Story by Shakeema Cochrane
Creative Director: Mell T Meus
Photographer: Mark A Davis
I had the pleasure of interviewing iCreate Productions' founder Mell Meus. This interview felt like something other than an interview, just like one creative talking to another. Mell's interview touches on his business ICreate Productions, his experience, how he started, some conflicts he's faced on his journey, and he drops some gems. Stay tuned as he also gives some great advice to the upcoming creatives.
Mell is known for his professionalism and organization of bringing creatives together. Overall, Mell is known for the way he holds himself to the way he runs his productions. When I say Mell has an outline for the outline, I mean it. I was allowed to help out behind the scenes doing editorial shoots for The Runway of Terror 2022 this year. It was such a dope experience to see how an actual production is supposed to be run. One thing about Mell is if he doesn't trust you to do a job, he won't let you near his project, and for those he does trust, he will give crystal precise details so that everyone is on the same page. Here is a little insight into what I gathered about him and his experience in the creative world. I hope yall take away as much as I did from it. He's knowledgeable and has done great things for the 518 creative community. Best of all, he's just getting started.
What is your brand and how did it evolve?
"iCreate Productions is a venture that I have been pursuing for years without giving it a formal name. I wanted to find a way to monetize my passion and expertise, so I started collaborating with others on projects within the Capital Region. Initially, I wanted to call it "WeCreate" to reflect the collaborative nature of my work. However, that name didn't feel right to me because I felt that I needed to be more selfish and start giving myself credit."
"In the past, I would often keep my name out of the spotlight when working on events, but my mentors advised me to start taking credit for my work. That's when I came up with the name "iCreate Productions," which reflects the fact that I am behind the production and creative direction of the events, photo shoots, music videos, and other creative endeavors."
"In January of 2022, I made the decision to start actively approaching businesses and companies to hire me as a producer or creative director for their events or marketing needs. However, I realized that in order to do this, I needed to establish my own business. So, I officially started my production company called "I Create Productions."
Is iCreate Productions a team or solo venture?
"Yes, it's a solo venture but my ability to successfully put together productions is largely due to my extensive network of creatives."
"Through modeling, I have been able to expand my network and connect with various individuals such as models, photographers, designers and venue owners. This enables me to easily gather a team to bring my productions to life."
"Although I am the one responsible for networking and recruiting team members, it is the team that ultimately executes the production."
When did you really get started?
In 2019, I had my first solo fashion show. Before that, I had been on committees for other shows and that's how I learned about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the fashion show world. As a model, I just did my part and left, but being on these committees for local shows helped me understand how to organize events. Most of the committees I was on were focused on fundraising, so the shows were different from your typical fashion week or high-end fashion shows. They frequently featured models who were there to help raise money for charity."
"After learning how to organize events, I decided to reach out to the mayor and propose an idea for a charity event. He suggested that I do something I love, so I thought about what I was good at and enjoyed doing, which led me to the idea of a kid's fashion show. I pitched the idea to him and Joan Hunt from Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood. and that's how it all started."
"I held The Forever Young fashion show in 2019, and then the Stitched show in 2020, which was at the Times Union benefiting The Ronald McDonald House. The second Forever Young show was held in February of 2020, just before the pandemic began."
Do you think the first three shows molded you and your business?
"So the first three productions were all fundraisers which benefited Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood and The Ronald McDonald House Charities, which means I did not profit from the events."
"The main objective was to provide opportunities for models, designers, and other creative individuals in our community by showcasing their talents on a large stage."
"While raising money for charity was important, the bigger picture was to give local creatives a platform to display their work without having to leave our community for bigger events in other cities like Los Angeles or New York, all while monetizing my passion."
"In 2021, I organized the Runway of Terror event, which was a last-minute project that I put together in just two weeks. It was a free event that was so successful that tickets were accounted for in no time at all. This made me realize that I had something special, and that I didn't necessarily need to be associated with a charity in order to get people to attend my events or to secure sponsorships from businesses."
"I use to think that it would be easier to get sponsors by partnering with a charity, but now I understand that my network and the people who appreciate what I do are invested in me and my events, regardless of whether or not the event is associated with a charity."
During the interview, I asked Mell to elaborate on the Runway Of Terror. I had the opportunity to assist with editorial work behind the scenes, and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire show from beginning to end. It was a fantastic experience that left me feeling like a kid in a candy store. I was constantly smiling because I was so excited to see the models, designers, and everyone's creativity. What impressed me the most about the Runway of Terror was how well-planned and organized it was. Mell had already assigned roles and tasks to each person before we even arrived, which prevented any confusion or chaos. The level of professionalism I witnessed that day was astounding, and I felt incredibly fortunate to have been a part of such a talented and creative group of people. Many valuable connections were made that day, and I am grateful for the experience.
Is the execution and percision of your shows learned or does it just come natural?
"As a younger person, I was always interested in event planning and would organize parties and other events, such as my parties at a lodge in my hometown Hudson, NY. I have a knack for organizing event productions and have learned a lot from past experiences. For example, with the first Forever Young show, while it was great, there were many things that could have been improved upon. Every time I do a show, I learn little things that could have been done better or mistakes that were made, which I take note of and try to incorporate in future events."
"I template most of my shows, which means that if someone were to reach out to me today to plan a production, even if it's last minute, I could have everything organized and completed within a week. I keep everything organized on sheets and excel sheets, and I have outlines for everything."
"Initially, for both years of the Forever Young Fashion Show, I pretty much did everything on my own except for the taking on hair and makeup. After both experiences, I soon realized that I couldn't be in multiple places at once, so I had to learn to delegate tasks. When the Runway of Terror show came about, which was a huge production, I knew I needed to put together a team with different responsibilities to ensure that everything ran smoothly."
"My experience as a model has also helped me become a better producer. I know firsthand the challenges and expectations that models face, especially with events associated with NYFW. As a model, I've had to deal with waiting around all day or being hungry or thirsty with no care from the production. So, as a producer, I strive to create a different experience for my models by addressing those issues and ensuring that their expectations are met. Overall, my experience as a model has helped me to better understand the things that models appreciate when being casted for a show, and I try to make my shows better by addressing those concerns."
Was this your first New York Fashion Week?
"No, this was my fourth season as a model. In 2019 and 2020, I couldn't attend New York Fashion Week (NYFW) because I had my own "Forever Young" show at the same time. Moreover, the following year's spring shows were in September, which coincides with my birthday, and NYFW always takes place the week during my birthday. So, every year, I had to choose between going to NYFW or celebrating my birthday. I always chose my birthday because I felt it was something I couldn't miss as a person. As a model, people often would ask me if I have done NYFW, and I always say no."
"However, in 2021, I decided to cast for NYFW for the first time. As a model, I use opportunities like NYFW and events to network and build connections with people. As a producer, I organized "Runway Of Terror" and even had models drive in from places like Ohio and Philly. These are people I have met and worked with before whether it was a fashion show or photoshoot. I know that many models don't want to travel or may demand money to participate in a show, but I think it's essential to use such opportunities to network and connect with people."
"Sometimes, I travel to events even if I am not getting paid for it, and I may have to pay for
my travel and accommodation expenses. For me, it's an investment because I may get paid by someone I meet at the event or meet someone who can help me grow as a creative. As a model, it's not just about being on the runway; I also try to meet the people backstage and network with the right people. When I organize shows, I aim to uplift the creative people and give them a platform to showcase their work. I love it when people meet at my shows and collaborate on their own projects later. It's incredible to see the connections that develop from these events."
When you attend NYFW, are you booked beforehand, or do you attend castings?
"I typically don't attend casting calls because many of the shows I participate in I usually have an established relationships with the designer. Most of the time, a designer will contact me directly and ask me to model for them. However, there have been a couple of casting calls that I went to, such as Runway7, which is a significant event during NYFW. It's not my usual practice to attend casting calls because I don't want to spend the whole day waiting to be rejected or, if I am selected, to have to travel back in a couple of days being that I don't reside in NYC."
"It's very challenging residing two hours away from the city. I have to take the chance of attending a casting call waiting all day, and still not getting selected which is the reality of the model world. I had to change my mindset and say okay every no brings me closer to a yes. With everything else I have going on, I simply don't have the time to attend casting calls. I prefer working with people I already have a relationship with because I know what to expect, and I don't have to worry about anything unexpected happening."
What daily challenges do you face?
I am currently employed at a bank so my schedule has tightened up since April of 2022. Before that, I worked as a mortgage lender for a mortgage bank, which allowed me to move on my own time. When I went to shows, I brought my laptop and worked on mortgages during my downtime. This worked well for me when I first started because I wasn't tied to an office all day but a lot has changed since going back into banking. Now I have a set schedule, which makes things more difficult. It was particularly tough during Runway of Terror because I couldn't be as flexible with my time as I used to be. On top top of that, I'm am now a father which means I have to regulate my time."
"To be successful, I have to be organized, which is something I take seriously. I'm very detail-oriented and like to plan out shows in advance to make sure everything runs smoothly. I use a planner because it works better for me than using my phone. While phones are great, I find that writing things down in a planner helps me stay organized and on top of my business."
I've noticed a lot of the same people are part of your shows, is this by design?
"In terms of production, I have been branching out more and had a recent show that I included new talent who were all referral based. For instance, Mark Davis recommended you highly for your interest in production, and we spoke about it. I was open to having you come in for the next show because the connection came from a strong refferal source, but I
am very selective about who I allow to be part of my productions because it is my responsibility if anything goes wrong. However, I believe in giving opportunities and experience. Nafeesha Wray, who does shows in the area and is someone I trust, recommended Camille Pryor, which is who you were working with for the Runway of Terror show, because I thought it was a good opportunity for him."
"Regarding models, I am very particular and typically only cast models I already know can bring the energy and skill needed to execute my vision. Unlike other shows in the area, I don't hold rehearsals because I am confident in the models I cast and know they can take direction well the day of the show."
Can you tell me about Stitched and what it did for your growth?
"So for me, this was my baby and about 14 other's babies as well. We worked on it from scratch but the majority team originated from Albany Fashion Week, which ended abruptly due to conflict within the team. A few of us got together and decided we didn't want the fashion movement to end so I connected with Mike Schennerer because we both shared an interest in elevating the fashion community within the Capital Region. Shortly afterwards we created "Stitched" then started building a committee of creatives to bring it to life. Regarding my growth, Stitched was instrumental in my development as a creative director and producer. I learned a tremendous amount from my mentor at the time Mike Schennerer."
"As things progressed and Stitched grew in popularity, feelings that were never dealt with began to arise. Stitched was a team effort. There were some very talented creatives that helped to bring that thing together. But ultimately, creative differences arise with any group of talented people. The differences in this case ended up being more than could be worked through."
"I remain immensely grateful for all that I learned from Mike. Mike is an amazing talent and I picked up many systems from him that made me the creative director I am today. He was like a brother to me, But ultimately we had a difference of opinion on what stitched was and the direction it needed to go."
Where do you think Stitched fell short?
Artist work on a great deal of collaborations. This is work that they are not paid money for most of the time, and the only method of payment is proper crediting for the work they do. I think that Stitched needed to push harder for recognition for the artist that collabed with them. Stitched was the brand but the artists and team put in the work. When people are working for recognition and not money you can't allow for the brand to overshadow the creatives work."
"I gained a lot of knowledge and experience from that venture. Where it worked and where it fell short, I improved and ultimately evolved into iCreate."