Production Company of the Year: Smuggler

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Creatively speaking, 2010 was a tough year. Looking back on the overall output of spots alone, it was apparent that fewer interesting opportunities presented themselves, with the more daring and flavorful work distributed sparsely across the reels of all the production players. So it was quite the accomplishment for Smuggler to present the portfolio it did in 2010. The two-time winner of Creativity's Production Company of the Year honor (2004 and 2007) rose to the top of the list again this year, not just for producing some of the best ads, but also for its fine balance of top production player offerings: a forward-thinking approach, fluency in nontraditional, outside-the-lines production, and ambitious experimentation in areas beyond the advertising and marketing world.

Spots-wise, Smuggler stood out in 2010. Its directors demonstrated expertise across the gamut of genres, and compared to previous years, "I think the scale of the work we did was different," says Smuggler Partner and Executive Producer Patrick Milling Smith. "It's been a pretty consistent part of our growth as a company. The directors have gained more experience, many have taken on bigger productions, and above all, we've stayed the course in pushing to get more value on the screen for the money spent."

If productions were strapped financially, it was hard to tell from the reel. Brian Beletic was in peak form juggling multiples in a balletic dance of Mini Coopers in "Flow" (BSUR, Amsterdam) and in the mesmerizing "Human Chain" for Nike (Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.). He picked up the sports brand's pace even further on the multisport "Boom" brand campaign, starring a range of athletes, from Bo Jackson to Manny Pacquiao, alongside high-school players and celebrities.

Ringan Ledwidge, who signed to Smuggler's roster in '09, stretched from the poetic and soulful Puma "After Hours" spot (Droga5), which celebrated the brand's different kind of athlete, to more character-driven fun in Being's Mr. Peanut resurrection campaign for Planters. Produced along with animation house Laika, the series of spots brought back the famous legume as a smart-talking spokes icon, voiced by Robert Downey Jr.

Speaking of animation, Smuggler's profile remained top of mind in the category thanks to the experts at Psyop. The team brought sultry, slo-mo art to the gorgeous "Revolution" spot for Xbox/"Fable III" and quirky characterizations to Converse's "All Summer" music video (Anomaly), and then leveled up on the whimsical "Whole New World" 3-D spot for AT&T (BBDO, New York).

Meanwhile, Henry-Alex Rubin had a nonstop year. The documentary expert landed among the most-decorated directors on Creativity's annual Awards Report for his work on American Legacy Foundation and Best Buy's Twelpforce, and continued to hone his chops on some of the year's more compelling outside-the-box initiatives. He was on call for Renault's "Megane Experiment" (Publicis, London), an integrated campaign starring the fictional actor "Claude," who attempts to bring "joie de vivre" to the Megane-less town of Gisburn, Lancashire. He also staged some hidden camera action for Mullen's Jet Blue "You Above All" campaign, which placed cab passengers in cramped situations to illustrate the airline's roomier flight experience. Continuing his fast-food run with Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the director moved on from Domino's "Pizza Turnaround" campaign of last year to the "Show Us Your Pizza" effort, a massive call to action to Domino's eaters to photograph their own delicious-looking pies for a new print campaign.

The rest of the roster round out the package further: laughs aplenty came from Guy Shelmerdine for Snickers' "Grocery Store Lady" and Skittles' "Plant" and Randy Krallman for; Adam Berg imparted visual thrill to Gatorade's "Float" and Jordan Brand's "Nightmares Never Sleep"; while Filip Engstrom brought seamless transitions to a spot for Wii Fit, out of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Beyond the ad world, the company ramped up its long-form production arm Smuggler Films, currently in development on a variety of theater and film projects. Come this spring, Smuggler Films plans to launch the stage version of the music "Once," on Broadway, written by Enda Walsh ("Hunger") and directed by John Tiffany ("Black Watch"). It's also currently working with screenwriter William Monahan ("The Departed," "Body of Lies") on a remake of the Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton classic "Becket," and Oscar-nominated writer Will Davis is in the process of adapting A.M. Homes' novel "This Book Will Save Your Life," for a film with Ivan Zacharias attached to direct. All the company's 2010 efforts boil down to "the same set of rules and goals as the past - to stay relevant, keep everyone excited and have a culture that makes us all motivated and happy," says Mr. Milling Smith. And equally important, when it comes to choosing what work to devote time and resources, it's not about interesting projects for interesting projects' sake. "It's all about the potential of the idea in reaching the most eyeballs," says Partner and Executive Producer Brian Carmody. "If we're not going to get visibility, it's very often not worth breaking the bank to make it happen."

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