Mothership Takes Off

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Academy Award-winning digital production studio Digital Domain is branching out into new territory with Mothership. The sister company, which launches today, will create original transmedia content for the ad and marketing industries.

The company will represent a roster of talent that works across traditional production, digital and design: Robert Hales, Dael Oates, David Rosenbaum, Sil Van Der Woerd, Brent Bonacorso, Pierre Michel, Matthew Santoro, and Happycamper, and Nathan Love (for U.S., west coast).

Digital Domain Commercials Division President/EP Ed Ulbrich will serve on Mothership's leadership team, joined by ECD Alejandro Lopez, a 22-year global industry vet with previous stops at Leo Burnett and Tokyo's Beacon Communications, where he was ECD/President. He also co-founded Tokyo boutique creative agency Suitmen Entertainment, which develops ideas at the crossroads of commerce, entertainment and technology, including Tokyo's digitally-connected shopping destination, the Gyre building, created in partnership with Wieden/Tokyo. Tanya Cohen, who most previously served as EP of Michael Bay's The Institute and also worked as a literary agent at William Morris and VP at Robert Lawrence Productions/20th Century Fox, will be Mothership EP.

Creativity checked in with the Mothership leaders to find out more about the new company.

So how did you guys first get together?
Ed Ulbrich: I was recently in Amsterdam to speak at a cross-media conference called Picnic and had an epiphany of sorts. I looked at what Central Europe and Asia was doing in the realm of online and mobile marketing campaigns, and it blew my mind. Comparatively, the U.S. was so far behind what these countries were doing. I was talking to my friend David Wagner, also our mid-west sales rep, about this while in Amsterdam and he insisted I speak with Alejandro Lopez, who'd I'd actually worked with 21-some odd years ago while we were both at Leo Burnett.

The crazy thing was, Alejandro and I had the same exact vision for starting a new company. We both had this idea to form a company that, if you were to create the Venn diagram for Mothership, we'd be right at the intersection between entertainment, marketing and technology.

Alejandro what have you learned from working at Suitmen and your prior gigs that you think will help inform your new role?
Alejandro Lopez: Working in the Asian market I had the opportunity to experience the onset and acceleration of convergence — in both devices and marketing — that happened in that region several years ago. There are no barriers to usage there. It was a wonderful case study that has given me a peek around the corner about how to work with ad agencies and brands in a new way, to address the convergence that's happening here in the U.S. and Europe now. Also, working with Suitmen I learned how to be more nimble and achieve more by working remotely. We have already gone through that process and learned the ins and outs so that we can apply that experience to Mothership.

Also did you leave Suitmen? Is the company still going strong?
Alejandro Lopez: I didn't leave Suitmen! The company is flourishing in Tokyo and producing great transmedia work. While I am fully devoted to Mothership here, I'm still tied in to Suitmen. The great thing is, with the Mothership structure, if we need to work within Asia we may tap into Suitmen for their skills and talents. They can dock in like any of our talents.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the relationship that will exist between Mothership and Digital Domain? Will clients approaching Mothership for jobs be required to work with Digital Domain on postproduction/effects?
Ed Ulbrich: We will absolutely work very closely with Digital Domain. As a creative studio our talent will develop original content. And as a sister company to Digital Domain we'll absolutely leverage their visual effects and animation artists, technology and other resources. That's a major strength of Mothership, having those resources available to us. We will also work with other talents — not just directors, designers and digital artists, but writers, game developers, editors, and strategists from all over the world. We will aggregate whatever talent a project requires to create it from start to finish – and beam it out onto whatever platform is appropriate. Beam in the talent, beam out the work, so to speak.

Credit: Simon Wakelin

It sounds as if Mothership will be coming up with its own ideas and concepts—do you see potential in alienating some agency clients?
Ed Ulbrich: We complement agencies. Mothership can help by being an extension of their creative resources — it's not an agency itself. It's about working with agencies, brands, production companies, and talent across disciplines, and developing and producing entire campaigns as a team. It's one focused effort to deliver a creative product. There's a multifaceted set of relationships in this kind of model, and it's our job to be respectful of the chain of command, and to be collaborative. It's a different kind of model and it crosses traditional boundaries.

One of the big questions that obviously pops up with regards to creating the type of content you're setting out to do is monetization. Have you guys set up any sort of payment structure for the transmedia projects coming out of Mothership?
Ed Ulbrich: There's definitely no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Outside of the advertising industry—movies and video games, for example — there are many other ways of being compensated. Hollywood is predicated on having different compensation models. As entertainment, technology and marketing converge, new models begin to open up. The compensation models we're looking at for Mothership are not necessarily new, we're just looking at them differently within the context of advertising.

From Tokyo's Gyre Building, out of Suitmen and W+K/Tokyo
From Tokyo's Gyre Building, out of Suitmen and W+K/Tokyo

The good news is, when you move away from the traditional "shoot day" compensation mentality for directors, it's really liberating. The directors we work with have many tools at their disposal for creating projects, and a nice by-product is that the money goes a lot further.

How did you decide on your current roster? Are you looking to add to it in the near future?
Ed Ulbrich: Our Executive Producer Tanya Cohen played a key role in curating the Mothership roster. She's someone who has experience across all facets of the business, from developing talent as an agent at William Morris, to repping directors and executive producing while at The Institute, and she's guided sales for production companies.

When we were looking for talent, our goal was to find designers, directors and boutiques who were as comfortable behind workstations as behind cameras. They're part of a new generation of directors who grew up with a whole different set of inspirations and influences than previous generations—they've grown up playing video games and they've grown up with an amazing arsenal of filmmaking tools at their disposal. They need to have command of these tools. They need to understand shooting, photography, animation, design, and visual effects — and above all, story. Story first, actually.

Of course we're continuing to scour the world for new talent, and we will continue to add to the Mothership roster.

Are you working on any projects now?
Ed Ulbrich: We have a number of projects underway, but nothing we can name just yet. We'll absolutely keep you posted when we can talk about some of our first projects.

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