If marketers have learned one thing about millennials in their constant search to find what moves these coveted consumers, it’s that they don’t like being stereotyped or pigeonholed. Such is the case with Michael D. Ratner, an up-and-coming creative producer and director in Los Angeles who doesn’t conform to one genre or one style.
Ratner and his company OBB Pictures jump nimbly between film, branded content, entertainment and multi-screen shorts to address the needs of clients and creativity. Their projects range from ads and branded content for Michelin, Tinder, Vice and the NBA, to music videos for Puff Daddy and Ace Hood, to TV, film and digital original content, including Kevin Hart’s new untitled show and The 5th Quarter comedy video series for Verizon.
At 28, Ratner is solidly a millennial, and his company’s output speaks to that generation. He started OBB while in grad school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he made humorous videos, including for online comedy destination Funny or Die. While in school, he got an opportunity to work with Relativity Media, a big LA production company. During the summer, he worked on sports content with a slate of high-powered athletes, including Dwight Howard.
After getting his MFA, Ratner moved to LA to work with Relativity, but through his OBB name. While the majority of what he did with Relativity was sports related, including working on the 30 for 30 series on ESPN and the football film In Football We Trust, Ratner wanted to keep OBB’s entrepreneurial spirit going and source new projects along the way.
“We wanted to expand the business and show that there was more range,” said Ratner. “My core was comedy and music. Sports was never my first instinct. I never thought of marrying the two – that wasn’t my main goal. It’s important to me not to get pigeonholed. But I also wasn’t going to turn down good opportunities,” he said of the sports productions.
Finding a ‘snackable’ niche
Since the company’s founding in 2014, OBB has risen quickly in the industry, and even though Ratner doesn’t want the company to be typecast, he does want it to concentrate on what he sees as a growing trend for the millennial and Gen Z market – snackable content.
“We want to make cool shit – what will speak to Gen Z or millennials, content they want to share with friends – premium short-form content,” said Ratner.
“As we’re seeing audience retention change, we’re trying to make best-in-class content. It will be 10 minutes or less – snackable content,” he stated, adding that as video platforms continue to rise, there will be more demand for premium content, produced by professional teams with famous directors and actors. It’s something OBB is already doing effectively, with series-based content like Hart’s show, though the need to pay the bills with sponsors makes his branded content job a balancing act of sell versus story.
One way he does that is by making sure he has great subject matter, and for several of those projects, that involves having great interviews, like in his Ride Along series with Vice sponsored by Lexus.
“The concept is very simple – conduct an in-depth interview with an athlete as they ride to the game. We designed those to give information about people’s favorite athletes. Not when they’re in the game. We come up with thought-provoking questions. [The branding] is very non-intrusive. What you’re really caring about is in-depth interview,” said Ratner.
What makes the shorts ultimately work for Ratner is seeing how they can creatively get brand association if the content could go without brand sponsorship. Would the piece work? If yes, it becomes a successful story and the branding can be subtly worked in.
“The battle is working through the thought process with PR people. There are unique and more subtle ways of doing [branding]. Consumers are smart. We don’t need to be so on the nose,” he said, adding that less can truly be more when it comes to the sell.
The story is what moves Ratner and OBB, and a good story for him needs to pass a few tests. Can it be created with subtext and add more character development? Can it get to human understanding, and can an in-depth story be told in 10 minutes or less?
“It’s a writing exercise. What is the purpose of each piece of dialogue? If we’re going to make a 10-minute piece, it’s three acts at three-plus minutes a piece. What we try to do here in the new wild west of how people consume media is ask how many moments are there that you want to share with everybody else…Viral video isn’t going to be an hour-and-a-half. We have to find what the snackable moments are of [a certain] piece,” said Ratner.
OBB’s connection to his generation and his love of closing deals has put him on the map in an industry that’s not easy to break into. In 2014, Ratner earned five New York Emmy Awards for his directing work on The Lineup: Sports Movies. More recently, the company partnered with Mandalay Sports Media to develop and co-produce a series of sports-themed films, TV projects and multi-media programming and also formed a strategic partnership with Authentic Brands Group, owner of a global portfolio of iconic fashion, sports, celebrity and entertainment brands including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Muhammad Ali, to develop content across their brands for digital platforms with the goal of exposing these icons to millennials. In addition, the company announced a partnership with Crypt TV to develop and produce horror and thriller series for the premium television and digital space.
Millennials and Gen Z are looking for more snackable moments and, with multi-screen consumption and time-crunched viewers, Ratner and OBB are poised to help lead this new wave of creative content. His company started with just six people and is now up to 10, and he loves that he has a diverse group of voices to help make the company’s films.
“We have an eclectic mix of voices, Some love comedy, drama, indie films. We all hover around 30-years-old in the company…a fresh, young, hungry group,” he said. “If we like it, it has a shot.”