The year ahead for ... production

Daniel Kleinman fears production companies could go to the wall as clients' demands for ever cheaper solutions reach unrealistic levels.

This time of year, many of us are gazing at our balls trying to discern what the upcoming year will bring, and it's certainly a hairy prospect for a lot of us.

Is it going to be a tough year for production? Well, yes, probably; is it the newspapers' ubiquitous cliche, the abyss? I hope not, but I'm not going to look downwards just in case. I'm gazing ahead and I see problems but also, in a "half-empty, half-full" type way, a chance to be a bit radical.

Intuitively, of course, one would assume that as the market gets tougher for clients they should want to advertise more, meaning more production, but I think we know it doesn't work like that. Scripts are going to be fewer and further between, budgets will be tighter and probably some creative treatments will be more conservative.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the agencies with banks as clients come up with the goods; those creatives are certainly going to earn their money, if they can get any out of 'em.

We are going to be asked to "think outside the box" more. It's a phrase that comes up a lot at the moment and it means this: what we have here is a difficult big-production film on a tight schedule but we only have half the money we had last year.

On the plus side, this could be a chance to be inventive, offer up solutions that are unusual or challenging, to be brave and do something different. On the minus side, it could mean we expect production companies to undercut each other and work longer and harder for less if they want the job.

I hope it's the former; if it's the latter we are going to see production companies fail and close. As I believe production companies have been cutting margins very tightly already, buying into jobs and subsidising great creative work they really want to do, and supporting younger directors by making no profit on their jobs, I suppose inevitably now times are harder there are going to be fatalities.

For a while it has been a competitive, over-subscribed marketplace with too many companies and too many directors chasing too few jobs. Perhaps it's just the law of the jungle that some must now close, because, of course, something has to give, but the added danger is a cut-price feeding frenzy where quality goes down the khazi.

There is always going to be someone, somewhere who will offer to do a job more cheaply, but I think quality as well as value for money should be an increasingly important factor, and I hope clients and agencies will want to keep the standard high and not just go with the cut-throat option.

Quality may be more difficult in tough times, but makes it easier to stand out in the crowd of an ad break if the general standard of work is increasingly bland - which it could easily become if clients just want cheap and creatively safe solutions. Quality will require a combination of being creative, knowing what is achievable and putting as much of the budget as possible, without going broke, on the screen.

But there probably are going to be times when agencies ask to fit a size 11 foot in a size five shoe, and that sort of job needs a lot of thought before taking it on.

Apart from being a possible poisoned chalice, it could set a tricky precedent - if the job is a success creatively but your company made a loss, you might be expected to do the same again next time.

It would be nice to think that if you go out on a limb for everyone, you get given a break next time, but I don't think I'm revealing anything controversial if say that quid pro quo doesn't always seem to apply in advertising, and you could eventually find yourself sitting with your British Television Advertising Award in the Marshalsea debtors prison, trying to work as an extra in a Dickens TV series.

A positive is that entertaining people with your ad is going to be crucial. The biggest movie star of the Depression of the 20s and 30s was Mickey Mouse, so perhaps a resurgence of good comedy work could be on the cards.

I don't know if "new media", whatever it is, is going to prove to be more or less important. It's certainly going to be useful for production companies to have knowledge and abilities in different areas and it'll be good to be able to package up campaign ideas.

One way of thinking outside the box may be for longer-term deals to be done, as uncertainty and cash flow seem always to be the downfall of production companies.

If an agency could commit to putting a certain amount of money through a company over say a year, then I'm sure production costs could come down. It might be tricky to be locked into doing work of unknown nature, though - this sort of business thing has never been my strong point actually, so don't take my advice.

It may prove to be an easier time for production companies that have a strong foreign presence or link with a foreign company. I'm sure work coming in from abroad will be welcome and, if the pound stays weak, foreign clients can get good production value on-screen in the UK.

It also means that directors with a high profile abroad may be inclined to emigrate to work for foreign clients; earning dollars when the pound is weak, for instance, makes sense.

This may mean opportunities for lower-profile guys, but, as ever, it's the good creative scripts that people will be chasing hardest, regardless of where they come from.

Really, in the end, it's all about quality and value for money, allowing no compromise on production value, being seen as a company that can reliably create great work that everyone is proud of at a fair cost. If you can stay solvent, it may mean having to say no occasionally because it just can't be done - even if it hurts.

- Daniel Kleinman is a director and the co-founder of Rattling Stick.