Australian advertising agencies canvassed by AdNews have found both challenges and opportunities in producing commercials during lockdown.
Among the issues is casting and location scouting done remotely, changing lockdown laws, border closures, and the pain of long Zoom calls.
But there have been many sucesses.
The Coca-Cola Company partnered with HERO + McCann to create the global launch campaign for Topo Chico Hard Seltzer.
The Topo Chico 60” film was shot in regional NSW, with Sydney-based production agency Rabbit.
Kate Miller, The Coca-Cola Company marketing director - South Pacific, says the campaign succeeded in creating “the southern feel right here in Australia, at a time when travel is out of reach”.
For DDB Sydney, the challenge has been in the pre-production process but this has led to a much closer and stronger partnership between all parties.
“If nothing else, that is something I hope we can carry forward beyond these crazy times,” DDB Sydney head of integrated content Renata Barbosa says.
Cummins&Partners boosted its in-house production after the first lockdown.
"Not being able to have cast/crew in one place or even able to gather at all has been the obvious obstacle. We've always had in-house production, but after the first lockdown we decided to double down these capabilities. Reconciling that decision seven lockdowns later, it was a smart move,” Cummins&Partners head of integrated production Steven Tortosa says.
For the next wave of filmmakers, national screen arts and broadcast school AFTRS has modified its curriculum and its production methods to ensure COVIDSafe productions.
AFTRS head of teaching and learning David Balfour says sets have been made COVIDSafe, with COVIDSafe Supervisors ensuring activities are being performed correctly and safely.
“How we have taught the creative side has shifted too - from thinking about blocking and how people interact. Finally, we have opened distributed and networked pre-production and post-production,” Balfour says.
Balfour says agencies can thrive through new ways of working.
“The world has embraced distanced and remote methods of working. It has tremendously re-defined what is required in pre-production. Everyone in the same place works for some people who have come to expect that as the way to do work. But that is not the only way. Think about the outcome and new paths to it will emerge.”
At Leo Burnett Sydney, the focus is on continuing to deliver great creative.
“Outside of ensuring full compliance and having a detailed Covid production plan, we (producers) are reviewing creative ideas through a new lens and asking ourselves questions like ‘do we need that many talent to communicate the idea, do they need to be that close and interacting, could this be done in post and is there another way to make this idea?’ Where usually we are trying to push the work harder, we are now looking at how we deliver great creative in this new environment,” Leo Burnett Sydney head of production & workflow Adrian Jung says.
Collaboration is key for Thinkerbell to work with the unpredictability of COVID.
“At Thinkerbell, we aim to be the most hyper-connected agency in the world. Collaboration is a must, as the world of ‘full service’ is dead. We can’t do everything – but we know people who’ll do anything,” Thinkerbell national head production tinker Grant Anderson says.
Agencies shared insights:
DDB Sydney head of integrated content Renata Barbosa:
“We have not stopped and are as busy as ever at DDB, with several large productions live, and a few more in the pipeline. But things certainly feel a bit different this time.
It’s been great to see the industry rallying together to make sure clients and agencies get the best outcome, but regardless of how much we learnt last year with the first lockdown, there’s a lot of nerves this time. The uncertainties driven by different lockdown laws, border closures, and the higher level of cases in the community in recent months have created a mini minefield for the producers to navigate.
The pre-production process, for example, has become much more complex, with agency and production partners having to navigate a multitude of obstacles and ways forward to safeguard the job.
Casting and location scouting has to be done completely remotely, which can make the process longer. Council permits are harder to get in certain parts of the state, and are sometimes revoked even after being approved. Locations need to be scouted with the size of crew and talent in mind to adhere to social distancing requirements. Art department and wardrobe crews are having to sometimes rely on click-and-collect to secure material for shoots, which can mean having less options available. And Covid testing for talent and crew can affect time and budget, depending on the number of times they need to be tested (depending on the size and length of the production, multiple tests can be required).
But what we are seeing in return is also a much closer and stronger partnership between all parties to get the results we are after. If nothing else, that is something I hope we can carry forward beyond these crazy times.”
Head of integrated production Steven Tortosa
"Not being able to have cast/crew in one place or even able to gather at all has been the obvious obstacle. We've always had in-house production, but after the first lockdown we decided to double down these capabilities. Reconciling that decision seven lockdowns later, it was a smart move. Things have moved more so into CGI, Illustration, and our productions need to be nimble and work around the constant changes in regulation. Having an in-house director and full suite of equipment has helped us move quickly. And at the end of the day, we all have camera phones. We're not afraid to use them to create content in a pinch."
Associate creative director Adam Slater
"We've found ourselves working very closely with our production partners in Queensland to make things happen. We've had to stay flexible and worry through many ways of executing an idea, not just one. That often means building 'creative contingencies' into our productions, such as having multiple shoot locations in play, being prepared to slim down crews if we have to, and considering all the 'what ifs?' that might occur. We can't afford to be one-speed in this environment.
Leo Burnett Sydney head of production & workflow Adrian Jung:
“The second outbreak and subsequent lockdown has undoubtedly added many risks for the production landscape, not only for business continuity but, due to the highly-infectious Delta variant, the safety of our people. Last year, it was all about uncertainty … this year, we know a lot more … the risks and the significant outcome of not complying, so we are approaching production with a healthy paranoia – which can only be a good thing given the circumstances.
This is a new script that’s never been played out before … but we are doing everything we can to make productions happen. Outside of ensuring full compliance and having a detailed COVID production plan, we (producers) are reviewing creative ideas through a new lens and asking ourselves questions like ‘do we need that many talent to communicate the idea, do they need to be that close and interacting, could this be done in post and is there another way to make this idea?’ Where usually we are trying to push the work harder, we are now looking at how we deliver great creative in this new environment.
The virtual process is not easy, focussing on a single monitor all day whilst juggling another one to two forms of tech to remain connected to the team is quite exhaustive, it’s far from ideal as creativity and craft is centred around great collaboration but our production partners have done incredibly well to make this transition seamless and effective, allowing us to continue producing work we’re all proud of.”
Thinkerbell national head production tinker Grant Anderson
“We are more measured and more magical than ever before.
Our squad of Production Tinkers are an eclectic and ingenious mob who seek out innovative ways to deliver measured magic into the world. They are measured in how they approach budgeting, scheduling and risk, and magical in bringing creativity, craft and innovation - in bringing our ideas to life.
Working with the unpredictability of Covid has seen us double down on our measure and magic - ensuring we adapt well to the current circumstances. Our team has done an extraordinary job with scenario planning often under extraordinary circumstances, whilst staying cool, calm and creative.
At Thinkerbell, we aim to be the most hyper connected agency in the world. Collaboration is a must, as the world of ‘full service’ is dead. We can’t do everything – but we know people who’ll do anything.
We have a Little Green Book that contains all of our trusted co-creators for everything we do. When it comes to production, this includes a diverse range of production companies, hyper-specialised individuals and like-minded creative people who help our ideas show up in the world. We always appreciate the part they play with projects both large and small.
Big ideas are never easy to pull off, and our philosophy is risk and reward should be shared.
When clients, creatives, production partners and the finance team work in lockstep, silos can be smashed, problems overcome and work everyone is proud of is delivered.
Separation has been the most challenging part. The once highly anticipated shoots have now become very long zoom calls. The agency is split up as we are all working remotely at home, including a raft of new starters who we’re working day-in-day out with, who we haven’t even met yet in person.
On the positive, we have become more concise and astute in our communication and leaned into cohesive collaboration. We’ve discovered plenty of better ways of working too.”
Saatchi & Saatchi Melbourne general manager Georgia Jones:
"Clients have been looking at alternative techniques. For example, we utilised animation really well in our award-winning Donation Dollar campaign for the Royal Australian Mint. This allowed us to be highly creative and to work around some of the restrictions.
For many agency EPs and heads of production, there is also the social responsibility side of things to rightly consider. If a brand is seen shooting a big budget campaign how does this appear to the public and general community, especially in a rural part of the country. These factors all have to be carefully assessed. Lockdown restrictions have of course led to some clients and their agencies waiting for restrictions to ease, or again, looking at alternative methods such as animation."
Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at email@example.com