Steffi Binder-VP-Executive Producer, Deutsch/L.A.

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"You have to be able to think five moves ahead around here," says Steffi Binder. "You have to be a good chess player." Easing back into her chair, Binder possesses a quiet composure that could easily belong to Garry Kasparov at the gameboard. However, she's channeled her own strategic prowess into her charge at the agency, which these days has become very much a production hothouse for clients like Mitsubishi, DirecTV, Burger King and Coors Light.

The film and advertising grad from the University of Texas joined the shop in 2000, after more than a decade producing in-house and freelance for the likes of TBWAChiatDayNew York, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners and Wieden + Kennedy, where she honed and broadened skills aplenty: from subtle comedy for ESPN and Snapple to larger-scale productions for Reebok, Nike and Diet Coke. At Deutsch, Binder continues to execute game-winning moves, perhaps most notably on Mitsubishi's continuing "Wake Up and Drive" campaign. Since 2001, the campaign has made the brand synonymous with cool music, showing young hipsters grooving in their cars to catchy alt tunes that consistently land on the pop charts. Slick and sophisticated, the spots suggest none of the snags Binder encountered during the arduous and time-sensitive overseas production. Directed by BigTV, the campaign was shot in Australia, after which "we had not even 48 hours to go home, get some sleep and be back in the edit bay," she recalls. "It had to be done and shipped in a week and a half of being back. It was nights and weekends for a really long time." If that wasn't hairy enough, there was the added pressure of moving the client into new creative territory. "For the first time, we were dealing with the people in the car; what do they look like? Every decision we made would create the palette of this new world Mitsubishi was going to live in. It all had to be thought through immediately, because whatever we decided was going to set the tone for the future."

On the general subject of producing, "The creatives always want me to push them, she notes. That means keeping everyone abreast of new trends and directors; the latter, Binder points out, has become increasingly difficult, given the swelling crop of new talent and directors constantly switching shops. On Mitsubishi in particular, that also means sifting through heaps of CDs that flood in from music shops and publishers hoping to launch the next pop hit through Mitsubishi channels. "We go through so much stuff," Binder says. "Even if we find a song that we love, we will keep going until time's up, pencils down. We often look for what's not obvious, for songs that are a little more obscure and original. Anyone can use Madonna or a really popular track. Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere. The Dirty Vegas song we found on a director's reel from London. But ultimately, it's not 'Let's find the next radio song.' The most important thing is really about finding the best song for the project. If the song happens to make it to the radio and do big things, that's just a bonus."

Stylistically, Binder is also a talented shape-shifter, going from Mitsubishi gloss to more performance-based campaigns for DirecTV, largely known for its impeccable comedic moments featuring the ultra-huggable dish installer character. Though it hardly seems a major production challenge, DirecTV has presented some of Binder's steepest hurdles. The agency's launch in 2000 for the client should have been a piece of cake for her, considering all her experience at Wieden's New York office on ESPN. But this was the time of the industry-crippling SAG strike. "A lot of people were going out of the country back then, doing nice visuals, and here we were about to dive into something that was 100 percent about the talent." After non-stop casting sessions, the agency found actor Dan Warner, who continues to play the beloved installer, but he now carries a SAG card.

"I always say it's easy to be a good producer when everything goes right," Binder points out. "What shows your true self is when everything is going wrong." Having shepherded the agency through major production snafus to some of its most memorable successes, Binder was recently promoted from senior producer to VP-executive producer. She continues to produce on major projects, but she also joins production head Randy Morton in managerial duties and in cultivating the department's junior talents. Through all this, Binder also manages to remain the face of calm. "Steffi's very involved in creative development and is much more than just an executor," observes ECD Eric Hirshberg. "But at the same time, she's very buttoned up, very reliable and trustworthy. Clients breathe a sigh of relief when she's involved because they know it's going to be on schedule and on budget, and they can trust her. Having that duality is very rare."

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