Want to Work on Patriot Act’s Emmy-Winning Creative Team? Here’s What It Takes
Interview by Mike O'Donnell / Editor
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj just won an Emmy for Outstanding Motion Design. I spoke with Justine Webster, the Netflix show’s Graphics Producer, about leaving advertising for the unchartered world of broadcast and entertainment and navigating the monumental challenge of producing 200+ graphic elements in a 3-4 day turnaround for each episode. We also talk about her approach to building a creative dream team that can tackle that workload while maintaining a collaborative spirit and comedic touch.
Tells us a bit about your background. How’d you get to where you are now?
It’s been a bit of a winding road. I taught English to speakers of other languages and managed programs for international students at community colleges in Seattle, Washington. After almost a decade of teaching, I decided it was time to try something new that would allow me to explore my interest in visual identity and storytelling. I moved to New York and started to work at an advertising agency, first in strategy and then in production. I worked there for about four years before having the opportunity to join the Patriot Act team.
What excited you most about working on Patriot Act?
I’d never seen a show like it! It looked exciting and innovative and I loved the way Hasan brought humor to very big, important issues. It seemed like a fantastic opportunity to combine a lot of my interests—visual storytelling and education (I learn a lot from the show each week!)—with comedy and a unique take on often under-discussed topics. Also, I’d never worked in broadcast or entertainment, and was ready for a change from advertising. It’s been great and I haven’t looked back.
How has working on Patriot Act both met your expectations and surprised you?
The collaborative atmosphere here is a highlight for me. And, it has to be very collaborative because we move quickly and things are constantly changing and evolving. It’s a dream team of some of the brightest minds and most dedicated creative talent I’ve ever worked with.
What are some of the challenges and breakthroughs that come with working as Graphics Producer on Patriot Act?
It’s still mind boggling to me how quickly we have to turn around the number of assets we produce. We often create around 200 graphic elements per episode. Sometimes, we have a week to do this. More often, we have 3-4 days. It’s been essential to figure out how to prioritize tasks and assign elements appropriately, work with our news, archival, and writing teams efficiently to get all the data (and jokes) we need, and develop a process for both creative and technical feedback and approval. It’s a challenge but one we thrive on.
Is there a good balance of bringing on people who send in resumes and people you proactively reach out to? Or are the scales tipped in one direction?
So far the people I’ve brought in are people I’ve reached out to. Some were recommendations from current or past team members, others I found on sites like The One Club for Creativity or staffing sites like Working Not Working. A big part of that is the show is relatively new and I honestly haven’t received many resumes, so the scales may tip the other way in the future.
What’s the office and culture like?
Everyone takes their job very seriously, but we’ve also found it important to maintain a sense of lightheartedness on our team. We think this is important both because the pace of production is super fast, but also because the topics we cover can be heavy. Each week, our whole graphics team watches the taping live from our previz room to see our graphics up on the stage, and it’s a celebration of our collaborative efforts to see it all come together. We also make sure to take time together to do a team lunch, celebrate a birthday, or talk about the highs and lows of our weeks.
What does it take to succeed on Patriot Act’s creative team?
The pace of production means we have to be able to conceptualize and create very quickly and change gears at the drop of a hat. Occasionally we’ve worked on an element for days only to find it’s been cut from the script the day before taping. But we can’t dwell on that. We have to put 110% into whatever we’re creating, knowing it may change down the line. Everyone on our team is supportive of one another, humble, and flexible, and that allows us to be successful.
What do you look for when hiring, specifically in regards to creative styles, tones, and approaches?
We look for styles that can complement or elevate the look of our show. We’ve found that a background in TV, particularly comedy, is helpful, though not necessary. A sharp eye for typography and composition, and keen attention to detail tend to be more important to us. And, of course, motion! A lot of our animations are not super complex, but we occasionally do some 3D animations or more complicated sequences. It’s important for us to have a range of skills on our team (we have mock up masters and background wizards)—we don’t expect any one person to do it all.