Meet Parentpreneur Susannah Ludwig of Portraits That Move
Being a parent is hard work, and also rewarding, humbling, and amazing. But being a parent and a business owner? These moms and dads are managing a tenfold increase in workload and stress but find it equally rewarding. They do it all somehow, and they do it well! That’s why we are so pleased to bring you a five-part series, in collaboration with LifeWorx, a company started by a parentpreneur to support their busy lives. In this series, we will be interviewing some of the top parentpreneurs around New York City—you may know some of them, you may strive to be them. We’ll hear their tips and tricks, their highs and lows, and what they love about running a family and a business here in the Big Apple.
To kick off the series, we couldn’t be more delighted to introduce you to award winning filmmaker Susannah Ludwig, whose credits include producing the Oscar-nominated film, Kings Point. Susannah, a Brooklyn mom, is founder of Portraits That Move (PTM). PTM creates personal and touching documentary videos of children, bringing the family photo shoot to a whole new inspiring level.
MN: Portraits That Move is such an innovative idea for a business. What motivated you to create it?
SL: Having identified with being a documentarian for two decades and a mom for six years, I found myself suddenly divorced and brainstorming different income streams that would work better for our new family dynamic. Thinking about what I knew how to do well (making films) and what I loved (working with kids), this business idea came to me in the ultimate lightbulb moment. There is certainly an absence in the market for anything like this, and it sounded like something really fun to try. Truth be told, the company has brought me nothing but endless joy. It’s joyous being in the room filming and hearing what the children have to say. It’s joyous editing and sharing the films with the families. It’s just all around joy and I feel so lucky to be doing it.
MN: Your joy really comes through when watching how free and forthcoming the children in PTM’s films on Vimeo are! What’s your trick for getting them to open up in front of the camera?
SL: I just have a way with kids, I always have. I babysat from a young age and find kids fascinating and so much fun. I think the key is making them feel loved and accepted from the moment I meet them. I do a pre-interview with the parents so I have a good idea of what activities and things the child likes, but when we go on the shoot I really let the child call the shots and it always comes out magical.
MN: As a mom, and especially so as a single mom, having the right support systems in place is key. Who do you rely on for support at home and at work?
SL: First and foremost, I couldn’t be doing this without the support of my family and friends. Not only are they essential in helping watch my son when I have to work nights and weekends, but also in encouraging me and sharing their beliefs that Portraits That Move is an amazing business idea worth putting my all into. Secondly, I have been extremely discerning in who I hire to work for PTM. Everyone on the team is wholeheartedly in love with kids, film making, and being part of our company. I feel it’s really important to build your business with individuals who are as passionate about it as you are. Finally, I feel very lucky to have such great clients and supporters, who really go above and beyond to spread the word about our services. Word-of-mouth at school, in the park, at birthday parties—it’s huge.
MN: You mention friends and family helping with child care. Do you not have a sitter or nanny?
SL: I wanted to stay home for my son’s first year, but financially it just wasn’t feasible. I went back to work making documentaries and we had a nanny from when my son was five months through five years. I interviewed ten nannies and she was the only one who actually got down on the floor and played with my son during the interview. I didn’t do any official background checks, but I called tons of references. But in the end, it was this one nanny’s interaction with my son that sold me. We loved her and she became part of the family, but ultimately she needed to leave us to expand her own family and we just never found another nanny or babysitter that worked out long term again. Finding great child care that you can rely on, who loves your child and vice versa, is really hard. I feel like no one has cracked the child care nut yet—there needs to be someone to take the stress out of management issues between nanny and parent. So yes, I’m very thankful to have such great friends and family who can help me out!
MN: What do you find to be the easiest and most difficult aspects of keeping the balance between nurturing your business and nurturing your family?
SL: The hardest is definitely the fact that I’m a complete overachiever, but, of course, that’s the kind of personality it takes to become a successful business owner! The challenge lies in being able to turn off the computer and go to bed, or enjoy a snow day with my son and realize I don’t have to be working every waking moment.
The easiest thing, which has come as a huge and pleasant surprise to me, is that my son views Portraits That Move as something we are doing together. Because he sees me working on the computer and can come and watch and take part in what I’m doing, he feels as much pride and excitement about it as I do! He’s constantly telling his friends about it. Just the other day, he was telling me that he got in trouble at school for a silly reason, because an adult at his school is unhappy. I asked him why he thinks she’s unhappy. His response? “She’s unhappy because she doesn’t have a business like we do.” I mean, come on, how cute is that!?
MN: The journey toward building a successful business while being a parent is like a roller coaster, and many give up when they reach a big set back. What have been some of your high and low points so far?
SL: This may sound corny, but it is 100% genuine. My high point is seriously every shoot I go on. I love working with kids—just meeting and talking with them brings me so much energy and happiness. As for lows, I really haven’t had any setbacks or points where I wanted to give up. However, I do catch myself just wishing things would grow and happen quicker. But that’s just because I’m an overachiever, and I have to force myself to take a step back to reality sometimes. Portraits That Move is only a year old, and is doing considerably well for being such a new business. Of course I wish we could be booked seven days a week, but it’s just not realistic…yet!
MN: Technology is playing a bigger and bigger role these days in both the business and parenting worlds. How do you use technology at work and at home?
SL: Portraits That Move films are provided to the families via a link on Vimeo (they can order a DVD but actually that has not been a big request from our clients). Social media—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—are key for promotion and getting our story out there. We use Square Space for hosting our web page and Final Cut Pro for editing films. I use Google Calendar to balance my busy work and home schedules, and, of course, the Starbucks App!
MN: We watched the Portraits That Heal (PTH) film on your website and were really touched by this aspect of your business and how you’re giving a voice to children suffering from illness. Could you tell our readers a little more about PTH and how they might be able to get involved?
SL: Portraits That Heal is something that is especially near and dear to my heart and is a quite new addition to PTM. It came to fruition recently when Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer reached out and commissioned us to film videos for four children who are currently battling or have survived life-threatening illnesses. PTH gives kids a chance to share their stories in their own way, and can be an incredibly healing experience for the child and their family. We hope to continue to grow this by reaching out to foundations to fund sessions and setting aside a certain percentage of profits from Portraits That Move to cover PTH sessions. We’d also like to provide a way for family, friends, and neighbors to fund raise and gift a session to a child they love and support.
MN: It sounds like you really treasure family time. Where are some of your favorite spots around New York City to go when you have a day off with your son?
SL: I’ve lived in the same area of Brooklyn for about 16 years now and I have to say we do not venture beyond all that often. We go to Carroll Park just about every day. We love Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, ice cream at Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, and going to see movies.