- Friday, Jun. 17, 2011
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- NEW YORK
Serving as an agent of change took on a whole new meaning during SHOOT's daytime Directors/Producers Forum and evening New Directors Showcase held last month (5/10) at the DGA Theatre in New York City. Lively panel discussions chronicled and perhaps sparked industry change--or at least a change in thinking for some attendees--on varied fronts with morning sessions exploring 3D and its implications in the advertising/marketing sector, followed by agency creatives and a production house exec offering food for thought on different media platforms and creating content for those outlets individually and in concert with one another.
The afternoon was highlighted by discussion on such matters as evolving business models for production companies, and how sponsored content can be an agent for positive social change. Additionally, wrapping the daytime proceedings was a "From The Director's Chair" session providing both creative and business perspectives on the art and commerce of keeping a production house relevant.
The evening was highlighted by SHOOT's 9th annual New Directors Showcase featuring a screening of work from all 32 directors--30 individual helmers and one directing duo--as well as a panel discussion bringing six of those directors on stage with production house and agency professionals.
All panels were moderated by SHOOT editor Robert Goldrich, except for the early afternoon session on production house business models, which was moderated by attorney Jeffrey A. Greenbaum, a managing partner in the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, and author of SHOOT's "Legalease" column.
Here's a taste of what transpired:
"Entering Another Dimension" While the penetration of 3D TV sets in the consumer marketplace is a relative drop in the bucket, there's reason to at least get one's feet wet in 3D waters as the discipline is gaining prominence in feature films, which in turn has spawned more than a smattering of 3D cinema commercials. Plus, out-of-home experiences in 3D are making inroads as advertisers and marketers see value in punctuating their branding, messages and stories with extra visual impact at special venues.
The Foundling had to live up to not only being the first 3D foray for DDB London but also continuing the high creative standard of the agency's "Parallel Lines" series of online shorts for Philips, including the short The Gift directed by RSA's Carl Erick Rinsch which won the Grand Prix at Cannes inaugural Film Craft competition last year. The Foundling also gained exposure online in 2D.
The project first required Cokeliss to come up with a storyline deploying six lines of set dialogue just as the previous shorts in the "Parallel Lines" series (all done by different RSA directors with RSA Films producing the campaign from the outset--except for one user-generated contest winning short). The script had to include: "What is that?"/ "It's a unicorn."/ "Never seen one up close before."/ "Beautiful"/ "Get away."/ "I'm sorry."
Cokeliss co-wrote with Zeferino Villareal a script in which the "unicorn" is a baby with a tiny horn sprouting out of his forehead. The infant is left on a family's doorstep, and he eventually grows up to become an oddity attraction at the circus, circa the 1930s. One day on display under the Big Top, the young man notices a middle-aged woman looking at him in an almost maternal, slightly guilty way. She flees upon being noticed and he pursues her.
Short of divulging too much of the storyline, suffice it to say that the human story is engaging while the 1930s' period piece depicting a circus lends itself visually to a 3D rendering.
After sharing The Foundling with the DGA Theatre audience, Cokeliss reflected on his 3D experience, which was his first as a director. He noted that the framing inherently has to be more inclusive and that the pacing of action generally has to be slower in that it takes longer for the eye to "absorb" the richness that 3D has to offer. Ironically this state-of-the-art discipline had him hearkening back to a somewhat more classically cinematic inclusive style of framing, keeping things more elegantly minimal in terms of coverage, and pacing accordingly so the viewer gets more time to digest the rich images. There indeed is value in holding on a shot for a bit longer, observed Cokeliss.
Also screening 3D work which required session attendees to don stereoscopic glasses was director/producer James Stewart of Geneva Film Company, Toronto, who showcased three cinema commercials, including the lauded Lexus "shattered glass" piece titled "Pitch."
Stewart, who's slated to conduct a 3D seminar at this year's Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival--after having held a session during last year's Cannes proceedings and speaking about 3D at this year's TED Conference--provided perspective on the inroads being made by 3D television. He noted that some 6 million 3D TV sets made their way into homes in 2010. Acknowledging that this represents a still relatively small household tally, Stewart at the same time noted that it took HD six years to reach the 6 million mark, underscoring the fact that 3D is on its way to becoming a viable mainstream medium in television households--just as it already is in theatrical features and cinema advertising.
Providing another taste of the 3D experience for Forum attendees--but not requiring glasses--was Josh Cohen, president of Pearl Media, who screened a project that deployed a 3D architectural mapping installation at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, launching the Lexus CT 200h hybrid automobile to celebrate Earth Night. The project had Pearl collaborating with Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif.
Pearl Media's Cohen noted that the Lexus 3D out-of-home experience generated an impact that extended well beyond a single night at the Hollywood Roosevelt. He noted that virally the experience has been seen by hundreds of thousands of additional prospective consumers on varied platforms. The visually captivating 3D presentation, he said, helps to break through online clutter, prompting visitors to share links with friends and colleagues.
Also contributing to a morning of 3D insights were Jackie Lee, VP of Feature Services for Company 3; Nick Iannelli, VP, Deluxe Post Production, Toronto; and Jane Jacobsen, co-founder/exec producer of 3D FilmLand.
Lee has seen Company 3 work on such high-profile exploits as the latest Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean movies. She noted that a high-profile commercial director, Craig Gillespie of MJZ, is also honing his 3D chops as Company 3 is collaborating with him on the 3D theatrical feature Fright Night. Furthermore, Gillespie--who won the DGA Award as best commercial director of the year in 2005 and has been nominated for the honor five times, including earlier this year--is on tap to embark on a second 3D feature film after Fright Night. He figures to bring a body of 3D knowledge and sensibilities back to the advertising medium at a fortuitous time.
Iannelli, part of the team that launched a full range of 3D post services at Deluxe Postproduction, Toronto, discussed workflow at the Forum session. His experience spans cinema commercials, including several done in concert with Stewart, as well as such 3D stereoscopic films as Saw VII 3D and Resident Evil: The Afterlife.
And Jacobsen--who co-founded 3D FilmLand with director Roger Tonry--shared her experiences on the production and seminar fronts. The educational seminar rounds have seen Jacobsen meet with assorted ad agencies to bring them up to speed on 3D. Jacobsen is well versed in what ad agency artisans confront on a daily basis in that she was a producer at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and director of broadcast production at Hal Riney & Partners, Chicago. Jacobsen also freelance produced at various agencies over the years. 3D FilmLand is a production and post company specializing in 3D stereoscopic content; its seminars are designed to provide agencies with expertise and access to resources that can help them diversify into 3D.
"The Media Are The Message" Platforms from traditional broadcast to not so conventional social media, digital media, integrated media and the fast growing buzzword transmedia were front and center in this session during which panelists offered their perspectives on how ad agencies, clients and production houses are adapting to an ever evolving landscape where multi-platform means are being turned to in order to help connect brands with the right audiences.
Panelist Kevin Roddy, recently named chief creative officer of Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, is partnering with CEO Kristi Vandenbosh to lead both the agency and Publicis Modem, San Francisco, bridging the two shops creatively and in the process helping to move creative communications forward. He was attracted to this challenge because it allowed him a flexibility he hadn't enjoyed before. Roddy explained that among his biggest quandaries in the past was maintaining a staffing balance, invariably having to face the prospect of cutting traditional broadcast creatives in order to bring the needed digital creative expertise on board. Doing this within the budgetary means of a single agency seemed at times impossible. But now having two separate shops--Publicis & Hal Riney, and Publicis Modem--is more conducive to staffing up accordingly and not losing key creative talent, enabling them to mesh across the two agencies and learn from one another.
However, the Riney pedigree, continued Roddy, brings another daunting dimension to the equation. Expressing his deep admiration for the creative storytelling touch of the legendary Hal Riney, Roddy noted that his prime responsibilities include retaining the spirit of that creative legacy (Perrier, Bartles & Jaymes, Henry Weinhard, Saturn, et al), meaning that the bar has been set quite high for creative across traditional and digital platforms.
Roddy believes that technology has created a new kind of creativity and thus a new breed of creative people who aren't yet as recognized or valued as the perennially lauded top creative storytellers cut from the Hal Riney cloth. "Creating a great app," said Roddy, is an example of great creativity that should be as valued as the talent of one who generates a story. "Storytellers are at the top of the mountain," he said, but a place alongside them needs to be carved out for the new generation of technology-spawned creatives.
Also hoping to carve out a piece for itself--but on the intellectual property score--is the production community, which would be well served to explore its options in longer form content, according to Doug Scott, president of OgilvyEntertainment. Asked whether production houses could realistically look to diversify beyond the traditional work-for-hire scenario to gain equity in select longer form branded content, Scott noted that this is a viable possibility. He cited Horizons, a 20-part TV series consisting of short documentaries, in which Ogilvy, client DuPont and producer the BBC all own a stake.
Horizons examines companies around the world that are making the greatest progress innovating in their sectors and influencing the way people will live in the future. Last month, Horizons began airing worldwide on the BBC World News networks. The first episode highlighted the collaboration among local Tennessee farmers, Genera Energy and DuPont to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, corn cobs, stalks and other forms of sustainable biomass. The show introduces us to farmer Brad Black who is growing switchgrass through the University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative production program. Each acre of switchgrass on his farm could mean up to 1,000 gallons of fuel annually.
Complementing the TV show is a website (www.horizonsbusiness.com), as well as DuPont stories of scientific and technological innovation that air during the program's centerpiece commercial break. Filmed around the world just as the TV series, the spots highlight global collaborations that reflect how businesses, governments, non-profits and academia are working together with DuPont to solve global challenges one region at a time.
On a separate front, Scott is looking to bring the branded content community together stateside as he is heading up the formation of the U.S. chapter of the Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA). The U.S. group is being launched to extend the work and influence that the BCMA has achieved in Europe over the years. Scott said that content creators, marketers, clients and platforms can benefit tangibly from connecting with one another via BCMA, sharing experiences, concerns, and addressing issues of mutual interest.
Connections are indeed important, including partnering with the right talent and entities to serve client needs creatively and strategically. Session panelist Marty Orzio, chief creative officer of Gotham, New York, dovetailed his agency with DumbDumb, the sponsor-driven advertising and production company launched by writer/actors/comedians Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, in order to create content that would extend Gotham client Denny's reach to a younger audience. DumbDumb came up with Always Open, a web comedy talk show featuring guest celebs interviewed by improv performer David Koechner; the venue for these chats is a booth at a Denny's restaurant. Arnett, Bateman and such notable comedic performers as Sarah Silverman, Will Forte and Amy Poehler have been guests thus far. The series' prime platform is www.collegehumor.com/always open. The show is also accessible on Denny's.com, DumbDumb.com, YouTube, FaceBook and other social platforms.
Orzio noted that Always Open is a perfect branding message for Denny's whose slogan is "America's diner is always open." He observed that the word "open" takes on another valuable meaning in the web series--the "openness" and comfort of being at a diner, sitting in a booth and shooting the shit with somebody. Nurtured by the creative and comedic sensibilities of Arnett, Bateman and company, the web series' "openness" appeals to a younger demographic that had previously eluded Denny's. According to Orzio, the comedy show is gaining traction with a younger audience and preliminary viewership results are encouraging.
Beyond creating shows and the like, agencies are also creating and redefining businesses for clients. Consider the comments of panelist Gaston Legorburu, co-executive director/worldwide chief creative officer of interactive marketing, creative design and technology services agency SapientNitro, known for such lauded work as the Tourism Queensland "The Best Job In The World" campaign as well as having a design hand in the recent Coca-Cola 24-hour creative recording session with Maroon5. Legorburu during the panel discussion shared backstory on his agency's work with client Footlocker, acknowledging that the sneaker stores needed some innovation to become more than just a brick-and-mortar retail outlet not all that different from other competitors.
Ethnographic research delved into the "sneakerhead" culture, consisting of 18-24 year olds who each have 50, 100, 200, even 250 pairs of sneakers. SapientNitro sent out crews to conduct and shoot interviews with various sneakerheads. From this came SapientNitro's creation of Sneakerpedia, an online cross between Wikipedia and eBay, where people can exchange, sell and talk about collectible sneakers (i.e., a 1984 Converse Chuck Taylor). In turn, connecting with the sneakerhead community spawned in-store and online commerce opportunities like developing limited run sneakers available only through Footlocker. Also the sneakerhead videos born out of ethnographic research made their mark in the U.K. as they became a subsidized extension of the MTV Cribs franchise, bringing a cool quotient, personality and a different hip branding to Footlocker.
Rounding out the Directors/Producers Forum panel was director Massimo Martinotti who deployed an alternate reality game, "Ready for the Big Chill," to rebrand his longstanding production house Mia Films into transmedia company RedMagmaMedia. While the full story on the ARG has been chronicled (SHOOTonline, 3/21), suffice it to say that the sci-fi game centered on a global climate crisis found an audience, as some 550 pieces of the story unfolded on many original vlogs and sites as well as several social media platforms. It wasn't until the end of the ARG's 24-day cycle that the "sponsor" was revealed--the rebranded RedMagmaMedia whose transmedia acumen was on display throughout the course of the ARG.
Martinotti has a unique perspective on how production companies need to evolve in that for several years he chaired the AICP.next committee which explored and made inroads into that very proposition vis a vis the brave new media world.
"We know that in the next few years our challenge will not consist uniquely of making incredibly good commercials but commercials that people want to share on Facebook, embed on their blogs, comment in their tweets, recommend on Stumbleupon and watch on their mobile devices," related Martinotti. "In addition to unbelievably good commercials, we need to be able to generate also other types of spreadable, embeddable, bloggable, tweetable and sharable, bookmarkable content such as webisodes, games, applications, comic books, live events, TV shows, short films, documentaries and feature films. I believe that we have to embrace a new way of telling stories and that transmedia storytelling is the territory that we need to explore passionately. This means creating worlds in which many macro-stories and many great characters can live together, worlds in which stories created by our clients can live together with the fantasies of their fans, worlds in which the main franchise is surrounded by many other narrative elements such as backstories, flashbacks, parallel, peripheral and interstitial stories.
"We recognize," continued Martinotti, "the inherently migratory behavior of today's users who are willing to go wherever they can to find a story they want to be part of, and we are fascinated by the idea of creating ever-evolving story universes capable of engaging passionate communities of fans. We know that, to achieve these goals, we have to generate stories so large that they cannot fit in one single medium, so explosive that they cannot be bounded or constricted. For this reason, we decided that having the word 'Films' as part of the name of the company was a bit limiting, and we began to look for a new name. We liked the idea of exploring options related to volcanoes: I shot at least ten times on volcanoes all around the world and I always loved the feeling of being in a gigantic crater and realizing that just a few meters underneath, a magma chamber the size of several football stadiums is pushing up trying to release its massive energy. As soon as we decided to change the name of the company from Mia Films to RedMagmaMedia, it was natural for us to chose an ARG like 'Ready for the Big Chill' as an opportunity to establish the new identity and define the personality of the production company."
"Production Companies: Modelmaking"
Underscoring the varied work being handled by production companies today were an observation by Tim Case, founder/managing partner of Supply & Demand, and a snippet of work produced by ACNE and shared with the audience by Fran McGivern, managing director/executive producer of ACNE production .
The project showcases ACNE's in-house multimedia, technology and design capabilities, which are a departure from what one might find at a so-called traditional production company.
Indeed this kind of work exemplifies the new breed of projects emerging for the production house community.
At the same time, Supply & Demand's Case conjectured that traditional media is still dominant despite the impressive influx of new fangled opportunities. Case conjectured that in an audit of the top 50 production companies, the overwhelming percentage of business would still be coming from traditional media.
Also serving on the Greenbaum-moderated panel were: Paul Prince, CEO/founding partner, The Sweet Shop and The Rumpus Room; Tim Piper, creative director/co-owner, PiRo; and Aaron Duffy, creative director/partner, 1stAveMachine.
As for diversifying beyond the work-for-hire business model to one of intellectual property ownership, Piper said production houses need to make their case and negotiate for an equity stake in content from the very outset a prospective project is brought to them. He observed that writing/development talent is very much in demand and that production companies that can access those creative artisans have leverage that can be used to gain some form of content ownership.
Prince has overseen a diversification and expansion at The Sweet Shop which has seen the New Zealand-headquartered company create a global footprint with stateside offices, as well as operations in London and Melbourne. The Sweet Shop business model also encompasses sister shop The Rumpus Room which focuses on hybrid communication, meshing participation, real world, interactive and social platforms. The Rumpus Room dovetails with The Sweet Shop on integrated campaigns and communication.
Meanwhile 1stAveMachine has grown into prominence from its roots in viral films like Alias Sixes Last. And that viral dynamic--of creating story and content that people seek out and pass around--saw its series of online shorts for Google spawn a commercial, the Duffy-directed "Parisian Love Story," that ran to positive response on last year's Super Bowl telecast. Google liked the video so much that it decided to share the story as a Google Search spot on the Big Game.
1stAveMachine's work now spans conventional, online and varied social media platforms, and the company recently brought chief creative technologist Michael Moroney on board to explore other pipelines and combinations of platforms to connect worthwhile content with audiences. In recent weeks, the production house's "Google Speed Tests" have garnered Gold at The One Show, Clio and the Art Directors Club as well as recognition at the AICP Show. 1stAveMachine's Google "Extensions" was shortlisted in four 2011 AICP Show categories: Visual Style, Production, Production Design and Agency Art Direction.
Duffy conjectured that the viral pedigree has contributed to a business model that has resulted in greater creative latitude for 1stAveMachine's directors. He noted that the prerequisite for viral success--great storytelling sensibilities--has helped prevent the company's filmmakers from being pigeonholed. They thus attract a wide range of projects tapping into their storytelling and problem solving capabilities.
"Social Advocacy" The Directors/Producers Forum gleaned insights into sponsored content designed to advance a social cause from a panel consisting of Bruce Kallner, senior VP, strategic sales & marketing, NBC Universal, Maria Paone, sr. director, strategic sales & marketing, NBC Universal, Tracie Brennan, VP, production and operations, Al Roker Entertainment, and Shana Scott, executive producer/showrunner of Child Hunger Ends Here: A Special Report.
This sobering situation offers food for thought, including in the marketing world which at times suffers from tunnel vision. While many in the industry are focused on diversifying smartly into sponsored content and grappling with how to leverage it via the proper business model, what can get lost in the shuffle is the power of such content to do good and contribute to the betterment of society.
An example of this power properly harnessed is NBC's Child Hunger Ends Here: A Special Report, a half-hour news magazine-style special that brought together Al Roker Entertainment, NBC, the domestic hunger relief charity Feeding America, and ConAgra Foods.
Paone explained that ConAgra and Feeding America have a longstanding relationship, with ConAgra looking to build more momentum to address the hunger issue, which led to their turning to NBC Universal strategic sales & marketing. This eventually resulted in the TV special, which debuted on 11 NBC stations across the U.S. on March 19, covering the markets of Chicago, Dallas, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The program reports on the scope of the hunger problem but then brings it home on a personal level, relating the individual stories of families from working middle class neighborhoods. The statistics bear out a fact worth noting--that of the 37 million Americans served annually by Feeding America, only 10 percent are homeless, with 36 percent of the households having one or more working adults.
The special offers a call to action to help address the crisis. Consumers are invited to participate in the campaign by texting "FEEDKIDS" to 50555 to make a $10 donation to Feeding America. For every dollar donated, Feeding America can provide up to seven meals for hungry children in need.
And from March through August 2011, consumers who purchase participating ConAgra Foods brands (i.e., Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender's, Peter Pan) at any national retailer can enter a code on the specially marked packaging at www.childhungerendshere.com to trigger a monetary donation equivalent to one meal to Feeding America. Up to a maximum of 2.5 million meals will be donated through August 31.
ConAgra Foods is Feeding America's leading partner in the fight to end child hunger in America. To date, the company has donated a total of $30 million and 232 million pounds of food to the cause.
"From The Director's Chair" As his dual role suggests, director Danny Levinson, president of Moxie Pictures, brings creative and business perspectives to the table and SHOOT tapped into them to get a sense of Moxie's business model which spans varied areas of diversification beyond its core commercial production.
Among the most notable is Moxie's recent partnering with independent film company Killer Films (Boys Don't Cry, Far From Heaven)--headed by producers Christine Vachon and Pam Koffler--to form KillerMoxie Management, a talent management firm headed by Brian Young, formerly of Untitled Entertainment. Young brought to KillerMoxie his client roster including writers/directors Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki, James Foley, Alison Maclean, Sam Jones, Nicholas Jarecki--and a pair of Best First Screenplay nominees at the Independent Spirit Awards, directors/writers Nicholas Fackler and Dana Adam Shapiro--and actors Joy Bryant and Asia Argento, as well as rockers Sean Lennon and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.
Moxie has in other areas indeed diversified successfully beyond its ongoing core commercialmaking business--moving not only into branded content but also features, TV and music. For example, Moxie last year produced the feature documentary Tabloid, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris who is also active in spots via Moxie. On the TV front, Moxie produced the documentary show Head to Head, a weekly real-life Friday Night Lights focusing on two high school football teams in Mississippi. Originally conceived and produced as sponsored content for Cellular South and Y&R New York, Head to Head was later picked up by Fox Sports for a 12-week run. Head to Head garnered a Cannes Lion in the media category of Best Use of Sponsorship.
Also on the TV score, Levinson wrote and directed Uneven Fairways, a documentary chronicling the exclusion of professional African-American golfers from the PGA tour, which spawned the formation of a tournament circuit akin to the Negro Leagues in baseball. Uneven Fairways debuted on The Golf Channel, with Moxie and The Golf Channel sharing revenue generated from their partnership on distribution of the program.
As for the alluded to music diversification, Moxie is partnered with noted music supervisor Randall Poster (Aviator, School of Rock, The Hangover) in Search Party Music, a music supervision company and brand consultant that creates for spots, TV shows, features and other forms of distribution.
The tail-end of the discussion between Levinson and Goldrich brought in a third participant, Moxie director Lena Beug, who was part of SHOOT's 2006 New Directors Showcase. She discussed her career progression as facilitated by Moxie, a project of note being Bluefly's Closet Confessions viral series which earlier this year won the Fashion 2.0 Award in the Best Online Video category. Since its launch in April 2010, Bluefly's Closet Confessions has thrown open the closet doors of assorted style stars (Nicky Hilton, Kimora Lee Simmons, Kelly Osbourne), all the while encouraging visitors to respond with pictures and videos of their own closets for the chance to win Bluefly shopping sprees.
New Directors Showcase
This year's field of helmers in the New Directors Showcase totaled 32--consisting of 30 individual directors and a duo. (To see the entire SHOOT New Directors Showcase Reel and profiles on each director, log onto http://nds.shootonline.com).
Offering professional perspectives from the ad agency and production house sides of the business were, respectively, Tor Myhren, president and chief creative officer of Grey New York, and Mindy Goldberg, managing partner and founder of Epoch Films.
Myhren said it all comes down to the reel for an agency to take a leap of faith and award a job with a new director. He strongly advised directors to show their strongest work possible, observing that he would rather see a great spec piece than multiple lackluster real-world spots on a reel. Myhren added that also key to landing an assignment is the conference call with the director. If a director conveys creative vision and a genuine passion for the project, that goes a long way towards getting the gig. Even the best reel, noted Myhren, can be undermined by a mediocre conference call.
Goldberg, who has a track record for developing new directorial talent at Epoch Films, noted that production houses have grown in their importance as a determining factor in jobs being awarded. If an agency, for example, has worked successfully in the past with and thus has a level of trust in a production house, that can help make it easier for the ad shop to take that leap of faith to entrust a job to a new director at that particular company. Also, as more longer form content opportunities emerge, the producing experience and acumen of a production company becomes all the more significant as agencies and clients choose collaborators.
Sponsors For the second straight year, the New Directors Showcase evening event was expanded to include daytime proceedings, a Directors/Producers Forum. The two complementary SHOOT events were held in conjunction with The One Club's Creative Week, NYC.
Lead sponsors of the SHOOT events were: the DGA, Deluxe, harvest and ONE at Optimus. Silver sponsors were Kodak, Company 3 and Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. Bronze sponsor was spot shop Argyle Brothers.