NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If Creativity's Agency of the Year represents a new-model company coming into its own, the year's top production company proves the adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That philosophy has served 20-year-old MJZ well over the last decade, during which the shop arguably has been the most-dominant player in commercial production. In recent years, as other companies have attempted to diversify their offerings beyond spots to accommodate the shifting advertising scene -- which has seen digital innovation and integrated campaigns become more norm than novelty -- company President and co-founder David Zander played to classic strengths.
The rattled economy and its attendant fear made it difficult and risky for anyone to stand out creatively in '09. But for MJZ, the work was conspicuously strong.
Director Tom Kuntz was the 2009 MVP. He built on Fallon London's -- and his own -- candy legacy with some carefully trained eyebrows for Cadbury; he extended Goodby's White Gold franchise into the 20-minute "Battle for Milkquarious" rock opera; and turned out even more spectacular moments partnering with Wieden & Kennedy. The inner turmoil of a disgruntled office worker couldn't be conveyed any more accurately, or hilariously, than in the Kuntz-directed "Tips" for CareerBuilder. The director also added more ammo to Coke's happiness arsenal in the flirtatious "Library" and was instrumental in taking the "Old" out of "Old Spice" with spots such as "Scents for Gents." It also didn't hurt that he snagged the title of the year's most-globally-awarded director in the annual Creativity Awards Report, helping to steer MJZ to a repeat as most-awarded production company.
Fellow director Rupert Sanders, 2008's most decorated director, added even more heft to MJZ's reel. He reteamed with T.A.G., San Francisco, for Halo ODST's "The Life," the follow-up to the much honored "Believe." He was also on board for TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York's "Anthem" spot for Absolut. And in perhaps the year's most artsy feat of production, he carefully choreographed Droga5's debut spot for Puma, in which virtual clothing was projected in camera onto the bodies of a pair of dancers.
Other notable moments came from indie director Harmony Korine, who shot a series of dark vignettes for Liberty Mutual, and from Spike Jonze, who stepped out of "Where the Wild Things Are" promotional tsunami to shoot sumo-starring spots for Softbank and a cryptic short in which Kanye West confronts his inner demon. Dante Ariola set creatures loose too, for The Ladders, out of Fallon, Minneapolis, and for HP's "In the Air," out of Goodby, while Phil Joanou was behind 3-D spots for the U.S. Air Force.
Mr. Zander built out his roster cautiously this year, adding only collective Pleix, which directed a Lexus package, and O Positive directors Jim Jenkins and David Shane to the shop's London roster, yielding a Shane-directed Doritos tale out of AMV BBDO, in which a man lives out his "Guitar Hero" dreams. The London hub also produced Fallon's latest Sony experiment, in which director and ad creative Juan Cabral helped turn an Icelandic town into a giant sound system.
Yet, as with any top production company, it's not just about the directors. "MJZ's executive producer Jeff Scruton and team of producers are so pro," said Weiden, Portland's Eric Kallman, the writer on Old Spice, CareerBuilder and multiple Kuntz-directed award winners for Skittles, out of TBWA/Chiat/Day. "Once Tom wanted to shoot a campaign with us, but the money was really tight. It was 10 shoot days, and four huge spots. But they worked with our agency literally night and day for over a week to make it work, when honestly no one thought it would.
TBWA/Chiat/Day's head of production, Matt Bijarchi, worked with the company on its latest content-driven piece for Absolut, the 30-minute Spike Jonze-directed "I'm Here," the only brand-sponsored film to premier at Sundance's opening night shorts last year. "Their model remains fairly traditional at the moment, but they know what they're doing," Mr. Bijarchi said. The Absolut film was "a 14-month process of script development, production, post and distribution" and was "anything but traditional."
Meanwhile, Mr. Zander isn't blind to the changes around him. The industry's shifting attention is "definitely something that we've talked about as a company, but I think that it feels still like it's in its infancy. ... I think it's going to be commercials, plus other things. Focus is a critical thing in getting anything accomplished, and right now I still believe what we have -- the modified version of the traditional production company -- is still the most viable way to spend our energy."
Runners upIt's been Creativity's mandate to honor not just the best work, but also the innovators who are redefining creative production. Stink emerged as one of this year's frontrunners. The global, multi-hub company has long been known for its top-notch commercial production. It continued to deliver on that front with spots such as the Ivan Zacharias-directed VW "Fight"; a James Brown-directed roller-girl show for Bonds; and more dynamite visuals from Ne-O, who steered Audi's "Economy Drive," Frank's "Braincrashers" and Toyota's "Better Together." The shop's biggest highlight, however, came out of the company's new-media arm, Stink Digital, via Philips "Carousel." Directed by Adam Berg, the viral bandit-clown hit was also a critical smash, earning digital and film accolades, including the 2009 Cannes Film Grand Prix.
Philosophically speaking, our production company of the year could have been B-Reel. The Swedish shop was already a darling of the digital spotlight thanks to its multiplatform productions, such as Goodby's much decorated Hotel 626. It remained on top of that game in '09 with the Doritos' horror sequel, "Asylum 626," as well as host of other standout interactive efforts such as Nokia's Talk Talk website out of Chi & Partners, and Axe's 100 Girls site, via BBH, New York. Meanwhile, in a production backflip, the shop built out traditionally, partnering with Swedish shop St. Paul to launch B-Reel Films, and beefing up its New York team with director Anders Hallberg and EP Kathrin Lausch -- a setup that, perhaps, gives a glimpse of the "standard" of the future.