2 Minutes With … Art Williams, Assembly's Founder and President

On Smartless, Superman, and rethinking how to execute post-production

Art Williams is a serial entrepreneur with a career spanning digital media, marketing and entertainment. Williams has a background in business strategy and development, credited with the success of agencies such as Spiral Media, Agency.com, Organic, Arena Media Networks and Deluxe Entertainment.

Art was a pioneer in the digital media industry, starting one of the first digital agencies in New York—Spiral Media in 1993, which he later merged with Agency.com to create one of the leading global agencies at that time. He later became COO of global digital agency Organic.

Art is a partner and owner of several companies that participate in the ecosystem of content creation and delivery for the advertising and film industries:

  • Assembly, a leading cloud-driven, post-production studio
  • Film Bureau, an enterprise software company that services movie studio and independent film distribution
  • Potato Salad, an independent production company

We spent two minutes with Art to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Art, tell us…

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Queens and currently live on Long Island.

How you first realized you were creative.

I think being involved in singing and plays at Francis Lewis High School when I was growing up.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

My mom—she was a gifted pianist who could play anything hearing it once. It was extraordinary to see in action.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I actually transferred midway through college to University of Buffalo, which is a challenge because you are starting over. It paid off for me because of some influential professors and lifelong friends who are a part of my life today.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I have eclectic taste in music but I would say the Grateful Dead have been an influence in my life.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I have been listening to Smartless podcast lately with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett—very funny show, really great interviews and very authentic—they are just being themselves. They make me laugh.

Your favorite fictional character.

Superman—while he does possess superpowers, his story is about a person who is different that struggles to fit in.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

This is where I am supposed to answer some amazing influential thought leaders. In truth, I really just keep up with some of my favorite sports teams such as the New York Mets, Knicks, Jets and Tottenham Hotspur. Fan is short for fanatic, and I try to keep social media for me personally around my interests. I think most people should use social media in a positive way as they see fit. Don't get dragged down into all the negativity out there—it is messing up our country.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

Professionally it required me to really examine how to prioritize what we were doing. It has been a challenge to adjust to circumstances nobody was prepared for and find new ways to work successfully. It was about survival of our company and at the same time looking out for the welfare of our staff as they dealt with their own personal and professional challenges. Personally, while the pandemic has been difficult, it was great to have my family all home with me (my kids are 23 and 20) for the first six months of Covid—nice to have quality time with everyone.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

We recently finished doing VFX work on Halle Berry's film Bruised. Like so many productions that had Covid throw the project a curveball, this film overcame those challenges and came out great. There is something satisfying in playing a part in a successful project that overcame adversity and had such great success.

A recent project you're proud of.

I think the launch of Assembly is really what I am proud of. A lot of great people have come together to really reinvent a lot of how we execute post-production. Being a part of change and making it a reality is extremely hard but equally rewarding.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

I really loved the creative work that came out last summer from The VIA Agency in Portland, Maine. It is great when you see an agency take a legacy brand like Save a Lot and pump a lot of interest in it. Awesome work.

Your main strength as a creative person.

Listening—I think I get better from learning from others. I think cultivating a culture of having the best idea wins comes from closing your mouth and using your ears.

Your biggest weakness.

Having the right amount of time to focus on the important things.

One thing that always makes you happy.

My wife Nancy.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Racism—I just don't really get why we are still dealing with this. Obviously it is an issue in our society that has to be aggressively dealt with—I just don't understand the haters.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I think I would enjoy owning a restaurant with great food and an awesome bar. Love being around people who are having fun. 

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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