When Anders Wahlquist, Petter Westlund and Pelle Nilsson first opened the doors of their digital production outfit in Stockholm in 1999, their goal, says Mr. Wahlquist, was to keep their "feet on the ground, stay true to basic beliefs and build something lasting" - which is why they playfully named their company "B-Reel."
No doubt keeping it real has become a bigger struggle as the shop deals with a growing profile on the global advertising scene. Now boasting offices in New York, London, and Los Angeles, the company first made waves in the States with groundbreaking integrated and digital campaigns such as Fallon's "Infinite Oz"effort for SyFy, and Goodby's "Hotel 626" and "Asylum 626" fright fests for Doritos. In 2010, however, B-Reel came into its own, cementing its status as an elite digital player with some of the year's most talked-about, boundary-pushing and category-redefining productions - making it the hands-down choice for our Digital Production Company of the Year.
Most notably, B-Reel put desk jockeys at the wheel, literally, of Mitsubishi cars on 180 LA's much-buzzed about "Live Drive." The online test drive allowed users from all over the globe to take a 2011 Outlander Sport for a spin on an actual track from the comfort of their own keyboards, while witnessing the whole experience from the POV of the car's windshield. The effort lasted for 10 days straight, 18 hours a day, and involved everything from robotics and mobile internet to live transmission, live streaming and live maneuvering of the car.
The company also made a huge impression with a pair of projects for Google. The first, Chrome Fastball, showcased the speed of the Chrome browser by inviting users to guide a chrome ball across a giant internet obstacle course using various web services such as Google Maps, Translate, Search and Twitter. That effort led to one of the most-talked-about videos about of the year, Arcade Fire's "Wilderness Downtown." Produced with @radical.media's Chris Milk and Google Creative Lab's Aaron Koblin, the interactive music video combined Google Maps and multiple browser windows to immerse users in a highly personalized HTML5 narrative of the band's "We Used to Wait" track.
"All in all, these projects point toward the future possibilities in different ways," says co-founder Mr. Westlund. "'Fastball' and 'Wilderness' use common web utilities to create brand interaction," while Mitsubishi balanced "on what is technologically possible in so many ways."
Overall, the company's digital output "feels solid now," says co-founder Mr. Wahlquist. "In 2009, we did some great work, but [projects were] too far in between. This year, we had smaller and larger projects intertwining, making the digital side so much more stable." The shop also mixed it up with an interactive video for Perrier, starring Dita Von Teese; an augmented-reality enabled talent show for TalkTalk, out of CHI and Partners, London; 56 Sage Street, an online game that helped teach teens financial smarts, for Barclays out of BBH; and the Drop Everything For Love website (JWT, New York) which dared couples to declare their love from their webcams, for Diamond is Forever. And across the job spectrum, B-Reel founders are only seeing a growing demand for invention and technological experimentation. "Previous years have been super cool, but this year, we have seen pure, cohesive work done in unexpected areas," adds co-founder Mr. Westlund. "Before, there were aspects of projects that were super-innovative, but were attached to something more known and basic."
Although our initial intention was to fully integrate our A-List to include both tech-minded and traditional shops, B-Reel was such a distinct standout in digital that it deserved its own title. But soon, such categorization may no longer apply. The shop has made notable inroads in realizing the fully integrated model that is becoming ever more crucial to tackling the multiplatform, technologically demanding campaigns that are now the industry norm.
B-Reel launched its film division B-Reel Films last year, after partnering with Stockholm-based production company St. Paul. "We have always been working with film, designing our work process after the filmmaking process, so starting B-Reel Films did not change things too much," says co-founder Mr. Nilsson. The Films side is home to 15 directors, 12 based in Europe and three in the U.S. - new addition Emil Möller, as well as Anders Hallberg and Tom Malmros, two hybrid talents well-versed in working on both sides of the digital divide. (Mr. Hallberg was the director on Ikea's award-winning "Dream Kitchens," while Mr. Malmros was the talent behind the Doritos 626 projects.) Although many companies are working to integrate across all production platforms, B-Reel only stands to benefit from its digital roots. "The difference is we have these three master storytellers at arm's length in everyday work, and having the possibility of pulling them into creative meetings," adds Mr. Nilsson. "They are surprisingly excited to participate early on in concepting, and really bring something extra to the table. It adds to the culture." While Films in the States is admittedly a "startup," Mr. Wahlquist notes, B-Reel has dedicated significant resources to ensuring its growth, launching an L.A.-based Films office, steered by Mr. Nilsson and executive producer Susan Rued Anderson, with plans to open a London Films hub this winter "to have films and digital side by side in every office."
Going forward, it's easy to imagine the company evolving from a production outfit to a full-blown creative shop working with its own clients, as has been the case with other successful digital players like Big Spaceship and Firstborn. But the B-Reel founders for now are content with their current model. "If we can get exciting work from agencies, and get paid enough to keep our best people and help them grow internally, and to do this on an even wider international scale, then we are pretty happy," says Mr. Wahlquist. "We don't want to be an agency. We could take on direct clients, if they know their basics and what they want, but, it's not a goal in itself. We really only want to do cool work with high value, and to have some fun while doing it."