An Open Letter to Anyone Looking to Produce Commercials and Branded Content (but aren’t so sure how in the age of COVID-19),
It has been a tough 8 weeks and now, as the peak of COVID has been crested in Canada, we begin to turn our minds to what comes next. We’ve been discussing how to continue to do great creative work in the pre-vaccine era and, in anticipation of the time when we can physically come back together as an industry, we wanted to share some thoughts about what making commercials might look like.
Now, none of us has a crystal ball or all the answers and knowing the goalposts are moving every day, we’d love your comments and feedback.
1. Creative Will Have New Narratives, Differently Scripted
We’ve already seen that people are beyond the deluge of ‘stay at home’, ‘thanks to our frontline workers’, and ‘we’re here for you’ COVID commercials that have ultimately blended into one. As noble as these sentiments are, they aren’t exactly ownable and often feel a bit empty or disingenuous. We’ve also seen the endless stream of cute self-taped brand ads. Brands and the consumers they serve are in need of some more ownable and frankly, clever, ideas. People will soon be ready to be marketed to again and we’re looking forward to working with our clients to deliver creativity that will underpin a new wave of advertising and one thing we know for sure is that creative is now being shaped by the parameters of production, not the other way around. This will continue: we will depend on narrative structures that don’t see the same large numbers of people together in one place for safety reasons. Likewise, concepts that do not require massive lighting crews or art departments will become much more feasible than those that do, at least for a time. In order to responsibly market our products and services, we’re going to have to flex those creative muscles in all sorts of new ways and imagine more concepts and scripts reliant on isolated work, natural light and fewer people in close proximity
2. Set Will Have New Rules
At this point, we don’t know how yet-to-be-released regulations will apply to our work in Canada, but we are quite certain that they will require us to add layers of complexity to production. We will need to disinfect more, create more distance, and likely don PPE when in spaces working together. AICP has been creating new safety and prevention guidelines and though Canadian equivalents aren’t yet available, it’s evident that set will be a wildly different place. The adoption of COVID-related safety protocols will take more time, require more space and materials, and will, therefore, see incremental costs, complexity and time added to any work on set. These precautions will, of course, keep us safe and we will support them wholeheartedly.
3. Production Will See A New Crew
Making a commercial with fewer people both on-camera and behind the camera is going to require smaller and more agile teams, where individuals take on more roles and offer deeper value (without touching each others’ equipment), especially behind the camera. For now, the era of heavy departmentalization, and deep bureaucracy on film sets will be limited by safety concerns such as the number of people that can fit in one room at a time while maintaining 6-feet of separation, or the number of people that can ride an elevator, or be fed at once, or myriad other limitations that we have never had to consider previously. We imagine that those who are able to contribute value remotely will be asked and expected to do so. We will turn to creators, directors, artists, and crew that can run lean, sometimes wear multiple hats, and create outstanding work. We believe that the people who can do this well should be paid well, and will help accelerate the trend in production towards smaller footprint work. Naturally, there will still be jobs that have the scope and resources to work in a large scale way, even with the additional temporal, spatial, and financial consideration that this now required. The days of flying creative talent around will be behind us for a time and travel will be undertaken only as deemed totally necessary; it’s likely that in-country quarantines upon arrival will be commonplace for some time. Hiring in-market or in-country will become important from not only a practical standpoint but also from a supply chain standpoint, as hiring locally will have an ethical and social responsibility behind it.
4. We’re Going To Lean On Technology
Smaller crews and smaller sets mean that we’re going to have to lean on technology and state of the art equipment to do more of the heavy lifting. Pre-production will involve remote meetings and pitches with expanded time horizons to build the requisite comfort and trust that is so intrinsic to our work. During production, there will be a new definition of ‘essential personnel’; agencies and clients will rarely be physically present on set, rather live-streaming into what is happening in front of the camera. This could also be true of a number of departments on set. Everyone involved will be able to participate remotely and will remain intimately involved in live, continuous communication, and feedback. Similarly, the virtual session work we have seen in recent weeks of post-production will remain and perhaps intensify.
We will also lean into the full capacity of today’s leading-edge digital equipment. This will include really taking advantage of the light-sensitivity of today’s top-end digital camera sensors, the incredible capacity of LED light fixtures, and many other recent advances. Those who have the rigour, the experience, and the imagination to do more with less, and adapt to the circumstances will be successful in delivering amazing value on-screen within current budgets in spite of new challenges.
5. A Leaner, More Muscular Version Of The Post-Production Process
As mentioned above, creative concepts will be driven or constrained by restrictions on live-action production, which means the onus to create more movie magic might fall to post-production and VFX teams. ‘We can fix it in post’ will take on a new meaning. Trusting relationships between creators from client, agency, production, and post teams will become even more important and discussions around the role of post-production in creating additional value on the screen will likely intensify and happen earlier in the process.
The brilliant thing about post-production set-ups these days is that, like production, they are supported by smarter, leaner technology than in the past. Editors can work effectively from almost anywhere since all of the technology is movable. Collaboration that has historically necessitated larger groups of people in a suite setting will be replaced with live video sessions, remote approvals, and a little more trust being given to the editor to conceptualize and run with client and agency creative. In the long-run, physical distancing measures will be relaxed a bit, in-suite sessions will open back up and we’ll be able to accommodate a few key people working together in real-time. Like film sets, post-production facilities will be stripped back, and start to adopt a ‘fewer frills’ and safety-first approach to focus on doing excellent work. Formerly seen as comfortable places to hunker down for an entire week with great food and coffee, robust WiFi, comfortable couches and afternoon treats, edit houses will be dealing with new realities, and they will adapt to function in a leaner way focussed more on outcomes and less on the intangibles of client service.
The Gate Is Good
It is our belief that our industry in an incredibly nimble one. We will quickly refocus in the months ahead and get back to the work of creating excellent and original content, just in a slightly different way. We’ll all be forced to work in a smart, lean and highly collaborative ways where we’ll want to be planning and speaking earlier in the process to imagine the fullness of possibility within the new normal. We know we can do it. Here are a few examples of work that produced with safely small crews of three or less:
GYMNASTICS CANADA ‘From Here We Soar’
ADVENTURE CANADA “James Raffan”
The truth is, the way we work is going to look different, but the power of what we do won’t. So, if you’re looking to create great work in the months ahead or anytime, come find us. We’re open for business.
This article was authored as a collaboration between Blaine Pearson, CEO of Dot Dot Dash, Ben Valiquette, President of Married to Giants and Commercial Director and photographer, Jason van Bruggen