The agency and production company pulled it off through what in other times would be an unconventional production process that involved providing shooting kits to talent (or those living with them) so they could film themselves at home. They also created a remote video village, involving multiple simultaneous Zoom calls, whereby the production team, agencies and clients could be there as the shoots occurred. “It was like a ‘Matrix’ of production,” says division7 Managing Director Kamila Prokop. “Each piece was feeding into each piece.”
The spot “represents a great moment where you can see how production creative is more than a commoditized skill,” says de Greve. “That took creativity that was differentiating.”
It’s quite a feat for these times, but commercial production companies have been reinventing their remit for years now. In the past, their domain had largely been confined to TV spots, but they are now being called upon to realize all kinds of ambitious ideas, whether it’s a video game, a long-form film, an experiential idea or even pulling off an entire Broadway play (as in the case of last year’s “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical,” produced by division7’s sibling Smuggler).
And while production firms have had to become even more inventive with limited resources during the pandemic, they are among the most hard-hit.
Keeping the lights on
Since the coronavirus crisis began, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, the nonprofit organization that supports the commercial production industry in the U.S., has been holding massive Zoom meetings four times a week to help assist production and post-production firms during the crisis. According to AICP President and CEO Matt Miller, one of the biggest issues weighing on the shops remains the “diminished amount of revenue coming in. How do you keep the lights on and doors open?” he says.
In late March, the AICP conducted a survey of more than 500 of its members about their concerns. Most pressing was the issue of outstanding receivables. Twenty-eight percent of the companies reported that they are owed in excess of $1 million; another 23 percent are owed between $500,000 and $1 million; and 16 percent reported they are owed between $250,000 and $500,000. Another 18 percent said they are owed between $100,000 and $250,000; the remainder was owed less than $100,000.
As the virus started to take its toll in the U.S., some of the industry’s production shops were bracing for a major impact and the likely scenario of not seeing revenue for the next three months or more.
“When you think about production companies as small businesses that aren’t owned by big holding companies, and mid-size shops that have 12 to 16 employees and nice offices, not seeing any revenue for 90 days is a real challenge,” says Diane McArter, founder of one of the industry’s high-profile production firms, Furlined, home to top directors including Dougal Wilson, Speck and Gordon and Martin + Lindsay, directors of the award-winning New York Times campaign from Droga5.
“It’s a tough time to be a company owner,” says Shawn Lacy, co-founder, partner and managing director of Biscuit Filmworks, another top production shop with an A-List roster that includes company co-founder Noam Murro, Errol Morris and Steve Rogers. “It’s been quiet because we are traditionally a live-action company. I’m hoping we’re going to be able to get back to shooting in July.”
In this strained environment, booking a job is becoming even more difficult and competitive. “We’re jumping through more hoops than ever before,” says Biscuit Executive Producer Holly Vega. “When they’re asking for all this user-generated stuff, they’re asking in addition to getting on a call and doing treatments, ‘Can you shoot a test?’ It’s an alarming trend right now. It’s more and more time to put into trying to win the job. Is that going to be a new precedent when we all come back?”
The need to innovate