REEL WOMEN: Head of Production Elyse Preiss

(REEL WOMAN Elyse Preiss)

Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2021 REEL WOMEN. During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready, they are making “Herstory.”

Elyse Preiss is the Head of Production and Associate Partner at award-winning content company, Portal A. In her six years with Portal A, Elyse has led over 100 global productions, including the award-winning feature film, State of Pride, along with short-form branded content that has amassed over 500 million views.

She brings over a decade of producing experience, producing for top brands, such as Google, Amazon, Clorox, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, and HBO.

What’s Your Origin Story?

I always had an affinity for making videos, generally using our family’s camcorder to mess around with my friends. In high school, I was lucky enough and extremely privileged to be able to attend film camp. I spent three weeks making a black and white and silent short film on 16mm about a mysterious death that turned out to be a case of narcolepsy. I was hooked.

How Did You Get Into Film?

Following my film camp stint, I interned at a production company that specialized in making shows for HGTV. I spent a summer trying to track down the ugliest bathrooms in America for a home makeover show. I had no idea what it meant to be a producer, but discovered that making research plans, drafting extensive spreadsheets, and conducting cold-calls somehow all played to my strengths.

Upon graduating from college, I interned at another production company that specialized in infomercials. Again, with a lot of luck and privilege, I was able to turn that internship into a fulltime job as a staff Office PA.

I began working my way up the production ladder – Office PA to Coordinator to Associate Producer to Producer, etc.

Who Were Your Mentors?

Early in my career, I had two amazing mentors – Victoria Simpson and Marcia Anderson – who were Executive Producers and Creative Directors where I worked. They took me under their wing and showed me the ins and outs of producing, how to command a team, hold the line on quality, the importance of taking care of your crew, and how to have fun while doing all of that.

They were incredible mentors, and are incredible creatives and producers in the field. I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today without them, and credit so much of the big-picture lessons I’ve learned along the way to their guidance and teaching.

While There Will be Others, What Do You Consider Your Greatest Achievement To Date?

In 2018, I produced a short film called Robu in Tokyo over the winter holidays. The budget was next to nothing, and the creative was extremely ambitious. My Co-Producer, Kenji Green, and the Director/Writer, Kai Hasson, and I all worked on this film outside of our full-time jobs.

While in prep on Robu, I was also in the process at Portal A of transitioning from a Producer to the Head of Production, and producing YouTube Rewind (a massive, global production). I had also just gotten married, and convinced my wife that we should trade in our honeymoon plans so that I could film a Short during our time-off in Japan (she somehow agreed, and joined the trip and the film crew!).

This is all to say, there was a lot going on while I took on this ambitious project. Looking back, I consider producing Robu to be perhaps my biggest achievement – it’s an amazing little film made by a passionate team. We did it with so few resources and so little time to work on it, and I am extremely proud of what we made.

What’s Your Biggest Disappointment?

There have been tough moments along the way, but I try not to focus on my personal disappointments in recognition that I have been afforded so much privilege.

I’d rather focus that energy on the path forward, and what I can do to help those less-privileged avoid unfair and unnecessary disappointments to create a more equitable industry.

What’s Your Kryptonite?

Motion sickness! I’ve been stuck in the back of a transpo van, on a tiny airplane, on a boat, etc. for production too many times to count, and I get motion sick at the drop of the hat. This has rendered me totally useless on an embarrassing number of shoot days.  

ALSO READ: REEL WOMEN: 3-time Emmy Winner Sarah Kunin

What Can the Industry Do Better to Promote True Inclusion?

There is so much the industry can do to combat the current underrepresentation of certain groups due to systemic discrimination, and promote true inclusion, but one place it starts with is hiring.

We need to hire people of color, women, LGBTQ+, and disabled folks behind the camera (as well as in front of) to even start fighting this much-needed correction.

This includes hiring these folks for key positions on set, positions that have decision making and hiring power themselves, and that are paid at the top of the budget. 

If You’re Batwoman, Who’s Robin?

My fellow Associate Partners at Portal A – Emma White, Robyn Buensuceso, and Brittani Kagan. We’re all each other’s Batwomen and Robins (and sometime each other’s Pinky and the Brains).

What’s the engine that drives you?

Popcorn. Lots of popcorn.

Step Into a Time Machine and Tell Your 15-Year-Old Self Something

Your love of spreadsheets, hyper-organization, and negotiating can actually be turned into a pretty cool career called “producing.” 

Follow Elyse.