The ad industry is evolving at breakneck speed to prepare for a platform-based, non-AOR future. It’s like reading tealeaves to predict the outcome, but there is a cousin industry we can look to for potential insights: feature films.
I’ve spent 20+ years in visual effects, a core competency that I’ve applied across features, commercials, digital, OOH, AR/VR, etc. This industry is deeply technical and creative, and for better or worse, has always been project-based, where you must understand and pivot your core competencies or risk obsolescence.
From this multi-disciplinary vantage point we can source great ideas without re-inventing the wheel or experiencing the pain and suffering associated with learning the following lessons the hard way:
Be collaborative like a startup, and create a universe to play in
A film production team is like a colony of bees – each person brings a unique point of view, all regulated by the director’s vision. We are in the trenches from early scripts through to final delivery, sometimes over a full calendar year, which ensures we intimately understand the universe our story lives in because we are living it day in and out. Agencies that collaborate closely with brand teams will learn that a unified team creates a unified story ultimately reinforcing the brands universe.
Along with collaboration, filmmaking is like opening a startup. We have all the same considerations only we must deliver consistently across diverse projects simultaneously. Thus it’s in our DNA to create nimble, flexible and customized structures depending on the feature’s creative needs. As commercials blend across many disciplines, organizations that can apply themselves in interdisciplinary manners will come out on top.
Lesson: Adopting flexible structures will better equip agencies to handle projects and maintain storylines across disciplines and
Take Risks to Launch New Ideas
While feature filmmakers answer to studio budgets, they’re ultimately judged by the success of their end product, and directors prioritize that above all-else. James Cameron’s Titanic went wildly over budget – he took personal risk by returning his salary to complete his vision, but he had confidence in the story, himself and his team.
Today, agencies face new risks as we enter uncharted territory of technological innovation. VR, AR and AI represent goldmines of creativity and delivery, but their ability to move the needle is unknown. What if VR/AR/AI doesn’t catch on, or isn’t as great as expected? Where and when should an agency go all in?
Exploring innovation poses a risk for agencies, but can also mean identifying and inventing the next big thing. As brands are calling for collaborative and experimental partners, agencies should take a page from James Cameron’s playbook, encourage strategic risk taking and be brave enough to present it to clients.
Embrace working remotely, but know when to work in-house
In feature film VFX, filmmakers have embraced a decentralized and remote workflow. In our shifting digital landscape, agency creatives and producers are starting to see that in-person meetings are important for key moments, but new tools and processes now allow for productive discussions remotely.
In some ways this is diametrically opposed to the current in-house trend, but it’s actually more about finding the right blend for your work-type. Feature film studios generally find it’s better to work remotely for the majority of shots while reserving particular work for internal teams.
I’m convinced the Hollywood model of hiring teams around the world, while supplementing with in-house, will be the end result for advertisers and brands. The sooner everyone gets comfortable working with trusted remote teams, the faster these advantages will be realized.
Take advantage of tax incentives
Advertising budgets are tighter than ever, and brands are expected to make their mark while stretching every dollar. Feature filmmakers and studios have learned to make budgets count by considering incentives, even rewriting scripts for tax-incentivized locations. From a risk / reward standpoint, guaranteeing a return of 25% back on spend is a good deal. Brands can similarly benefit from incentivized locations.
There are growing incentives available, as states want to attract a piece of the production pie. Production is desirable, as budget supports local restaurants, hotels, rental equipment, transportation, venues and more. Like feature film teams, brands and agencies should strategically align with partners in these locations. And don’t worry about the location affecting the shot – it’s routine in features to shoot in places that aren’t actually where the story takes place. It’s the real movie magic (or just fix it in post)!
At the end of the day, bringing ad or film content to life is a labor of love. It takes risk, collaboration and partnership, but when everyone is aligned on a common vision, the end product can be amazing. Looking forward, as the advertising industry adapts to this shifting landscape, the feature film world will continue providing a plethora of insights on creating lasting, impactful stories.
Brian Drewes is co-founder and chief executive of Zero VFX.