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Managing Marketing: Innovation in the video and film production industry

Harry-Preston
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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Harry Preston is the Managing Director A/NZ of Genero, a technology platform for more than 300,000 film and video creators, connecting this community with advertisers, marketers and their agencies. Here Harry discusses the innovations occurring in the industry and how technology is making high quality productions faster, more accessible and lower cost.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on Soundcloud or iTunes

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’ve got a chance to sit down with Harry Preston, who is the Managing Director of Genero. Welcome, Harry.

Harry:

Thank you, Darren, thanks for having me.

Darren:

For those who don’t know; what is Genero?

Harry:

Genero is a global video production marketplace. And what that means is we have a global community of filmmakers (300,000 filmmakers around the world).

Darren:

Oh my god, 300,000—that’s a lot.

Harry:

That’s a lot of filmmakers. And we connect them with brands and agencies to produce really high-quality content, affordably and at scale and speed.

Darren:

Fantastic but 300,000 filmmakers — I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from creative people that the only possible director for this job is director X. So, if there are 300,000 filmmakers how is it possible that there is only one possible director for this job.

Harry:

Well, I can’t speak for some of the creative departments. They may have their own reasons for wanting to work with a particular director. We do have a bunch of really talented directors on the platform.

Darren:

I’m sure you do but what I’m saying is that if you’ve got 300,000 directors you wouldn’t have 100% penetration into the production world would you?

A community of 300,000 production professionals

Harry:

We don’t have 300,000 directors. We’ve got production companies, directors, animators, editors, motion graphics designers etc, people who can make video.

What I would say is if a creative agency is looking for a treatment then they can post a brief, put their idea on the platform and then they would get a really decent response in the way of treatments and how a particular director would treat their job. And they may find that they’d get access to someone who is really high quality.

Darren:

Now, you don’t have the kid who just knocks up a couple of videos for his friends do you? These are actually professionals.

Harry:

No, these are professional filmmakers.

Darren:

How do you vet them?

Harry:

We don’t really discriminate in the sign-up process. It’s free to join for filmmakers. What’s quite exciting about the platform is that we may get someone sign up who is the next Ridley-Scott for example.

They may have just finished film school so that’s why we don’t really discriminate but at the same time the process through the platform is very iterative and collaborative.

It’s not like they’re off shooting video, and then they submit the video and that’s it. It’s a very iterative process and they’ll respond with their treatments and ideas and their past work, so you’ll quickly understand whether they’re the right person for the brief.

And that’s how we really vet them. We vet them through the creative and production process.

Darren:

So, it sounds like the process is traditional, but the starting point is certainly more of the modern era.

Harry:

Yeah, the process definitely adheres to the traditional way of working i.e. post a brief, get a response to the brief, the director’s treatment, you can work with a filmmaker to make sure it’s at a point where you’re comfortable to commission. So, it’s very true to that sort of process.

The tools on the platform enable efficiencies and the community we have enables choice.

Darren:

But this is not like Fiverr is it? Genero is not going to be able to get you a film made for $5?

Harry:

No. We work to any budget within reason.

Darren:

But you know what I mean; this is not about trying to squeeze the creative people?

Harry:

It’s not exploiting. It’s not meant to be exploitative. It’s not about off-shore production. It’s not about how quickly and cheaply can I get content? For everyone who uses it they can attest to this; it’s about access to really quality filmmakers—the right person for your job.

So, people who will respond. They’re passionate about your brand and the brief, they really want to work on it so it’s access to fresh creative thinking and high-quality production. It happens to be faster and more affordable than the traditional method.

Darren:

I think the traditional way of an agency or producer would be that they would have their collection of people they work with, know and trust so their recommendation would come from experience and that would be limited by the total possible number of people that they worked with.

But this is offering a much bigger pool to draw from. Are there any guarantees in this process? Is there a completion guarantee (you used to take insurance for that)? If I go to Genero and put the brief out and go through this process of selecting someone and they actually don’t deliver am I just stuck with the process?

Harry:

I don’t think there are any guarantees in the tradition we’re working in.

Darren:

Well, you can take insurance.

Harry:

Our filmmakers will have insurances, so they’ll have professional indemnity, liability, all that sort of stuff. Through the process clients hold the money on the platform to release when they’re comfortable so it kind of adheres to the traditional way of working. If it’s a big production they might do 50 up front and 50 at the end.

They might do 30/30/40 so there are a bunch of options around that, so you release the payment when you’re comfortable. We’ve got three rounds of offline, three rounds of online through the process. So those sorts of steps are taken.

Darren:

So, there are checks and balances?

Harry:

Exactly.

Protecting payment terms to smaller production suppliers

Darren:

Look, the payment seemed interesting. A lot of the big corporations are paying on 90 days, 120 or 180 days and I know it’s a big pressure point for agencies in the middle. Because most production companies you would have to say that the vast majority of their cost is crew who (quite rightly) want to be paid on 14 or 7 days.

But if the client is not paying the agency for 90 days and who knows how long the agency is going to take to pay the production company whereas this is actually making that relationship direct—is that what you’re saying?

Harry:

Yeah, it is. We work with a number of brands who understand the benefits of using a platform like this in terms of affordability and speed and sometimes they’ll amend their terms to help streamline the process from their end as well.

They understand that we’re working with smaller businesses that need to pay crew and pay other 3rd-party costs in order to realise the production and they’ll often revise things to acknowledge that.

Darren:

It’s good. I just brought it up because it’s such a pain point especially for production companies. It’s a competitive marketplace and many of them are really struggling with things like cash flow because some of these production companies are relatively small businesses, aren’t they?

Harry:

They are. We’ve got some bigger more established companies on our books. We’ve also got maybe a director who pulls in a producer to help get a production completed but you’re absolutely right; cash flow can be a problem for them.

Darren:

But even the bigger production companies are still relatively small compared to the advertisers or even some of the agency holding companies. These are billion-dollar businesses. I’m not sure I know many production companies that are billion-dollar businesses.

Harry:

No.

Darren:

So, relative scale; you’ve got a multi $billion client, a $billion agency, then a small production company. In some ways it’s helping to even that up.

Harry:

Yes, it is.

Darren:

Making them more accessible to being able to work on some really interesting work for a whole range of clients.

Harry:

I think people are seeing the benefits from both sides; they’re getting fresh thinking, quality content quickly and the production companies, on the other side, are getting access to briefs they’d not otherwise have access to.

Making productions more cost and time efficient

Darren:

The other thing you mentioned before is that the process is quite traditional in that it is stage and gate; brief, proposal but in actual fact, that’s quite a linear or waterfall/cascade approach. Do you think that production is starting to move towards being more agile, more flexible in the way the content is being created?

The reason I bring that up is that marketers especially are wanting to be able to respond to the marketplace or is it simply a matter that productions can be faster or slower?

Harry:

I think yes productions can be faster. In terms of the agile process it’s still linear. I think your content strategy is really important so; what do you need, where am I going to distribute it? And I think if it’s briefed up front then everything can be produced at once.

It might be that you want a TVC but then you want it to work really well on Facebook, Instagram etc, but the marketplace model, given the always on nature of a vast global community allows you to be agile. It allows you to react.

So, if you need to react to any current affairs and produce stuff on it pretty quickly then you can do that because there is always going to be someone who is talented who can respond to the brief.

Darren:

One of the issues in the past has been that the approach has been about defining the requirements and then shooting only to those requirements. Whereas in an agile world it’s (not very kindly) ‘shoot the shit out of it’ and then be able to produce a whole lot of variations afterwards.

That’s what it’s about — at that point of shooting covering as many things as possible. It’s like the old director’s trick of do the wide shot, the left, the right, the close-ups and then you’ve got it covered. It’s about shooting coverage.

Harry:

Yeah, I think you’ve got to be careful not to shoot content for content’s sake though. I think everything will anchor back to the strategy both from a content and media perspective and where am I going to distribute this content.

And then it’s about creating content that is fit for feed, for platform, for device i.e. content that is really going to connect with the consumer in any given environment—does that make sense?

Darren:

Yeah. So, apart from the need for agile or the need for more and more content, technology really has made the whole process much more accessible hasn’t it?

Harry:

It has. It’s done a couple of things. It’s made the world smaller; it’s allowed people to collaborate much better with people all over the world. It’s also allowed a bunch of really talented people access to previously unaffordable production tools, camera equipment, editing software’s.

 

You don’t have to rent a helicopter for $1500 an hour anymore; you can go and buy a drone and shoot beautiful aerial footage.

So, there’s a bunch of stuff out there that has helped very creative people with the ability to produce really high-quality content.

Darren:

Does that mean that this has made it easier to for people to be producers?

Harry:

I don’t think it’s that. To a degree, yes. That’s not meant to belittle the craft of production—they’re still really good.

Darren:

Someone who does wedding videos is not necessarily going to shoot a great corporate video. Humour is a totally different skill set to shooting documentary and so on and so forth.

Harry:

Absolutely. It’s giving a lot of people a voice but it’s also about finding the right person to fill the brief. So, if it is a comedy brief you’re not going to get a documentary shooter responding to that.

Embracing technology innovation for production

Darren:

We talk about film but in actual fact I don’t think anyone shoots on film anymore, do they?

Have you heard of anything actually on film?

Harry:

It’s definitely not happening as much as it used to.

Darren:

It was ten years ago we still had agencies telling us that they had to shoot on 35 and it would be a huge film and it would be a huge compromise to go to 16 and there was no way they could think about video—oh my god, video nasties.

And yet technology really has caught up because I think almost every major feature film these days is now shot in a digital format.

Harry:

Yeah, that’s right.

Darren:

It’s amazing how in a one short decade we’ve gone from Kodak Eastman, Fuji and the like and now it’s all about CCD chips and data (0s and 1s).

Harry:

Well I think that’s helping people become more agile as well without impacting quality. That’s really important to say; they’re still getting some really serious quality through and it is definitely allowing people to be more agile.

Darren:

It’s actually improved the creative options because you would shoot on film and then it would have to go to the lab and then you would transfer it to digital so that you could do your visual effects.

Now, you just shoot on video which takes you straight to digital, which means first of all you don’t have to wait for it to come back from the lab to see if you’ve got what you need; you can watch it in real time.

Harry:

And it’s pulling in cost-out. It is allowing people to create larger volumes of content and again not content for content’s sake but larger volumes that they’re requiring that’s fit for feed or platform.

Darren:

Are there many of your productions (and this is a side question) where either the client or agency still attends the shoot?

Harry:

Very much so—absolutely. It’s definitely not meant to be a faceless platform; put a brief on, get your stuff back and you’re done. It’s very iterative. We absolutely encourage our clients to go to shoots obviously if locations and budgets permit.

What we’re finding is that most of the briefs that have been briefed in Australia are being picked up by Australian production companies and businesses so it’s not about off-shoring. It’s not about taking work away, definitely not.

Darren:

I think the biggest issue that impacts that is the value of the Australian dollar, which is beautifully weak at the moment. When it was at parity with the U.S there were so many productions going off-shore because it was expensive here.

I’m sure your platform has almost no impact what-so-ever compared to the value of the Australian dollar.

Harry:

That’s right. We encourage face to face meetings, pre-production meetings, phone calls, Skypes if location doesn’t permit, so it’s definitely not meant to be done through a bunch of code.

We do have messaging tools, video review tools where clients can provide time-stamp feedback, and all that sort of stuff and that’s meant to streamline the process not replace the process.

Darren:

We all live in a time-poor world and agencies and clients standing around on a 12-hour shoot where they may make say 15 to 20 minutes of decisions during that 12 hours when required. It seems like an incredible waste of people’s time unless of course they’re in some exotic location like the Seychelles or a beach in Hawaii.

Have you heard of any situation where people are using this same technology, the internet, video streaming to actually have cameras at the shoot?

Harry:

We have just done that for a production.

Darren:

And they can sit in their office and go, ‘oh I like that shot—go with it’.

Harry:

We’ve not done it locally; we’ve just done it out of our Singapore office where the client sat with a video link-up and they were on the shoot effectively.

Darren:

What a brilliant use of technology.

Harry:

Absolutely. Well, they are time-poor and they couldn’t go to the shoots, but they wanted to have inputs and make decisions that were really critical to the shoot. If they want to go to the shoot that’s absolutely fine but as you said, people are time-poor so technology does enable or give you options in terms of being smart about the use of your time.

Darren:

The other thing is it protects clients. It’s funny when a client goes to a shoot the agency will send at least two account management people for every client to actually protect them from the crew and I’m going, ‘why do they have to protect them from the crew?’ Until I was on a shoot and the catering was laid out and the client went over and started helping themselves and there was almost a riot amongst the crew.

And we had to explain to the client that while they were paying for the catering the crew eats first and they just didn’t get that at all; ‘I’m paying for this, I should be able to eat whatever I want’.

Harry:

I’m sure there are other examples where it’s the reverse.

Darren:

It’s good to know that people are embracing technology as a way of just being more convenient. It seems to me a no-brainer; to be able to actually have the input, watch the shoot, and not have to stand in some studio or location.

Harry:

There may be times when it is absolutely imperative that they’re on the shoot but in this instance, they were very happy to video link-up and make the key decisions when they were required and therefore it gave them some time back.

Darren:

Fantastic. How long has Genero been operational?

Harry:

We’ve been around for about 9 years now.

Darren:

Wow.

Harry:

So, it’s a long time but the co-founders Mick and Andrew are both client-side marketers so they saw exactly the same issues that people are facing now days albeit slightly exacerbated whereby the publishers they were dealing with through digital marketing were prioritising video.

Consumers were engaging better with video and so therefore they needed larger volumes of video that was platform specific and that was going to connect but they couldn’t get access to the volumes they needed so that’s why they set up the business.

We’ve taken our time to build the business; started off in the music industry making music videos.

Darren:

A lot of famous directors cut their teeth in music videos.

Harry:

That’s right. That was intentional because the intention there was to build a really creative community. What we didn’t want to do was get as many people to sign up as possible to create fast and cheap content. It wasn’t about that.

It was about building a really creative community. That’s why we started off in music, so the first four years working with Sony, Warner, Universal, some of the biggest artists in the world from Moby to Muse to two of the Beatles, Ellie Goulding, Alicia Keys etc. Making incredible music videos. We’ve got some really cool examples.

And in those days record labels were looking for ways to connect beyond having artists sing to camera. They wanted to connect through storytelling and that’s how we built the community. They’re making videos and then they tell their friends about it and slowly we grew the community and then took it to brands and agencies once we built the software tools as well.

Disrupting or enabling the traditional production model

Darren:

So, what’s the uptake been like? The industry can be quite resistant to change. And this is a bit like the same way as Uber has disrupted the taxi industry and Airbnb has disrupted the accommodation industry. You’re doing the same thing aren’t you; you’re disrupting the production industry?

Harry:

I would be hesitant to use the word disrupting because we’re just trying to enable really.

Darren:

Well so were they but the people in the industry often felt like it was a threat. Taxi drivers felt like Uber was a threat. Hotels felt like Airbnb was a threat. I’m sure that there are people in the production industry who feel that something like the Genero platform is a threat.

Harry:

Or an opportunity.

Darren:

Of course, the flipside of the threat is the opportunity if you embrace it.

Harry:

We’re working with a lot of brands and giving production companies and filmmakers access to briefs that they would otherwise have no visibility over.

Darren:

So, it’s actually the agencies who should feel threatened?

Harry:

Possibly, yeah, we could be perceived like that. We work with creative agencies and we’re happy to work with creative agencies. I’ll never belittle the importance of strategic thinking and creativity and we work with creative agencies to help them scale those core creative ideas through different channels.

They might not have the resources to produce, the capacity to do it so we’re very happy to work with them in that respect.

Darren:

I did an independent production course from a guy in Hollywood and he said the most important thing is to get the right script because it doesn’t matter how good your production is, if you don’t have the right script you’re wasting your time.

Harry:

I think that’s true.

Darren:

And I think that’s the truth for every piece of communication. If you don’t have the idea you can throw lots of money at trying to polish it.

Harry:

It’s got to connect.

Darren:

Yeah, it’s got to connect.

Harry:

Especially in this day and age where there is an absolute proliferation of content everywhere, and as you said, people are time-poor. They don’t have time to view at all. The principles have always been the same; strong ideation, connecting with the consumer and it’s still the same now.

You have 7,000 media opportunities today to hit people with media messages so it’s really important to cut through so I absolutely agree with that.

Matching production partners to needs

Darren:

The feedback we get from the industries is that budgets for productions over time have dropped. But it’s relative because we’re talking about TV commercial productions where it was often related to the media investment that would go behind it.

Then you move to the world of content and there is often very little media (some media but not as much) which has then brought that back down. Does lower budget necessarily mean lower quality?

Harry:

Not necessarily. I think through technology, the marketplace nature of our business, democratisation of equipment, you’re now accessing really high-quality creatives and filmmakers who can produce stuff much more affordably than the traditional model.

They don’t carry similar overheads, they’re not paying big rents, and they’re not paying for 1,000s of staff; they’re smaller businesses so they do have the ability to create really high quality. So, it doesn’t really equate—lower cost equals lower quality.

Darren:

There is that quality cost in time but that has been disrupted, affected by the fact that isn’t it now about finding the right people and the right approach to actually meet the needs?

Harry:

That’s how I see the business, definitely. It’s about connecting with someone who genuinely wants to respond to your brief and understands your audience and finding the right person for the brief in mind.

We were talking about budgets earlier. We’ll often work with clients to help them establish their budget. It’s important to say that we don’t publish any brief until we’re absolutely comfortable with it. It’s not a complete Wild West free-for-all and we’ll review briefs to make sure they’re clear, and we’ll review budgets to make sure they’re reasonable.

Darren:

So, a client turns up and they have an unreasonable expectation (budget, time, or what’s achievable) you would try and advise them?

Harry:

Absolutely.

Darren:

Have you ever rejected a brief?

Harry:

If it’s completely unreasonable then we would reject a brief. It damages the community and, as I said earlier, it’s not about getting fast and cheap. It’s about getting fresh thinking and we’re seeing it in a more affordable way.

Darren:

So, on that point—there is always new, emerging and exciting talent coming through. In the platform are there ways of really promoting those people or do you just allow it to happen organically? Do you have talent of the week?

Harry:

We’ll promote them through work.

Darren:

Like a showcase?

Harry:

We’ll showcase them. We’ll say this was produced by so and so, isn’t it wonderful? We don’t have a directory so to speak. That comes through the process. So, when they respond to a brief then clients will be able to look at their past work and see what they’ve done through Genero. From time to time we might promote them but it’s not ‘here’s our filmmaker of the week and here’s a directory of filmmakers’.

Darren:

That’s good because in some ways directories can commoditise the talent that you’re representing.

Harry:

Yeah, I think they do.

Darren:

You just have to look at actors’ directories where people get chosen, not by their talent but by their look.

Harry:

Yes, that’s it. It’s definitely not about commoditising production. There is way too much crappy content out there in my opinion.

Darren:

I think that’s just a natural consequence of the democratisation of content in that literally anyone could produce something and put it on YouTube.

Harry:

Look at UGC—it’s all out there isn’t it? It’s out there day in day out. We’re not about UGC; we’re a professional filmmaker community.

Darren:

That’s user generated content, isn’t it?

Harry:

That’s right.

Darren:

I was sitting in an industry meeting of advertisers and someone stood up who represented what they called marketing services (procurement) and they showed a music video that their child had done as a fine example of video production.

There was no storytelling. It was basically a whole lot of footage cut to the music track, which almost felt as anonymous and meaningless as a lot of agency reels that are cut together to a music track because you don’t actually understand what any of it is except pretty pictures to a music track.

But they were saying, ‘this is a fine example’ and it cost next to nothing. I think the biggest challenge facing the production industry is the perception that technology has made it so anyone can do it when, in actual fact, not anyone can.

Harry:

I agree with that, definitely. Was the content so bad it was good?

Darren:

It was a very good music track so you could almost cut anything to it and make it appear good.

Harry:

I think it’s a real skill; high quality production.

Darren:

There are all these parts to it because animators are unbelievable. They can visualise something and then make it come to life. People underestimate the skill and talent of a quality director. It’s even better if they can do humour and comedy because the secret of good comedy is timing.

And then you’ve got directors of photography; the ability to light, frame and plan and capture all of that in a frame that’s not only visually appealing but also tells the story, and so it goes on right though the whole production process.

The really smart people, at every level, adding value to it can’t be underestimated.

Harry:

No, I totally agree with that. It’s a real skill. You mentioned all of those skill sets.

Darren:

And we haven’t even touched on wardrobe, makeup, sound, music composition; there are just so many elements to it.

Harry:

We’re not about finding just anyone who can shoot something. It’s about pooling these really talented people and giving brands and agencies options when it comes to production, high quality options.

Delivering innovation to marketers, agencies and production

Darren:

One of the issues is innovation. There is innovation in technology, which increases the production options and then there is innovation which reduces price because innovation can do two things. It can either improve what can be done or it can make things more affordable.

Is the film and video industry more focused on one than the other or is it both?

Harry:

Yeah, I think it’s both. There is definitely some serious innovation out there in terms of giving people the ability to shoot really good stuff. And then there are softwares out there, like ours, which can help you streamline the process, consolidating all your content briefs into one, messaging filmmakers.

We’ve got video review tools that allow clients to provide time-stamp feedback. Again, they’re just built to help streamline the process and technology and innovation has enabled that for sure.

You look at businesses like ride sharing and accommodation bookings—the innovation there is around creating platforms within a global marketplace that allow for obvious efficiencies. So, Uber, Airbnb, you’re getting it cheaper.

Darren:

I’ve just noticed the time; it’s got away from me because it’s such a fascinating area. I think production is everything from a blockbuster, mainstream, feature film release down to ‘Charlie bit my finger’, which was…

Harry:

User generated content.

Darren:

It’s a fascinating area and I just want to thank you for taking the time and sitting down and having a chat, Harry.

Harry:

Thank you very much for having me.

Darren:

But I’ve got a question for you. Of all the directors, which one is your favourite?

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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