A Longtime Photo Editor in the Entertainment Industry, Denise Balbier Tells Stories with Stillness

Beyond the shot.

  • Category
    Arts, People
  • Written by
    Darren Elms
  • Photographed by
    Adelaide Brannan

Though born in Philadelphia, Denise Balbier spent her teenage years in Manchester, England, with her parents and eight siblings. At 19 she moved back to the United States to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey. 

“I was mostly unsupervised and unprepared for independence, so there was a lot of live music, late nights in New York City, not much time or effort for academic achievement,” she recalls. “My first paid job was in New Jersey at Kmart. I had a pronounced Mancunian accent and did a lot of the blue-light-special announcements because management thought my accent was exotic.”

In 1986 she visited her sister who lived in Los Angeles. “It was such a shock to my senses—the weather, the ocean and the mountains, the culture and the glamour!” she says. “I made the impulsive but prophetic decision to stay here.”

Denise found a job listing in the Los Angeles Times for a photo lab located in Hollywood. “My sister worked in a photo lab, and I had spent a few weeks hanging out there. So I thought I was well qualified—oh, the hubris of youth,” she says. “Again, I think it was my accent that won me the spot because the position involved speaking with film studio clients.” 

“I have been mentored, corrected, protected and appreciated by some great bosses and great colleagues.”

She worked as a customer service rep for Fox, Paramount, Universal, Disney and others. A few years later, a client asked her to apply for an apprentice photo editor position at Fox. “That was my start working for a major studio,” she says.

Denise worked her way up to director of photo services and finally senior vice president of photo services at several studios. By 2006 she was ready to start her own thing. Alongside one of her best friends and colleagues at Sony, she formed Industry Art Works (IAW). 

“We decided that digital photography made it easy to work remotely beyond the walls of a studio lot, and that working for ourselves would free us from the rigors and bindings of the corporate world,” she says. “Plus, we had been fired and needed jobs!”

Based in Redondo Beach, IAW works closely with studios and streaming clients to edit, facilitate talent approvals, and curate a final section of images from unit photography taken on set and film footage. 

“Most of our team members are experienced and talented photographers who offer artistic and technical guidance as needed,” Denise says. “By overseeing and implementing every aspect of photography production, editing and servicing, we help ensure a proactive, streamlined and extremely successful marketing and publicity campaign.” 

Some of the uses for the images include posters and other media for global marketing campaigns, and selective edits for publicity efforts like magazine and newspaper articles. She adds, “We are involved in supplying images for soundtracks, thumbnails for the user interface, books—anything you can think of that involves images from a film or episodic title.”

Denise especially loves the responsibility of handling sensitive and valuable assets for highly anticipated projects. “I have worked on many Bond films, Spider-Mans, Twilights and other tentpoles. These provide a lot of challenges to maintain security while making the assets available quickly to a wide range of stakeholders. It’s a 24/7 kind of experience and not for the faint of heart.” 

She also enjoys projects that highlight the finest aspects of filmmaking, like the recent musical Annette, as well as The Artist, an homage to the silent film era that took home the Oscar for Best Picture. 

Denise realizes how fortunate she is to share most of her studio career working with people who became family. “I have been mentored, corrected, protected and appreciated by some great bosses and great colleagues,” she says. “We have worked in the trenches and have many stories of survival and craziness to tell. I have felt privileged many times to be in the presence of greatness.” 

Those moments include meeting Muhammad Ali and Anthony Hopkins, mingling with the likes of Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger, and watching Tony Bennett serenade Meryl Streep.

Right now, as the entertainment industry faces a huge upheaval, Denise and IAW continue to negotiate what she believes will someday be seen as a paradigm shift. “As a company, we have survived everything thrown at us so far, and our best tool is to put our heads down and do our best work and choose optimism. We have a lot of irons in the fire and are always looking for new ways to provide services to our clients and cultivate new relationships.”