Production Roundtable 2007

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John Antinori, SVP, Managing Director, Production, R/GA; Darcey Cherubini, Director of Production, JWT/N.Y.; Andrew Chinich, Head of Production, Draft FCB; Tom Dunlap, Director of Production, Wieden + Kennedy/Amsterdam; Alice Mintzer, Executive Producer, Ogilvy & Mather, N.Y.; John Noble, Director of Production, Element 79, Chicago; Josh Reynolds, Executive Producer, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco; Rupert Samuel, Director of Integrated Production, Crispin Porter + Bogusky; Bruce Wellington, Head of Broadcast, BBH/N.Y.; Charles Wolford, Head of Production, Modernista!, Boston Creativity: Everyone in this room has a lot of experience. What's changed from being a producer 20 years ago?

Rupert Samuel
Rupert Samuel
Rupert Samuel: Everyone talks a lot about media and the changes, but the producers you bring on board are going to be facilitators who know how to make things happen. They're going to work out how to do it if they're intelligent and have production skills, so I don't think the essence of production has changed, myself.

Bruce Wellington: The scope of responsibility has changed, though. We have to be creative partners, but also the business of producing assets for clients has so dramatically changed. There's so much to consider business-wise, with contracts, IP, ownership and shared assets across digital and broadcast. It's enormous responsibility compared to 20 years ago.

John Noble: I agree. I've been a head of broadcast for almost eight years now, but I'm finding my role to be almost like a purveyor of possibilities. My clients look to me now-"Can we do this, John?" As Bruce said, it's a lot more on all of our plates than it was before, but it is exciting.

Darcey Cherubini: From my perspective, production hasn't changed. But in terms of the role of agency producers, it's actually more like a merging of a film producer, with a TV producer, a music producer and an advertising producer.

Rupert: The way we look at people at CPB you have to have all those deals when you come on board.

Josh Reynolds: With all those extra mediums, I think these days
Josh Reynolds
Josh Reynolds
producers have to be much more technically diverse. When you're hiring in broadcast, people who understand After Effects, editing, how to take a camera out and create a piece, become much more valuable because you can have a three-person team, the creative team and a producer, producing video, shooting and cutting inexpensively.

Rupert: The way we've always done it at Crispin is you have a team of people that draw from each other. So I already have a line producer on board, we have editors that can shoot, do After Effects. Whether you're going to outsource or take some things on personally depends on the scope.

Bruce: I think people who have some experience at the top need to be active in that. Then you can let the people who are your regular day to day people go ahead, do things baptism by fire, work in tandem, a team approach.

Tom Dunlap: We have a process we go through whenever we evaluate a project- the way we select the vendors, select a director, it applies to everything you know, whether it's interactive, an event, a television commercial, content. You apply your process, and it works.

John Antinori:A creative director asked how a new senior person I brought in was doing. I said, "She fills voids." When I bring new people in and they say, "How do you succeed here?" I say, "Fill the voids. Recognize them and fill them."

John N.: How are you finding your senior people? We bring in lots of interns. Then we find out right away, with the baptism by fire thing, that they'll rise to the top.

Alice Mintzer: Any of us are only going to be as good as the people that we're supported by. All the young people are so fascinating. I learn so much from them. They IM, write their reports, talk on speaker phone and have music blasting and do well in school. They're just programmed differently than we are, and I think we can learn a lot from them.

Charles Wolford: I drag young producers every single place I go. I literally bring them to shoots and to edits with me and make them do exactly what I'm doing, this contract, that estimate or this calendar. Over time it just starts to seep in and you can quickly tell who's going to make it or not.

John N.: My young people, they're living, breathing, the internet. I think we're spectators, late adaptors. I go onto YouTube as sort of a spectator, but the young people we hire are living it. In our meetings when I started, they encouraged young people to speak up, but it was like, "OK, let the young person speak up." But in our meetings now, we need our young people to speak up because of the fresh thinking.

Alice: The younger producers, I want them to feel like they're very much a part of the creative team. But I think that they come in feeling like they don't have the freedom to make mistakes, and that's crazy.

Creativity: Do you guys have formal, institutionalized training? There's the clich‚ that everybody's doing more, there's no time for training anymore and there are more junior producers doing bigger jobs, so on and so forth.

Charles Wolford
Charles Wolford
Charles: Something I started doing when I was [at Wieden in] Amsterdam was team together myself, the executive producer, maybe a senior producer and a P.A. It worked really well because I would make sure things were going properly, but the younger producers got the opportunity to do things, and then over time they just grow.

Tom: I give my young people mood videos and smaller radio projects, and let them immerse themselves. Give them little things to figure out and they come back and ask questions.

Josh: You can tell when somebody gets it or not within the first couple days. They're like, "I'm not going to the holiday party, I'll go sleep on my cousin's couch in L.A. so I can be on the shoot." That's somebody I'm going to spend my time with. When someone's like, "Uh, I don't know, I have to do something this weekend," they're gone.

John A.: We had some rapid growth and too many people were missing some real basic stuff around process, so we had to put in some amount of orientation and light training just to on board people better. We filmed a bunch of people talking about what makes a good producer, and a lot of the creatives said the best producers are the ones who have a point of view on the work, and can actively engage with me and be a partner.

Creativity: Does the production talent you look for have to have a background in interactive, or is that something you can train somebody in?

Rupert: You can train people in it. We have the integrated department, where you have TV producers as well as interactive producers, but everyone kind of molds together. We all team together and figure out ways to get it done. We're like triage the whole time.

Bruce: I think there's also the responsibilities of managers to protect. Protecting them is a big part of the job. You've got to make sure you give them assignments that are not going to drown them, because the minute they drown, they're done. Creatives don't want to work with them anymore.

Rupert: Plus you'll get your ass kicked as well.

Bruce: In London, there's a formalized two-year program, and it's done by what would be our AICP. I was saying to Matt Miller, it might be worthwhile for the senior people in the industry to participate in some kind of formalized thing where we all contribute to the growth of junior people. Nobody at BBH can be a P.A. until they've gone through that program. It's really run by the production companies and it's one of those things I'd love to leave as a legacy and if you guys are interested in doing it, I think it would be great. I don't know if I'd model it after theirs. The London thing is too long and too slow.

Darcey: Just talking about America, it seems to me the role of senior people in production in agencies now is part career management and part production management. I think most people who are in senior positions in agencies tend to also be hands-on producing. We're the most fluid we've ever been, we're running really lean and we're putting out way much more. And a lot of it, without creatives. You said before, you have a team of three, two creatives and a producer. I reckon, fuck that. Let's get down to two people and make it truly cooperative. I obviously believe that the creative department is being afforded a luxury that the industry can no longer support.

Bruce Wellington
Bruce Wellington
Bruce: I think the business model is changing. The jobs are getting longer but the fees are not changing. Everyone just wants to stay with those traditional fee models, so resources and profitability come into play for agencies. Can we really afford three people allocated to one project? Profitability comes into play with these jobs. But I don't think clients are receptive to a new model to how they compensate the agency.

Rupert: We've always figured out ways to work around that. Momentum is the key to everything. You've got to keep moving and shaking, and that prevents clients from being in the position to overthink everything. It's a little haywire and crazy, but it bloody works. And things don't last for six months, they last for a month because that's all the time we have. That's the way we've always done it.

Creativity: What happens when you have to factor in all the new media? Who's doing more of that and how does that figure into the business aspect of things?

Andrew Chinich: That's a really interesting question because all the branded entertainment and content is literally outside the box. It's not hallowed ground, so 99 percent of what I do in that area is outside the agency. The contracts that the company makes are in a certain box, the financial perameters put you within a box, meaning there are no job numbers. I don't have staff who do that, there's no people to allocate time to it, so it's really a dilemma on that level.

John N: A lot of us are doing above and beyond, our vendors are as well. I think everyone around the table has asked a vendor for a favor. Our vendors have been amazing throughout this whole process, and once this thing finally gets weeded out and we find a way to monetize, I hope we can pay them back.

Creativity: When does that get weeded out? You say the jobs go on forever, there are more things you're doing, and the vendors do seem like they're doing more too.

Rupert: They do get compensated, though, I think. Everyone always says, oh the poor vendors-I do love you vendors, I swear to god. You're going to triple bid this thing like you do with anything else, and there are production companies that have setups now to be able to facilitate that, but I also have a setup at the agency, with about ten people who are solely there to do everything that we need internally. You charge a fee, it's just like bidding out a job as you would line produce it yourself, but we'll make it work within that budget. Most of the times I've found production companies will work out a way to do it, especially if you're talking to a ton of them. And it's not like there's no money there, there is money there.

Josh: Well the ideas are really strong too. It's funny-what's the best way to save money? A really strong creative concept.

Creativity: The idea of bringing production in house, how much of that is going to become a necessary reality? Jeff [Goodby] talks a lot about it.

Josh: We don't do nearly as much as these guys [Crispin] do, but we are doing a lot of it. We have a huge postproduction department, a lot of people on staff who can take video and stuff like that. We hire directors, like Mike Maguire was on staff for a year and a half, and the creative director, writer, director thing was very successful. The work was strong, the directing was strong and our clients got great deals.

Rupert: We have a studio now in our Boulder office, a huge facility. We've got a lift, you can bring cars into it, you can shoot anything inside. We're 3D scanning everything right now. Anything you want to use in terms of your intellectual property, whatever your product is, we now have the capabilities to turn it into a 3D model, which you can then use in print, TV or whatever. We're trying to make ourselves very applicable to the whole future.

Josh: Are you taking on bigger jobs? Most of the stuff we do in-house, when a vendor or outside vendor can't pull it off we'll do it.

Rupert: We will triple bid ourselves internally, because we figure we've got a better capability than some other people right now.

John A.: We built a visual studio across the street from our main office and it's got a soundstage, an audio studio and some editing suites, and we'll do a similar thing, where we'll triple bid it and our internal group will be one of the bidders as well. The other piece we're adding is computer graphics, an animation capability. We've done some fairly, several minute long animations for a couple of clients recently that are narrative, but are also starting to use that more for interface elements.

Tom Dunlap
Tom Dunlap
Tom: It has to be the right job, though, to come in house. In Amsterdam, we had an editorial facility and we're opening up an online digital finishing facility, but only for certain things. We do adaptations and versioning, but I wouldn't take my big marquee projects there, because I want to go to the guy that's right for the job. That's very important to us to maintain that creative edge.

Rupert: One thing that everyone needs is talent. You're not going to have Spike Jonze in house. Fantastic comedy directors are the hardest people to find.

Alice: I had to do an experiment two years ago, where I was asked to see if we could cut our editorial by 20 percent. I called up a few people and asked if I could meet with them, said that we were asked to significantly reduce our editorial budget on some work, you all talk together. I will not dictate the creative fees. All four of them came back with great rates. I've been finding this more with production companies, editors, and the graphic companies, that they are willing to work it out. If you have a wonderful creative idea and it's too expensive, you have to go back to the creatives and say, we just don't have the money. Because clients aren't really budging on the budgets. I've had clients ask for money back, even before a job is actualized.

Josh: You have to manage the careers on the internal side as well because sometimes [clients] will just take advantage of it. Last year we did this one project that just kept going and going and three producers were on it. When they actually looked at what the time of staff was to do it, it created a big issue where we had to completely change how we billed everything. And now it's run really strictly. If it's creative research, or idea videos we're doing just for ourselves, we have to budget those now.

Creativity: All this stuff going in-house, that's kind of an evolution of where the agency is going. What about production companies? Where do they have to be in the next five years?

Rupert: I think we're going to rely on their directors forever in terms of bringing their creativity to the table. I think they just have to position themselves to facilitate more.

John Noble
John Noble
John N.: I'm really digging the guys who shoot and participate through the postproduction very much like they do overseas. I started to do that a lot more. American companies work one right after each other, job after job and I think that's going to be a tough model for them to deal with.

Rupert: I like guys like Tomorrow's Brightest Minds or Neill Blomkamp who go from soup to nuts all the way through. Those dudes who bring a lot to the table from beginning to end are going to do really well in the future. Somebody like Kevin Thomas, who we just worked with on a project from London, is an absolutely fantastic person to have on board because his process is great and we use the edit he pretty much cuts.

Charles: I think it's so strange to have somebody shoot something and not have them stay through.

Darcey: America is the only place that does it.

Andrew: I think directors have a different agenda, the right agenda, to do a great spot.

Tom: I work in a European model, but I always find I can control the dollars through post better than a production company can.

Darcey: Do you work on firm bid?

Tom: We work on firm bid for production, but not on post. Post is always cost-plus.

Charles: I believe in firm bid across the board.

Tom: In post as well?

Charles: As much as you can. And if you're fair with people you work with and it's clear you need extra money or time to do something, then you pay them for that.

Creativity: What about your thoughts on cost consultants?

Tom: Most of our clients now actually have producers on staff, like Coke, for example. I love them. It makes my job easier.

Alice Mintzer
Alice Mintzer
Alice: The one good thing about having the producers there is that at least they understand both sides. It's very helpful to have them on the shoot because they do know a lot about production. They could just be a much better arbiter.

Tom: Especially in the bidding process too.

Darcey: I think by and large, cost consultants as such, are completely obsolete in this day and age. There's just no fucking money. Cost consultants are a waste of time, a huge delay tactic.

Creativity: Can we talk about some of the interesting projects you've done-from some of you here we've seen video games, a TV show. . .

Rupert: The video games we did for BK, two of my guys are big gaming guys and ran the whole show. I put them both in charge along with some interactive guys, and then we teamed them up with Xbox to make everything happen. In the end we got a really good product out of it because we put very talented people that know about that world within that network.

Creativity: How do you oversee a project like that, what's the budgeting like?

Rupert: We do a lot of pretending that we know what we're talking about. It's the same essence. There's going to be left turns, right turns, downhills, uphills, but unless you go past that start line, you're never going to learn.

John Antinori
John Antinori
John A.: A lot of our budgets have R&D components. The challenge is you have to set an expectation for the budget, you have to keep control of your internal team, but you also have to admit, there is a risk factor here.

Darcey:How many would you say will never ever be able to cross over and handle interactive mixed media? Everybody always talks about a few people who can do this and I actually think it's inverse. I think there's only a percentage of people who can not do this. But we have people who are basically falling apart, and they're going further into other areas of the industry rather than be confronted with something that they're too anxious about because of all the hype. I would say it's between 10 and 15 percent.

Darcey Cherubini
Darcey Cherubini
Rupert: I think the hype is overrated. I really do.

Darcey: Absolutely, and I'm interested in putting the kibosh on it.

Rupert: Yeah because everybody talks about the new way, the new production, but you know what it is? It's just shooting something that's a little bit longer, a little bit more diverse. Who gives a shit? It's exactly what we know how to do.

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