1) We have been very fortunate at Goodby Silverstein & Partners to have a deep pool of production talent within the agency, including directors, photographers, DPs, editors, composers, audio engineers, motion-graphics artists, creative technologists and designers. Initially, a lot of our work was editing and animation heavy, but pretty quickly, we began remotely directing and shooting talent via iPhones and drop kits and then progressing to remote crews. One of the earliest remote shoots we did was for Panera Bread, highlighting their delivery drivers by telling the story from their POV. It was initially produced as a social campaign, and one of the spots was also picked up for TV. The entire project was handled in-house. The most recent project we produced for Panera Bread was a remote shoot with Michael Bolton. Knowing we had to deliver the same production value, but since we were working in a different way, the planning of the shoot with celebrity talent had to be meticulous. Our in-house director and DP in San Francisco worked remotely with the talent and the local Connecticut crew over Zoom to great and hilarious effect.
2) Our in-house talent has always been our secret weapon. They are the engine that could—and did! During the pandemic this team had a chance to be in the spotlight for all our clients in a new way. Previously known for bread-and-butter social spots, print ads and animation, the creative talents of this team was tapped for full broadcast-production work, including working with celebrity talent. Preproduction looks a bit different, as we scout locations remotely, teach talent how to light their own locations and remote-control cameras from miles away. As we began to move from drop kits to remote crews on location, we also needed to become familiar with the variety of COVID-19 protocols by state, as we were shooting all across the US.
3) We did not restrict how the creatives should concept based on COVID-19 realities. The truth is, we were all living this together and respected each other to collaborate on solutions. Creatives are now fully immersed in execution decisions—which has, in the case of our Sam Adams work, led to embracing the idea that the character, Your Cousin from Boston, who now has his own Instagram account, is stuck in quarantine.
4) All processes during the pandemic just take longer. From prep to shooting to post, the process is new. COVID-19 safety precautions are real and impactful, and when you can’t physically be together, you have to be extra precise in your communication. Watching a shoot remotely and communicating via Zoom and text adds a layer of complexity to the process, just as it does for postproduction.
From a director’s POV, the process involves more communication management. Client feedback is much more instantaneous, as they are viewing the same image as the remote director. Channels of communication between crew and director, talent and director, and client and director/agency require one’s full attention. In person, these processes would often overlap and happen simultaneously, whereas remotely, they happen independently. During the post process, edits are viewed live, and it often includes a mix of choppy playback reviews and posted links for feedback.
Overall, productions take longer and cost more than prior to the pandemic, but the benefit is full, real-time collaboration between the creatives, production, talent and the client.
5) The primary lessons learned:
- Everything takes longer.
- Add more prep time.
- Add more post time.
- Talent has been very cooperative and understanding of all the new protocols and additional things we ask them to handle. Heroes.
- COVID-19 costs are real and nonnegotiable. Add as a separate line item, in addition to the production budget.
- There are lots of talented production teams all over the country, including in smaller markets, with whom it has been our pleasure to work.
1) My advice for new directors is that there is a wealth of opportunity on the inside. Whether that is at an agency or at a brand, there are opportunities for content creation in many places these days. And the beauty of working at an agency in particular is that you get to work on big brands early in your career. You can build a reel quickly with global clients—something that would take years on the outside. You also can learn the inner workings of how ads are made. The most important thing is to always work on your craft, even if you are your only audience.
2) My advice for producers is to work on every type of production you can. All our producers now have core competency in at least two disciplines. Building your skills beyond one traditional functional specialty is the key to a long, varied and interesting career—and, quite frankly, the most interesting and challenging assignments.
3) I recently worked on a PSA project for Common Sense Media. We had our crew and talent booked; COVID-19 tests scheduled; and the location locked when wildfires erupted nearby. We had to unwind everything and postpone for a few weeks until the smoky skies cleared. We changed locations and started prep again, only to have new wildfires break out. We got the film shot, but lesson learned—have backup for the backup, and never underestimate 2020 for production surprises.
4) We are always looking for promising new talent. We have an active summer intern program as well as and an apprenticeship program. Apprentices are people who have taken a nontraditional path to agency life, and in our most recent group of four interns, two have filmmaking experience. An apprenticeship is a yearlong program through which members cycle through the four main pillars of the agency: creative, account, strategy and production. They get experience in each area, with the hope that they will find the space in which they would most like to contribute. One member of our most recent class of apprentices joined Production as a content creative. He is a high-performing, high-value team member, and we are so happy he chose us.
As it relates to diversity programming, we are in the process of assessing our agency culture relative to equity, diversity and inclusion. We strive to identify areas where we need to grow and evolve and areas where we are excelling. We plan to launch a formal and long-term equity, diversity and inclusion strategy in the first quarter of the new year.
5) We recently produced a film for BMW called “Calm Wash.” The idea is that your car can be a refuge from the distractions and upset of the outside world. It is a Zen-like ASMR experience. The in-house team rigged a local car wash and a BMW X7 with cameras and lights, taking viewers on a soothing journey through soap bubbles and water from the luxury of a BMW. Our director/DP’s approach created more of an art piece than an ad, with the BMW badge appearing only at the very end. I am very proud of the team for creating this beautiful film—and on a shoestring budget, no less.