TRUST ME?

RecommendMy wife, Dana, possesses many amazing qualities. One of them isn't a great sense of direction. 

Whenever we travel, even in places we've been before, she has a hard time getting her bearings. Please refrain from any helpful comments about using a GPS. They only confuse things.

Thankfully, she is well aware of her directional shortcomings. Although Dana likes to be in control of our family decisions, the navigational responsibilities have fallen firmly into my lap. 

As I've grown to accept that she's better at managing our life, she has grown to accept that I'm better at geography. We take control of our areas of strength, let go in our areas of weakness and trust that we have each others best interest at heart. Of course there are occasions where we question our defined roles, but that's bound to happen in any relationship. We acknowledge our differences and strive to work them out.

If only professional relationships operated this same way.

There always seemed to be an understanding that the agency was entrusted to make decisions on behalf of their clients or at the very least was a respected brand adviser. From my perch, as a vendor, this role has greatly deteriorated. There is no better example of this than the "Agency Recommend".  

At the risk of sounding like an old timer, back in the day The Recommend meant you were getting the job. Was it a 100% lock? Of course not, nothing is. My O's are tied for first as of this morning so even the Yankees winning the AL East in a down year for the Bosox isn't a sure thing. But, getting The Recommend was as close to a guarantee as you could get.

There was an understanding that the agency was in the best position to choose their production partners. They knew what the client wanted to achieve. They properly vetted their selections. And, they were confident in their creative approach. As a result, the agency owned the decision and gladly accepted the responsibility that went with. 

These days I'm not quite sure what The Recommend means. From what I'm told, the agency presents all bid directors accompanied by reels, treatments and any other relevant factors. The agency isn't making a recommend as much as providing data for the client to choose. Unlike in the past, the agency seems to own the responsibility but not the decision. 

For us vendors, it produces more juggling and anxiety than we'd like. It often appears to our staff, our crew and mostly to our directors that we EP's don't really have a pulse on our projects. I guess it's because we don't. Our saving grace is the belief that it all evens out. There are jobs we get that we were told we were not. And, there are jobs we did not get that we were told we were.

I feel more for the agencies than for us. It takes months to sell the work. When they finally do, they must review the vast industry talent pool and then ask their vendors to go through a fast paced and arduous bidding process. Yet, they don't have the client's confidence in making a key decision in executing their own concepts. This eroding trust discounts agency opinions and marginalizes their expertise. The Recommend today feels less like a thoroughly researched, fully vetted strategic decision and more like a game of chance. 

If this was the dynamic in my marriage I would have no idea where to go and Dana would have no idea how to get there. We would either live in dysfunction or end up divorced. I would assume that's hardly the relationship anyone would want whether a couple or a client. 

ENTERTAIN US

MV5BODI1NzEzNTMxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODc2NTk4Mg@@._V1._SY317_CR12,0,214,317_BossFriday-night-lights-260731ImagesMV5BMTQ0ODY1Nzg0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA4NDA4Nw@@._V1._SY317_CR15,0,214,317_

For those of you that love the great American pastime of TV we are living through the Golden Age. I don't care if you watch on a flat screen or a computer or a mobile device, programming is at an unrivaled high.

Mad Men. Game of Thrones. Homeland. The Daily Show. Louie. The Family Guy. 30 Rock. The Walking Dead. Breaking Bad. Girls. Boardwalk Empire.  Friday Night Lights. Okay, Friday Night Lights is off the air but it's too good not to mention. Should I go on?...

HomelandTumblr_m6e06lMKAi1qzq0jqThe-good-wife-218549_game_of_thronesUnknown

The Killing. Modern FamilyThe Good Wife. Episodes. Suits. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Dexter. Revenge. The Colbert Report. Downton Abbey. Shameless. Boss. I'm getting exhausted and I haven't even mentioned high quality trash TV, um, The Kardashians. Yes, I've watched it and enjoyed it. So have you. Admit it. I think I've made my point. And, sorry if I omitted any of your favorites.

TV has never been better. Better writing. Better stories. Better characters. I've never been as excited for a film opening as I am for a season premiere. And, after the first episode they just keep coming week after week. And when the season ends its a little sad. 

What changed? Why did TV get better and smarter and more culturally relevant? I can only think of one reason. It had to.

There are no longer 3 stations developing programming. Between networks, cable and subscription outlets there are over 20 plus channels creating original content. All of them are vying for the most valuable of assets, our time and our attention. 

It became more imperative to make a quality product as TV faced a host of competing distractions. Not even counting non-theatrical programming like 24 hour sports, the endless news cycle and cooking shows, there are video games, social media, websites, blogs, apps, online shoppping, and dare I say human interaction. If a show is lucky enough to somehow garner your attention, they better do whatever they can to keep it. What better method than providing highly entertaining and evocative programming.

TV Programmers know that attention is the ultimate currency. It's what draws advertisers and subscribers into their spheres and ultimately what pays their salaries. With their monopoly on America's free time eroding, they had no choice but to improve. Is there a reason marketers haven't come to the same conclusion? To put it simply, why aren't we making better ads?

The means of distribution be it broadcast media, the web, or even In-Store isn't the issue. The quality of the experience is. Of course there are exceptions. There has always been a percentage of good and innovative work being produced even prior to the advent of the remote control, the DVR and streaming video. Faced with these options to avoid our messaging, major brand advertising have decided to become more conservative in their choices.

TV figured it out. They had to get better to remain relevant. Why haven't the folks who are subsidizing them?

Some marketer or researcher may disspell this theory of ads as entertainment. And if they do, they need to have a substantive conversation with a teenager about adveristing. The conversation will go something like this.

"Do you ever pay attention to ads, you know TV commercials? Those things you fast forward through on your DVR or Hulu puts on before letting you watch your show."

They think for a moment and stare blankly. "No."

You probe further. "Do you like that Old Spice guy or any of those Nike spots on the Olympics"

Another blank stare. "Yeah, I like those."

Now you've got them. "I thought you said you didn't watch ads."

"I don't....I only watch the good ones." Now they've got you.

Marketing is no longer in the business of "And, now a word from our Sponsor". This Generation and the ones following don't want to be interrupted. They want to be entertained. We need to stop creating ads and start creating programming.

Or as Kurt Cobain said to his generation, and the inspiration for the titular line of this post, 

With the lights out, it's less dangerous 
Here we are now, entertain us 

Smells like Teen Spirit. 

MY LOVE OF CONSPIRACY THEORY

The continuing rise in power of the Cost Consultant has made many of us on the supplier side feel like prey. It's as if there is a bulls-eye on our back. We are forced to justify our value as we get picked apart piece by piece. I used to take it personally but nowadays I'm starting to believe we are only collateral damage. The real target isn't us at all. 

BullseyeNow I'm going to get all Oliver Stone on you. Hopefully I'm not losing my mind from receiving too many 3 page emails questioning the costs of a one day shoot. At least withhold judgement until you hear me out. Or, is that what every conspiracy theorists says before they tell a whooper of a story...

In a sterile corporate office park a Production Consultant company meets with their client. This client is a major brand. They advertise consistently and work with multiple agencies. At this meeting the Consultant presents a detailed analysis of the clients total production spend over the last three years. This is exclusive of media or creative. It is solely production. This encompasses broadcast departments, integrated, business affairs and any department related to execution. 

In this analysis they determined that on average the client has been spending 25 million per year across 5 agencies to maintain their production services. Each of these five agencies follow certain client guidelines but have different processes unique to one another. The consultant presents a very complex powerpoint presentation that diagrams these services while highlighting all the redundancies and inefficiencies. With a dramatic pause they unveil a new plan. It's simpler and cleaner, less cluttered and complicated. The power point is accompanied by a speech that goes something like this...

"In this ever changing world of marketing you need to ensure you are reaching your consumers faster, more efficiently and less costly. There are so many media outlets to cover yet a limited amount of resources to reach them. In order to market effectively, you need to work with hundreds of supplier across multiple platforms. You need to know these suppliers are not only reliable but are also providing the best services and the lowest possible price. It is difficult know and complicated pull off. It is especially hard, if not impossible, when working with many creative partners."

The Cost Consultant now takes a dramatic pause while taking a short sip of water to moisten his throat.

"After the creative is approved, no one better understands the need to protect your investment in the production and distribution of your brand messaging than us. It is what we've dedicated ourselves to for the last five years of our relationship. We have achieved great success as has been well documented but we can do better....a lot better. The current structure of our relationship hampers our ability to do more. We want you to help us help you."

Now he goes in for the kill. 

"What if I told you we could reduce the 25 million in your production spend by 35%? What if I told you the cuts in costs would provide better services and higher efficiencies? What if I told you it would streamline the production process? What if I told you it would limit your liability? What if I told you it would better leverage all your buying power? What if I told you it would be in the hands of a trusted partner who has a history of protecting your investment? Would this type of arrangement interest you? Assuming it would, the only question remaining is what to do with that extra 8.75 million?"

Now that he has their attention. He goes into graphic detail how all the production services from talent contracts and production agreements to insurance policy and tax rebates would go through them. They aren't interested in conception. They smartly compliment the agencies on their creative prowess. They are only asking that once the creative is approve they hand over the work to be produced by the consultants. This not only streamlines the process but also allows them to leverage all their buying power to the supplier community. And there is more. They have created the infrastrucutre. Over the last few years, they have assembled a team of the former Senior Agency Producers, Post Supervisors, Business Managers and Production Company EP's to manage the process. Seasoned industry pros who know the ins and outs of agencies and suppliers. They work exclusively for the consultant but their loyalty lies with the client. 

Someone in the room makes the case that separating the creative from the execution could present a problem. The Consultant argues that agencies already do that anyway. They outsource the vast majority of the execution to outside suppliers. Their involvement hinders the process it doesn't enhance it. The question is who do you trust more to oversee the process of production, the agency or the consultant. 

Even as I write it this seems inconcievable.  In this age of uncertainty with models crumbling and past structures being questioned anything is possible. Am I sounding like Agency Mulder in the X-Files? Where's the Smoking Man when I need him?

ON THE FRINGE

TimecardUnion1I need to get something off my chest. It's a bit wonky so forgive me. If you aren't into bid details as it realtes to business practices stop now. You've been warned. 

Who the hell thought up the idea of breaking labor friges below the line at reduced fees? We're talking pension & welfare benefits plus payroll taxes. Out of the 233 production lines on the AICP bid form why choose this one? Why not pick camera rental? How about wardrobe? Or craft services? Who determines what production element is more valuable than the other?

I don't believe anything should be broken out at lesser fees. A production fee is in total for our services. No one item is more important than the other. Every budget line is needed to deliver on our creative approach and produce a quality project.

Back to the particulars at hand. If you are going to ask for reduce fees on a line item, out of all the things to ask for, why this one?

P&W/PT is not just any item in the budget, it is the single riskiest item in the entire bid form. Here's why.

  • Depending on the State, we must make payroll within five to ten business days from the last shoot day. If not, we face fines up to 5 times the amount of the actual cost of service.
  • We are signatory to six different labor contracts and 24 separate unions. The specificity of these deals are all reflected in our payroll and must be abided by or face penalities.
  • Production Companies get audited by these unions regulary to ensure we are in compliance. This requires the allocation of non-billable man hours in both production and accounting departments. 
  • Unions can (and do) file greivances against prodcos for any number of reasons resulting in possible fines, legal fees or both. And, let me tell you, it's a super fun process. 

These items makes this the only line item that can potentially cost money and take up valuable staff time long after the job has wrapped. And I've barely touched upon payroll taxes which need to be paid to city, county and federal governments. A little bit of risk in this. 

All of these potential pitfalls regarding labor are part of the P/W+PT fringes and are 100% the production companies responsibilty. Am I complaining? Me? Never. It's part of doing business. Risk and reward. It goes with the territory. Labor fringe just so happens to be a big one. I'll ask again. Not that I think we should discount any singular line item, but if I were, why this one? 

There has to be a good reason. It can't just be that it's a large sum of money making it the best place to erode our margins. Or, that the policy makers feel that the payroll company does all the work and all the production company does is pass it through. Did I mention that nothing takes more wrap time than calculating timecards or where there is greatest chance for error? 

It doesn't make sense why a production company should charge less for the very item that carries with it the most risk, may haunt us past completion and opens us to the greatest amount of exposure. Despite all of this, this is far and away the most popular item to be requested or demanded to be broken out. 

Somebody out there must have an answer for me. There has got be an origin or some type of logic behind this thinking. If there is, please share. I want to know. Until then, next time you are asked to break out fringes at a reduced fee, you may want to back away from the edge. There are plenty of good reasons why. 

IN A WORLD GONE MAD...

Preferred vendors list are a controversial topic. Recently this discussion has been amplified. I can’t get into specifics of why. I’ve been NDA’d. I don’t think this post violates it. Or at least I hope not.

The production community seems to be divided over where we stand on PVL’s. Some are adamantly opposed without exception. One respected colleague went as far as to say “A good preferred vendors list is an oxymoron”. Others aren’t quite as stringent stating they aren’t necessarily against preferred vendor lists only bad ones.

Whatever side of this argument you lean towards, there may be a day when there is no longer a debate. Preferred vendor lists won’t be an aberration from standard practices, it may be the industry norm. It could come under the jurisdiction of clients if not the agencies. And if not the agencies then almost assuredly the cost consultants. The powers that be haven’t quite figured this out. They could. And, very possibly soon.

You may disagree, for any one of a number of reasons, with my prognostication on the inevitably of PVL’s but for fun lets imagine a post-apocalyptic Rod Serling-esque production world. The procurement drones have defeated the ragtag band of artistically inclined rebel capitalist. Our advertising production society is now governed by a strict set of unbending laws. Some of them are clearly stated while others are unspoken. It’s like “The Hunger Games” meets “Mad Men”.

What would that world look like?

207689_landscape_14725_320x240

At the beginning there will be fear and chaos. Less commercials are being made. Supplier and agency margin erosion parallels the sudden demise of the broadcast television model. Uncertainty abounds as a profitable new form of marketing films has yet to take hold. We are all fighting vigorously over the remaining scraps. 

From the rubble, a preferred vendor list emerges. The list provides the the client with acceptable talent at acceptable cost with limited liability. It will have enough incentive for vendors to rationalize filling out the RFP. Combined these incentives with the a lesser supply of projects and a greater number of talent to choose from and we'll see many top shops appear on this list. Other agencies and clients will quickly emulate this success, as there is no greater form of flattery, or illustration of fear, than imitation.

Some of these list that follow will be openly declared by soliciting detailed information from the suppliers. Others may be more covert policies insisting the agencies limit their talent pool to a small select group of companies. Whoever is accepted as part of the preferred covert list, the procurement department will insist volume side deals be negotiated. In either case, the task is for the list to achieve the best level of talent for the lowest possible price. This will be achieved through lesser manpower required to vet the process and overall efficiencies of scale. 

There will be supplier holdouts in joining the declared and undeclared list but in a short period of time they’ll have no choice. With profitable opportunities in shorter supply and the era of "good enough" ruling the day, even the strongest amongst us will succumb. They'll need both the capital to operate and most importantly the work to keep their talent happy. 

This will lead to the pursuit of talent having less to do with a company’s prowess and more to do with their preferred status. If you aren’t on the lists (declared or stealth), the director won’t even talk nonetheless sign.

The boutique companies will struggle without a diverse enough talent pool or a large enough roster to be consider an attractive candidate. And, by the very nature of the list and margins, they won’t be able to compete on pricing. The larger companies will see their margins shrink below today’s standard but can achieve acceptable profitability, where the risk justifies the reward, by producing a greater volume of work. Think of Wal-Mart. 

This will lead to the rise of the mega-company. It may take on a similar shape of the agency holding company model. Many production companies under one umbrella amortizing their operational costs to better service their clients and achieve the economies of scaled required to survive.

In short, if you are fairly large shop you’ll will get larger. Your business will become more complex as will your risk. If you are smaller shop the temptation will be to merge or be absorbed by a large shop since this new world order not only places your margins in danger but your very existence.  

I'm starting to feel like George Orwell or Philip K Dick. Even as I write, it reads as a tale of pure fiction rather than a potential reality. It's anti-creative, the total commodization of the filmmaking process. It would mean clients are saying that marketing is an expense not an investment. They will placing cost over creative. In a world cluttered with media where there is a never ending fight for eyeballs, we must entertain more than inform. They know this. This process would be counter to this logic in an effort to save a few dollars. Right?

It could never happen. No way. Not a chance...on second thought. 

A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND STATUS UPDATES

120px-Instagram_logoWhen I stopped blogging I jumped off the Social Media bandwagon. I never went to my Facebook page or updated my status. I stopped checking in on FourSquare. And, I even ceased Tweeting. Full disclosure, I now use these outlets to promote my blog postings but other than that I'm not an active user. Well, that's not entirely true. I do go to Twitter strictly as voyeur but not as a participant. There is a lot of good info from some very dedicated sources so I do find myself scrolling through my Tweet deck every so often. I can say affirmatively that I rarely if ever go to Facebook.

There is, however, one social media application I still reguarly engage in, Instagram. I’ve even linked it to my blog and my other social media accounts.

I don't know what it is that makes Instagram different. I guess it’s the visual thing. It isn’t about witty words or phrases. And, it's not about sharing banalities or obscure links. Not to say photographs lack pretense but somehow it feels less so than the random 140 characters or the status update.  

I like that it’s a view of how someone frames their world at any particular moment in time. It somehow brings more meaning or imagination than a random Tweet. And it certainly adds more color to the statement, “I just ate the greatest sandwich ever' without ever having to say it.  In my case, it's the paella picture. I made this dish. I was proud of it and wanted to show the world. I didn't have to boost about it or even say a word. All I did was snap this picture. 

IMG_0531
And by the way it tasted better than it looked. And, I think this is a pretty delicious looking picture. 

Not sure of the future expanse of social media but I believe Instagram has long term stabliity. It's a lot of fun with not that much effort. In a world that is becoming increasingly more visual I think it's here to stay. Obviously, Facebook found a billion reasons to agree with me. 

BETTER. FASTER. CHEAPER.

Blueberry-streusel-muffin1About a year and half ago a fellow EP emailed me. He was a fan of my blog and asked if I would have coffe with him. He wanted to pick my brain but wasn't specific on why. I sensed there was a reason other than to experience my bubbly personality first hand. I tried to electronically coax the agenda out of him to avoid meeting in person. This tact led to even more cryptic responses that unfortunately only served to pique my interest. I was now in a battle between two of my strongest traits, curiosity and anti-socialism. A real dog fight. My curiosity squeaked out the win, barely, and I agreed to meet for morning coffee.

Our conversation started by lamenting about the usual woes of the industry and the difficulties of running a production company. I won't bore you by listing them. If you've read my postings you already too familiar. Before my Americano was cold, he began to express the true reason for our coffee. He wanted to share what he felt was a major threat to our businesses. The community needed to make this issue a top priority and he wanted to enlist my help in this cause. 

AmericanoI was two years into this blog. Hadn't I touched on every major issue? I thought I was running out of topics. How could I have overlooked something so egregious. It's not like we are neuro-biologists who regularly unearth new discoveries. I guess it's possible I've missed something so menacing. With my ears at attention, I leaned back sipped my now luke warm coffee, pulled apart my blueberry muffin and eagerly awaited to hear of the doom that awaits me.

Two weeks prior, he was visiting an agency, a major agency. Couldn't say which one but they are big. He was meeting with the Head of Production who told him that for one of their brands, a major brand. Couldn't say which one but their massive, the agency was producing 75% of the work for that brand in-house. They were not using outside vendors to produce any of their creative. This means, are you ready for this, they are concepting then producing and finishing without any of our support.

There was a giant pause as he waited on my reaction. I picked at the remaining crumbs of my muffin thinking of how to respond. The only thing that came to mind was, AND...

He seemed some what irritated by my response, or rather lack there of. Didn't I see that if the agencies are executing themselves we are left in the cold. Our business would be ruined. The industry was over. What could be more of a threat than this. The AICP should be addressing this issue immediately.

Sensing my lack of feeling threatened, he continued to go into the gory details of this doomsday scenario and his strategies to fight back. The more I listened, the more I understood his concern. I didn't minimize that this was a real issue but I was sorry to say I didn't share his fears or his urgency. 

I believe that if someone out there can do it better, faster and cheaper than me then they deserve the business even if it means I close my doors. It doesn't matter if this superior ability comes from one of my competitors, the agencies or even the clients. I don't believe anyone can producer better, faster or cheaper than indepedent producers while still hoping to achieve the clients desired results. And if by chance they can, I guess I'll either need to find a new profession or apply for a job at an agency. 

My opinion seemed to end this topic of conversation. For the next 10 minutes we talked about rep commission and director participation until the bill came. When it did, he paid. I thanked him for the coffee and the blog fodder. He thanked me for the time. And, we both headed back to the salt mines. 

IN STRICTEST CONFIDENCE

ImagesThe NDA. It’s a noun and a verb, as in I really shouldn’t be writing a post about an NDA because I’ve been NDA’ed.

For those of you not in the know NDA is short for Non-Disclosure Agreement. In other words, when you sign one you can ‘t tell anyone anything pertaining to whatever topic is covered by the legal document. If you violate it something very very bad will happen to you. Not sure what but I’ll get back to that later.

The NDA has become a common industry practice. They are attached to most projects sent to outside suppliers. They are often requested to be signed before a meeting, sometimes even before walking into an agency. Before the internet ruled our lives they rarely, if ever, were required. But back in those dark ages we couldn’t do this…

Screen Shot 2012-07-13 at 10.18.43 AM
Screen Shot 2012-06-21 at 8.28.28 PM

I assume agencies and clients, fearful of their proprietary info going public, consulted their legal teams seeking some form of protection, or at least legal retribution, if their confidence had been violated. Lawyers. Love ‘em when they’re yours, hate ‘em when they aren’t. Kind of like Congressmen.

Back to the post at hand. Here are my three NDA pet peeves:

SPEED AND RELIANCE. We bid jobs so quickly who has time to fully vet the NDA. Also, most NDA's say we can’t share the board with anyone. Contrary to popular belief, there are jobs we can’t estimate without some research. Depending on the concept, we often rely upon various experts from set builders and stylist to casting directors and practical efx houses to help us bid responsibly. Technically all these folks must be NDA’ed.  And they are. Everyone. All the time. Never not.

ENFORCEMENT. I'm curious if anyone ever shares info with other companies, outside suppliers, the AICP, or their spouses. I assume it happens. Or maybe it doesn't. I’ve never heard of anyone ever being prosecuted for violating an NDA. I guess that means no one does violate them. Or do they, making the NDA a toothless lion. See I told you I'd get back to the bad stuff that can happen.

MUTUAL AGREEMENTS. NDA's are almost never reciprocal. The agency can show everything of ours to anyone, anywhere, anytime. They could put our bid packages on the agency website, email them to our competitors and share them with all their Facebook fans. It’s like one way sexting. You can see mine but I can't see yours. Why aren’t we afforded the same protection we are granting agencies and their clients?

My personal opinon. I understand the need for the NDA. I repsect the importance of protection. But I ask for only one thing in return, reciprocity. Protecting a suppliers property is as much symbolic as it is legal. The work that we do, the ideas we bring and the problems we solve need to be considered as valuable as the agencies concepts or their clients products. 

For our contributions to be deemed an asset that merits legal protection, it begins with a mutual NDA. 

CAN'T TEACH HEIGHT

UnknownIn 1985 I went with a few buddies to the NBA Draft at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. This was before you could watch every mundane sports event from the comfort of your home or mobile device. For those of you born after 1985, this was the pre-digital dark days, where if you wanted to actually witness a non-broadcast event not taking place in your hometown, you had to physically go to a venue that showed it on closed circuit. Google “closed circuit” if you need further explanation.

That year, Patrick Ewing went number one to the NY Knicks but arguably the oddest pick was the 31st overall selection by my hometown Washington Bullets. They drafted a rail thin 7’ 7” Dinka tribesman from the Sudan named Manute Bol. Other than two years at Division II powerhouse Bridgeport College he had never played organized ball.

After the draft a reporter asked Bob Ferry, the Bullets General Manager, why he picked a player with such limited basketball skill. Ferry replied “You can’t teach height.”

A while back someone had asked me how we determine what directors to sign. Like professional sports, we are a talent driven model. We need to evaluate who is worth investing in and who is not. The problem is we don’t have definitive barometers like a 40 time or college stats or Wonderlic scores. So, what metrics can we use to determine a director's potential?

As I see it there are 6 qualities to measure talent:

  1. Smarts 
  2. Taste
  3. Ambition
  4. Charisma
  5. Craft
  6. Reel

Craft can be learned. A reel can be built. But the other qualities can’t be taught. Maybe they can be honed or improved but generally speaking you either have them or you don’t. They are inherent traits like, well, height. Although unlike physical attributes, they are subjective. They can’t be measured. We rely upon our own experiences, our own taste and our own instincts to determine the degree a director possess those gifts.

Obviously this evaluation theory pertains to new talent. However, if you apply these traits to established directors working in the industry, I guarantee they all possess these qualities to a certain degree. This isn’t about applying a formula to established directors. It's about evaluating the intangible qualities of unproven talent. If there were measurable attributes, we would be able to make more informed decisions rather than gut ones. Even with measurable metrics there are no guarantees. In sticking with the sports analogy see Heath Shuler. The idea is to minimize risk of investment and maximize the likelihood of success. Think of it is as “MONEYBALL” for directors.

Assuming there isn’t a Paul DePodesta hanging around in your digital vault creating a complex algorithm or devising some new fangled analytics to evaluate talent, what can we rely upon?

It obviously begins with the work. Is it marketable? Unique? Has a point of view? Assuming this is the case, what comes next?

What are their creative references and inspirations?

Do they understand the industry?

Can they pitch?

Do they think well on their feet?

How well do they respond to pressure?

Do they command respect in a room, or more importantly, on a set?

Do they have presence?

Can they listen as well as articulate?

Are they open to learning from others?

Are they culturally and creatively compatible with your company?

Do they have the ability to evaluate boards and find ways to improve them?

How badly do they want to make it?

Do I like them?

Directors are a rare breed. We want to try as best as we can to determine whether they possess the traits needed to succeed in a highly competive and fickle industry. It's important to know about their career aspirations. The directors that they wish to emulate. Their knowledge of the business. Their set experiences. Where they came from. Their family background. What TV shows they watch. Movies they like (or hate). Websites they frequent. If they read my blog I’m always a little suspect. Whatever data we can garner to help make an informed decision.

Signing a director is a responsibility, a commitment and an investment. It shouldn't be taken lightly. But, as I said, there are no real metrics. We can only rely upon the intangibles, the character and creative qualities of the individual beyond just reel and craft. These factors and our efforts will ultimately determine if they will make it or don't. And a little bit of luck helps too. 

For the record, Manute Bol was never a superstar in the NBA. He did, however, play 14 seasons. The average NBA player career spans approximatley 4.8 years. 

DON'T JUDGE A REEL BY A SCREEN GRAB, OR CAN YOU?

AddI’m sent quite a few unsolicited director’s reels. In past years I screened them all. No longer. I could lie and claim to be too busy to get to EVERY one. In truth, I discovered the vast percentage wasn’t worth the time even though the average reel is only around 6 minutes in length. Hardly a big time commitment but it does add up. I don't want to discourage anyone from directing but many submissions made me wonder if they’ve ever actually watched a TV commercial.

Occasionally I feel guilty when I don’t screen submissions. I know developing a director’s reel is an investment in time and sweat and money. It also takes balls to send your work to be judged by so called industry experts. Shouldn’t this effort at least merit a few moments of my attention? 

I was having this debate with myself as my queue of unwatched director’s reels had noticeably piled up. I decided to feel better about myself and dive in. I started with the submission that laid dormant the longest. There was a link to a website not just a Vimeo page. Could be a good omen.

The site was simple, a white background with the director’s name aligned to center screen in a bold black 24 point Helvetica font. It wasn’t trying too hard. Simple and graphic. I like that. There were two words in the upper right hand corner, BIO and WORK. I clicked on WORK. I figured I’d get to know him better if I liked the reel.

The WORK page opened up with a series of 6 fairly nice sized screen grabs. Underneath each image, in the same plain black Helvetica font, was the brand name and title of the spot. I was only familiar with two of the brands. From the frame image alone I surmised they were spec.

I then examined the screen grabs of the unknown brands. They weren’t particularly striking images. I also didn’t like the names of the spots. I think one of them was named “Office”. Not particularly inventive and not sure the industry needs another spot called “Office”. 

That was it. My judgement was in. The reel was no good. Moving on. This vetting process took me approximately 38 seconds. I was going to clear these submissions in record time. Before I clicked on the next reel to “watch”, I stared blankly at my computer sceen. Did I just judge a director’s work based on a series of screen grabs? Is this the level of my attention span? Can I now determine the quality of a reel through one frame, a brand name and a spot title? Am I that much of an expert? Or, that lazy? Or, that cynical?

I went back and viewed the reel I so quickly dismissed. I was committed to watching all 6 thirty second spots in their entirety. My attention wouldn't even be diverted to ESPN.com for a quick check on the Orioles score. No distractions. The reel had by undivided attention. I owed this to the director and to myself.

I was right the first time. The reel stunk. I actually did know it without even watching it. That's 3 plus minutes of my life I'll never' get back. I won’t make that mistake again. Off to ESPN for a quick check of the scores. The Orioles were losing 4 to 1 in the 8th. Damn. Back to the task at hand.

I wrote a thanks but no thanks email then cleaned out the backlog of submissions, clicking on a random few with good images or some other intangible that caught my eye. My submissions folder had been vetted (not necessarily seen) and my mailbox, like my conscience, was now clear. Although my guilt had been relieved, my concern of having acquired A.D.D. through excessive Internet use grew. 

So, what’s the moral of the story?

Presentation matters, not as much of the work, but it does count when vying for attention in a world filled with too much clutter and competition. Pick your screen grabs wisely. Find some spin to set yourself apart. We are in the branding business nonetheless so begin by branding yourself. Assume everyone has a short attention span and getting shorter.  And, don’t send out a reel until it’s good by objectively comparing yourself to others. There is too much stuff and not enough time. That’s today's thought for aspiring directors.

And as a side note to the rest of us so called experts, if this is my process, I can only imagine how the agency producers and creatives sift through the clutter.

SNAPSHOTS

    © ProducerPosts.com 2012.