So is this a good time or a bad time to launch a director? Leading Executive Producers share their views.
Posted on March 24, 2021
Hey, you fledgling directors out there – is the locked-down, work-from-home, socially distant strictures of the pandemic a boon to your career aspirations, or a serious impediment?
We thought it was worth taking a closer look at the career impact that life under Covid might have on what’s arguably the lifeblood of the commercial production industry, which is hot new directorial talent. So we rounded up a group of experienced and knowledgeable executive producers and company owners and asked them to share their views on what launching or building a directors’ career is like these days. Hint: it’s not as bad as you might think!
Participating in this roundup – and we thank them for their time – are Sara Eolin of Rocket Film, Lisa Masseur of Tessa Films, Bernadette Rivero of Cortez Brothers, Rebecca Wray of Durable Goods and Robert Wherry of FANCY Content. Here’s what they had to say:
Is this decidedly not the time to try and launch and/or build a directors’ career? If it is, what do you have to take into account when doing so? And if not, what will it take for conditions to improve?
Robert Wherry: I believe it’s always a good time to build an artist’s brand and career. Of course, it depends on the artist’s work, who it speaks to in the world and what’s happening with advertising trends. If you’re introducing a talent whose work is relevant to current trends, and if they’re surrounded with a good strategic team, you’ll get opportunities to build on.
Rebecca Wray: This is timely for us, as I’m currently onboarding some new fresh talent. And I think this is the perfect time for introducing the next generation into the fold. The directors I’m bringing on speak to Gen Z and social change, they speak to multiple demographics and they have a clear vision of who they want to be as content creators. The competition is so thick out there you have to REALLY strategize on who and what you’re selling. You also have to manage the expectations of the director; they’re competing against 300 other candidates to get to the promised land. You’ll lose more (pitches) than you will win, but don’t let that discourage you!
Lisa Masseur: I don’t agree that it’s not the time. I bring talented directors onto my roster when I feel I can get them work. I might be wrong, but as we move into summer, I believe we’ll start to get back to business as “almost” usual, and there will be many opportunities for both newer directors and seasoned ones.
Bernadette Rivero: I’d agree with Lisa. This, surprisingly, feels like a great time to launch a director’s career, because people are (for better or worse) at their computers a lot more, and looking for fresh inspiration — and on our end, we’re seeing agencies paying more and closer attention to the new directors we’re sending their way.
Sara Eolin: I’m not sure when there’s even an ideal time for anything! February 2020 seemed like a great time, and then the world fell apart, so you never know. But now, as we’re living among the “fallen apart,” it’s also been a time where agencies and clients are pushing their commitment to diversity and giving opportunities to historically marginalized voices. So I’m happy to see that shift!
Has the process of launching or building directors changed at all since production went remote? Are the opportunities for them to knock it out of the park (so to speak) diminished or disappeared?
Lisa: The process of launching or building is still tough, no matter. Have opportunities diminished? I don’t think so. You still have to search hard for the right creative projects for newer directors, and while it may be tougher during times of Covid, I find that if your clients trust you as a production company, they’re willing to give newer folks a shot for the right projects.
Sara: We’ve been grateful to have a lot of repeat business with our longtime friends. We’ve been able to introduce them to directors they’ve not worked with before who were able to gain their trust, and are now a go-to favorite. There’s so much trust in remote shoots, and like any challenging experience, when you make it out the other side, you’ve grown closer and built camaraderie.
Bernadette: Directors who have remote experiences under their belt are in demand right now; we’re lucky that after a year of this, almost every one of our directors has done their share of remote shooting. On one hand, I think we’re all looking forward to the return of big, in-person collaborative production, but directors are often the ones experimenting with new equipment and filming techniques anyway as part of their profession, and it has been cool to see how quickly many have adapted to staying collaborative through Zoom pre-pro meetings, or casting sessions conducted via WhatsApp.
Robert: The learning curve has changed somewhat, and I believe that in some ways it’s more difficult for an emerging artist to understand the collective creative process when working remotely, without prior experience. While you still collaborate, it’s harder, as there’s less intimacy and ideating in conversations, since you’re not together. The social aspect of what we do has always played a key role, and that’s missing. But opportunities still exist every day, which is exciting on multiple levels. It means we all need to be at our creative best.
Rebecca: I think it’s changed, because we’ve removed the social element for the most part, and anyone who works in advertising will tell you we’re a social bunch! Before the pandemic we could do coffees, meals, parties – an enjoyable ‘non-selling’ way of selling. Now we have to change our strategy, connect our directors with people we think they’ll click with until we can all be in person again. We need to really identify where it is these directors will have the most success, and be targeted in our approach.
Overall, how are directors adapting to the demands of working remotely, or working under Covid conditions?
Bernadette: Production is a highly regimented process in many ways naturally, where everyone on set knows their job and what to do, so sliding in remote processes and Covid safety measures wasn’t too much of a disruption from a technical standpoint. On the creative end, we saw our directors quickly shift to assembling, approving and adjusting everything from art direction to wardrobe, makeup and locations (and all the rest), using an online-first workflow. Now that we’re a year in, I think a lot of the Covid measures will stay in place post-pandemic (if and when that day comes), and directors will have adjusted to remote feeds that loop in off-site team members.
Robert: Overall, they’re doing well. Some have actually grown to prefer it. One of our directors shot a campaign in three countries with three completely different production teams, including DOPs, while sitting in his kitchen. Another did three cities here in the US from his home. Does it take the place of being there with the creative team? No, I don’t believe it does, but it feels as though the level of the concentration and communication is much more refined and focused – and in some ways, more effective. Working closely, whether remotely or in person, always improves the final product. But being together is better.
Sara: Great directors are always adapting and learning. There’s not one job that’s exactly like the last job. There’s always something nutty that you’d never know ‘til you know. I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, but it’s not been reinventing the wheel. It’s really about building trust and good communication skills.
Lisa: I’d agree, communication with the creative teams is more important than ever. Since we can’t all be in the same room looking at auditions or at a props review, there are additional check-ins via Zoom. In some ways, on projects that are moving quickly, I find that directors have more opportunities to collaborate with agency teams. They’re more apt now to check in often, to ensure they’re on the same page with the team or to pitch new ideas as we go along. I think FaceTime and Zoom aren’t going away; it’s now more acceptable to reach out and have quick meetings over video.
Rebecca: Most of our directors have adapted successfully. There are general frustrations by adding additional time on sets protecting against Covid, but safety has to come first. There was a learning curve establishing a rhythm on remote shoots from around the country, but once you figure out the tech, it becomes second nature.
What about your reps – how have they had to adapt or shift gears to stay relevant and keep boards coming in during this period?
Sara: Reps are a great resource for the industry. They’re the mouthpiece of their companies to the community. For us, they’ve done a great job of letting our clients know there are many ways to solve problems and create a plan. We talk constantly, so they know the “latest and greatest” of what we’re up to—from locations that are available to new tech to new creative ventures.
Rebecca: Our reps are constantly evolving and shifting gears in order to stay relevant. They’ve had to become more creative to connect, since socializing is out, and you can’t do it in person right now. Some are hosting coffee Zooms, or working on client-direct connections, and we strategize with them on out-of-the-box ideas in order to get in front of people.
Lisa: Their jobs are difficult. Face to face meetings can’t happen, and agency folks are largely booked solid most days on back to back Zooms. The last thing they want is another Zoom to look at new work. So they’re much more creative about how and when the reach out.
Robert: Reps have always had the hardest job in the business, and I believe that now more than ever. Their ability to stay in touch with existing relationships socially has become more difficult. Plus building new ones while people are not in the office, and are being pulled in a hundred directions on Zoom calls, certainly doesn’t make it easier. What’s exciting to watch is how they’ve risen to the occasion, solved this and brought new types of sales strategies to their work. It’s actually creatively brilliant. We’ve all been hit by this, and the sales reps certainly have suffered a great deal from the pandemic. But don’t underestimate them – they’re tough, creative and smart. They’ll be the ones in front, leading us out of this.
Do you think that once fears of transmitting the virus have ebbed, production will go back to the way it used to be done? Or will elements of working remotely stay in place for years?
Rebecca: There will be changes that will stay with us forever. Even with additional Covid-related costs adding expense to the budgets, I can’t imagine there haven’t been cost savings by not sending people to locations. Also, by having a remote option, clients who could not attend shoots before can now participate without a middle person relaying information to them, third party. However, I also think we all love production too much to let it venture too far from what it was like before the pandemic.
Lisa: In general, we’ll likely go back to normal – I can’t wait to have a normal crew lunch huddled around a table with folks! But as I mentioned, I think Zoom and FaceTime meetings along the way during prep are here to stay.
Robert: Some of the changes will stick, while some things will return to normal. Meetings and presentations will likely keep us all on Zoom and Blue Jeans. The real-time remoteness has been good in some ways, as clients, agencies and production have become closer while communicating better. I feel a great many creative accomplishments have come out of this.
Bernadette: I really hope that video conferences as part of triple bidding are here to stay. There has been something so rewarding about seeing the agency creative and production teams, and letting them see us and our directors, and it’s going to be hard to go back to faceless audio-only calls after this.
Sara: There are definitely some things we’ve learned and can take into the “new world.” Nothing ever goes back to the way it was. The core of what we do will return to the new normal, but having a remote video village for those who couldn’t travel, that will stay I’m sure. Virtual call backs had been more and more common, and I think they’ll continue to be so.