POV (Perspective)
Tom Cruise, "SNL," and the Changing Face of Advertising Production
  • Wednesday, Jun. 3, 2020
Scott Conway

While the big picture of how production will ultimately look is currently rendered in impressionistic blobs of probabilities, there are many workarounds available to make great commercials and content. Unless you’re Tom Cruise (who is allegedly being launched into space to film a movie) then you need two things to pull off a production during these unprecedented times: 1) a little creativity and 2) a lot of trust in your partner(s).

There is no better, real-time example of how production is evolving than by watching Saturday Night Live. From week-to-week, the process gets more streamlined as actors get accustomed to their new reality of shooting segments on iPhones. The writers get more creative with the limits of the surroundings, and the editors rely more heavily on graphics packages to keep things TV-ready. It’s a great case study in what can be accomplished when you use creativity to problem-solve.

With new regulations from OSHA, SAG and the individual states (none of which exist in space, so you win again, Tom Cruise) it’s now more important to have a comprehensive understanding of what to expect from a production, and trust in your creative partners.

Dust-blowing, UGC, and Influencers, Oh My
The first place to start is by taking stock of what you have at your disposal from past shoots and b-roll. Many brands already have a large collection of footage that has been sitting on the digital shelf for years. Sorting through this footage, and locating or re-purposing the shots that work for your current needs is a great first step. The possibilities are endless with a combination of camera cards or musical licensing and the right pre-existing shots to punctuate your messaging.

Have something specific in mind you haven’t already captured? One of the biggest changes we’ve seen so far is an increased reliance on user generated content (UGC). Individuals on social media capture stunningly emotional and beautiful content, and using these videos to punctuate a concept is one of the most authentic approaches you can take when shooting is not an option.

When people can’t escape physically, they turn to social media (or alcohol, but that’s a different article). Brands who want to connect with their audience are looking for new and authentic online solutions. So, they are turning to influencers. This is an easy and affordable solution, depending on the number of followers. Influencers can also turn around content fast, as well as help put a fresh spin on existing assets. But keep in mind, relying on an influencer is about access and authenticity, not perfection.

Of course, if there’s a shot you must have, you can find creative ways to capture footage. Whether heading out unassisted, sourcing family as talent, shooting on an iPhone, or using the ultimate social distancing tool, the drone, capturing beautiful footage is certainly possible.

Nimble, meet Scrappy. Scrappy, Nimble
The pre-production process has seen the greatest amount of change. Agencies are talking about how much more nimble they need to get, but that by no means leads to less work. The hours spent on set are now spent on pre-production to make sure the director or influencer knows EXACTLY what is needed.

What does this mean for creatives? The answer lies in the past. Rip-o-matics allow creative teams to think through every set up. How the spot will flow from scene to scene. Whether using hand-drawn animation or a storyboard service, this requires forethought, creativity and planning.

Advertising is a business of creative problem solving. But it’s also one of relationships. It’s never been more important to trust your agency and its creative sensibilities. With new restrictions on the number of people that can be allowed on any one production, this severely limits the ability for client and agency alike to have the type of representation they’re used to. So, trust is more important than ever.

With new rules and regulations regarding social distancing, fewer people are on set to do the work, ultimately leading to capturing fewer shots. More so than any other of the changes in the production process, this will be the hardest to overcome. Less people means set-ups, lighting and company moves will take more time (we will miss you craft services).

While the days of large productions may be a thing of the past for the time being (Tom Cruise aside) creating effective, brand appropriate content is something being done every day. The challenges presented in production are an opportunity for cross disciplines to work together to problem solve, ultimately leading to creative that is just as impactful and effective as ever.

Scott Conway is creative director at Mering, a Sacramento, Calif.-headquartered consumer action agency.

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