Above: “Brewed in New York” host Maya Contreras interviews Geoff Dale at Three Heads Brewing in Rochester.  
Photos: Stephen Ross

Associate producer Derick Noetzel unfolds a long sheet of paper marked with green and red sticky notes across the conference table of MagicWig Productions in Albany. It covers the surface like a table runner, accordioned out in episodic checklists: B-roll, interview, sound, editing. It’s the tangible blueprint of duties and milestones for the studio’s New York Emmy-award winning 2018 series on craft beer across the state, “Brewed in New York.”

The show featured 13 episodes total, exploring the craft breweries and brewings specialties in the 11 New York state tourism regions, as well as additional episodes on statewide brewery festivals and the city of Rochester. “Brewed in New York” premiered all over the state on PBS and local broadcast channels.  

“We thought it was a great idea because it was the perfect amalgamation of craft beer being so popular right now and exploding across New York, going hand in hand with tourism. We knew there could be wide appeal,” Producer/Writer/Editor/Director Leanne Robinson-Maine, owner of Creative Circus says. “One of the things that was hard was choosing who was going to be in it. Some places, like in New York City, have so many breweries but they’re so busy they don’t have time to interview. In other places the breweries are a lot fewer and further between.” 

The MagicWig Productions team is fairly small and close-knit, with four to five crew members working on the bulk of filming, production and editing, so making sure they were able to cover their bases presented a challenge. At the most, the team expanded to 10 crew members at one time, bringing in makeup artists, gaffers and additional camera people. 

“We all wear a lot of hats,” Executive Producer/Director Justin Maine, co-owner at MagicWig, says as he gestures to the unfolded to-do list on the table. “We try to solve problems creatively. Someone else may have laughed at this sheet of paper, but we thought, ‘Here’s an interesting way for people to look at the wall and see, how far along are we?’ We’re visual people. There’s something about seeing it for real.” 

Matt Archambault interviews Allison Capozza at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown.

Robinson-Maine researched, wrote, produced, edited and directed alongside Dan Swinton. After crafting a story arc, they would meet with Maine to plan out episodes before traveling to each location to film. After each trip, Noetzel would duplicate and transfer the footage with fellow associate producer Cameron Seeger to prep for editing. But since the workload had the small team traveling, writing and filming all at the same time, editing for the show didn’t even begin until they had the content for five episodes under their belt. 

“We got better at it,” Robinson-Maine says. “We would do pre-interviews where we got more focused as we went on about what the episode was going to be about. It got faster…Every brewer’s story may have had 10 different ways we could have gone with it, we just had to pick one. Sometimes that’s disappointing for the people who are featured but, it’s like, ‘Well, those things you actually have in common with everyone else whereas this was a differentiator. Or, this was a way we could tie together a story within the region.”

The show focused on regional specialties: hops in the Central Region, malt in Niagara, a combination of beer, liquor and wine making in Chautauqua. They filmed educational segments, called “Craft 101,” to teach the audience about the technique and process of craft brewing. The MagicWig crew also found opportunities to loop in their own studio’s focus on green infrastructure and energy, highlighting breweries who invested in solar, aquaponics and other forms of renewables.

“Being a part of something that encourages people to stay in the state and invest in agriculture and farm-to-table was right in our wheelhouse. Beer may not be the greenest thing, because there’s a lot of water usage, but we tried to find ways to point out the people who are doing things,” Maine says.  

MagicWig received an Empire State Development grant in order to complete such a daunting project. It helped them cover the cost of production with careful budgeting along the way. The team had to break up the show in two sections to allow for reimbursement timing. Often they had to stop filming altogether to work on projects for their plethora of full-time clients across the country whose projects were helping to pay for the “Brewed” production.  

“The timeline of getting paid for it is very long term,” Maine explains. “Just to get paid back, you had to show so much, which is fine because we weren’t against the reporting; it was just so much extra work. Normally you have an accounting team dealing with that, not the same film crew.”

Robinson-Maine describes sending bills out in 8-inch tall boxes three times during production, tracking their every move. The pair may wince at the process now but they’re grateful for the opportunity to help promote not only statewide tourism and farm-to-table food and drink, but the development of local filmmaking. 

“It was a chance for us to show that we could do a full series,” she says. “We really feel like we want to be here. We were born and raised here and really proud of the region. We feel like great projects, great television, great movies can come out of this area. We’re trying to prove that. We can do a full TV series and it can come from Albany.” 

That’s not to say that “Brewed” wasn’t something MagicWig could handle. In addition to producing film, the company stages stadium-sized events for thousands around the country. 

“We’re a small production company but we swing above our weight,” Maine says. “We just did a big one in Atlanta for 1,000 people and it was all we did, basically, since September—for a three-day meeting. So much of our work has come from other places but we want to bring more of that work here.”

Derick Noetzel, Dan Swinton, Justin Maine and Cameron Seeger behind the scenes at Prison City Brewery in Auburn. 

The crew’s grant proposal had included a letter of intent to air with the PBS stations across New York, which meant the final preparation process had to be rated, captioned as well as color graded and audio balanced for “broadcast safe” television. The hundreds of songs used throughout the series had to be reported and approved within the company’s $7,000 three-year music license. 

“Saying you did a web series is a cool thing and saying you went to broadcast is another, because there’s a whole bunch of other benchmarks you have to meet,” Maine says.

Promoting the series in-house also meant building an audience ahead of airtime. Noetzel, Swinton and Seeger built one- to two-minute clips and promotional videos from 200 deleted scenes as unique content for social media sites. He posted several times a day on each platform six months ahead of the premiere. 

“I understand now why people hire a marketing company to just take it away from you because it continues to be difficult,” Noetzel laughs. “At one point we were doing a social media push and we had 400 assets we were alternating between different platforms and responding to questions that most of the time we didn’t have an answer to. It just stacked up.” 

“It was a good thing to learn because now we’re so much more proactive with our clients. If we’re doing a project for them, we already know what’s needed to maximize any given project that we’re doing,” Robinson-Maine adds.

In addition to social media promotion, show hosts Matt Archambault and Maya Contreras held their own promotional parties in New York City and regularly posted on their personal Instagram accounts. The production crew organized premiere parties in cities across the state as the show made its way across regional PBS channels. 

“Artists have to be so entrepreneurial now. There is no getting discovered. You have to build your own following and show that before anyone will even listen. So there’s a whole salesmanship aspect to it and we’re still trying to get our brand around,” Robinson-Maine says. 

MagicWig Productions won two New York Emmys in writing and cinematography for “Brewed in New York” this May. The team says they were impressed by their win and hope it draws more attention to upstate film production. 

“We did more than we got paid for to put that extra layer of polish on it because we really wanted to show that we can do things. We shot in our warehouses, we put our lighting together. Locally, Brown’s was awesome; we used their maltroom as our homebase wrap segments. They took care of us and we’ll be forever grateful. We’re proud to be able to say that a small, independent company in Albany, New York produced an Emmy-award winning show,” Maine says. 

Director Justin Maine, DP Tim Brown and hosts Archambault and Contreras shooting at Brown’s Malt Room in Troy.

The show is currently being released, episode by episode, on YouTube. Noetzel is in the process of re-captioning each one for the public drop, which Robinson-Maine compares to “letting their baby go.”

As for the future of the series, Maine says the company will have to regroup and consider their options. 

“We would love to do another season of ‘Brewed in New York,’ but we have to see how we would pay for it. It’s a challenge. We’re in the midst of producing three documentary shorts and two feature projects as well as the 2.0 version of ‘Brewed,’ so we have them all on the fire but we have to see what we can get funding for next—around all of our other clients that keep us busy from day to day. It’s creative juggling all the time.”      

Photo courtesy of the New York Emmy Awards.