Brian Cooper Senior Producer, The Martin Agency
In 1999 Brian Cooper was a producer at MTV when Stacy Wall, then creative director at W+K/N.Y. plucked him from his high-rise, river-view office and put him in one the size of a broom closet, but the 35-year-old producer has no regrets. At Wieden, he overcame such massive production hurdles as the inaugural campaign for Wieden's arguably most successful post-"SportsCenter" effort for ESPN, "Without Sports," which incorporated the talents of seven different directors from seven separate shops (and of course, had an insanely limited budget). The campaign made creative inroads, landing a Gold Lion and other industry accolades. Two years ago, the Boston native and University of Wisconsin film grad traded the concrete jungle for the more hometown environs of Richmond, Virginia and The Martin Agency, where he's continued to shake things up on the production scene on campaigns for UPS and, his recent personal fave, a CSI promo for CBS, which involved casting a dead body with Rocky Morton to tell the tale of a coroner who literally takes his work home with him, in the form of a corpse. (Ann-Christine Diaz)
Career Highlights ESPN "Without Sports" campaign, Avon "Meet Mark", CBS "Take Your Work Home," UPS: "Chase," "Cars," "Weather Man"
The first round of ESPN "Without Sports" was such an interesting project because you used a different production company and director for each spot, from your former CD Stacy Wall, to ACNE and Motion Theory. Why did you do that and how did you pull it off?
BC That was absolutely the greatest project I've ever worked on because of how hard it was and we pulled it off. We had a pile of great scripts and the first thing I thought of was to call companies with great rosters and try to package the whole thing. But in each case there were always one or two people who were absolutely perfect, but then we were going to be force fitting the other spots to other directors. I still remember sitting with Kevin Proudfoot [CW and now CD] and Kim Schoen [then ACD] and deciding we were going to find the best director for each spot and just pull it off. Looking back, I cannot think of a single spot that we did not get the absolute right person to direct but I cannot think of a more difficult project to produce. Every company basically had to invest in the campaign, financially, or with a time commitment.
You were in the game from the get-go on ESPN. How early are you involved, and how much are you involved in the creative process at The Martin Agency?
BC They get me in very, very early. When creative teams are concepting, we'll talk through ideas. Also, the agency has a great support system to help with a lot of the administrative work that can actually bury a producer. That allows me to really try to be a part of the motivational staff. The broadcast team and I go out of our way to inspire our creatives. We're in Virginia, so it's hard to get a feel for cutting edge culture, so we're constantly reaching out and trying to bring in short films, animation pieces, art, music.
These days, how would you describe your role as a producer?
BC When I think of producing, I think of that cheap little plastic thing that you buy at the science museum that allows you to attach two soda bottles together so you could spin one around and flip it over and it'll show you what a tornado looks like. I'm that cheap gasket between the idea and the final product—the creatives, the account team, the client, the production company, all the vendors involved—all of it has to squeeze through me at some point and it's always a storm on either end.
Has the role evolved since you started almost 15 years ago?
BC That overall role hasn't changed, but a producer now has to know how to do so many more things. You've got to know how to integrate web, HD, cinema and print elements. But it's also knowing how to be a part of the organization in such a way that you can reach out and go for those things. A good producer now has got to seek out opportunities. They can't just wait for a project to land on their desk.
Oscar Thomas Senior Producer, Driver
Oscar Thomas' heritage runs along creative lines –his father was a well-known CD and his mother a former AD at JWT/London—but the U.K. native and Watford School communications grad took the production path, heading across the Atlantic to intern at Mad Dogs and Englishmen in New York before he landed a gig as an assistant producer at Cliff Freeman. Soon enough, he was heading down to the sunnier shores of Miami to Crispin, where he scored his first full-fledged producing gig, working on spots for Truth, Mini and Molson. Two years ago, Thomas returned to New York and joined independent New York production outfit Driver, where as a senior producer he steers productions for big agencies as well as a number of the industry's rising boutiques. (Ann-Christine Diaz)
Career Highlights Truth, Molson (specs for Crispin), Mini, New York Rangers, Nascar
What's one of the defining moments of your young career so far?
OT My first project at Crispin was five spots for the "Truth" campaign, "Orange Curtain Part 2." That was my first gig as a producer, dealing with two creative directors, five creatives. Dave Rolfe sort of schooled me and looked after the process. There were nights I would just think about what haven't I thought about? I'd make these massive lists of the issues and questions I had for the creatives and I would just put it all in one email at the end of every day to make sure everyone had everything they possibly needed. Being an assistant producer at Cliff on tons of stuff from Mike's Hard Lemonade to Fox Sports, I knew how to do it, but this was the opportunity to do it. It was a very extreme learning curve.
As a freelancer, you've worked with a number of the new boutiques like The Brooklyn Brothers, SS+K, Boone/Oakley. What's the advantage of working with such companies?
OT That work to me is often the only work worth working on. I'm also just a big fan of the underdog. Right now especially, there are these hot small agencies all trying to do the best work possible—with each spot, they're representing themselves. All the great companies I've ever worked with, the owners are still very much in touch with "what is the brand of our advertising."
What do you think is the role of the producer? Has it changed?
OT Since I've been producing, being a producer in the traditional sense came first. Then the emphasis was on being a creative producer. Now, I think the role includes being an entrepreneur. Budgets are becoming more challenging, so you have to think about ways you can work with companies to make the campaign work within the budget. One way is to work with a company that needs that work on their reel in order to build themselves. You need to identify the companies that obviously have the talent and the ability, although their reels may not necessarily reflect that. You need to be able to identify those companies and give them a shot.
What about producing for other media? Have you encountered projects that go beyond the spot?
OT Recently I've been developing a website for the New York Rangers [out of The Brooklyn Brothers]. My approach to it, is treat it exactly like a commercial. I think agency web production works very well when you apply the TV style of production to it. It's definitely new territory, but it's really exciting. It's what producers love to do, they love make things work.
Why have you made the choice to be independent at Driver, and why did you leave Crispin and Miami, of all places?
OT Honestly, I hated Miami. I couldn't stand it. I'm from inner city London, I'm not into sunbathing, I'm not into going to the gym, I'm not interested in my body in any shape or form. Miami was not my cup of tea. I loved Crispin and I miss it a lot, and they haven't called me for any work, which I wish they would.
Temma Shoaf Producer, Wieden + Kennedy/N.Y.
Temma Shoaf just completed her sabbatical from Wieden + Kennedy, a month-long period of rest and rejuvenation that the agency only offers to employees after seven years of service. The 35-year-old North Carolina native has spent the entirety of her eight-year advertising career at Wieden's New York outpost, where she started out as Stacy Wall's creative assistant and moved her way up to producing spots for ESPN, as well as the agency's groundbreaking "Beta 7" campaign for Sega, and the recent spot-in-music video's clothing for Nike featuring rap artist Common, a trio of basketball studs and some inconspicuously showcased Brand Jordan gear. (Ann-Christine Diaz)
Career Highlights Nike "Be," Sega "Beta 7", Sharp "Perspectives" from "More to See" campaign, ESPN Brand: "Cinderella," "Nothing to Say," "Spelling Bee," "Golf Lessons"
Has the role of the producer evolved since you started?
TS I don't think that my job or my day to day has changed that much. I think anytime you're given a project as a producer, you spread it on the table, examine it from all sides and figure out how you're going to attack the obstacles. Even with something like the music video for Common and Jordan and "Beta 7," you have to figure out how you're going to do it for the money, how to turn everybody's no into a yes. It's a different set of problems with each of those things, just like a TV production presents a different set of problems every time. Obviously new media presents a lot of challenges—with Common, from certain people's perspective it was a music video, from a client's perspective, yes, it's a video, but it's basically their showcase for their clothing and they were paying for it, so it's about mitigating that kind of diplomatic situation. That definitely comes into play a bit more with new media.
"Beta 7"—was that your first project of that kind?
TS Yes, I would have to dig into my brain to talk about it because I think I've blocked a lot of that out (laughs). But it was really interesting, really challenging because we'd come in in the morning, somene would have said something online that either triggered an idea for the creatives to do something new. Every day you're brainstorming about a new possible direction you could possibly take, based on the interaction with people going online.
Are there key skills you need for that particular type of project?
TS I think that the skills really are the same. Any time you're approaching a project there are going to be areas you're not going to understand, whether it's some aspect of digital compositing or interactive and you've got to get on the phone, talk to people who are experts, educate yourself and take it one step at a time until—voila!—three months later, you're finished. There are always going to be aspects of what you're trying to do that you're not an expert in or you haven't encountered before. Being an agency producer, you're at the center of everything that's going on at the agency. You need to understand the lay of the land and steer things in the right direction. Every project has something you haven't encountered before. Otherwise, you'd be so bored in the job. That's how you get good, encountering different problems, surmounting them, taking a little piece of each job and applying it to the next job.
What is the most important aspect of being a producer?
TS I see a lot of producers and they just get things done, go through the motions. I think a good producer is also someone who adds something to the project. At any point in time during the project, the account team is getting battered by the client, the creative team is trying to grapple with an aspect of the idea they may have to lose because of money, etc. It's important as a producer to have the attitude that you can get things done, but also provide that little bit of an x factor to helping the project.
What are your favorite projects?
TS I really enjoy the ESPN brand campaign because they're fun ideas that you just go out and get done. After doing something like a music video, it's nice to do just a straight production, where everyone has fun and no one's fighting.
Hannah Murray Broadcast Producer, McCann Erickson/ San Francisco
Only 29 and in the commercials producing game for a mere five years, Hannah Murray has already made significant strides in the business. She started as the receptionist at San Francisco's Black Rocket (now known as Heat) in 1998, straight out of college, worked in account management in 1999, and then moved into broadcast production in 2000—where she had the good fortune to work on prominent campaigns for Yahoo, Musco Olives and Lucky Magazine. In fact, her very first campaign comprised the three spots that Bob Kerstetter shot for Musco, which nailed him the DGA commercials award in 2001. She also produced the Yahoo "Dolphin" spot, directed by Erich Joiner, which ran on the 2002 Super Bowl. She moved on to McCann in 2003, where clients include Microsoft, Stubhub and Hotwire, among others. Her most recent project is the elaborate effects-fest called "Joy," for the Xbox 360. (Terry Kattleman)
Career Highlights Musco Olives, Yahoo, Xbox
Describe the role of the producer today—how has the job evolved?
HM The changing media environment has forced agency producers to become more versatile. You need to know how best to produce things for all types of media—from online flash banners to HD cinema spots.
Describe a recent producing challenge.
HM We just shot an Xbox brand spot in Shanghai. We had a tight budget and a fast turnaround time, plus our team scattered all over the globe. During the prepro, one of the creatives was in Buenos Aires, the account director was in San Francisco, the account planner was in New York, the clients were in London and we were in Shanghai.
What's the single biggest challenge of the job?
HM Keeping everyone happy.
When it comes to negotiating budgets for TV or for any medium, for that matter, are budget situations getting worse?
HM I don't think budgets are necessarily getting worse—they've been lean for a while. But I do feel that turnaround times are getting tighter and tighter.
How much is creativity a part of your job?
HM It's a huge part. Every project is different, so there are always new obstacles that you have to find your way around. And generally the way around them is not the first or even the second way you think it's going to be.
How do you keep up with new talent? Where do you find interesting new directors, editors and effects people?
HM It's hard to keep up, but I always get a crash course in new talent when I'm prepping a low-budget, high-concept project. Talking to reps and other agency producers is key, as is reading the trades to see who's doing cool spec work.
Outside of budget constraints, what else might compel you to go with someone fresh vs. someone more established?
HM Normally, agency producers are not the ones who make the final decision on who to go with—we can influence the decision but there are a lot of other people involved. But, hypothetically, if that were to happen, I'd want to talk to someone, preferably an agency producer who has worked with the director before.
If you weren't producing, what would you be doing for a living?
HM I'd be an animal behaviorist.
Eric Voegele Senior Producer, Modernista
Eric Voegele took his first steps in advertising at TBWA/Chiat/Day/L.A., where he started out as a wide-eyed assistant to executive producer Jennifer Golub. Initially, he'd aimed for a career in the edit bay, but Golub and others within the agency convinced the aspiring editor to try his hand at producing. Soon enough, Voegele was steering the agency's memorable campaigns for Earthlink and Playstation. Now, as a senior producer at Modernista, Voegele has to his credit acclaimed work like Hummer's "Monster" and the new Napster campaign. (Richard Ho)
Career Highlights Hummer "Monster," PS2: "Gravity Bomb,""Tractor Beam," "Consequences"
How would you describe your role as a producer?
EV On a good day, I'm a creative third wheel of sorts. I don't sit there and force ideas on guys, but I get to sit with the team and work out those up-in-the-air creative questions, which I love. But it's more than that, because producers are the liaison between the agency and the production companies. If we can handle the politics, the budgeting and the scheduling, and on top of that have great taste in directors and music and be a constructive creative help, then that's the whole deal.
Given the industry's shift toward reaching audiences through different media, do you feel that your role has changed?
EV A lot of companies are scrambling to make producers part of the creative department to address questions like, "Will this spot end up on a cell phone?" But I personally don't think the shift is as dramatic as people make it out to be. I still feel TV is the best medium, because it's what I love to do. When I see a great spot, it still moves me, and it's still a really neat thing in our culture. I think people around the water cooler spend more time talking about a TV ad than a website for paper towels. And even if the 30-second spot died tomorrow, I wouldn't be nervous for my job, because we'd still need to produce new content.
Does it help having much bigger TV budgets from clients like Hummer, compared to the budgets you had for the Ratchet & Clank spots for PlayStation?
EV Well, those PlayStation budgets, while not nearly as healthy as a Hummer budget, were more than enough to get the job done. Plus, on PlayStation, [creative director] Jerry Gentile was very supportive of letting us work with some fairly unknown talent—and I can say the same for Modernista. With Hummer, it's not like we need to have a guy who's shot cars before. The client is so open-minded to letting you take risks and work with people who may not have the A-list reels, which is pretty unheard of. Of course, "Monster" is a bad example, because we got Noam Murro, who to me is one of the top five directors to ever work in advertising.
Speaking of "Monster," when did you realize you had something special on your hands?
EV I saw the board and honestly, I was slightly depressed, because I thought, "This may be the best commercial I ever get to produce." That spot was just a slam dunk. It's rare to get to work on something that's so brilliant and funny, and to have people like Noam Murro and Spike Jonze sniffing around your board. When you go to work with that feeling that you're on the cusp of something great, there's nothing like that.
Do you sometimes wonder, "How are they letting me do this for a living?"
EV Absolutely. Shooting with an Amazonian tribe in Brazil for PlayStation was definitely like that. There were moments when I was sitting in this tropical rain forest, thinking, "Are you kidding me?"
If you weren't producing, what would you be doing?
EV Something entrepreneurial. I'm the kid who changed his mind about what he wanted to be every three months—I've wanted to be a baseball player, and I've wanted to be a dentist. But I think that's what makes great producers. If there are other jobs out there where you can be a dilettante the way I am and still make your way, I'd love to hear about it—just so I have a back-up.
Brigette Whisnant Senior Producer, Fallon/Minneapolis
Brigette Whisnant's entry into a career as an agency producer came from a desire to work in the architectural icon that was Chiat/Day's original office. Since then, she's found that persistence and hard work have helped her navigate the changing creative landscape. In 2003, she began producing at Fallon, working on long-term internet-based projects like last year's Amazon Films and this year's Nordstrom "Silverscreen" campaign, both featuring branded online shorts shot by the some of the industry's top directing talents. Driven by a love for people and projects, Whisnant talks about communication and creativity. (Melanie Shortman)
Career Highlights Amazon Films, Nordstrom "Silverscreen"
How did you become a producer?
BW I got into advertising because I love architecture and I walked past the binocular building on Main Street in Venice, where I was living at the time. The building is exquisite, a Frank Gehry building with a Claes Oldenburg sculpture of binoculars in front of it. I had sold some advertising space in college, and found out that that building was an advertising agency, and I thought, "I could produce television commercials," because I liked that building so much. I actually started out as an editorial assistant at the in-house editing facility because there were no openings in production. Nobody was leaving and Richard [O'Neill] said, "This is the only thing I have in the department. Work your butt off and you can become a producer." I did that for a year and a half, maybe, and then finally got the opportunity to become an associate producer working under Elaine [Hinton] first and then Richard, who promoted me to producer.
What is the role of the producer?
BW The agency producer is really the nucleus of this atom, to use a lame analogy. You're the center of the project making sure that everyone is on the same page. I feel like I'm very much the project manager, making sure that everyone is in the loop.
Has that changed at all as clients have demanded that agencies reach audiences in different ways?
BW I think that the distance between a producer and the client has diminished. And that's great, as long as everyone is kept aware of conversations. We used to never see a client until we got on set. That's changed a lot—we're more of a team now. I think producers are brought in much earlier. It's great because you can present a cohesive project from the beginning. I think there are better client-agency relationships in this sense.
How much is creativity a part of your job?
BW I always felt, being raised under Richard and Elaine's tutelage at Chiat, that you have to be a creative producer. It isn't just about getting from point A to point B, it's how can I make it better from point A to point B, how to help it evolve.
How do you find new talent?
BW A lot of it has to do with finding companies and people who won't nickel and dime you, and who will say, "We love this project and believe in it and are willing to work with you." That's worth its weight in everything. I think that is what I look for. I know that certain companies will go the distance if they love the idea, get behind it and get it done right. We'll figure out the financials along the way.
In a project like Nordsrom "Silverscreen" that extends over many months and way past sixty seconds, what are the challenges for a producer?
BW I think of how many times I had two-day shoots for a :60 and now it's a two day shoot for a three and a half minute video. Music videos are now made in two days. That's what their budgets allow for. It's so interesting to think that all of these things that my mind was closed off to four or five years ago can now happen. Budgets are nowhere near where they were in the nineties. For Amazon, we shot five short films last winter, and each film got two days. Crews have to move faster.
What are you working on now?
BW The next phase of films for Nordstrom "Silverscreen." They're called music stories, and feature a track for a band and a video. We're thinking of it as a short film being driven by a musical track, but the plan is for the band to take the video and infiltrate MTV or VH1 or Fuse and use it for their own purposes.
If you weren't producing, what would you do?
BW I would be an architect or an interior designer. I like having projects, and I love art and design. If I couldn't be doing what I'm doing I would love to produce pieces and places and people's homes and offices.