A focus on listening and learning set Kelly Harkness up for success at Amazon Studios
Embracing what she calls a “blue-sky opportunity,” the seasoned product manager opens up about her first months at Amazon Studios, helping to create the studio of the future.
When watching a movie or series, most people don’t realize just how many teams had a hand in bringing the story to their screen. Kelly Harkness, a senior product manager, technical (PMT) at Amazon Studios, leads one such team that works behind the scenes: Media Supply Chain (MSC).
Before joining Amazon Studios in 2021, Kelly was the product manager for the very first major broadcast supply chain in the cloud, launched in 2014 in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS). She was also the product manager that conceived and provided all of the initial requirements for Accurate Player, one of the best viewing tools available for media supply chains.
We work backwards from the customer and the problems we’re trying to solve for.
Eric Iverson, head of product strategy at Amazon Studios, says that today Kelly is “getting ready to build things that don’t yet exist on the planet.” Currently, her MSC team owns the process of ingesting, managing, packaging, and delivering content from when it’s conceived to when it’s delivered to Prime Video customers.
“Our job is to design technology tools to help everyone working on content do their jobs efficiently and effectively–from the moment an idea is sent to the studio through to distribution,” says Kelly, who joined Amazon Studios in October 2021 after more than 17 years in similar roles at Sony Pictures Studios and FOX Interactive Media. “We facilitate the entire media supply chain,” adds Kelly.
This means collaborating with customers–including production, post-production, marketing, and distribution teams at Amazon Studios–to identify their asset management needs, assess existing workflows, and provide solutions that support content throughout the entire media lifecycle.
“We work backwards from the customer and the problems we’re trying to solve for –from streamlining ingestion of files into the studio, to quality control, to shortening content localization processes, to automating deliveries to our platforms– and then writing the business and functional requirements. The product role is to define the product strategy and functional requirements for a system that will then be passed on to an engineering team to build. It is then deployed to the business to use in their day-to-day operations,” Kelly explains.
A passion for puzzle-solving
Growing up in the South Bay area of California, Kelly dreamed of becoming an animator and eventually studied computer science at Cal Poly Pomona. “I quickly realized that I had no artistic capabilities whatsoever,” she says with a laugh. “And I knew I didn’t want to be at a desk coding all day. But I loved technology and solving puzzles.”
I learned to be an active listener so I could understand what I’m trying to solve versus trying to solve for something I don’t understand.
An internship with Sony Pictures connected Kelly with Eric Iverson. “Eric was my first real boss and an incredible mentor,” Kelly says. “He offered me an opportunity to QA (quality assurance) test the studio’s title mastering and rights management systems, which showed me I could develop requirements to build systems–not just test them–and connect more closely with the business.”
A few years later, following a successful stint building the first cloud-based media supply chain for Sony, Kelly was introduced by Eric to her current manager, Guillem Rojo Garrave. “He asked if I wanted to come and build something similar from scratch at Amazon,” Kelly recalls.
Intrigued by the challenge, Kelly said yes.
“Amazon Studios is a startup within the greater Amazon entity,” she explains. “This presents a rare and incredibly exciting blue-sky opportunity to build the studio of the future with the capabilities, tools, and expertise of AWS at our fingertips.”
Learning a lesson in trust
Since taking on the job, Kelly says her biggest takeaway has been to trust the process. “Coming from a major studio background, it took a while to fully understand and appreciate the complexities of Amazon’s processes because they’re so different from what I was used to,” she adds. “I learned to be an active listener so I could understand what I’m trying to solve versus trying to solve for something I don’t understand.”
She credits the three-month onboarding experience–which offered valuable insights into Amazon’s Leadership Principles and writing culture, and facilitated connections with subject matter experts across the business–with helping her acclimate.
“I learned to lean into and fully embrace the chance to grow and learn the skills needed to be an Amazonian, because you only get it once,” she says. “It’s a time when you’re meant to be learning without having to deliver right off the bat.”
Establishing meaningful connections throughout Amazon Studios
Today, after over one year in her role, Kelly feels more comfortable and confident than ever, proudly working alongside her teammates as they continue to invent, disrupt, break new ground, and redefine what entertainment means for fans, creators, and communities around the globe.
The project, which Kelly calls the most exciting creative challenge of her career, requires agility and fluid collaboration with stakeholders across Amazon Studios, AWS, and technology partners in the media and entertainment space to meet the ever-evolving production landscape.
“We’re now in active development,” Kelly concludes. “And since it’s such a large program that requires synthesizing countless requirements into a single strategy and ironing out still-young processes, we’re fortunate to have excellent counterparts working with us. The fact that we have such amazing partners who are equally passionate about genuinely doing this right makes it less daunting and even more rewarding.”