Alumni Spotlight: Hannah Fehrman (BA ’12)

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Hannah Fehrman is a super woman. She is the founder, owner and executive producer of Grey House Productions, a production company in Chicago. Hannah started Grey House with a vision to offer a production services company built on her personal belief in the perfect partnership between logistics and hospitality. We had a chance to learn more about Hannah and the work she does at Grey House Productions.

What degree did you earn from Columbia? When did you graduate?

I have a bachelor of photography and graduated December 2012.

What is your current job? How did you get there?

Currently, I own a production company that partners with photographers and directors to produce commercial and advertising jobs. I graduated from Columbia with no idea what I wanted to do, except that I knew I didn’t want to be a photographer. So, I started interning at a studio where they had an in-house producer which allowed me to see a behind-the-scenes look at production. I was immediately enthralled with the role of the producer and decided I wanted to be one when I grew up. After a year working at the studio, I decided to go freelance and widen my experience. Shortly after freelancing, I realized I had bigger dreams.

How did Grey House Productions begin?

I decided to start Grey House Productions so I could think of the projects from a team perspective rather than only what I can accomplish on my own. In hindsight and summary it sounds really seamless and easy, but it was a very difficult and uncharted journey for me. Basically I had to have enough passion to not take no for an answer. I learned quickly there’s a great value in knowing that I can do it, because other people will believe about you what you believe about you. For me that meant gaining confidence by taking on small budget projects or portfolio test jobs so I can work out some kinks and figure out what I didn’t know I needed to know. I was compensated in experience rather than money. It was an especially hard transition getting the Chicago community to trust me as a producer when they had only seen me as a producers assistant for so long. So I decided to spend time marketing to out of town photographers who I could do real work for, and then came back to the Chicago photographers with a portfolio of completed jobs and recommendations. Everything from Excel sheets to networking events to countless hours in coffee shops meeting people. I started small and now I am grateful and amazed at the journey I’ve had in just a few years.

Greyhouse Productions shooting at Firehouse Chicago Studio.

Grey House Productions shooting at Firehouse Chicago Studio.

How did Columbia prepare you in your career?

I was able to make connections with some incredible industry leaders who were my teachers, also through the portfolio center and by attending campus events. Ultimately though, Columbia can only offer the resources and it is the students who need to take the initiative and be self-motivated enough to do something with it. Columbia gave me invaluable tools and a blue print, but I had to go do something with those resources and actually build upon them. It’s the same way out in the real world, only you can make stuff happen.

What was your most valuable Columbia experience?

The time outside of the classroom. If you go to Columbia and only complete the work asked of you, you’re wasting such an amazing opportunity. Find a teacher to meet with every week – spend an hour talking about what you should be doing outside of the classroom to prepare for your career. Attend events at the portfolio center, but also events in your industry off campus. Pick an area of focus every semester that has nothing to do with your course work.

Instagram: @greyhouseproductions

Instagram: @greyhouseproductions

Is there any particular professors that made a significant impact on you? How?

Elizabeth Ernst, who has since retired. I truly wouldn’t be here without her. She cared for students in such a selfless way. She was the professor I met with every Monday at 12/noon. She pushed me and wasn’t afraid to tell me I wasn’t there yet. Working through the ideas we discussed, it gave me the courage to say what I really wanted (even though I was terrified).

Do you have any advice for current students that would like to start their own company?

Do lots of informational interviews, experience different facets of the industry, make sure to practice your craft. Find a mentor and if it doesn’t terrify you, you’re dreaming too small. Most of all, you need to want it so badly that it isn’t an option to not do this.