Series Interview: The Five Nine – Andy McCallie and Mike Schwartz

The Five Nine

Are you self-taught or photo school taught?
We’re a bit of both. Mike studied at Columbia College in Chicago and Andy is self-taught with a few lessons from his parents as well.

What is your greatest professional achievement?
Growing and optimizing our business partnership. We decided to explore working together on a simple project at a simple level and it really took off from there. We started to see the power of putting two minds towards our goals and how impactful it can be.

The 59Who do you admire from your profession, past or present and why?
Andy: I admire so many creatives but one that comes to mind is Nabil Ederkin. I guess he’s more of a commercial / music video director now but I believe he started off as a photographer in Chicago. Years ago he heard a Kanye West mixtape and quickly bought the domain As Kanye started to generate buzz West’s people reached out about buying the domain. As payment Nabil negotiated a photoshoot with West, which led to more photoshoots with him, then onto music videos with both Kanye and others. I love this story because it’s about hustle. The hustle muscle is something that Mike and I try to use every day. It’s a way of life and imperative to surviving as a freelance artist and life in general.

Mike: One person I truly admired was Steve Grubman. He was the first person I assisted after photo school. He really took me under his wing and showed me what the photography business is all about. Steve taught me so much, everything from being on set, to being a good person; he was always the perfect mentor and role model for me.

What is your creative philosophy?
We came across a phrase when first starting out that read “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”. It’s very fitting. It applies to much of what we do as a team from preproduction, promotional and marketing materials to editing and shooting, we delegate our individual strengths and put them towards our goals. Being selfless and working as a team really helps our long-term view on our collective goals.

What is your ideal relationship for you with your clients?
A balance of ideas from all involved parties typically makes for a great final product and fun process getting there.

What are your long-term goals?
We talk a lot about where we want to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years. No need to reveal exactly where those places are but you’ll have to trust us that we aim high. We want to create work we love, travel places we haven’t been before and remember to enjoy the journey.

What’s your advice to handling rejection?
Move on! Rejection happens at every step of the way. Before you can move forward you will be rejected. Maybe it skips a step or two. But it will come. Accepting and dealing with rejection is something you learn to deal with. It’s about flipping a switch and moving on, a trained ambivalence almost.

The 59

What are some of your influences?
Quick hitters: any time we see great light and architecture, Mies Van Der Rohe, David Fincher, Irving Penn, Carlos Serrao.

What are you passionate about, gets your blood pumping, or gives you joy?
Andy: I love staying active. Basketball, tennis, golf, gymnastics I try to do them all once a week. They’re activities that allow me to escape to a place where I’m guaranteed to be in the moment. I don’t think about work, what I need to do next or how many people I just saw texting and driving. And as Mike mentions below, travel is a must. Working behind a desk deprived me of travel and I remembering craving a way to change my surroundings and be more efficient with my time. Fortunately my schedule allows me to travel more and fill that void.

Mike: Traveling is something that is important to me. Changing surroundings and experiencing new places allows me to gain new perspectives. It is a good way to take a breath from the daily hustle and soak in something new, which often leads to creative inspiration. I also love to play Hockey, I try to skate a few times a week with friends. I think it’s the best medicine out there. Its truly one of the only places where my mind is completely clear and focused only on what is right in front of me. It’s a good way to hit the “reset” button at the end of a long day or week.