Mekanism: Setting the Stage for a New Media Model

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The Boys of Mekanism (L-R): Jason Harris on bass, Pete Caban on second bass, Tommy Means on vox and Ian Kovalik on pan flute
The Boys of Mekanism (L-R): Jason Harris on bass, Pete Caban on second bass, Tommy Means on vox and Ian Kovalik on pan flute Credit: Tony Bena
"Special" is one way to describe a boy in a bubble, or a man with a serious case of HAND TOSS, aka Hyper Achiever with No Direction and Tendency to Overcomplicate Situations Syndrome. It's also an apt way to characterize Mekanism, the production company behind the award-winning, emerging media campaigns in which the aforementioned characters star: the Gold Lion-honored Sega's "Monkeyball" viral effort, and the Silver Lion-awarded "Clearification," for Microsoft's Windows Vista. While notable for their high entertainment value, the campaigns are also remarkable for seamlessly traversing media platforms, from television to the web. Such fare happens to be the specialty of this curious shop, which boasts a diverse palette of skills in live action, animation and design-based production, as well as new media and creative ideation, all of which were built into the company's model from the outset.

Mekanism founder/director Tommy Means launched the shop initially as a division of San Francisco-based Complete Pandemonium in 2000 and in 2003 spun it off as a standalone entity, bringing in CEO/head of digital strategy Pete Caban, a ten-year Macromedia vet and CD/director Ian Kovalik, an animation/design maven from Hillmancurtis, Inc. At Means' former company, "we had been making these high end visual effects-driven spots, and agencies were trying to figure out how to get those online and would give us outtakes for it," he recalls. "I thought, Why don't you just storyboard for interactive at the same time as broadcast? That was the inspiration for the new company." While that may sound like a conveniently contrived creation story for a production outfit seeking to stand out in today's marketplace, "It's for real," says Mekanism President/EP Jason Harris, who joined in 2006 after running his own branded entertainment shop, Plan C, following stints at Leagas Delaney and TBWA/ Chiat/Day. "It seems so obvious now, but at the time, people didn't think that way."

The shop made good on its new era model early on in 2003 on a multichannel global campaign to relaunch Napster with Venables Bell. Directed by Kovalik, the effort brought to life the Napster kitty logo in a series of quirky animated virals that led up to a big broadcast push and went on to earn two Gold Lions at Cannes. The shop was on board from the concepting stage, all the way through production and post. "That project served as an example not only of how a campaign should be done, but it also informed the business model, of how we build business and build teams," Means explains. "Technology and storytelling are the two pillars of everything we do." And have been so on subsequent campaigns, including the direct-to-client Sega Monkeyball campaign, better known as "The True Adventures of Chad. . . The Guy Who Was So Into Super Monkey Ball Deluxe He Decided to Live in a Ball," a six-episode viral series about just that; the Demetri Martin-fronted Windows Vista launch, "Clearification" (see p. 36) with McCann—both directed by Means; as well as more recent integrated pushes for Snickers, BP, Zune and Pacific Gas and Electric. Mekanism can do excellent "standard" fare too, like the hilarious lo-fi Pac-Man Puppet Theater spot out of Mullen, which, oddly enough, went from viral to broadcast.

Depending on the project, the four partners will team up or split up, overseeing any number of the company's 25 staff of directors and producers, equally versed in traditional broadcast and new media. The company will work both directly with clients and with agencies and can step in as early as the ideation stage and stay all the way through post and content syndication to oversee new media strategy and distribution. "If we're coming up with and producing the idea, we want to make sure we close the loop and make sure it finds a home," says Harris. Part of that service includes Mekanism's proprietary syndication "dashboard," which allows agencies and clients to easily monitor what work is reaching viewers and how—kind of a like a stock tracker for new media content.

Today, Mekanism continues to diversify. Last month at the Toronto Film Festival, Means debuted his full-length feature documentary Surfwise, about the legendary eccentric surfing family led by Dr. Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, co-produced with Mark Cuban's HDNet and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. The shop is also in development on an MTV tech-driven content project around gaming that also involves the creation of a new social network. This sort of multitasking serves as the driving force behind the company. "We're most creatively fulfilled when when we're firing on all cylinders, telling a story in all these different ways," says Means.

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