Leigh Hart has become a familiar face in front of the camera, entertaining viewers with his offbeat satire on shows such as Moon TV, The Late Night Big Breakfast and SportsCafé. And while the funnyman has injected himself into the mainstream Kiwi consciousness through his on-screen work, he has also taken an interest in life behind the camera through his production company Moon Media.
“Everything I’ve ever made has been done through my own production company called Moon Media,” says Hart.
The Moon Media staff is made up of a small longstanding team that Hart describes as “very much Jack-of-all-Trades”.
“The core crew here is three or four, if you counted my wife as well. We are like-minded people who understand that it’s not about the office. It’s just about getting the job done as well as possible.”
Despite its diminutive core structure, Moon Media has over the years developed some significant television projects—something that Hart attributes to the contributions of the talented freelancer pool he relies on when necessary.
“We expand and contract depending on what we have going on. If we have a TV show we could have ten people working—they come and go. But we recently had a few corporates and we only needed three people.”
Hart largely owes his fame to television, because it gave him the gateway into Kiwis’ living rooms. However, at a time when media consumption habits are changing quickly, the comedian shows no partiality for one channel over another.
“TV itself is changing and we don’t know where it’s going to be in three years time, but that doesn’t worry me because I know that content is still in demand. Whether we make TV or something online doesn’t make a difference.”
Hart's willingness to work across channels has recently seen him hop from iHeartRadio's Alternative Commentary Collective to presenting a radio show on Hauraki.
"What excites me about this is the bigger picture. If that could happen on iHeartRadio with the cricket commentary, why can’t I take some of our TV ideas or some of my clients’ ads or content and put that online and present that in a different way?"
This attitude has typified Hart’s approach to media publishing for most of the last decade, and it’s evidenced in his early adoption of YouTube.
For the past eight years, Hart has published most of his content through his YouTube channel Moon TV, accumulating a veritable canon of quirky online videos.
“In a way, we’ve been active in the online space for a lot of years, before other people identified the demand there. Just to put into perspective, our YouTube channel Moon TV has about 10 million views now. And other clips that have come from Moon Media now have a 100 million hits internationally. We always had a good grasp of what works in the short form.”
At a time when the demand for short-form content is growing quickly, Moon Media has been able to apply its production skills to advertising for brands. And the company’s work has already caught the attention of a few clients.
“We’ve been able to tap into a lot of different clients. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of work with agencies who’ve come to us for work on the production side. They’ve asked us to come up with an ad for a client—and we’re happy to do that.”
Hart explains that the process of this kind of work varies, depending on what the client wants.
“I’ve seen the process from every side. Often I’ve worked with an agency purely as talent, where I’ve gone onboard and another production company is doing it. Another scenario might be that there’s an agency involved that wants me as talent, but I convince them it would be more cost effective to use my production company … And the most extreme version now is my production company coming up with concepts and executing them directly with the client with or without me involved as talent.”
A client that falls into the last category is Ssangyong, and Moon Media recently produced a typically offbeat spot for the release of the brand’s new Tivoli range. And while the spot is certainly not going to win a Cannes Lion, it is nonetheless an entertaining interpretation of car advertising.
“For Ssangyong New Zealand, we’ve become their production company for their ads by default,” says Hart. “They don’t have an official agency on board, but we are doing a lot of their work anyway. It’s a bit of grey area.”
Hart doesn’t necessarily see this grey area as bad thing, and explains that it makes it easier to have a direct link with the client when it comes to executing a creative idea. He says that media fragmentation has led to many of the layers falling away, expediting idea development and making idea approval more responsive than it was before.
“A few years, I remember trying to do a job for a client, and it was going through three of four different agencies before it even got to us—it was just getting more and more watered down. [Now] there’s less money for the client to be spending on TVCs and so forth, so just by default they’re trying to get more efficient is by trying to take some links out of the chain. So, you now have people who are happy to work without production companies or agencies.”
Hart is careful not to bite the hand that feeds him, and says this isn’t a criticism of agencies but rather his perspective on the changes taking place in the industry.
“I get a lot of work from [agencies], and I want to continue getting work from them. But when it comes to production, execution and the creative side, I think it’s better for us to stand alone. We really want to do a lot more of it.”
Life in the online space moves quickly. One ill-fated Tweet, for example, could derail an entire campaign and damage the equity of a brand—and this means that companies often need to act more quickly when it comes to web-based advertising.
In this regard, Hart believes that the changes in the industry work in Moon Media’s favour, in that the company is able to respond to client demands quickly.
“Clients can be quite reactive at times, wanting something next week instead of giving you three weeks of planning. You just have to accept that and just be flexible if it’s worth doing … [Fortunately,] from so much trial and error on TV and getting jokes wrong over the years, we’ve fine-tuned the process so that we can get to the point of what we’re doing a lot quicker.”
Not only faster, Hart’s service also comes with the promise of affordability:
“We could be on air with a car ad within a week. The client could ring us up and say: ‘Look we need an idea for a TV ad that can transfer onto billboards by Sunday’. And we can do that for under $40,000.”
Moon Media’s recent work for National Mini Storage could potentially provoke ire in the taste masters at ad agencies, but this is unlikely to concern Hart or the clients he works for.
One thing that is telling about Hart’s creative work is that it’s on-brand not only for the client but also for Moon Media. All the spots he produces are crafted with the uniquely humorous flavour that has given the comedian his fame over the years (the one clear exception to this would be the Hellers ads, in which Hart only serves as talent and has no creative control).
As he explains: “Everything I’ve ever done has been based on my own ideas. It doesn’t always work. But if you’re taking that creative idea, produce it and deal directly with the client within in reason, you can start to get a harder hitting concept a lot more efficiently. That said, if we had a wacky idea that was funny but wasn’t going to sell any more product, then we wouldn’t run with it.”
The ideas Hart and his team are coming up with seem to be selling something, because clients have thus far given him creative and budget constraints that he feels comfortable working within. And with the demand for online content showing signs of growing in the near future, the grey area in which Hart functions is only getting bigger.