NYC: NEO Studios Owner Bill White

TheProducer: Hi Bill! Thanks for having us over to your studio. How long have you had Neo Studios?

Bill White: 10 years this year!

TP: How did you come to be in this particular space? 

BW: I moved in here in ’94, while I was a still life photographer. I was on 17th Street before that for almost 10 years. Then I moved here and signed a lease - it was pretty inexpensive then [laughs]. 

TP: Times have certainly changed!

BW: Yeah and I hired an architect, but I built a lot of it myself. He made the plans & blueprints, but I did a lot of the dry wall stuff and electric myself - it was a lot of fun, but it was also very stressful. My son was born around that time too so it was a lot of work.

TP: Was it a live/work space?

BW: No it was just a work space for me at the time. Eventually, we had the idea of turning into a rental studio, so for a while I was shooting and working in the studio, then that sort of fell by the wayside because running the studio ended up taking a lot of time and commitment. 

TP: Well I really appreciate the energy here at the studio - from who you hire to help at the studio or even answer your phones.  Whenever I book your studio (or even call) - everything is lined up for me, everyone is so proactive and responsive. Your team is always asking if there is anything else they can do and half the time it’s already done by the time I ask -  which I’m sure is a trickle down effect of who their manager is!

BW: Well maybe! When I first started, I was really lucky with the first two guys I hired -  Ryan Roberts who’s a photographer now and Bryce Ebel, who now runs Bath Studios, they were here for five years - I will say we had a lot of hard but hilarious times together. They were super super helpful.

TP: What a small world! It’s funny to hear that Bryce is someone who worked with you. He is another individual I really like working with in the city. Bathhouse is another one of those studios that’s not a huge machine of a studio. It’s a much more personal approach to studio management. Maybe it’s parallel to how I try to deal with my productions.  But back to Neo Studios. To me, it feels a little more approachable, manageable and customized. When I call your studio, I know I can talk to you or someone that I’ve met in-person, not 25 different interns in 30 different departments. This gives me peace of mind.  I know things are taken care of and there’s follow-through. It’s something I always appreciate about being in your space. 

BW: We never drop the ball! We never overbook! And I just love Bath House, I love the space and the way it's built and the size. We’ve had some really hilarious times and Bryce is a great guy. We talk at least once a month.

I would love to start shooting again. It’s a different satisfaction. I get a lot of satisfaction out of this studio, but its not creative.

TP: Tell me about those times.

BW: Mostly just laughing about the antics of crew members - we had a photographer once who was standing outside my office brushing his teeth like crazy with this huge crew waiting for him-- we had a laugh about that. 

TP: What about any especially challenging production experiences you have here?

BW: A sportswear company is here twice a year for fashion week for fittings and casting and they were booked for ten days. The day before they arrived, the producer said we had a huge celebrity coming and we had to sign a major NDA. They had security, a big crew, but there was more security here than some crew members. It all went really well, everyone was very professional, but it was quite the production. All in all it turned out to be a really great experience.

TP: How has your studio changed over the years - architecturally as well as in regards to the services NEO offers?

BW: Well, we divided the studio. This studio we’re having the conversation in now was my photography studio, and at one point we had a partition here.  I also had a studio on the 4th floor, 10,000 feet, a really sweet space that the landlord ended up taking back when the lease was up. This space we’re in now was my office and my office was my dark room. 

TP: Do you still shoot on your own time?

It’s a fun business and I actually really enjoy it. I love working with photographers, they know their work. I see hundreds of photographers and what I take away is how passionate everyone is and how hard people work.

BW: I shot a book of about 100 photographs and I’m very pleased with most of them. I'm still in the process of pursuing an agent & creating a website, but I would love to start shooting again. It’s a different satisfaction. I get a lot of satisfaction out of this studio but its not creative. I’ve threatened so many times - “I’m going to get that website!” My studio manager who is new here is helping me with that. 

TP: So your studio manager is responsible for what aspects of your business?

BW: Social media, bookings, negotiating, the calendar, files.  Perhaps also do some in-house production. 

TP: Where do you advertise Neo studios?

BW: I’ve been a little negligent. Le Book, PDN Photo Source, a lot of social media and word-of-mouth. I did advertise in Resource Magazine for quite a while. When we got busy I slacked on that a little but we were pretty booked. I’m taking out a spread and four ads in Resource. I’m a fan of theirs -- they are a great resource. I would do Le Book again. When I was in Le Book we got a lot of calls from Germany and London.  If you don’t advertise, you have half the people who come in here and say, “what a great studio, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of you” and that’s not good, so we’re going to be reaching out a lot more.  

TP: I really appreciated you hosting The Producer’s payroll informational event on Sunday and donating your space. I think what Resource Magazine is doing for emerging photographers, I’m trying to do with The Producer for crew members and producers to have a platform and community. And at least 5 of the producers who were at the event said “Wow, what a great space, we’ve never been here before!” Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to tell me about?

BW: It’s a fun business and I actually really enjoy it.  I love working with photographers, they know their work. I see hundreds of photographers and what I take away is how passionate everyone is and how hard people work. No matter what their personal style is, they are so driven and it’s such a pleasure to see that.

TP: We work in one of the best industries in the world!

We had a major shoot for H&M, full-blown shoot, and it felt like a family by the time we were done. So even though we’re just a studio, we felt like part of the team.

BW: Maybe other bigger studios get the bigger names with the bigger egos.  We had a major shoot for H&M, full-blown shoot, and it felt like a family by the time we were done. So even though we’re just a studio, we felt like part of the team.

TP: What I enjoy about the photo industry in general, is that you build these small intimate teams and you do become like a family because you have to wear multiple hats. You often have to be really resourceful - every person who is involved in the project works together and by the end of it you know you’ve created and achieved something together.

BW: Especially you because you’re making it happen! We’re part of it, but you manage the whole thing and bring it to life.

TP: Why thank you! I’m gonna quote you on that! To balance out the work that you do managing the studio, what do you do in your free time? I see you're a cyclist?

BW: I am a cyclist, a former obsessed competitive cyclist. I started up again, belong to a team club and I go to spin class almost every day.  I go to Equinox. It can be a very hard work out.  But that’s not all I do, I just moved back to New York from Connecticut a year ago, so I’ve been going out to the theater a lot, dancing a lot - I’m not a great dancer but to heck with it!

TP:  It seems like you take a lot of people under your wing who work for you at the studio. For example Gabriel - how long has Gabe worked with you?

BW: Two years. He’s learned a lot - I can’t really take credit for hiring him. Rubin brought him in as an intern, so we had a whole Brazilian crew here, a lot of guys from South America. So Gabe started as an intern, very eager but didn't have the nomenclature. I’d be like “I need a 2 by 4” and he’d say “Ok great [clap] I’ll get it - what is it?” He has a great attitude. 

TP: So tell me what you offer in the studio? Do you also offer film equipment?

BW: We specialize in stills, but we do have a minimum amount of motion equipment -  kino flows, HMIs and Tungsten. At the very beginning when I opened the studio I invested in Broncolor -  I made an effort to invest in the very best grip equipment at the beginning, and it’s still going strong. For film, we can realistically handle medium-sized jobs and we can bring in anything else. I’m kind of obsessive compulsive I guess, it’s in my nature to sweat the details. We can’t afford to let something fall through the cracks, Rubin and Gabe are the same way. We can’t just say, “Oh sorry that HMI didn’t show up yesterday.”

TP: Anything exciting coming up for Neo Studios? 

BW: We’re half booked and in the next week I think it’s going to book up solidly. We were super busy in January and February, which can sometimes be a slow season, so that’s a good sign. One event coming up is a birthday party for a lady who was friends with a photographer who shot in this space. She throws a party here for her daughters here every year. She loved it so much that she became an event planner!

TP: Any other unusual events in the works?

BW: Twice a year, we host a trunk show and sample sale for a company called Dosa. They make women’s clothing, beautiful handmade clothing.  They are great to work with and that’s a nice change of pace.  We’ve also hosted private dinners.  A concierge had a celebrity client and they wanted to have a private dinner here. 

TP: Thank you for sharing your story Bill & for having us over to your studio!

Thank you, Bill for sharing your story!

Check out Neo Studios here!

Interview of Bill White by Annika Howe, Photos by Adrian Alston