are days that everything goes wrong and you just have to take a beat, catch your breath and carve out a little ‘me time’.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
Starting Independent Media. There is no feeling like building from scratch and running your own business. Yes, there are a lot of headaches and stresses. But there is also an incredible sense of self-empowerment.
Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you in your career. What made them so special?
Unfortunately I didn’t have a mentor. Most of my early experiences were ‘sink or swim’.
How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women?
I have had a few spirited debates, particularly in the last couple of years, about diversity in casting. I’ve been surprised at the attitudes of some of my industry colleagues who have privately told me that being more inclusive on screen isn’t really moving the needle in our larger culture. The suggestion has been that we are too self-absorbed and that the world doesn’t perceive or respond to our work in the way that we think it does (or should). However, as basic as it may sound, I think that seeing yourself ‘imaged’ is incredibly important.
For decades young people had few visible definitions of success. With luck, you might have had a family friend who held an interesting job or who led an interesting life. But for too long, it was just as likely that you had no inkling of the great range of life paths that exist. So again, as basic as it may sound, I think that being visible, as a woman, is very important. It’s one of the reasons I’m excited about just being able to talk or voice a few of my thoughts. I know I may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ and I’m sure not everyone will love my job the same way that I do. But maybe a someone will see me and realize, “oh yeah, that’s something I could do or want to do.”