By Larry Shapiro, Ensemble Digital Studios
Media executives need to embrace a new way of looking at entertainment in an effort of making today’s new platforms successful. Similar to the shift that occurred when movies started talking, new technologies today are changing audience behavior.
Today’s audiences don’t want traditional TV on their mobile devices. Successful entertainment today is about the conversation around the content. That success is orchestrated by a new breed of writers and directors who grew up producing only for digital platforms.
These creators who grew up making short series for the web and YouTube are now poised to address the exploding need for online content. However, most media executives and many of the ad agencies are not capitalizing on this next generation talent pool.
Instead, they are still chasing the “traditional” talent, enamored by their past credits on TV or Movies (content produced for Gen X and Baby Boomer audiences). Even YouTube and SVODS are still making this mistake, despite their initial success and penetration of the market due to these newer artists.
Today’s audiences don’t want their entertainment “over-produced”. They are used to the authenticity that the digital creators bring to their content. This has created a new production value.
The success of “Camp Takota” succeeded not only because it was written by Grace Helbig who emerged from YouTube, it was also directed by The Reidell Brothers who grew up directing on digital platforms. Both knew the medium from whence they came.
Subsequent digital movies were quick to try and replicate the “Camp Takota” formula. Some worked. Most did not. As traditional writers and directors flooded the space, many projects fell victim to a conversion model and audiences were turned off by the lack of authenticity.
Executives and producers must learn to trust the insights of today’s digital creatives, as well as believe in the stories they want to tell.
With so many platforms emerging for content, it is time for the torch to be passed to the next generation. We need to open the door to trust young filmmakers emerging from digital who have proven successes.
Take Matt Enlow (“Squareseville”), for example, who not only understands how the scripted paradigm has evolved, but understands how to create community. Watch “Squareseville”, or the series he directed for executive producer Lisa Kudrow, “Shitty Boyfriends”, and you can see the next Paul Feig. Bernie Su is another artist emerging from digital who has captured the hearts of audiences with “The Lizzie Bennett Diaries.”
A shift has started. Digital director Scott Winn, who directed the global video hit “High School Dance Battle,” garnered interest from Producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura (who has historically taken shots with young filmmakers) and the two are developing a project together.
What we need to understand is that this is the first generation of artists that analyzes data. A director like Devin Supertramp with over 4.5M followers on YouTube analyzes the data collected in his YouTube analytics for every video. If he sees a dip in retention on a particular video, he makes note and fine tunes his edit on the next video. Today’s creators don’t just produce stories, they produce for trends and SEO. Audiences are no longer served content, they search for content. Part of the ritual of entertainment consumption has become finding content and creating a conversation around it.
Unlike traditional artists, this newer generation of creatives learned early on, the importance of a good thumbnail and a strong title that can hit a search page.
Laura Clery is another creator that has capitalized on using new technology, such as the camera filters from Snapchat. Laura has created a stable of characters using these filters and has attracted an audience in the millions. What’s more interesting is that Laura creates a 25+ minute FB Live show every Sunday at 3pm. This FB Live show is around one of her characters Pamela Pupkin, a Vegan Southern Cook. On a live plus 5 day release of the video, this show will receive 650–1M views every week with an audience of 18–35 M/F. That’s a .75–1 share every week.
Laura is already monetizing her characters through brand deals and merchandise on her own. This is a generation of artist that knows how to build audience and retain them. One can ask the question, “Does an artist like this need a studio or network?”
It’s funny how some executives continue to overlook this generation of creators. Every new medium creates their own stars. However, media executives constantly try to use traditional talent to push a new platform. History has shown, it’s those who grew up exclusively producing for a particular platform that breaks out and makes the platform successful. When TV started, most networks put radio shows on TV with one camera and canned laughter. Then along came “I Love Lucy.” It was the first TV show to film in front of a live audience and use a three camera shoot format. Unheard of when it was introduced, it’s become an industry norm.
We must take a step back and learn lessons from past changes in entertainment behavior. MTV was launched, and suddenly there was a new generation of directors. The music video director did not come from TV or movies. They were young, untraditional, and turned filmmaking on its ear. Gen X loved it and could not stop consuming music videos. That is when Madison Avenue took notice. If these directors could get the youth to buy music, ad agencies wanted to use them to sell soda, sneakers and beer.
In 1987 while shooting the Loverboy music video “Notorious,” a young director wanting to break into commercials shot a spec beer commercial after the record company and band left the set. Executives at Propaganda Films, the production company, used that spec beer spot to get an ad agency, The Doner Company, to take a risk giving a young director his first commercial for Colt 45 Malt Liquor starring Billy Dee Williams.
That 1988 commercial went on to win three Clio’s including one for Best Director. That young director who the ad agency gave a shot to was David Fincher.
Jerry Bruckheimer was one of the first producers to take the lead from the advertiser’s world in hiring new directors. He hired commercial directors Tony Scott to direct “Top Gun”, Adrien Lyne to direct “Flashdance”, and a young music video turned commercial director to make a movie with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence called “Bad Boys”. That director was Michael Bay.
Young music video directors went on to direct critically acclaimed movies: “Training Day” (Antoine Fuqua), “Seven” (David Fincher) and “Adaptation” (Spike Jonze).
Thirty-five years after MTV launched, there’s a new generation of filmmakers who are reaching a youth audience that must be noticed. Embrace the new writers who are condensing their first acts and not afraid to lose a cold opening. Embrace the director who tells his DIT guy to flag certain frames to create a GIF for the audience to share. Embrace the filmmaker who walks on set with his glidecam wearing flip flops. Listen to these creators when they say they know what their audience will find authentic.
As we move forward and look to create content for new platforms and audiences, it is important to remember when this happened in the past and who broke through the noise. We are in a new world of entertainment with a new breed of talent.
There is no real disruption, just evolution.
Larry Shapiro has a successful 20+ year track record of managing and producing creative in all forms of media and pioneering the convergence between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. As CEO of Ensemble Digital Studios, Larry is managing talent and producing movies that intersect today’s online creators. He recently wrapped as a Producer on Shovel Buddies with AwesomnessTV and 360 Management and was an Executive Producer of the reality series Jack Vale Offline for HLN. Prior to Ensemble, Larry was SVP of Talent for Fullscreen, where he helped shape and grow Fullscreen’s top tier talent roster including Devin Supertramp, the Fine Brothers and Grace Helbig.