Friday, June 19, 2009

For Those Who Suffer...They Ride

Next week is the Cannes Advertising Festival. To many people Cannes is synonymous with Hedonism, self-promotion and general, overall selfishness. Mostly, these are the people who won't be going.

I will be going.

Nevertheless I agree with the accusations. The words charity and sacrifice do not usually pop up when discussing the festival (unless you consider charity to be buying endless rounds of tequila and sacrifice to be the act of accepting endless rounds of tequila). But on June 24th Cannes will witness the embodiment of great charity and sacrifice. On that day the riders of the annual The Fireflies Ride will finish up an eight day cycling tour and roll into Cannes. The considerable money that the riders raise will be donated to Leuka, a charity that benefits the treatment of leukemia.

I am very proud to report that two members of the Framestore family are burning their thigh muscles through the French Alps as I write this very comfortably at my desk with a hot cup of coffee in my hand. David Hulin and Kevin Rooney are both participating in the ride and the CG department of Framestore seems a little depressed without them. Alex Thomas, a talented Flame artist at Framestore, was set to do the ride for an impressive 3rd time until he had a cycling accident that led to emergency surgery. Talk about sacrifice. But it's not about Framestore. Several of The Mill guys are on the ride and many other agencies and production companies are represented as well.

The Fireflies Ride was started in 2000 by Ridley Scott's production company, RSA Films. With their motto "For Those Who Suffer We Ride" serving as a constant reminder of why they agreed to the physical torture in the first place, the riders will once again travel 1000 km across the French Alps from Geneva to Cannes. And it's not just the ride that is proof of their commitment. This is the culmination of months' of training by all. They have sacrificed hundreds of hours of their time to get those hard miles under their belt. As I write they are digging deep and hoping that their hours of lonely rides into the hills of Hertfordshire or the sweat they left on Bear Mountain, NY or across the Palisades in LA prepared them for the gruelling slog over Mont Blanc. And all that training was time spent apart from those they loved - in this industry there aren't too many of those hours in the first place.

I have stood on the finishing line for several years waiting for the pack to descend and it is quite an emotional moment. These people are champions and rightly are regarded as Cannes royalty but anyone who has ever ridden a bike will know that the prospect of adulation alone will not get you over the Alps in eight days. These people are riding for a cause and that is a huge motivation as they climb and descend mountains for over 1000km. I could not be more proud to be part of a community that can find a way to come together like this when things need to be done for the greater good.

According to the Fireflies website they have raised 700,000 pounds in the last nine years. That money has contributed to Leukemia scientists and laboratory workers and has allowed for the purchase of some very necessary, and very pricy, medical equipment.

I may not be ready for the sacrifice that is necessary to complete the trek through the mountains, but I am ready to sacrifice a little of the money that I might have blown on overpriced glasses of wine in Cannes. If you feel capable of similar sacrifice and charity...

It is not too late to donate.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A High Price To Pay

It’s a funny thing about parties. They are thrown with the best intentions and those that attend have nothing other to do than have a good time. If only it was that simple. First there's the stress about what to wear, then who to be seen with, who not to be seen with, which after-party have you been invited to, etc. If you are the host of the party you run the risk of upsetting someone you didn’t want to by not inviting them when you really ought to have. Of course, this is not a problem when people have to buy tickets to your party. If you want to go you buy a ticket; if you don’t you don’t. Simple.
The AICP know how to throw a good party. They’ve been doing it successfully for years and I have been attending for many of those years. People fly in from distant lands to attend. I know there are awards and panels, etc, but the main attraction is the party. And rightly so…it’s a great crowd at a great venue. Hard not to have a great party at MoMA.
It was great to catch up last night with so many people - some I hadn’t seen for years. Of course at some stage the conversation took on this sort of shape:
Reveller 1: Hello, how are you?
Reveller 2: Great…great…how are you??
R1: Great. Yeah…great. So how’s it going?
R2: Really well
R1: Great.
R2: You?
R1: Same. Yep. Really good. I mean we’ve had the odd blip this year.
R2: Us too. Bad start to the year but it’s hopefully picking up.
R1: The end of last year was rough for us but it seems a lot better at the moment.
R2: We’re actually quite busy at the moment but you know what budgets are like…
R1: Listen, I think this year is about survival and getting through this thing in as good a shape as possible.
R2: Absolutely…So, did you hear about…
Okay, you get the point. Those that didn’t have that conversation at some stage of the evening either weren’t comfortable enough to share that information or they felt they didn’t need to say it. But I’m not here to rant about the state of the industry (at least not today). We all know what it’s like. Who amongst us are able to charge exactly the same rate for the same services that we were last year or the year before? My guess is that you are either achieving lower rates or are holding your price but doing much more for it.
My question to the AICP is you must know that people are having conversations like these? I know many who are actively involved in the AICP and all are smart people who I have much respect for. If you are conscious that people have lost their jobs, some companies have closed and generally margins dropped significantly would this not have been a great opportunity for you to show some sensitivity and to lower ticket prices accordingly? $600 is a lot of money – I’m sure that MoMA doesn’t come cheaply and the food and drink needs to be covered. But seriously, would the party have been less fun if it had been held in a warehouse in Williamsburg? And I understand that you may have had to book this place way in advance but could you not have opted for a cheaper alternative to the fancy food that was served? As it was there appeared to be less bars than usual (unless there was a hidden one I didn’t find).
I just don’t think many other people in the industry are offering the same services (or less) than they were a year or two ago for the same price that they charged then. I was recently sent a link to a video message from Kathy Kiely, President of Ad Club: Her response to the current situation is thoughtful and shows great understanding.
So wasn’t last night a missed opportunity to show that the AICP is in touch with those it is seeking to represent? As I said, I didn’t have to buy a ticket. But I did. And a lot of other people did. And it was a great party. And maybe people just needed an excuse to escape from all of the mundanities. I just think that the AICP has stature within the industry and it would be great to show some strength and support by making a gesture that would acknowledge the state of the economy and helping to show leadership and guidance that we will all need to come out the other side.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Majority Report?

Today I am pleased to welcome our first guest blogger: Simon Whalley, Executive Producer of our Design/Digital Department. Simon and his colleagues are involved in the burgeoning world which not only looks out to - but also creates - the Digital Universe. A place where anything is possible! Here is the first of what I hope will be many blogs from Simon:

You know that something truly innovative has occurred when the hands free interface that was featured in Minority Report is something that you can buy at Target. Well, you can’t actually buy it right this minute, but it is on its way. Last week Xbox premiered Project Natal – a controller-free gaming environment. Xbox introduced it as a “revolutionary new way to play: no controller required”. This technology will not only appeal to the stereotypical young men that we think make up the gaming world, this device will appeal to everybody. There would be few people of any gender or background that would be able to see the website, watch the video ( and not want to own one as soon as it comes out. This technology promises to do what great technology does best, it will bridge together people from different worlds and industries.
This is truly an impressive development and it holds endless potential for gaming, social networking and the general day-to-day interface navigation of any electrical device.

I was speaking to someone the other day who said that the next person to crack the newest generation of interface would be triggering the next digital revolution. Could Microsoft have achieved this? Do they have any ideas for rolling this out in the non-gaming world? Will we be able to navigate our PCs using our hands, voices and facial expressions? (which some of us attempt to do anyway, it’s just that at the moment our computers are not responding to our screams, threats and grimaces!)

As creative professionals this opens the floodgates for us to create all manner of interactive and immersive imagery across different platforms, and I hope that we are able to embrace this concept. I know that I will try to be among the first wave of artists who are taking this technology to the next level. As the images in console games become ever more impressive, the distance between our industries is getting smaller and the lines are rapidly blurring. That really is something to get excited about.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CaT...a tonic!

On Tuesday evening I was talking with a couple of friends and, unsurprisingly, the subject turned to the economy. More particularly, how do we know if we have hit the bottom and we are on the road to recovery? When will the stock market, the housing market, unemployment, retail spend, general confidence rebound?

I am sad to report that I don’t have a conclusive answer – although we certainly did our best to give a boost to the winemaking industry.

I was able to wake up the next morning (a good start) and I debated whether or not to buy a ticket to the CaT conference – a conference being hosted that day by Creativity magazine that focused on emerging technology and its use in the creative industry. I thought that the general idea of the conference was great, but in my field we already merge quite a bit of new technology into our creative work so I didn’t know how much I would get out of the event. I sprang (ahem!) out of bed after deciding that I couldn’t possibly go. There was no way I could excuse myself from the office for an entire day, too busy, totally irreplaceable, etc, blah.

At work I checked Facebook and got my daily fix of Charles Day’s blog: General Misconception.

It told a story of a company who had missed the innovation curve in the industry. They had lost sight of what it was that their customers wanted and they had believed that their brand alone could lead to continued success. Hmmm. It was only 10.30; I wouldn’t have missed much of the conference. I had another coffee.

After a viewing a few baby pictures and the fifteenth link to ‘Cassetteboy vs The Bloody Apprentice’ I saw that my friend, Kat Egan, was posting from the conference: “At the CaT's doing what a good conference should do...opening up the brain and new possibilities”.

Kat is one of those people who are listened to when they speak. As a partner at Exopolis she has helped to completely restructure the company so that it is relevant to her clients needs. She has not done this as a knee-jerk reaction to shrinking budgets, but as a deliberate strategy over the last decade. And if somebody like Kat was finding inspiration at the conference, I should be there finding inspiration as well. I headed up for the afternoon session and paid the $425 (earlier thinking would have saved a lot of that money) in order to attend the second half of the conference. A number of things instantly struck me:

  • The caliber of the attendees was extremely high.
  • The spirit of optimism and positivity that came off the podium and infused the audience was one of the most genuinely exciting things I have witnessed in a long time.
  • I didn’t understand one word of an entire section about Information Visualisation.
  • Most of the speakers were racing through their talks at breakneck speed because they had so much to convey in such a short space of time.

That latter point has as much to do with the huge technological developments that are changing our industry as it has to do with the economy. This show was originally conceived of as a two-day show but they thought that the costs involved for an inaugural two-day conference would be difficult to cover and the event was reduced to one day. I hope that the organizers more than covered their costs and that CaT will expand to two days next year.

The event was a breath of fresh air. I have no desire to spend any more time at conferences discussing the death of the 30 second commercial or how to survive when clients are asking you to do more for less. For a start, very few people are actually honest about the major issues because that would involve possibly upsetting a client or potential client. Secondly, traditional conferences can sometimes waste too much time discussing how to wring out a bit more from an old model. Yesterday, I was faced with many familiar faces from the industry but there was a totally unfamiliar sense of excitement about what we were hearing. We were shown by the presenters Facebook games, peer to peer multi-platform pranks, interactive augmented reality, a Radiohead music ‘video’ for House of Cards with an innovative use of scan data and the next phase of i-phone apps. We were lucky enough to hear a talk from Raven Zachary, who directed the launch of the i-phone app ‘Obama 08 for Obama America’. While each demonstration offered a new exciting way of getting a message across each also had a brand clearly (and often cleverly) associated with it. It was one of the clearest indications I have had that brands are beginning to understand how they can use this technology to build and expand their brand and message. Not only were the brands never subjugated at the expense of technology, but also the very people who were helping to develop ideas (and overcome the technological challenges) had a responsibility far beyond the delivery.

It was inspiring to see such a simplicity of business model. Many of those giving talks and demonstrations had started their own businesses and were working directly with clients in order to provide them with something fresh, innovative and relevant. The simplicity of this model, the clarity of the vision and the belief in the idea more than offsets the complexity of the coding and the difficulty of describing - and then selling to the client - something that has never been seen before.

Towards the end of the afternoon I bumped into both Charles and Kat and introduced them to each other. I explained how the two of them had inadvertently helped me make the decision that I should attend the conference. I also pointed out that I should take great credit for embracing the new (okay, newish) technologies of social networking that had enabled me to receive their messages. My day, and possibly my future, was altered by receiving these messages from a platform of distribution which was now relevant in my daily life.

The conference did not exactly answer all my questions from the night before. I still didn’t know when the economy will rebound. But as I walked out of the conference I experienced that clear-headedness for the first time in a long while as a great cloud lifted….and I also felt enlightened by the conference. I might not know precisely when the economy will turn around but, after experiencing an afternoon of such inspiration and ingenuity, I know it eventually will.