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Creativity 50

'Once' Producers Brian Carmody and Patrick Milling Smith on the Principles of Creative Success

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Brian Carmody and Patrick Milling Smith are a pair of Creativity 50 alums, and frontmen of one of the ad industry's most respected production shops, Smuggler. In the past year, their company continued to turn out more memorable commercial work for brands ranging from Coke to Mars to Xbox. But this year they also proved their merits on a new stage -- literally, producing the multi-Tony-awarded Broadway musical "Once" along with fellow producers Barbara Broccoli, Fred Zollo and John N. Hart. The adaptation of the Academy-Award winning indie film retains the charm of the original while becoming an experience all its own -- full of the fun, minus the cheese that often marks Broadway. We asked Mr. Milling Smith (on the left in the above photo) what lessons the brand world can pull from Broadway -- and to share which creative tenets remain true no matter what kind of project you're working on. -- Ann-Christine Diaz

Brian Carmody and Patrick Milling Smith
Brian Carmody and Patrick Milling Smith Credit: David Yellen

What advertising can learn from making a broadway show

There are some tried-and-tested truisms that seem universal to producing quality work, and they start with the idea and story. It's a pretty obvious statement -- but great ideas are rare and careers are made as much by what people say no to as what they say yes to.

Smuggler is a company built on going after good concepts for our talent. Much of our work is keeping an eye out for the right opportunities and then building the right production and talent around it. There is a great lesson in here about how ideas can hit you from anywhere. With "Once," the idea came from Angelica, the daughter of our producing partner Barbara Broccoli (producer of the James Bond franchise), who was writing about the original film for a paper at her school in London. Taking an interest in your daughter's schoolwork, I guess, is a fine way to stumble across a potential Broadway hit.

We were drawn to "Once" as a timeless, engaging story about, among other things, unrequited love. It's preceded by many successful tales touching on this theme: Romeo and Juliet, Titanic, Casablanca, etc. There is a simple truth to the underlying story, and that creates the strongest of foundations. And of course, the songs don't do any harm. … These are the stars of the show. Our main concern walking into this was not turning a beautiful, quiet and arresting film into a big embarrassing Broadway dance number. A film director named Steve McQueen had just released a movie called "Hunger," starring Michael Fassbender, and it is one of the tightest, most uncomfortable, yet mesmerizing, pieces of cinema we'd seen in a very long time. The script and structure are perfect, and when we discovered that the writer, Enda Walsh, was also a playwright of some repute, he felt like the perfect choice. There was no way this guy who wrote the film about an IRA hunger strike would ever allow himself to deliver something soppy and overly theatrical. In reality we didn't think he would actually respond to the material, as his usual work is so dark, but when he said yes, we knew we were picking up the momentum needed for something special. The momentum of key creatives, directors, crew, etc. is essentially the same across all media. Any producer and production company will tell you how much easier things become when the right people not only say yes, but turn up with great excitement and enthusiasm.

Bringing it back to advertising, I would have to focus on the writing. Much like on a 30-second ad, truly great writing can carry you close to the finish line ,and it certainly attracts the type of talent who help the final elevation. From casting, to movement, to lighting, to set design, this story attracted the very best in the business.

Enda Walsh has written a beguilingly simple yet powerful book. It manages to speak to everyone in the audience from any background and is packed with great laughs and poignant powerful moments that touch the heart of even the greatest cynics. Great scripts equal great talent, whether it's a Broadway musical or a TV ad. Our role is to make sure nothing gets in anyone's way and to let the team construct something built to last and affect.

Culturally, we are a company always looking to be excited by things. I hope we are constantly evolving and improving through our experiences. That outlook tends to ensure everyone always has their eyes open for good creative opportunities and fresh talent across the board ... Great talent tends to gravitate to ideas, but also you want to have a working environment where people feel comfortable and taken care of . We have a group of people who are great to spend time with, are passionate about their work while also being very serious and able when it comes to getting things done. -- Patrick Milling Smith

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