1st Ave Machine’s Sam Penfield answered our questionnaire and chats investments, mantras, and keeping the workflow fluid

Creative Connections:  Insights for the new normal
to keep our creative community connected, inspired and supported.


Times are uncertain and with feelings of separation high, we want to know how you are staying plugged in, what is keeping you creative and what might be getting in the way?

Sam Penfield, 1stAveMachine Partner and Executive Producer answered:


Please give a brief introduction to yourself and/or studio.

My name is Sam Penfield and I am a Partner and Executive Producer of mixed media production company 1stAveMachine. We currently have around 45 team members across our New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and London offices.

Sam Penfield

How are you?

Thanks for asking. I feel “extra-alive”, partly because I understand that this situation could affect me and the people I love. Each day, I am grateful for not only my health, but the safety of my loved ones as well. I now also have to stretch myself and find new ways to remotely produce commercials and branded content. I have always believed that whenever you are learning, you are happy, and, while I don’t feel happy all day every day, I do feel challenged and immersed in what is happening and how we can all move forward in production.

How is work and the pace of your projects? Busier, same, slower?

Definitely slower, but we are producing several projects right now. Luckily, we have a rich history in animation, UGC, stock, and remote services, so we are well-positioned for this moment.

What are you working on?

Several animation projects, a completely AI-driven web experience, 3 film projects (which we are shooting abroad), and two U.S. projects where we are sending film/audio kits to talent – right on the heels of our recent Chewy “Pets Bring Us Together” campaign!

Do you typically work remotely?  If so, what tips do you have for newbies?

We have worked remotely for years. Advice: Invest in the technology and technological expertise. We developed our systems over a number of years and it has been an iterative process. It’s not easy, but there are creative technologists and IT professionals who can help you. I believe the investment you make now will serve you in the future.

How do you stay focused when working from home?  

Structure! I exercise each morning. I work from one space. Take a lunch break away from that space and try to end work at a reasonable time. I always take a little walk after work to separate the workday from the evening. The good news is that I have never had more dinners with my gorgeous family ;)

What is your biggest distraction when working remotely?

The wine refrigerator!


What is the most hilarious thing you’ve seen that distracted you from work?

My step-son and his endless parade of fabulous wigs and costumes for his TikToks ;)

When you feel stuck, or need inspiration, what are your go-to’s?

Where I get “stuck” is feeling overwhelmed. No good creative thinking happens when you are super stressed. I use gratefulness practices, meditation, dancing to bring my anxiety under control. And in the evening… Tequila!

Can you recommend three general habits to improve workflow? Or list insightful do’s and don’ts.  

We have always had thrice weekly all company check-ins. Now we have daily check-ins with the EPs because each project needs to be discussed in a very different way. We have to invent new ways to produce and we need all our amazing EPs brains on each and every project to think of the best way to bring these visions to life.

What Studio, Designer, Artist (dead or alive) would you want to have a Zoom meeting with?   

Rube Goldberg

 Original art for Rube Goldberg‘s “self-operating napkin” machine, 1931

How do you quiet your inner critic?

You can do that?!?!?

Can you share a failure and what you learned from it?

I have learned to accept a bit of failure as a part of taking risks. Obviously, you can’t fail when on a paid project, but we do a lot of experimentation on our own and failure is a part of learning and growing. If you never fail, you are not trying anything new.

What inspired you to get into this business? Was there a particular movie, commercial, animation, artist, music video, book, etc.? 

I was a terrible artist who needed a day job, which led me to a receptionist position at Scott Miller & Co. when I was 20. I fell in love with production immediately and never did anything else. I am so grateful to have fallen into this business which has been so artistically fulfilling to me.

What can we learn and take from this current situation? 

To be present, and to first and foremost, value your health.

Where do you see our industry’s future? 

Our industry is filled with the most amazing, creative, and resilient people. We will create a new future. Sitting back and waiting for things to go back the way they were is futile and unimaginative. We are working hard to do our  part to help shape how our business will look moving forward. Everything is changing, but we do not have to assume that it is all bad.

What are you streaming / watching / reading / podcasting? 

I just finished listening to Springsteen on Broadway which was cool and finished reading Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover which was awesome. Now, I am reading Larry McMurtry’s Crazy Horse: A Life. My podcast game is kind of lame, but I like ‘The Daily’ and ‘Startup.’

What is your “go-to” song? And give us some backstory if inclined.

Just Let It Go by India.Arie

Any newly adapted online experience you are enjoying (Museum of Modern Art, Music Venue/Artist, LACMA, viewing or streaming party, or the like)? 

The online Frida Kahlo Experience Activity Book (available both in the exhibition and at home) by the Imagination Nation Experience.

What is something you are incorporating into your daily routine that brings some joy or comfort?

Being around my big beautiful family. The one I made and the one I married into!

Are you exercising?  If so, how and what and when? 

Every day!

What are you grateful for?

My health. My kids. My industry.

If you had a mantra right now, what would it be?

I do have a mantra! “I am open to something better than I can imagine. Let my imagination be the jumping off point for how amazing _____ will be.”

Can you take a picture of your current workspace, as is (don’t tidy it up!)?

Have you become involved with any volunteer communities in response to COVID-19?

1stAveMachine is donating to World Central Kitchen. We recommend everyone, if you can, do as well.

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A post shared by 1stAveMachine (@1stavemachine) on May 11, 2020 at 7:11am PDT