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Production Company of the Future: part two

There’s never been a better time to be making great video content.

By Jonathan Cotton | April 8, 2019 | features

Read part one of Production Company of the Future, here.

Under pressure

It’s not just the aesthetics changing in response to market shifts. There’s also downward pressure on budgets, meaning more work being outsourced to freelancers on a project-by-project basis.

And why not? The daily rate may be higher, but the quality of the work can be just as good if not better than material produced in-house.

Patrick McAteer’s We Are The Brave is based on just such a model, with freelance talent and outside production partners offering all the service — without the overheads.

“There are a huge number of freelance directors, producers and all the talent required out there, to seamlessly pull a tiger team together for any and all sized projects,” he says.

“Directors signed to production companies will happily freelance, as the regular big-budget work is just not there to sustain them.”

And the right partnerships mean the ability to offer a fuller suite of services - such as creative and distribution — to prospective clients, capturing more of the marketing spend pie. 

So these days, why wouldn’t you want to be seen as a one-stop-shop?

“It’s pretty much how our business has come about,” says Motion Sickness' Sam Stuchbury. “That creative/production/distribution sweet spot.”

“There are still many clients who want the traditional agency setup, but it’s a growing trend I think to have more cohesiveness and big-picture thinking, than having each service isolated or ‘siloed’ as people say.”

“We’re pretty much proof of the pudding.”

Offering everything in-house can have its disadvantages, however, says Kate Roydhouse of Curious Film.

“There is an element of jack-of-all-trades vs master of none that we need not forget,” she says.

“Not everyone can do everything. Specialty skills are so important and make the difference between just another 90-second social spot lost in the noise, scrolled right past and a beautifully crafted, creative film that captures your audience's attention.”

Nevertheless less, for Curious Film’s roster of directors - which includes Taika Waititi it should be noted - flexibility is key, says Roydhouse.

“The role of a director is no longer linear or singular,” she says. “The expectation is that their value is added through a multitude of roles, whatever they might be.”

Curious Film has directors who can and do fill such roles as photographer, scriptwriter, DOP, retoucher, colourist and editor, to name but a few.

“We find the best solution is to work in partnerships, rather than deliver everything ourselves,” says Augusto's Aimee McCammon simply.

“It’s not a one-stop-shop for everything, rather it’s the best people at the table.”

“The old agency model is very linear and sequential which doesn’t work for omnichannel advertisers as it’s too slow and causes creative bottlenecks.”

“Given that many of the Augusto team cut their teeth in the tough world of TV, we’ve always run a streamlined operation. This means our producers have a lot more experience and clout in storytelling, and they work as equals to our creative team. We have a core group of permalancers who get the way we work, understand our workflows and are a good cultural fit.”

“The new model is integrated and allows for strategy, creative and production to happen in parallel. This also allows us to lower the number of people touching a job without risking the output.”

McAteer sees things similarly, saying that rather than trying to be everything to everyone, he’s happier putting a line in the sand.

“You need to define what you are,” he says. “We are here to support agencies and clients - not compete with them.”

“There are examples of production companies who have been very successful — started as a production company — who are now, in essence, ‘ad agencies’”

Results may vary, however, says McAteer, with “many found wanting in their creative and strategic offerings to their clients”.

How to collaborate: early and often

So...it’s a fragmented future, of lean, mean ultra-adaptable agencies, working with agile independent producers of all sizes?

Absolutely, and the winners of tomorrow will likely be those who can get the most out of their collaborative partnerships.

And in an environment when people want it both good and cheap, beginning the collaboration process earlier, rather than later, is encouraged.

“The consistently big budgets of five to ten years ago are now fewer and farther between, but that is not necessarily a bad thing,” says McAteer.

“Being smarter about in-house costs and overheads and being more collaborative at an earlier stage in the process with your clients, is key.” 

“Having your goods or services showcased with online video has exceeded what we all expected even just a few years ago. The digital environment is dictating the need for variable length content, but so much visual media is now shot and uploaded without a well-considered idea, often times made worse by the fact that it’s shot extremely poorly.

“The key is to make sure it’s actually worth watching. In other words, get the production experts in early!”

It’s a moment for production companies, says Roydhouse, and the focus is on pragmatism, problem-solving and getting the job done whatever it takes.

“We need to be more solution-oriented than ever before.

“Open books, honesty, agile, strong partnerships, creative integrity — above all — all these things are more important than ever as the industry continues to adapt.

“As a production company, we need to be involved in the conversation from the very beginning — and we push for this. We need to be aware of the media plan, of what channels we’re targeting and why. We need the value and calibre of the work to be better than ever before. We need to be a partner, who’s constantly finding creative solutions, while, importantly having a bit of fun along the way.”

Cost pressure is a constant, says Stuchbury. It’s what you do with what’s available that counts.

“Costs can be managed to some pragmatic degree, but what can’t be managed is a deadline where there’s just not enough time to craft appropriately,” says Jonathan Hughes, owner and managing director at Franklin Road.

“We are seeing an increase on time pressures to turn work around more quickly than ever before — that’s probably our biggest concern as lack of time negates both creativity and good sound outcomes in the main.

“There are more platforms, more screens, more opportunities to develop new ways of engagement than ever before. We have clients who are as passionate about sound and music as we all are, and so as long as we accept that budgets are going to be as varied as the work will be, then we’re well placed to deliver to client needs across the board.

“More hands with more abilities to deliver prompt service to clients is where we are at this year, as long as we’re doing it cost-efficiently for our clients and ourselves, and as long as it’s fun. Great sound is part science, part art, and to that extent, I personally think we’re safe from robots for the next wee while.”

And about those robots: While it’s well and truly the iPhone age, perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that it's probably still storytelling that actually matters most.

Video has always been king,” says Leisa Wall, creative group head at FCB New Zealand. “Whether it’s on TV social or big screen. Storytelling is a lot more powerful with video so therefore it remains the favourite.”

“Anyone can film something but not everyone can tell a story and that’s where the power is.

“Any agency that is future proofing themselves will be fine. Change is what we embrace here at FCB, so bring it on."

“Consumers are smart and savvy,” says Roydhouse. “They don’t want to be sold at, they want to be part of a conversation — authentic and relevant content — that is shot beautifully with a gripping story. It’s that simple."

And for all its challenges, it’s a very good time to be in the game thinks McCammon.

“It’s all a beautiful collaboration,” she says. “There’s art and science, storytelling and technology, process and innovations, authenticity and innovation.”

“There are smart clients at the table, with directors, thinkers and producers — and they’re all making work happen in real time.”

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