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Production Roundtable

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Participants: Matt Bijarchi, Sally-Ann Dale, Mike Geiger, Vince Genovese, Bill Goodell, Amanda Kelso, Vic Palumbo, Lora Schulson, Tony Stearns, Eric Voegele and Scott Wassmer
Participants: Matt Bijarchi, Sally-Ann Dale, Mike Geiger, Vince Genovese, Bill Goodell, Amanda Kelso, Vic Palumbo, Lora Schulson, Tony Stearns, Eric Voegele and Scott Wassmer Credit: Chris Cassidy
Creativity: Matt, talk about what you're doing at CAA.

Matt Bijarchi: It's a talent agency, obviously. I guess the biggest success of the marketing group thus far has been Transformers, which was born of a corporate relationship with Hasbro. They were asking us as their entertainment partner, "What should we do to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the Transformer toy?" We said, "Make a movie." Steven Spielberg apparently was a fan of the toy and wanted to get into that genre, so he E.P.'d it, and then they brought in Michael Bay—who is not a CAA client—to direct. I think it's grossed $800 million worldwide. One could argue it's a two hour commercial for the toy. The second biggest success was American Idol for Coca-Cola. What we do is what we call strategic content, whether that falls into building a show, building live events, or any number of possible executions.

Creativity: What about your role? You're no longer a producer, right?

Matt: As a talent agency, we ourselves can't produce. We broker relationships on behalf of our clients. With Smuggler, for example, we did some short films for eBay which haven't been released yet. They're sort of akin to the Sony Dreams films, a lovely story loosely associated with the brand, to promote it in the broadest sense. We brokered the relationship between the production company and the marketer.

Vic Palumbo: So you broker the deal but then your client pays Smuggler directly?

Matt: Correct, and there's no AICP, which is scary. Instead, there are entertainment lawyers brokering a 24-page, mind-boggling production service agreement between the two, because it's all new.

BBH, N.Y.'s Amanda Kelso
BBH, N.Y.'s Amanda Kelso
Lora Schulson:What were the budgets like?

Matt: Not like yours. We haven't been able to quantify anything yet. There's no metrics. Without metrics you can't demand a certain dollar amount.

Creativity: With advertisers getting more interested in this sort of marketing, branded entertainment—how has that affected your roles and your departments?

Amanda Kelso: You have to be more of a generalist, meaning that if you were just used to building out websites or TV spots, now you have to be expert at doing installations, Facebook applications, mobile phone applications. You have to be up on what the emerging technologies are, how they work and how they're relevant for your clients.

Sally-Ann Dale: It always used to end when you got the spot out. Now, that's just the beginning, Once you've created a destination, you have to get it out there.

Vince Genovese: Going out and shooting something, you're harvesting the footage and then you come back, throw it on the table, and once it gets there, who takes over? [To Mike Geiger] I've always been interested in what you guys are doing at Goodby—it seems like you have clear delineation, you're probably very integrated, but. . .

BBH's Amanda Kelso and McCann Worldwide's Vince Genovese
BBH's Amanda Kelso and McCann Worldwide's Vince Genovese
Mike Geiger: I'm personally not a big believer in full integration, especially if you have a big project. You need a fulltime broadcast producer, a fulltime interactive producer, maybe you need a fulltime producer who does installation work. All the producers will have knowledge of more mediums, but it's still going to be separated. There's no way one producer is going to do it all.

Vince: We did a lot of work with AKQA on projects, in particular the Xbox and Halo 3 launch and it worked really well. They were the experts in the webspace and there's no way it would have been as successful if I, calling myself an integrated producer, tried to spearhead that.

Scott Wassmer: Even at AKQA, we've started separating it. We're an interactive agency but I've hired full broadcast producers. There's so much video online now that I can't expect the interactive producers to be able to do that well. Broadcast has become a huge part of what we do.

Vic: When we have a project that we know is going to go out into these different mediums, I try to bolt together an interactive producer and a broadcast producer, and within our pool of producers there are people who want to know how to produce these different kinds of medium.

Arnold's Bill Goodell
Arnold's Bill Goodell
Bill Goodell: At Arnold we have TV producers, interactive producers, all under one roof, so there is a lot of integration, but it seems sometimes the interactive projects never end. Your interactive producer almost becomes your post producer, who's managing the content that came in. The assistant producers who are coming in who have flash skills, have built their own websites, they're probably the next generation of producers.

Scott: I have producers who know nothing about PR but would have to figure out how to get a street team together or build an installation, now that everything's integrating.

Creativity: How would AKQA's production department differ from Goodby's—an interactive agency versus a full service agency that is strong on interactive?

Mike: We don't do production in house. We outsource everything. We have a couple production people, but we never build a complete site in-house. We have a pool of about 50 production companies just for interactive. "Get the Glass" was all North Kingdom. The cool thing with them is they're also great designers.

Scott: That's definitely the biggest difference, we have full in-house teams that are retained by our clients, everything from account management all the way to development. Probably 90 percent of the work is done in house. But we have a few companies we'd outsource to, depending on what we need to do if it's really specialized.

Creativity: Tony, what's your department like? You worked on an adidas project that spanned television and interactive.

Modernista's Eric Voegele
Modernista's Eric Voegele
Tony Stearns: What we've been doing over the last year on adidas has been very reality-based, documentary-style content, where we've been working with our athletes to tell their own stories. So we've had to kind of set up a model where you have a fully integrated shoot. In a limited space of time you have to capture TV, print, interactive, retail, all the way down the line. We've usually got about four hours to do it, and it's a big coordinated effort across departments, and also working with partner agencies, digital, retail. Ultimately it's like you have to use all the parts of the buffalo. There seems to be kind of unlimited use for the materials we capture. What used to be a TV shoot has given us almost a feature film's length worth of video content.

Creativity: Are the budgets reflecting that?

Tony: It's basically more for less. Commercial production used to have a reputation for being cushy, luxurious. I think the broadcast guys are starting to see the digital guys have their day a little bit, and the big TV commercial, at least at the moment, isn't really in vogue.

Scott: I think one of the big parts of it is being able to create a campaign that does broadcast, interactive and print using the same kind of materials. Look at the Xbox 360 campaign for Halo 3.

Vince: That's a good example—we started out and there was this big TV spot. There was a diorama, we were shooting this battle scene of Halo soldiers, then we decided to make webfilms of the soldiers themselves. That's the part I did working with AKQA. People really gravitated to the website, which was done with the footage we harvested from the shoot.

Sally-Ann: But you still had to get great footage. That's where I think clients get confused. You still need the money to make something. And for seeding it, they have like $50. It's almost like how the music budget used to be. You want to create this amazing thing, but nobody sees it. It's so hard.

From left: McCann's Genovese, Tony Stearns of 180 Amsterdam, Droga5's Dale and Scott Wassmer of AKQA
From left: McCann's Genovese, Tony Stearns of 180 Amsterdam, Droga5's Dale and Scott Wassmer of AKQA
Creativity: Do you guys hire seeding companies, or do you have in-house seeders?

Amanda: We do it in-house. We did this website this summer called Mentos Intern, a collaboration between broadcast and digital. We spent all this time going to forums, bloggers, posting photos on Flickr, and putting up a group on Facebook. It does drive traffic, but it takes a ton of time. And clients don't really realize that. One of the things we're trying to do is articulate that both internally and hopefully externally—best practices and how to do it because it is such a new field. Now when we get briefs we demand that planners provide us with metrics for success upfront because that affects how you seed. For example, if you buy a homepage takeover on YouTube, you can get over a million views in one day.

Mike: I'm a firm believer in if your site or your viral media is good, you don't need seeding. YouTube, yeah you get a million hits, but you paid for it.

Amanda: I disagree, actually. I feel like it's important to at least do something. Maybe it's giving you a seeding budget of $10,000 and doing a buy on Stumbleupon or doing a few minor things to pump it. It doesn't hurt to help it.

Lora Schulson of TBWA/Chiat/Dat, N.Y.
Lora Schulson of TBWA/Chiat/Dat, N.Y.
Mike: As a creative person, or maybe an outsider, to me, it's somewhat fake.

Vic: What's the difference between buying a Google or YouTube page and putting your spot on primetime Thursday night? It's really like a media buy. I think that clients think, If you can get me on the front page of Google, I'll pay for that and then see where it goes from there.

Matt: Sally, you were head of production at Publicis. Droga5 has gotta be a much different experience. How big are you guys?

Sally-Ann: We're now about 40, in a year, so it's grown pretty quick. We have heads of the departments—integrated, digital, me. On every job we all sit together and we put the relevant people on it. So it is different. We have people that can edit film, do installations, we have a lot of that in-house.

Creativity: Lora, what's it like working on Skittles, all those great spots?

Lora: It's funny to actually talk about TV, because I'm sitting here thinking, TV is dead! (Laughter) I was at an awards show with Ian Reichenthal, one of the creative directors, and he said, "Well, TV may be dead, but we finally mastered it!" Everytime I'm given a script, I can't believe that's something we're actually gonna produce. And that the clients are going to allow us to do it. On Combos, we shot 6 spots in a day for $200,000 all in through post. Every production company wanted to do it practically for free. But you can only go to someone so many times, saying, "I have no money and no time." As producers you definitely have to have a lot of numbers in your iPhone or Rolodex. You just have to know who's good out there, who's hungry, who's willing to do new things, come up with new ideas or more creative approaches.

Creativity: How are you finding directing talent? There are the usual suspects, but then there's the crop of new directors who can do effects, editing, animation, live action—how important are those people becoming to you?

Scott: My first question to that is how well do they do it? In resumes now, some people say, "I have 15 different skillsets and I'm expert in all of them." I don't believe it. I think there are very few people in this world who have the talent to be able to pull the entire breadth off.

Lora: There are also so many facets to each project that you can have an A-list guy direct a commercial, but then you have all these little components. At Smuggler you can have Ivan [Zacharias] shooting one thing and then have Jun [Diaz], who's new to the roster, shoot something like a webfilm. He's amazing but needs to be given a chance and [the production company] wants to put the money into a guy like that.

Mike Geiger of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Mike Geiger of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Creativity: How much do you rely on the production companies? Could the EP make or break whether or not you're going to work with that company again? Or is it just about the directing talent?

Vic: Every time. I also think that's where working with young talent comes from, the relationship that I have with that executive producer.

Scott: It goes the same for any kind of vendor relationship. You can throw it out to a web company and if their producer is horrible or the code in the end is horrible, you're not going to work with them again.

Vince: For me it's so frustrating when you do present to a client or there's a cost consultant involved—"What about this bid? This one's a little cheaper." There are reasons why we're not recommending them. And then they say, "Why are they in the mix if you don't trust them?" Well, because I have to triple bid it and I have five days.

Amanda: It's frustrating to use cost consultants in the interactive space because sometimes they just don't understand the space very well. You'll explain that this banner costs this amount of money because there's a game imbedded in it, there's a video. You spend a lot of time doing justification.

Sally-Ann Dale of Droga5
Sally-Ann Dale of Droga5
Creativity: Yet marketing spending is not going down. It might be coming out of TV commercials, but where's it going?

Mike: That's true, for the past two or three years, the budgets are shifting from broadcast, print, into interactive, but at the same time, there's more and more work. That's the main problem. They've increased the budget, but tripled the work.

Bill: But if you have a good relationship with the client then early on you can sit at the table with them with your account managers, CCO or CDs and figure it out. Those are the best relationships.

Amanda: On the interactive side, our budgets are going up. One reason is that the projects are becoming more and more complex. Something like gaming is going to cost a ton of money. Becoming more and more prevalent is dealing with talent costs. These costs are going to continue to grow, and so even though we were under the radar and we could do things on the cheap, as we mature as a space that's going to happen less and less.

Matt: There is a strike going, and to your point, there could be more strikes.

Mike: I actually had a question for everyone, about the future of production companies. Motion graphics, postproduction, flash, interactive—I would love to work with just one production company that does it all.

AKQA's Wassmer
AKQA's Wassmer
Creativity: Well there are production companies like Mekanism who have interactive talents on staff.

Mike: I feel like Mekanism is almost one production house of the future. They know interactive and they have a broadcast background.

Bill: We've done some Tag work with them and there's some comfort there in what they're producing. Sometimes our interactive producers will work with an interactive shop that doesn't know production and all of a sudden they come back and the audio is really bad or it was filmed in a loft that wasn't sound-proofed. You just have to make sure you're using the right shop for the right services.

Creativity: Mekanism showed us this interface that they provide. It kind of looks like a stock tracker where you can see how well a viral or website is doing—is that something your interactive departments are able to provide to clients?

Amanda: Absolutely. It depends on what the project is. If it's a website, we have analytics tools that are used to track traffic and visitors, repeats, where they're coming from and if it's a banner then we get reporting on how many people interact with it, if there's a video imbedded in it. We also use qualitative metrics—how many people are talking about it—and then we'll actually spend time figuring out what the audience base is and then create some sort of value for the placement in media dollars.

Matt: I think, in the future, a lot of television will be created online because you can do it very inexpensively, you can test it, you can build a core, passionate audience. Because they can build a fan base for $100,000, whereas if you wanted to do a pilot, it would be a much more expensive proposition.

Scott: At what point in time is broadcast and interactive gong to be the same thing?

Mike: I hate watching online, to be honest. I love my TV. I can't watch on a laptop.

Fallon's Vic Palumbo
Fallon's Vic Palumbo
EricVoegele: That's music to my ears. The more I hear about people wanting to watch stuff on a cell phone or a computer screen, the more I want to just shoot myself. I love TV. Just this year I got an HD TV and it's a new love affair in my life. I can't wait to get home.

Amanda: I have a TV this big as well, but there is no cable attached. It's a computer and I watch everything from the internet. Period.

Scott: I'm the same way. I have my Mac Mini hooked up to my television and watch Hulu through that. There's no difference whatsoever, except you don't have commercials.

Creativity: Whats the biggest challenge in your job now?

Matt: I think it's the same as everyone else, finding relevant entertainment content that fulfills brand initiatives.

Eric: We've just lost one of our ace producers to a shop across the country. It's staffing, for me.

Amanda: From the digital side it's to get as much money as possible so that we can work with the best companies. Probably the hardest thing to do is just to justify cause.

Vince: Time to do things right. And time personally, to spend with my family and see my children. I think any relationship you're in, it's hard to keep those things together and do our jobs.

Matt Bijarchi of CAA
Matt Bijarchi of CAA
Tony: Staying on top of new developments and being willing to expand into new digital or retail or whatever else. Ultimately, content is king, as they say. The medium is not the message. As a producer you have to be able to find the best way to bring a good idea to its fruition.

Sally-Ann: I feel like it's educating everybody, the director, the production company, trying to explain why this is good, why this costs so much money, why this needs to happen to make that happen. It's changing so much, for me.

Scott: It's a combination of a few things that have been said—it's really about quality, time and budget. 90% of projects don't meet all of those criteria. It's just trying to get them to get as close as you can.

Mike: Like you said, time. I wish clients would realize that you need a certain amount of time to do a good project and do it well.

Amanda: The creative model, the way it works in agencies is broken. I think the idea of pairing together an art director and copywriter and have them crack an idea does not always work with new and emerging technology. You may need an information architect, you may need a media person. I think you have to be a bit more flexible on what the word creative means and what creative development is.

Scott: We hit gold in putting together an art director, a copywriter, an information architect and motion graphics person on a project. And we saw some of the most phenomenal results that AKQA has ever gotten. It was perfect, it really was.

Lora: I definitely respect having a specialty, but if you can figure out how to create something for the internet or who the best people are to work with—it's definitely helpful because maybe it makes you think in a different way.

Vic: The biggest challenge I have once a script lands on my desk is trying to figure out how to get it over the bar we had already set. We're trying to live up to our reputation with certain clients and certain spots we've done before. But that's why I'm a producer, the challenge, to rise to that challenge. I love it.

Vince: All the pivotal spots we've done, it's sort of magic along the way. It's not necessarily what you set out to do.

Eric: Bill left early, unfortunately. He produced all the VW stuff that I can't imagine anyone in this room doesn't like. Imagine "Milky Way" on paper. That spot didn't have "Pink Moon" written into it. A bunch of kids driving around on the road, they go to a party and they don't go in. And then, magic! I constantly strive to have that kind of success.


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