In 2002 British Airways delivered an ad that showcased the power of a face to face meeting over a call. It’s not an especially amazing or stand out piece of work, but the message always stuck with me: it’s always best to meet a client face to face, to look them in the eye and get a read. Like a game of poker, this meeting can determine if you’re shit or bust pretty quickly. We all know the perils of a misunderstood PPM or the wrong nuance on a creative. It can cost chaos, tears, and thousands of pounds.
With this in mind I have always tried hard to have key meetings in person, be it a new biz chemistry-style meeting or a script sign-off, and I have never ever agreed to pitch on a phone when there is another option. We were recently asked as part of a pitch process how many countries we had filmed in. The answer is that WING have shot in 55 countries. That’s a lot. I was kind of proud. But also a tiny bit horrified.
Like most of you, we champion smart and environmentally conscious thinking - cans of water on set instead of plastic, ferries instead of flights etc - and work for a number of sustainability focused clients and charities including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, who lead the charge on The Circular Economy.
Time changes everything and our industry must be a leader in purpose and change. The facts are that travel is damaging to the planet, we have a finite amount of energy and resource that is being used at an absurd rate, and there are definitely other options.
Reliability of technology & the distance it creates
The conference call is mostly a disaster, with some people at home in their pants watching TV, others on the train cutting out and dialling back in frantically. You get used to hearing ‘Kieran has left the conference’ and then, a few minutes later when you are just at your crescendo of your point, having ‘Kieran has joined the conference’ bursting in over you. Video calls can work well for rapport - when they work perfectly and everyone has decent connection and has got the hang of the mute/unmute. Despite those issues, using this tech effectively can really help limit the carbon cost of business in our industry.
Control freaking out
But the truth is that if you are in a world where you have to tell stories by capturing stories then you need to be on location and you want your own guys.
Using local talent can work to a degree, but actually you want your DoP and their team since they’re the people you trust to get the job done perfectly. For the same reason you also want to take the same kit and lenses, so that’s more weight in the hold.
In the last few years however we have set up local offices in Rio (WINGRIO) and now Tokyo (WING Tokyo) to service our clients affiliated with or sponsors of the games. This has been superb as we have married local talent and experience with our expertise in the subject. It’s been a useful hybrid of old and new ways of working. We used technology to regularly communicate: on the torch relay around Brazil on the 100 day non-stop production our team sent over 200,000 WhatsApp messages (admittedly not all of them work critical!) that enabled us all to be in touch with thoughts on shots types, immediate updates on editorial, and even traffic and timings.
Travelling 20,000km around Brazil was also logistically complex, so the use of intelligent GPS software that could track, locate, and route us to our torchbearer interview subjects was vital. Using a paper map in this situation when you are time critical is not even in our psyche anymore.
Video calls - set up from almost anywhere in minutes - made client feedback and crew conversation so easy, and the constant mobile data allowed us to send edited versions and stills whilst travelling on the road in our mobile edit truck. Without this tech we would have needed 4 or 5 more people on the road with corresponding flights and travel - and our output would have been about 30% less than we managed to deliver.
So how do we find balance between effectiveness and environmentally conscious? It’s tough to find when you work in an industry which evolves so quickly, and in which we are always on the move.
It bites especially hard when you really don’t want to do the red-eye in Economy as you have a shoot or another meeting the next morning. We know that flying is so much worse for the environment and now we have to wrestle with the fact that while we became vegetarian every other week it’s still difficult to give up the lie-flat bed!
Maybe balance in this instance is about a measure of sacrifice, planning, trust, good communication across cultures, and understanding. Unfortuately, those are things that we creatives are completely awful at and really need to work on. Hard. Otherwise there won’t be anything worth creating.
This article was first published in The Drum Network's print supplement. Members of The Drum Network receive and have the opportunity to write for our print magazine, which is distributed to other relevant members and brands in print and on our app.
Will Ingham, founder & creative director, WING.