Not so long ago, in a boardroom not so far away, the conversation was simple - we need a film and some stills, for press, maybe point of sale. Now, the requirements of the digital universe are a little more… galactic:
Notes, from a recent pitch:
“This video is for online, social and possibly TVC. We need 16:9, 9:16, 4:3 and widescreen, in case we use it at a conference - people love widescreen at conferences, it gives them the feeling our brand is really cinematic, like Star Wars. The film also needs to work with and without sound and have titles, for mobile.”
“Would you like an opening crawl?”
“Titles, like the start of Star Wars.”
“As long as it works on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Vero plus all other social media and online platforms.”
The world has changed. As Scott MacFarland wrote in the Huffington Post “If a picture is worth a thousand words… a video may be worth… Forty billion, because that’s how many videos are streamed in the U.S. each month and… $6.3 billion will be spent on video ads this year.
That was written in 2014. Since then the global online video spend has gone galactic.
But for producers, directors and creatives this level of consumption is a real challenge. Clients may want to have it all (bending budgets well past Tatooine), but is it really necessary to create content that works across all platforms? Is planning and distribution dead, or are they unable to keep up with the needs of our online masters? And if you like something, how come there's often not anymore?
ONLY DARTH VADER IS PERMANENTLY ON
Years ago I was shooting in NYC with a couple of young agency hotshots who introduced me to Instagram. It was new, fun and at first, you posted all the time. In a very short period of time I probably told Facebook far too much about my love of Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Cinema and Pasta ala Norma but as I slowed down and started looking around I discovered most images weren’t worth a thousand words and most videos definitely aren’t worth 6.3 billion, except those of cats, pandas and dogs defending the lives of small children against wild animals. They’re awesome. I also learned professional users and advertisers know when to post. Because let's face it, only the Dark Lord is permanently connected.
Today, if you believe the press, Instagram is being overtaken by upstarts such as Vero, a migration driven by a dislike of an algorism and a hate of adverts – not my words. But does the platform you choose really matter? Isn’t it all about the content?
QUALITY IS KING
As a director it’s no longer about shooting and delivering a great film, now you have to consider the format. We spent years fighting our way out of TV’s ancient 4:3 prison for the universal freedom of 16:9; now we’re back in a rebooted 4:3 online universe where sound has been replaced by titles – apparently, on mobile, no one can hear you scream. Also…
Brightly coloured backgrounds are important Ah, but isn’t that a sponsored ad from… Facebook and Istagram, the companies who want you to be across all platforms at all times? But as the sponsored article seems to imply, a multiplatform approach needs different and varied content or else, as a creative friend of mine pointed out, "the craft is lost and it’s even harder to stand out." But as she went on to say, "if you get it right you can create something truly great, it can take minutes for half the world to see it."
A DIRECTOR NEEDS TO BE PART OF A DIGITAL TEAM
In a world with multi-platform needs it helps to be part of a creative team. I’ve shot for years with photographer Ben Fisher - Liverpool Victoria, Unilever and Wagamama and creative director Adam Ward - Deadgood. The great thing about shooting different content for stills, video and social simultaneously, apart from the obvious cost savings, is creative synergy. Our campaign for Wagamama mixed content for a revolutionary giant screen at Heathrow’s T5 with social and online promotions. Bespoke content for bespoke platform shot simultaneously.
PEOPLE ALWAYS WANT MORE
What fascinates me is the way content is often still shot for a single use, a campaign, an event, a point of sale. In a video world dominated by Netflix, Amazon and video on demand, series is King. We repeat view, coming back to the same story over and over again. We want to keep watching because the content grips us, it indulges us and yet in a world where video has gone galactic there seems often to be very little follow up.
What I'd like to see is:
More interesting use of formats. Like this one from WeTransfer
Diversification. Vary stories across different platforms.
More ongoing engagement. Tell deep and complex stories that encourage people to share because they touch us, emotionally
Good things do get made but far too often as creatives we're asked to produce something that fits all, which brings me back to...
A recent pitch:
“Do you need stills?”
Pause, clearly not in the brief
“I work with a great photographer, who’s just shot John Boyega for The Tate.”
“Star Wars. Excellent… Can we get Boyega?”