The year ahead for production: embrace risk and be more open
A view from Davud Karbassioun

The year ahead for production: embrace risk and be more open

It is crucial for production companies to form direct relationships with clients, get involved in entertainment and embrace risk.

You can’t separate an idea from its execution. Whatever the medium or format, how you make things is as critical to success as the idea you set out to make.

Every memorable piece of work comes with moments when elements of unquantifiable magic are unlocked through the process of execution.

Those elements are directly linked to how audiences engage emotionally with the work and the brand. In 2016, we lost many icons. People who defied convention but defined culture: Bowie, Wood, Wilder, Prince, Ali.

Adland recently lost an icon of its own. When I watch the films Frank Budgen created, I’m reminded of the work that drew me into this industry. Because he brought so much to every project, it’s impossible to establish at what stage the idea started to form into something so special.

In a world that is increasingly reactive and risk-averse, and that at its worst pushes the makers to the bottom of the food chain, it’s important to encourage new ways to unlock the visceral magic created in execution that can’t be defined in words on a script, in data on slides or by asking research groups.

Proactive production

Any business that thinks of production as a back-end service will under-deliver. The most important shift for production in 2017 is that it needs to become as proactive as it is reactive to the challenges it is set.

Producers and production companies must help inspire, shape and protect the ideas they make. They should establish direct relationships with clients and an understanding of their business needs. This will lead to more impactful and interesting work, but it also speeds the whole process up.

We live in an increasingly fastpaced world, so fasten your seat belts – in 2017, the need for speed will only increase.

A more 'open' approach

I suppose that’s part of the reason why the gloves have come off and the lines have blurred. Production companies are leaning directly into brands and agencies have launched their own production offerings. There are good and bad examples of both.

Above all, it’s a reflection of the need for agencies to unlock a more agile creative process and for production companies to respond to evolving client requirements. The ultimate goal is a more open and collaborative approach to production.

With the US Department of Justice investigation into the serious allegation of bid-rigging in the production commissioning process, in-house production will be put under the microscope in 2017.

Ads that don’t look like ads

Sir John Hegarty once said: "Make advertising that doesn’t look like advertising." In 2017, we should take that advice more literally.

Our audiences are starting to avoid the advertising we make and there is a thriving pay-TV market. When executive producer Dan Lin made The Lego Movie, he didn’t do it because the brand approached him with a brief for a $60m film.

He did it because, first, he was convinced it would make a great piece of entertainment and, second, he felt Lego’s involvement would be as beneficial to the brand as it would the finished work. So he approached Lego.

Four years later, Lin produced what is arguably the greatest-ever commercial that audiences have paid to see. Imagine if British Airways were behind Chef’s Table or Audi funded Ex Machina. Brands have an opportunity to create and curate stories, connecting with audiences in a more involved way. It’s important for all modern production companies to lean in to entertainment.

We need people in our industry who understand how entertainment is commissioned and consumed.

Champion the unusual suspects

The future of every business is built on investing in the next generation of talent. We need to ensure we are actively encouraging a more diverse perspective from a wider spectrum of production talent: male and female of all races, religions, origins and ages. It’s about curiosity, about finding people with new viewpoints.

The #Freethebid initiative has been one of the most powerful movements of 2016, starting a conversation about the shameful lack of female directing talent.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, for example, insists on having an "unusual suspect" as one of the three directors who pitch on any brief. We must encourage the unusual suspects to step up and bring a different perspective to the table. 

Embrace risk: it’s OK to be scared

In 2017, I’m hoping for a braver approach to production. All the best work has risk attached. Risk can be scary but it’s critical to making anything great. In a world of uncertainty, we must embrace that.

I remember the first job I did with Ringan Ledwidge for Levi’s ten years ago. The day before shooting, we still hadn’t sold our casting. I asked Ringan if everything was going to be OK. He said he was petrified, at which point I started considering alternative career options.

He then said: "If we weren’t petrified, it would mean we didn’t care and that we weren’t on course to make something special."

Passion is the oxygen of creativity. The minute we give up on caring, we’re fucked. It only gets harder. But, hey, when was making anything great ever easy?

I write this piece on my last day at BBH after 14 years. An agency that proudly sits production at the heart of its offering. An agency that has constantly backed me. I’ve made a career of surrounding myself with people who have carried me every step of the way and by hiring talent who share an obsession for making things beautiful.

The people who have made me look good are the many incredible production companies that I have collaborated with over the years. I will never take that lightly.

I’m moving to build on the incredible story unfolding at Pulse Films, and eventually to sit in the same office as my hero Spike Jonze and our Vice family in Los Angeles.

I’m so excited. I’m also scared – but, as Ringan said, that’s a good thing, right?

Davud Karbassioun is the global president of commercials and branded entertainment at Pulse Films.