Prior to launching the company, former McCann agency producers Knowles and Ryant had been coming off a bad spell on the production side. Both had worked at Propaganda/Satellite and then as executive producers at Reactor Films, and they'd become jaded witnessing jobs disintegrate creatively just to "feed the machine," or being saddled with lofty, profit-driven standards. The two were fired from Reactor, but they decided to remain partners, and soon after they had the good fortune to be reunited with O'Grady, a Florida production vet Ryant had befriended during his agency days, and whom he admired for his ability to transform every penny, even on a low-budget shoot, into gold on the screen. "We told ourselves, if we have to get out of bed in the morning and do really terrible commercials, this will never be worth it," Ryant recalls. "So we set the standard that we were only going to do great work. That was it. If we succeeded, then that was great. If we didn't, we'd at least given it our best shot at doing it our best way."
The three founded Bob Industries in Venice, Calif., in November 1998, with several directors who followed them from Reactor. Since then, the shop has steadily gained a position among the industry's creative elite, thanks to a mix of luck, hard work, and, of course, directorial talent. The unboxable Dayton and Faris continue to deftly transcend genres, as in effects-intensive clips for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the visually and emotionally stunning "Milky Way" VW spot, and the clutter-busting bottle-puppet campaign for Snapple. The shop also boasts the talents of Peter Care, one of the funnymen behind the Sprint PCS laugh-a-thon; MTV-vet Lisa Rubisch; Kim Geldenhuys; Mark Kohr; Jason Smith; and Spencer Susser. Last year, Bob also signed Chris Hooper, the former Goodby creative and Tool director, who helmed this year's crowd fave at the Super Bowl, Budweiser's "Satin Sheets."
The homey beachside residence of Bob headquarters, as well as the New York branch's apartment digs befit the close-knit way things are run. "Anybody who is going to be at Bob has to know it's a family," O'Grady asserts. "We wouldn't want to bring a director in just to be a day player." Ryant adds, "If you come here, usually it's more work. You have to involve yourself more, care more and participate. It's a different kind of psychology than what other companies offer. Others will say, 'Come in, your world will be solved! I'll give you a $100,000 development fund. You'll have three assistants.' For us, it's quite the contrary. We are always very responsible about saying, 'Come here, here's what we can achieve together.'"
At the crux of Bob's ongoing struggle is keeping the creative doors open for all its directors. "We're doing our job properly when you look at any of our directors' reels and they have as much of an executional breadth as possible, but at the end you still feel there's a signature behind the work of, say, Lisa Rubisch or Peter Care," Ryant explains. He remembers in the early stages, struggling to break through agencies' befuddlement even with the reel of husband/wife team Dayton and Faris, "I would show this very eclectic reel and the agencies would say 'God, they're all over the place! What the hell do these people do?' " Ryant recalls. "Exactly!" pipes in the voluble Knowles. "We're not a company of off-sell. There's nothing more exciting than when a director not necessarily considered for a job ends up blowing agencies away."
So far, the strategy has worked. "Every year we've been able to do better than the previous year, financially and creatively, and we've never had to ask one of our directors to do a job they didn't want to do," Knowles boasts. Moreover, sticking to their creative guns is the only way to make things worthwhile considering the industry's capricious tides. "Margins will continue through the volatility of the business," Ryant explains. "There's no indication that everything's going to stabilize. People will work harder for every buck they earn. In years past, some production companies had the capabilities to be wildly profitable. Now it's much more of a labor of love, a life-long career that you have to work every minute for."