Feature

Production Essays: Enter the golden age

In a diversifying world that's saddled with a struggling economy, traditional roles are blurring.

Just in case you haven't noticed, the whole world has changed. Supermarkets are selling insurance, garages are selling boeuf en croute with a red wine jus, film stars are driving electric cars and you can be prosecuted for putting the wrong kind of rubbish in the wrong sort of bin. For many, a night in front of the telly has been replaced by a night in front of the computer screen. To put it simply and to quote the late, great Lionel Bart: "Fings ain't what they used to be."

And nowhere has seen a bigger shift in the way things work than the world of commercials production. It's easy to sit around and moan at the demise of the good old days when there was an XX per cent mark-up, you had XX weeks to produce a spot and you could get away with putting the agency monitor on a different stage.

But the horse has bolted, it's disappearing over the horizon and no amount of gate closing is going to bring it back again.

Agencies and clients are more demanding than ever. It's a buyers' market, with the production world over-supplied like never before. A phrase that is being heard ever more frequently is: "There's not a lot of money on this one." Once, you were more inclined to hear it from the trendy agencies when discussing an award-winning script. Now, everyone seems to be saying it, no matter how questionable the creative work.

On the other hand, you know that every time you turn down an impossible script with a laughable budget, there's someone waiting in the wings to make a really good job of it; not necessarily a keen beginner, it could just as easily be a well-established, high-profile rival.

And just to keep us on our toes, the world's economy is imploding with potentially nasty things in store for advertising in general.

Oh, well, mustn't grumble.

Things are just about to get really interesting. With perfect timing, we've just set up a new production company. We called it Coy! because we're not and we thought that it would be good to strap "Communications" on the end, not only because alliteration is good, but also because it implied that we did other things as well as produce TV commercials.

And that's the key to it, really. We've based our business model on The Goodies (you know, the 70s comedy programme starring Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graham Garden). Fans will know that their motto was: "We do anything - anytime." In our case, that doesn't necessarily refer to any poor quality script thrust at us, but to any kind of creative stuff.

The best commercial production companies have always been good at making things happen. In this digital, integrated, branded content, microsite, podcast, 360-degree universe that we now inhabit, it's important to be flexible, to be more than just a conventional production company.

Things are tough, but they're probably going to get tougher. Agencies are going to be creatively stretched as belts tighten all over town with the inevitable shedding of creative talent. The idea of a production company as a creative resource to agencies, as well as a supplier of end product, has never had more credence.

Agencies are asking more and more how their TV campaigns can work online and across other media (even shelf wobblers) and, with money getting tighter, it sometimes makes sense to combine TV, post, online and even above and below the line print production budgets.

Despite the volatile market place, the business has never been more creative or diverse, with tools we could only have dreamed of a few years back. The new generation of directors that we're meeting can shoot, edit, grade, design and take photographs and they're not too proud to make their own tea.

Over the past couple of years, the team at Coy! has been involved in several award-winning print and press campaigns, published a magazine, produced a couple of glossy books, overseen London's first Mexican World Championship Wrestling event, designed websites and identities, helped pitch for several multimillion-pound accounts, made short films, relaunched a famous advertising awards body and still had time to shoot commercials.

We know we're not alone. All over town, similar examples of extra-curricular activities are taking place. On one level, production has never been so easy and the opportunity to be creative has never been so immense.

It's a really exciting era that we're embarking on. It's getting harder to define roles. Agencies are engaging in design and post-production, production companies are generating creative work, editors are sniffing around in the digital arena. The new creative possibilities are a positive by-product of everyone looking around for new revenue streams as purse strings tighten. The increasingly difficult but important thing for us is that we remain a supplier to advertising agencies and not a rival.

No-one really knows what the industry is going to look like in a few years' time and there are many new formulae being tried out. Like any pioneers, there will be a number of companies who end up with their arses full of arrows. But, creatively, the commercial production company is entering a golden age, with many opportunities to engage in new and challenging creative projects with the next generation of multi-talented directors.

Shame about the money though.

- Mark Denton is a director and Sara Cummins is a producer at Coy! Communications.

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