The upside of ad industry disruption is a growing awareness and willingness amongst producers to try something fresh. The Location Guide’s Managing Director, Jean Frederic Garcia, caught up with us for a seaside chat at Cannes Lions 2018 to learn how Production Service Network cooperation with producers provides safe harbor to those caught up in the stormy demands of today’s campaigns. Watch the video here.
JF: Welcome to the Location Lounge, Cannes Lions 2018. Hi, Michael.
MM: Hello, Jean Frederic.
JF: So here we are, once again.
MM: Oh yes.
JF: The festival is changing. What do you think it means for the industry? For your Network?
MM: Well, I can’t see the sand. I’m seeing just these white tents all along the beach. It’s an immense change. I do believe that what we’re encountering is we’re seeing how the industry is splintered into pieces. And I think it is a lot of opportunity, though. Disruption has been such the key word that so many people have mentioned. And the fact that things have been broken into pieces allows new voices, new people to come in, new blood, and to put things together in different ways. And I think that’s very exciting because it creates new opportunities. Yes, it can be a case where it’s streamlining and saving on costs, but it can also be a way of coming up with new creative formulas, new production models. So, it’s very valuable. You have to look positively at it in the end because change is always going to happen.
JF: Do you think that now, with the disruption, that the industry has to adapt to forms to survive. Obviously to keep on producing and keep on doing content. But, is there a shift toward certain forms of content?
MM: Longer formats, genre changes? Well, it’s interesting because we’ve actually, as service companies in our Network, we started looking at the commercial film as our cornerstone. And it still is. This is why we’re here now in Cannes. This is the place to be, right? But what we’ve found is that we’ve started to engage with producers in that world of longer format, and we’re finding, in some cases, that they are very keen on the fact of our experience in commercial because they themselves, in long format, some of them are migrating in our direction while we’re migrating in their direction. So there’s this coming together. And actually, I have a little anecdote to share. I had a meeting in LA, a few months back, with the head of production at a top production house, they won an Oscar, and we were talking about content. Two things that really struck me. One, she said, 'I love the fact that you come from a commercial background. Because you have so much creativity that we don’t get a chance to do in long format.' And secondly she said, 'my daughters don’t know the difference between a feature film and a commercial.' They just watch content. And so, you know what, that’s where we’re going because her daughters are just flipping through. It’s 5 minutes, it’s 1 minute, it’s 2 hours. That’s where we’re going, whether or not there’s a brand behind it.
JF: Is there a possibility that we are going more towards the 1 minute, 2 minute…
MM: As long as it’s entertaining, and it’s engaging. The problem is you can’t force-feed somebody laundry detergent, you know, for 5 minutes. Who’s going to put up with that? It’s an infomercial that we all flip the channel. It has to be much more subtle. I think advertisers, this is a big problem we don’t face in service so much, but we hear from our clients, is that the advertisers need to be brave. They need to realize that their brand is best served by entertaining, by engaging with the consumer in a way that the consumer appreciates and then therefore turns around and values them as being proper entertainers.
JF: I think we have this tendency of being very insular. Looking very much at our own country, our region. You obviously don’t have that. You have a view spreading over Europe, the US, Asia is different, China completely different. You have, you represent 40…
MM: 44 countries around the world.
JF: Do they see the disruption? Do they see the changes the same way as we experience them here in Europe or maybe in North America?
MM: Each country, or I should say, regionally speaking there are commonalities more than there are country to country. What you’ll find happening in, if we can say the West, is living predominantly the same situation. There are a few exceptions. We heard some of this in the World Producers’ Summit yesterday. And we’ve been hearing these similar situations over the last few years about the disruption of the food chain, if you will, from brand to agency to production company to service, but that’s old news. But it’s not necessarily old news for somebody in China. It's a different sort of ballpark there. They might be behind the ball on that. They might be coming up on it now, or maybe it could turn out that they never really had that food chain to begin with. So, I think that what we encounter at a production service company level is that we have found that instead of getting too mixed up in that order of where things are going, the hierarchy, we’ve just positioned ourselves at the foundation. And said, look, if you need to shoot overseas you need some proper support. And it doesn’t matter if it’s coming to us from a production company, an agency, or a brand direct. Ultimately, they all need the camera crew, they need the catering, they need the lights, all this kind of stuff. So we can do that, no matter who they are. What I will also say is that, truth be told, the production companies are coming to us with the best projects. The ones we like to put on the website. Because that’s where the creativity is actually being invested in. And even the agencies will tell me this. The agencies will come to me direct that’s something for digital, they don’t have a lot of money, they know they don’t have a lot of money, they’d be hiring a production company if they had a lot of money. But they don’t. And so they know that what they’re going to get is kind of…but that’s all the client is willing to spend on. So, we’ll do that work, we’ll help them, but for what is the creativity in the industry, what drives us, what compels us to be in this industry in the first place, I think, funny enough, we go back to that traditional model. And that’s why, hopefully, the production companies will still be alive.
JF: So you don't see any possible disruption on that front.
MM: As long as the production companies remain mindful of this dynamic. And you know, there are other issues that are happening with in-house production that are very, not cool. That’s clear. But I think the actual disruption that we’ve seen about, whether or not we’re approached by an agency or a brand direct – it was taboo a few years ago. And it’s not now. It’s kind of understood because if we’re being approached direct it’s because the job just doesn't interest a production company to begin with. And that, I think, production companies get. The agencies get it. So we all kind of just accept it. Because honestly, we’re producing a lot more actually. A lot more. So, just the fact that it hasn’t all grown in that fantastic category of the traditional food chain of the beautiful spots that we all love, well OK, fine. We just have to accept that the growth has been in other areas. As long as we can still conserve our work where there’s craft, and they’re still giving awards for proper craft here, you know, I think we’ll be OK.
JF: We hear more and more here at The Location Guide about fixers. There’s more and more, we sometimes get inquiries that say, “Oh, do you know a fixer in that country.” And so, I heard around that some people, you know, are not always for a fixer. You represent the Production Service Network. What do you think about that?
MM: It’s been a strategic decision from the start when we launched our Network to go with production service companies because we believe firmly in providing comprehensive service which is compliant. Comprehensive and compliant. And that’s very important those two words. Comprehensive in the sense that all services that a production could need are available through our production service company partners. You can, of course, a la carte, you decide, OK, look, everybody, it’s very common to bring in your own DoP. Of course, they’re bringing in their own directors and umpteen number of other things, oh, well, I need an art director I really know or whatever. That’s all fine. We always build around that. But it’s when a production will come to us and say “we need a fixer” that I pause, and I say, hang on a minute. There’s an issue here. Let’s look at your brief. Let’s understand what you’re really looking for. Because oftentimes, they’ll use the term fixer because the producer is looking to save money. Fixer just means economical in their minds. Independent of what it really is, fixer to a producer coming in shooting overseas is that he wants something cheap. So, what we’re saying is, there’s a place for that, and there are projects for that. Let me look at your brief, and let me see if your brief is modest enough to be managed well enough by that one-person entity. Because many times it’s not the case. Many times what they do require is something more comprehensive. And also, there’s the issue of compliance. We encounter this in many countries where, for example, you need to have all your crew on payroll. If you don't have them on payroll, you’re not compliant. A fixer is not set up necessarily to put those people on payroll. And you can’t come in as a foreign company and just put them on your payroll. That’s illegal. So we’re talking about a situation of illegal hires. You can have a work inspection. You can have a shutdown of the production. I mean, it’s silly. Why do you risk the client’s interests by doing that because you’re trying to save a nickel and dime. So, what we found as Production Service Network, the best approach that we have is to say, look, why don’t we discuss what your brief is, why don’t we discuss what your budget is, and let’s look at how we can adapt as best as possible to achieve that and see if we can find a meeting of the minds. And it happens.
JF: So basically, there shouldn’t be competition between a production service company and a fixer because they both serve a very specific purpose.
MM: It’s scale. It is all about scale.
JF: Just higher up the chain, but people get confused because they want to save a bit of cash.
MM: Yeah, they’re not looking at their brief. Oh, I’ve got such little money! And you know, it’s not only the money - it’s the brief. Absolutely. So, we’re very aware of that, that’s our, that’s the terrain that we want to work in as companies. That’s what most interests us. And there are still an awful lot of productions that need that full support so, we’re there for that, but we’re also there for the dialogue with others who need less to see if there’s a meeting place that can still provide them with all the legal guarantees.
JF: Well, thank you Michael.
MM: Always a pleasure, my friend.
JF: We’ll be seeing you next time in Cannes.
MM: I dare say so.