Hollywood has long been associated with glamour, fame, fashion, and glitz. It has captured the world's imagination for over a century. But, in light of the recent expositions that led to the rise of #metoo, we take a step back and interview an industry insider on what it's like to live and work in the entertainment industry.
Sutton Hill has been a permanent fixture as Youthly's photographer since the beginning of our brand. Her campaigns are ubiquitous with the Youthly look: personality-driven, travel-ready, and fashion-forward. But outside of her photography work, she is also Columbia-educated, co-owns a media company, has worked for Disney, and has countless acting credits to her name. She can shoot photos and videos, edit and produce, sing, dance, and of course, put together Influencer Marketing campaigns like no other.
So we decided to interview her, for a very raw and candid snapshot, of what it's like being a young woman working in the entertainment industry.
0. Brief Introduction
I'm Sutton and I live and work in Los Angeles, California, as a photographer and director, brand developer, social media marketer and influencer coordinator. I own a company and work to grow followings for products, individuals, and companies, while creating compelling brand narratives. I love TV and movies, read a lot off my phone, and am slowly developing carpal tunnel.
1. How did you get into photography and video shooting?
My mom's hobby was photography, so there was always a camera around. I was lucky enough to go to a school with photography classes and I took them, back before digital was taught. I would shoot film and develop photos in the dark room. Seriously, the worst smells you have ever smelled. And your hands would smell too, because you'd need to take your gloves off at various times and you could pick up the wet paper easier with your fingertips. The machines to create the prints were enormous iron things you'd have to wrench up and down and manually turn on the light for various amounts of time, cross referencing through the different equipment settings. Then dunking the paper in chemicals and waiting. So that definitely broke down the process for me in a way that was never glamorous or fun, really.
In high school, teachers began telling me they would pay for my work. I did a lot of shooting textures and laying the negatives over each other to create new patterns and feelings from the images. I mostly shot black and white, and to this day I love it the most, but can rarely use it.
Video started more recently. Growing up I'd always imagine movies or tv, especially to music or specific songs, telling a story within a visual parameter. No one ever told me I could shoot video, be a director or even a camera person. So that journey has been different as I had no encouragement or role models to help me feel comfortable pursuing it. I'm just good at it, and it brings out a good side in me. I'm the most excited about it, and I can deliver full, respectful days where everyone, client and talent included, leaves happy.
As a side topic, what are your favorite filters and editing techniques?
I mainly use Lightroom for editing as I do not like heavy editing on my photos. For filters, I use a lot of Rocket Rooster packages, and usually create custom filters for specific clients or photos by tweaking past an initial vibe.
I also illuminate people's faces a lot in editing and sharpen details to add a little extra. Most of my work goes into creating the shot and making it beautiful so editing can be secondary.
2. What would you recommend for someone looking to get into the type of creative career you're in? What kind of expectations should they have in mind before jumping in?
You're going to have to work for free, a lot. You're going to keep getting better, and mess up a lot even when you think you're better. We all have blind spots that merge and change over time. Most of them are tied to ego. If you can let that go, you can really stop a lot of grief inside yourself before it starts. A lot of life is behaving in ways and interpreting events in ways you can live with. Keep getting to know yourself, hold yourself to standards but try not to punish or demean yourself in the hard times. It's not helpful.
I didn't plan this really, which is hard to hear, I know. I planned my whole life to be an actress, even appearing in movies like Girl on the Train and Netflix shows like W/ Bob and David. But while I was working, I was bored - and broke. Even as a union actor, I was moonlighting as a nanny, a personal chef, an assistant - nothing ever added up to anything, and my years were slipping by feeling anxious and insecure about prospects and finances. It was rough. Because I'm genetically prone to anxiety, auditions would punish my mind and body, and much of my time was spent recovering from this or that, striving for equilibrium, instead of living from that place.
One day I walked into a modeling call and was offered a producing job if I was able to start work at 8am 40 miles from my house. I took the job and never looked back. In no way has it been easier, but I have been more empowered, learned how to make money and negotiate deals and business relationships, and checked huge goals off my bucket list I didn't even know I had. Sometimes a dream can destroy you, especially if you pursue it even as it's not doing you any good.
It takes a lot of hard looks at yourself and what's real for you to figure out where you need to be, not just where you want to be.
3. You work in the heart of LA and Hollywood. Your clients are some of the biggest name brands as well as smaller boutique businesses. You connect them with the Influencers people tend to see and envy on Instagram. What's it really like to work with all these people?
Interesting question *zips lips* - no, I'm kidding. Obviously I can't say anything about anyone, but yeah, I've seen a lot. In my producing career, I've been an enigma because I bond closely with my team and superiors, and they deeply understand my value. But inevitably within the work, there's a whole cast of characters you deal with who don't know you, don't get who you are or what your job is, etc, and these are often the more famous people and their managers and agents, etc. Some of these people are respectful no matter their status, and some aren't. Much like regular people.
Some of the people I've worked with are terrible, and terribly famous. I see them get opportunities, even now, or hear things, and still scratch my head. Some are amazing. Most are motivated by money. I've seen the most beautiful women in the world turn their head and publicly humiliate their staff, friends or family... I've seen people steal, lie, cheat. It's real.
I took a step back from Hollywood and moved to the suburbs of LA last fall. I'm cautious about my time there. I love my house, hearing the birds, having a yard for my dogs. Things that don't care about who's repping what or fighting with whom. Even now I'll take a meeting and think - am I back in high school? Keeping on the high road both morally and with your attitude is never a bad look.
Another detour...how do you pick which Influencers to work with?
A lot of it is people who find me and reach out to work with me after hearing about my company. We review everything and have phone calls and meetings to decide if it's a fit.
I think the hardest thing to deal with is people trying to jump the line of success. You can't.
You can't cheat your way to the top.
The best people to work with have a humble attitude, willingness to wait through the tough times, and support from family and friends to help them shine. A lot of "making it" is waiting out the people who don't.
Someone with a brand that they understand is really important, as obvious as it sounds. Also, people who are realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. You don't want to have to tiptoe around someone's issues to make good work.
4. In the past year, the entertainment industry has been rocked to its core by the #metoo movement. Has this impacted your work, or the mindset of people you work with? Do you feel that we still have a long way to go? And if you could make changes, what would they be?
There was a lot of sexual harassment I faced as an actress and model that transitioned to different types of misogyny as I was working as a producer. As an actress, it was straight up propositions. As a junior producer, it was mostly sexist texts, asking why I wasn't working out or getting my nails done, often when I was finishing 20 hour work days. Some telling me I should be attentive to them, why wasn't I responding? Who did I think I was? Things like that. I would alert men on my team immediately every time who would, with me, take steps to keep that person away from me and keep me safe from their bile.
Since I've owned my own company, sexual harassment has dropped to 0% and I live a much happier life. I work with my two male best friends and we choose clients and collabs based on mutual respect.
Everyone's experiences are different. I would encourage women to work towards independent business goals. I do have hope for the future retiring a lot of the socio-cultural ideas, customs, and laws that have limited women's opportunities and scope of achievement, particularly in the modern western world. Simultaneously, I have an Ivy League degree in History with an emphasis on Women and Family Structures and have read, firsthand, the words and achievements of women of all ages from every corner of the world from every time until now. Our spirits have not changed. We have always been working and succeeding through determination. So #metoo does not feel new to me, just a continuation of the incredible legacy we have perpetuated since the beginning of time as women.
5. What was your most frustrating moment at work or in life? How did you navigate through it?
Someone once accused me of something I did not do and used it to embarrass me personally and professionally. I knew the truth, defended myself, and stepped away from the situation. The person was told to clean out their office a month later and has been since proven wrong to all parties. He even tried to contact me to apologize, and apologized to others on my behalf. It deeply impacted me. I felt shame and anger especially at the fact it did cause me to feel so many things! My business partner, Rob, helped me through it, and we started our company shortly after.
6. Finally, share 5 cool facts about yourself.
I do not eat things that contain processed meat that I cannot see the inside of, like meat pies or lasagne.
I was hit by a bus outside Madison Square Garden in the middle of the afternoon when I was 21.
London is my favorite city and I have been lucky enough to live, visit, and study there several times.
My dad died was I was 23.
I used to make enormous collage art pieces to deal with anxiety. I even sold them on Etsy.