Larging it in London Town

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"Larging it" is British slang, meaning to go out and party or tie one on. It is an integral part of the U.K.'s Soho-based commercials production industry's life. Most everyone there is an absolute expert in the art. They have to be. Being regarded as a "top bloke" or "top girl" as a result is the ultimate compliment. So when the story broke last month announcing the merger of two of London's best-known production companies, Stark Films and Spectre, to form Large Corporation, the double entendre inherent in the new name was lost on no one. Not quite as good as the receptionist at Frank Budgen and Chris Palmer's place answering the phone with a "Hello, Gorgeous," but it's getting there.

To those who know Bertie Miller, the decidedly dapper head of Spectre, the house that is home to the considerable talents of Daniel Kleinman, among others, the joke will come as no surprise. Miller, renowned for a tongue-in-cheek taste in bespoke tailoring that might be expected of someone whose career began as a runner on Spandau Ballet and Brian Ferry pop promos, has married a successful career, most notably at Rose Hackney Barber and Spectre, with an irrepressible sense of humor. He, like his counterparts Stephen Gash and Cathy Green, joint managing directors at Stark Films, home to the eponymous Jeff, is also aware of the statement that Large, which they term London's first "super production company" makes. They're putting their collective heads in the stocks in a community that has consistently thrown rotten tomatoes at the notion that "big is beautiful."

Five-year-old Spectre is currently the British Television Advertising Awards (BTAA) Production Company of the Year, while Stark is one of the most respected and consistently successful houses in London, which has just had three consecutive record years by volume. This is neither a huddling together for warmth in a bleak economic climate nor one successful house taking over a struggler. There is method in their largeness in a market renowned for its obsession with the new-new thing. "Our needs were different but the solution was the same," Gash says. "Stark is 12 years old, but it has matured. We have strength and depth on our roster, but would benefit a little from the edginess on their side. I was so jealous at BTAA, I can tell you." But there's more to it than that. "No production company lasts forever," Gash adds. "I have no doubt that the business is a fashion business. Creatives are always saying, 'Have you got any new directors?,' but, paradoxically, we're living in uncertain times where there's a desire to use the trusted and familiar. There's a balancing act here. We can present new talent and old under the Large umbrella."

It's difficult to argue with any of the stated motivation, but what of the notion that "big isn't beautiful" in London? Several larger American companies have found London tougher to crack than they anticipated. The London pecking order has historically been about creative standing. Put another way, everyone wants to be Gorgeous. Large has a combined turnover of an estimated $35 million, big by London standards, moderate in the U.S. Cost savings are really just a bonus. In London, how will Large break free of the "big is ugly" straitjacket? "In London, production is a business, and in the U.S. it's an industry," Miller says. "We're presenting size as an absolute positive. Obviously, we're not a huge corporation, and we're not big even now by American standards. We wouldn't even try to replicate the American model, though. We don't have the executive producers or the repping system."

What the combined company does have, however, is A-list producing talent in Miller, Gash and Green, married to a combined directors' roster that has both breadth and depth. Kleinman is clearly the star of the moment. He made his name creating pop promos for the likes of ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Prince and Madonna, and his commercials credits include the technique-heavy "Wakeboarder" for Audi; Chrysler's "Golden Gate"; and Johnnie Walker's "Fish" for Bartle Bogle Hegarty. But he's equally well known for his comedy work - as seen in spots for Milk, Super Noodles, Boddingtons, Tango and John West. Moreover, the busy Kleinman is well known in the U.K. for directing TV drama and comedies, and he's also succeeded Maurice Binder as the director of the title sequences for the James Bond movie series.

Stark was CD at London's Saatchi & Saatchi in its 1980s heyday. There and at Hedger Mitchell Stark, he won awards for Irn Bru, Fosters and British Rail. In his subsequent directing career, his best-known work includes Virgin Atlantic, Castlemaine XXXX and McDonald's. Other names include Stark's Colin Gregg (Blackcurrant, Tango's "St. George") and Jon Greenhalgh, who both work frequently in the U.S. John Lloyd, creator of Blackadder and the Barclaycard spots starring Rowan Atkinson, is in the lineup, as are Anthony Easton and Sandra Goldbacher. Large also recently signed director Steve Bendelack.

"In London, it's time production grew up," concludes Miller. "Our clients are no longer parochial. I'd be very surprised if we didn't see a couple more mergers like ours this year."

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