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Q&A: Creativity taps the knowledgable fonts of four broadcast producers who've proved they can "make it happen," whether it be creating a heartwarming tale of a talking donkey, channeling identity thieves into the bodies of duped cardholders, educating the Linux boy, or getting into the head of a Nascar driver mid-crash. Goodby's James Horner, Fallon/Minneapolis' sesquipedalian-named Robert Jonathan van de Weteringe Buys (more conveniently known as Rob Van), Ogilvy&Mather/N.Y.'s Lee Weiss and Cliff Freeman's Ed Zazzera dish on their memorable moments and day-to-day beefs about one of advertising's most indispensable professions.

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C What are the most challenging aspects of your job today?

JH I don't think it's changed. The hardest part of the gig is keeping everyone moving in the same direction. This is the business of "Many cooks in the kitchen."

RV The obvious: shorter schedules, challenging budgets and the never ending fight for the best creative.

LW The constant, relentless training. I am surrounded by an astoundingly intelligent and well-educated group of people, very few of whom have much experience in the actual creation/ production behind a television commercial. At times, this is exceptionally trying; also, this can be immeasurably satsifying.

EZ More production for less money. The usual.

C How has the nature of your job changed since you started producing?

JH I have a lot more client contact than in the old days. I think it's probably a logical evolution but now I have to be nice when I answer the phone.

RV The impact of nontraditional advertising has definitely increased over the years. A television campaign used to stand alone but as TV viewership has fallen off, TV has become part of an overall strategy to find the target audience. Branded content such as DVDs, films, websites, etc. have become an integral part of the production process and has changed the manner in which we utilize the technologies.

LW It hasn't really changed all that much since I started. There are the obvious and resonant changes in technology, there is the incredibly faster-paced manner in which we work, but the basic "abc's" of the ad agency production process aren't really all that different.

C Is creativity an important aspect of your job?

JH Creativity is the great part of the job. The environment here assumes that everyone is creative and contributing to the process. It's just a cool place, with not a lot of ego getting in the way.

RV Creativity is what producing is all about. I'll do anything I can to make sure that the execution of the idea is as good as it can be. Brainstorming with the creatives. Reinventing the permit process. Selling kidneys. Whatever. It's all about the work.

LW Creativity is a terribly important aspect. It's a lot trickier trying to produce a poor concept well than a great one. Psychologically, it's a major drag to be "saddled" with soggy creative-especially when the creative team seems oblivious to that reality. I've been privileged to work with the most amazing creative directors. People like Roy Grace, Bill Hamilton, Steve Hayden, Chris Wall and Susan Westre simply don't enable poor work to be produced. The top creative directors accept ideas from all sources. "Egomaniac" creative directors simply want a producer to follow orders.

EZ It's very important. You have to be creative in the choice of director as the right one may not always be the obvious choice. Also, in figuring out how to pull off more for less these days.

C What's the most demanding project you've done?

JH In the last year, Budweiser's "Born a Donkey." Jeff Goodby directed and Biscuit acted as the production company. We pulled together a wonderful team of people that seemed capable of solving any problem. It was a bare bones shoot. Goodby found the location, a historic park owned by A-B, which meant no location fee, and that put us close to the Clydesdales. The rest was luck. We were lucky 20 times on that job.

LW IBM over the past several years. Imagine standing in the middle of Beijing with Joe Pytka while shooting IBM/Lotus "I Am Superman" with the intention of flying to Japan for the next leg of the shoot, only to hear Joe say "Let's not go to Japan-let's go to India." Simply getting the air tickets was a six-hour ordeal. Imagine sitting on a charter plane (IBM "Prodigy") with the knowledge that one would be having breakfast in Paris, lunch in London and dinner in Venice-but after having filmed in several locations in each of these cities. Imagine having 24 hours to set up a job (IBM/"Deep Blue") to be directed by Joe Pytka in the then L.A. Forum, starring Dave Robinson, and then having 48 hours to get the commercials on television.

EZ Fox Nascar. We needed to simulate a Nascar driver's experience while in the middle of a car crash. We had to coordinate shooting stunt and crash scenes in L.A. and then the actual Nascar drivers on green screen in Atlanta. After shooting the stunt scenes, the spots had to be roughly edited so we could match the action of the drivers (shot on green screen) to the action of the stunt sequences and then imagine where CG would fill in the gaps. It took the right director (HSI/Supermega's Joseph Kahn), the right effects guys (Kroma) and the right amount of CG. Unfortunately, we didn't have the right budget it would normally take to make this happen.

C How do you go about seeking new talent? Besides cost advantage, what attracts you to new talent?

JH I don't look at it as "seeking new talent." I just try to find a good match for the job. Sometimes a new guy's energy or his treatment just gets us going. Even if you don't have much cash, if you can find someone who is passionate about the project, you'll be in good shape. There's a lot of emphasis in the business about "new talent." I think what people mean is, "'Who is cheap?" The question should be "Who is doing weird new stuff?" Some jobs beg for young new ideas, but those don't always come from the young new director.

RV I tend to look for the people who naturally bring a collaborative work style to the project. And rather than obsessing about the amount of experience, I generally prefer to put the focus on the treatments and conference calls.

LW Strictly the old-fashioned way, by screening everything that is out there, and speaking to as many people as possible. I'm spoiled in that Joe Pytka directs so many of the commercials I produce (IBM). But on accounts like Ameritrade & Dupont, I do have the opportunity to explore new talent. It's interesting to review directors' reels with creatives, who almost inevitably appraise the concepts versus the production aspects of the work. These days we truly expect that a given director will be as responsible for the creative direction as we are. Simply "shooting the script" is becoming a thing of the past. And in this economy, money is very tight. We have to endorse that reality and work within those confines. Easier said than done.

EZ Finding new talent is a great part of a producer's job. I always keep my eyes and ears open. I like talking to reps and producers to find out what's new. I like finding out who's responsible for the more interesting music videos. Sometimes a project needs the proven director, but many times the newcomer can offer a fresh eye. On Fox Nascar we worked with Joseph Kahn, who has directed many fantastic music videos, but is pretty new to the commercial scene. Joseph gave a fresh point of view-his treatment was different from the other directors we talked to. Also, having a trusting client helps.

C What's the next frontier?

LW At present, I am working on many assignments to produce television commercials strictly for online use. The quality of the work is supposed to be equal to that of our on-air advertising, but the budgets are comparatively miniscule. I really see only two solutions to this reality. First, if one were able to understand the annual scope of work, one could create a "hit team" of sorts, such that the desired quality of work is maintained and no one goes out of business. Second, we really have to learn to conceptualize artful communication that simply doesn't require tons of money. In this day and age we can virtually produce anything we can dream up. But that means utilizing tons of money and often, tons of time. My current quest is determining the most effective way to continue to produce great work, but with huge economic efficiencies. "Begging huge favors" on a job-by-job basis is not the solution.

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