“Unfortunately, you can’t have it all,” says Cary Sachs, president of television and streaming at Ant Farm. “You will get it all, but right now, if you’re trying to get to a certain destination, you’re going to have to give up a few things.”
That’s the thinking Sachs launched his career with when, nearly twenty years ago, he took a flight from New Orleans to Los Angeles to interview for unpaid internships. With no guarantee of a job, he made what he calls a “sacrifice” and, in our interview, he challenges up-and-comers to do the same.
With two decades of experience that includes long tenures at broadcast promotion agencies and movie trailer houses, Sachs knows a thing or two about succeeding in entertainment marketing.
Daily Brief sat down with Sachs to hear his story and to uncover just what it takes to earn a top spot in entertainment marketing. An edited transcript with Daily Brief contributing editor Kareem Taylor follows.
DAILY BRIEF: How’d you get this job?
SACHS: My journey of getting where I am today happened in a variety of ways. The one thing I always talk about is focus. It’s that laser, laser, laser focus.
People always say ‘I want to be an editor.’ That’s a vague focus. What do you want to edit? Do you want to edit comedy? Shows? Documentaries? Infomercials? Commercials? Movies? Short films? Trailers? TV promos? And the list can go on and on and on. I feel like you’ve got to have that laser focus.
When I was in grad school, going for my masters in film, I came out here to Los Angeles for an internship. Back in the day, over 20-something years ago, I called them coming attractions. I wanted to edit coming attractions. I found out it was called movie trailers. Then, I did an internship, but I knew exactly what I wanted, and I wanted to edit movie trailers. Movie trailers are very closely related to TV promos, so when I discovered the world of TV promo, I geared more towards that area. That’s where I remained. That’s what I talk about when I say I was laser-focused, I didn’t really stray from that.
You talked about grad school. You were in New Orleans and you came to Los Angeles and you got a job. Was it easy to make that leap?
My mom does make up, the spritzing at the malls, and she met [Ant Farm owner] Barbara Glazer’s mother at a mall in New Jersey. My mother was like “Oh! I met a lady whose daughter opened up a trailer company because you mentioned you wanted to do trailers.”
It was before Barbara had owned Ant Farm, and she owned a company called Silver Glaser films, and I remember Barbara’s mother or someone gave me a variety of different people to call. I called one person, and that led to somebody else, and I was calling from New Orleans. Then, when I was asking about these free internships — unpaid, free labor — they said, ‘sure if you could get out to Los Angeles, we will interview you.’
I didn’t have any money, so I asked my dad if he would spring for a ticket and a hotel. For about two days, I rented a car and didn’t know where I was going, and did my interviews here in Los Angeles at a couple of agencies, and then when I went back to New Orleans, I stayed in contact with them and made sure that something was lined up for the summer.
When they said yes, I was able to come out here and do the internship for the summer. I came out here, worked as a waiter at night and worked at the company during the day, and when I went back to New Orleans after the summer, I stayed in contact with everybody. Even though they didn’t offer me any job, I still came out here afterwards when I graduated, and I called people. Finally, one person said ‘I’m not hiring but another person is at another place.’ Eventually, the name New Wave Entertainment came up. That was a big agency at the time. They were hiring production assistants and I was able to get in.
I feel like one of the most difficult parts of working in any business is sticking with something, and staying somewhere. It seems you were very persistent, like anyone who succeeds at anything. How do you maintain that consistency and that straight laser focus?
I think a lot of people would classify me as a workaholic. I don’t shut it off, I am continuously on. It’s a good thing and bad thing.
What you have to ask yourself is ‘what are you willing to sacrifice?’ meaning, are you willing to sacrifice personal time opposed to business time? Are you sacrificing your workout regimens because you are staying late at the office? Or are you sacrificing sleep for staying at the office? I think there has to be a certain amount of sacrifice.
That said, there’s a certain amount I’m not willing to sacrifice. I could get a lot further if I wanted to sacrifice even more. I’m just not willing to sacrifice a good amount of things. such as time with my family.
What are you willing to sacrifice to stay focused on your path? You’ve got to put those blinders on. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all. You will get it all, but right now, if you’re trying to get to a certain destination, you going to have to give up a few things.
People have remarked on you knowing how to cut, how to slow it down, speed up the pace. People admire you for that, having that ability. You have this creative background where you’re actually at an edit bay. But then you have this other side where you can manage people and lead teams and be the face of a company. How can we take these creative talents, such as being really good at at the edit bay, and turn that into management skills?
There are a couple of things. First, it all depends on the model of the company. Here at Ant Farm, I could tell you that I am a rare breed but there are people, like our Art Director, Lucas Christmas, who is amazing. He jumps on the system, he still does all the work but he also manages a staff of thirty people. He’s basically the equivalent of me up here in TV and streaming.
I don’t know why the business model ever morphed to ‘you have to be a business person, and you can’t jump and get your hands dirty as well.’ I think people like that. I think that’s one of the draws of me coming to Ant Farm and why Ant Farm wanted me here. I’m not just a guy who can manage and knows how to get the work done. I actually do the work as well, and I don’t do all of it, I have a tremendous team here to help me out, but I’ve certainly been able to hold on to a model where I’m able to jump on and still stay fresh.
It’s important that you don’t ever give up your writing or producing or editing or sound mixing or graphics. You always have to stay fresh. Once you give up that skill, you tend to lose touch. I’m not saying you can’t be successful, it just means that there are other ways to run a division, and to run a business. And I’m blessed enough to have this model work for us here at Ant Farm. There are companies that just want it separated, and then there are companies who feel like integrating the two is a better fit for them.
I’ll give you an analogy: To become a great director, you need to become a great editor. You have to know how things are pieced together. Even though you’re a director, and you’re not editing, you have to know how to edit in order to direct. You have to understand the psychology, how shots are being pieced together.
If you’re an executive and you’re giving notes, or giving creative direction on how to slow something down or a comedic beat, or exposition or structure, it’s a great tool to at least know how long it takes for someone to edit, how expensive it is, what’s the creative force behind it, the thinking behind it. That helps.
In our careers, we have to make a lot of different decisions about where to go work, where to apply, where to put our effort. What do you think is one of the best decisions you ever made?
Where I have gotten to this point in my life and in my career, it’s about having a few key points that I always try to practice every day.
The first one: Integrity. You’ve got to have high integrity in this business. There are a lot of people who don’t. That, unfortunately, can get upsetting because you feel like you want whoever you’re dealing with internally or on the opposite side, you want to deal with high-integrity people. We talked about sacrifice — this is a high-integrity executive. Someone who will excel and get the team to work the best for you is someone who sacrifices his or her needs for others.
I saw a Ted Talk with Simon Sinek, and it was talking about sacrifice. He was saying ‘Leaders eat last.’
It’s all about how I can get my team — and anyone who has worked for me knows this about me — to become the next Cary Sachs. I want them to become the next great editor, boss, leader, in this organization or wherever I’m at. It’s not about me stepping on others to get higher in the ranks. It’s about sacrificing my own needs in order for my team to get where they need to get to. This is the Simon Sinek way: Why would I do that for them? Because they would do that for me. Or why would they do that for me? Because I would do that for them.
That’s how I have succeeded and that’s how I’ve gotten to where I’m at today. It’s about empowerment, high integrity, positive reinforcement. One of the things I was taught, and you learn this through many years of experience because I certainly didn’t have it early on in my career, is you take your ego and you check it at the door. The moment you walk through the doors here at Ant Farm or anywhere else, we are all on a level-playing field. Yes, there are certain positions and protocols, but we’re all a team. So whether you answer the phone or you are an assistant, the boss, a producer—everybody contributes and everyone has a certain role. But nobody is more important, nobody’s voice is more important, it’s all collectively as a team, we will all try to figure it out. That’s how I’ve been able to get to where I’m at today.