Lucie Fink Morris is a New Yorker and an established video producer and lifestyle host, having been featured on The Today Show as a millennial expert when she was only 19 years old. She started her impressive portfolio while she was a student at Johns Hopkins, with content ranging from 30-second stop motion videos to full-blown series. Today, she has amassed millions of views on her videos and grown a following of over 250,000 subscribers on YouTube.
NW: To start off, can you tell everyone who may not know you who you are and what you do?
LF: I am a 28-year-old living in New York City. I went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for my undergraduate and then moved back to Manhattan to [start] working at a huge advertising agency as a producer. I have always had a passion for being on camera, but when I first graduated that wasn’t an option for me right away, so I started by being behind the scenes working for big brands, creating content. Very luckily, I met a woman in that advertising agency who ended up running the Refinery29 video division. When she got there, she thought of me and invited me to interview. I ended up moving to Refinery a year later and started hosting their YouTube content. They gave me free reigns to produce whatever content I wanted, so I created a show called Try Living with Lucie, and also Lucie For Hire. [I produced] a bunch of original formats for them that led people to follow my own channels. Fast forward 5 years later to today, and I now have my own media company.
NW: I personally have watched every single episode of Try Living with Lucie! Unpacking your journey a little bit, you mentioned in one of your videos that you went into Johns Hopkins thinking you were going to study medicine but ended up working in the creative industry. How did you decide between your analytical side and creative side?
LF: Throughout my life, I have always had this split interest. So I was always a performer and into entertainment – I was in the drama club, I was in 15 shows a year throughout high school. Even in college [when] I was in the pre-med track, I joined the acapella group and created videos. On the flip side, I really loved the idea of being a doctor. I used to sit and watch open heart surgery videos. I have a twin sister who works in finance now, and she couldn’t stomach watching these videos. I think there’s something about being a twin, that if you find something that your twin can’t do, you feel like it’s almost your life’s calling. Allie [my twin] and I were not competitive at all but the fact that she couldn’t watch these and I could, made me think that I must be a doctor somewhere deep down.
One thing that helped skew me [towards the creative aspect] is that I’m obsessed with Dr Sanjay Gupta. He does a lot of reporting on TV. I thought I was obsessed with his job as a doctor, but I realized I was obsessed with the presenter and host side of it.
About a year in, I re-evaluated. I looked at the people around me and realized I didn’t seem to be in it for the same reasons they were. I thought medicine was cool and exciting, while they seemed to be entirely dedicated to building their lives around being a doctor. Plus I didn’t really see myself having a job in a hospital setting all day. I also had this secondary urge for communication, performing and hosting. So that was when I made the switch [to] Johns Hopkins’ robust creative writing program. I just decided that that was the most creative major that would allow me to focus most of my time on producing videos, which I was doing as an extracurricular. The video content I created there ended up being a large part of what led to me getting jobs after.
NW: Did you ever doubt your decision or felt pressure? Since you went from one field to another that was on the opposite sides of the spectrum.
LF: I think people feel that way if they receive some pressure from their parents. I am so grateful that [my parents didn’t pressure me]. To give some perspective, my dad is a radio DJ and my mom is an interior designer. They weren’t the doctor or lawyer types [but rather] just wanted us to do what we were passionate about. I think that both of my parents really loved watching me perform and host on video. My mom used to tell me that I was made to be on camera. When I told them I was going to switch, they were like “good this was where you are meant to be!”
I think the only pressure I felt was [from myself]. I did have some personal attachment issues [with] letting go of the fact that I wasn’t going to become a doctor because there is some prestige with it. I still love so many aspects of the medical field and remember so much of what I learned. Now in my own time, I read so many books about health, science and the brain. I am still invested in the field.
NW: Fast forwarding to Refinery29. It was still the beginning of your career, and yet you were able to pitch and produce two series to upper management already. How did you do this?
LF: Refinery29 actually hired me to [pitch new shows]. I think a better way to answer the question is to go back to the interview process. When I went into the interview, to be honest, it was one of those interviews where I didn’t think I even wanted the job. I was working at this ad agency, and I was pretty happy. [Meanwhile] I didn’t even know what Refinery29 was! As far as I was concerned, this start-up wanted to talk to me while I was feeling pretty good at this ad agency.
I went into the interview relatively calm. I think the way I was able to entice the team into thinking and believing that they wanted me was just by showing them the work samples and the volume of content that I’ve created on my own. The feedback that I got was that, when someone comes into the room and shows all the things they are already doing, it triggers something in the interviewer along the lines of “we need this person to work for us because she’s a do-er.” You show that you are out in the world, creating all this content for yourself, not even with a company behind you.
My advice is to start creating your own content. By the time you interview with the company you want to work for, you already have this portfolio you’ve made on your own. That shows them how much you can do with so little. What can she do if we give her a bigger budget and professional cameras?
NW: Can you walk us through your process of getting creative ideas?
LF: In the beginning, when you don’t have a strong audience yet, I recommend [creating] a show format. Think of it as a TV show. You would never turn on the channel if you never knew what you would get. I always tell people to rattle off their favourite shows, even the mindless ones like Chopped or House Hunters. These shows have a very strict format. Every episode they show meeting the [participants], show them three houses, evaluate the pros and cons, they pick one, then they show the one month after. We always know what to expect.
I actually pitched Refinery29 a handful of shows. On the first day that we were supposed to shoot, I pulled my boss aside and asked him what I should be doing. He said “What do you mean? You pitched all these shows, pick one and start recording.” He ended up choosing the 5 days challenge format and told me to shoot something. I wanted to make it relatable to my audience, so I think the first episode was 5 Days Without a Cell Phone. It was so low touch and low tech; I even asked the junior video editor to help me! Then I showed it to my boss. He had a couple of chuckles, and he told me to film another one. Then after that, he told me to film another one. After four episodes, he said to me that they were going to release the first episode that week, that we were four weeks ahead, and we should keep going.
It took a consistent eight episodes for people to get really invested in it. I remember there was one week we took a break because we were cutting it really close and people were actually getting angry. They [commented] “where’s the 5-day episode?” and “where’s the challenge video?”. That was when I thought, wow, we might’ve just done something here.
NW: Are you still doing the series now?
LF: I actually left Refinery29 as a full-time employee in 2019. For that whole year, I was still working with them on a contract basis. Going into 2020, there were so many shifts because Vice actually acquired Refinery and of course, Corona hit. [So now there] isn’t much opportunity to work with the team anymore.
I’m really happy that it isn’t the thing that I am doing full-time. As a creator, I feel pigeon-holed when the audience only accepts one format from me. It was actually a little scary back in the day because I was trying to diversify my portfolio, and the audience was getting legitimately mad when they saw me in anything that wasn’t a 5-day challenge. I was placed in a bucket and known as the “5 Day Challenge girl”. I remember thinking that there is no way I will be doing this type of video my entire life, so I knew I had to get the audience warmed up to the idea of me doing something else. That’s when I pitched another show called Lucie For Hire, where I tried other people’s jobs. I personally like a lot of those videos better because I think there is something interesting about going out into the world and seeing something else other than my bedroom.
NW: Now that you are an entrepreneur and work for yourself at Lucie Fink Media, are there any skills that you realized you needed to develop?
LF: Part of the reason why I was so comfortable leaving Refinery was because I had signed with a talent agency. Working with them has created so much good structure – I don’t have to worry about negotiating contracts or looking into legal things on my own. I’m only looped into the conversation when we are about to get a partnership which saves me so much time. So I don’t think I needed to develop those types of skills. I think the skills that I had to really get under control were business management skills. I have to handle my personal bank account, the business bank account, get a whole new ID number, lots of paperwork – just a lot of backend business tasks that obviously as [an employee] you don’t have to do.
The newest hurdle has been expanding the team. At first, you think that you can do everything by yourself and it’s hard to let go of some of the creative processes. [However] eventually, I knew that I had to, so I recently hired two people. It’s been a process having to manage other people and giving them tasks to do. I’m a project manager [in that sense] and have to monitor everybody’s steps, which is something I’ve never really had to do.
NW: How did you manage to cope with all of that? Did you learn by doing, or did you rely on reading business resources?
LF: I listen to a lot of business podcasts. There’s one specific podcast, and it’s called The Perfectionism Project. I love listening to her talk about mindset, business growth and organizing tasks. I also have listened to podcasts by Tony Robbins and Brook Castillo.
Throughout Covid, I’ve started selling my own courses, I built an Instagram branding course with my friend from Germany, and I have a stop-motion course. In a recent sale, I did a bundle of those courses with a bunch of other creators. Because I was part of the course bundle, I had access to all of them and took a bunch of them. I took this Pinterest accelerator course and a whole course about TikTok and Canva. I feel that it is important to keep learning things.
Though to be honest with you, for most of what I do, which is Instagram and YouTube, I completely learned [how to use those platforms] just by using them. Most of what I know is only from years of uploading and real-time feedback in the form of comments and views.
NW: Do you have any plans for your brand in the future?
LF: I am working on more educational offerings. Right now, I would say 95% of my income comes from brand sponsorships and partnerships with external companies. I want to get to a place where it’s a 50/50 split, in terms of the educational value I provide personally versus brands paying me to advertise with them. I’m working on building a new online course all about YouTube and helping people grow their own YouTube [channel] and produce content, like shoot, produce, edit, upload, optimize and engage.
I still do have dreams of hosting a TV show like a travel or lifestyle show, though it doesn’t seem plausible during the pandemic time. It’s funny because I started on the digital side, [and thus] have this desire to expand to traditional media like TV. Most people who are in the conventional media space want to have a strong digital presence. So I think it’s best to be on both. At some point in my career, I would love to be an author of a book.
NW: What would you like to write about?
LF: [I would like to write] an inspirational coffee-table style book. Something that is pretty enough to sit on a coffee table, but with more inspirational content. Maybe even a book guiding people to do different lifestyle challenges and giving them checkboxes or trackers. Something that is about my story. Although that’s on the back-burner for now.
NW: My last question for you is, do you have any social issues you would like to use this interview to highlight?
LF: One of the things I’m really excited about with the Biden presidency is his policy on climate change and his environmental [guidelines]. I’ve been listening to podcasts about regenerative agriculture and also watching documentaries about the Earth. There’s this new one about David Attenborough’s story which is really scary in terms of where the Earth is going. I also watched one called Kiss the Ground, which is all about agriculture and how to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. I think it’s really important that we have a President that is actively taking strides towards this because watching those documentaries made me feel a little bit powerless. I turned to [my husband] Michael and asked him “should we physically be doing anything?” asides from using our glass straws and not buying plastic. Should we go dive and restore the coral reefs by hand?
The thing that stuck with me from the David Attenborough documentary was that he made this interesting comment that everyone out there who is talking about climate change, they use the phrase “we have to save the planet”. They say the planet is dying, but we’re getting it all wrong. The planet is completely fine. The Earth has gone through multiple phases of wiping out every living species, going through an Ice Age, then coming back and regenerating. It’s us that aren’t going to be okay. It’s about saving ourselves and future generations.
*Transcript has been modified for length and clarity