Director and Airbag co-founder on Meet Graham, why different problems need different kinds of geeks and how the public paid to screen his beautiful marriage equality campaign
It’s increasingly rare for directors to run production companies these days. The managerial talents of a producer seem more in line with the role, so more and more founders have come from that background. But some directors have the business sense as well as the creative flair to run a company. Adrian Bosich is one such director. Having carved out a reputation for himself as a director at Exit Films, in 2011 he co-founded Airbag Productions - a Melbourne-based production company that constantly looks to the future.
Since then he’s built the company into a multidisciplinary powerhouse, encompassing production, tech, VFX, animation and facilitation. They’ve had a phenomenal year, taking home heaps of metal for their work on the 'Meet Graham' and 'Made Possible by Melbourne' campaigns. He’s continued directing as much as he can while he manages the company. Most recently he cut together 150 hours of footage of same-sex marriages to create a 60-second §film making the emotional case for marriage equality in Australia.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Adrian to understand the individual behind this unique company.
LBB> We spoke recently about the film you made for the marriage equality 'yes' campaign. What's your feeling on how that's going? Any indication of the impact the film has made?
AB> The response to the film was fantastic - debuting on the finale of The Bachelor with an attempt to cut through the misleading debate with this demonstration of the real issue - human love. Ellen and George Takei posting it onto their socials really helped the word spread.
What’s particularly amazing is that the media space has now been crowdfunded by the public, to keep the ad on air! I can’t think of another instance where the public want to pay to see an ad repeated.
So in addition to swaying some ‘Maybe’ votes, we managed to cut through the ‘No’ campaign’s slippery slope of negativity, with a message of hope, and we’ve received such positive response to that.
LBB> What are the biggest talking points in the Australian ad industry right now? Are any of them unique or are they generally in line with the global conversation?
AB> I think the debate continues regarding internalised production efforts on behalf of agencies. I totally understand in these leaner days, that they would look towards that area as a revenue stream - but I think it’s sadly at the expense of growing younger talent. Lower budget scripts are what we would use to train up a director, and invest in their career with award entries, and so on. It will be interesting to see the next generation of talent that rises through these new models - as an industry, we all need to find ways to nurture that new talent.
LBB> Last year you launched a new VR research and production facility, but you've always been on the technological edge of production. Why are you guys at Airbag such believers in R&D?
AB> We are just interested in technology as a tool for storytellers to engage new audiences. That has to be at the heart of what we do, otherwise it’s just a gimmick that doesn’t move anybody. Why are we such believers? Because we think the days are dwindling where you can just rely on traditional advertising. Traditional advertising interrupts what you are trying to do, with a sponsored message. Today’s audiences are often annoyed by this. Modern productions try to engage audiences by creating something they want to see and engage with - a film that is so relatable and human, or outright funny, that they they want to share it, a modern art exhibition that draws their attention, a new way to rethink exercise to get you active and moving. We're passionate about these new ways to reach audiences, and that's why we are drawn to R&D.
LBB> Do you think that speaks to the changing shape of a production company in general? It seems like the business models are all in flux at the moment...
AB> Absolutely. We have to understand these new ways to reach audiences in order to create productions that people want to see and engage with. Our three most famous pieces of work this year are two outdoor pieces with technology to aid the storytelling, and one film. ‘Meet Graham’ - a sculpture that also has an Augmented Reality layer that allows you to engage with the idea of how vulnerable our bodies are on the road; ‘Made Possible by Melbourne’, a series of outdoor installations that invite curiosity from the public to understand the University of Melbourne’s groundbreaking research, and the Marriage Equality film that crowdsources real same sex weddings, to create a heartfelt piece of film that shows the core of this debate is about love.
LBB> You started your career at Deloitte Consulting. That's quite different to what you do now. Was that your plan or just something you ended up doing?
AB> I can honestly say there was no concerted plan. In high school, I excelled at English and IT. I had no idea how to build a career from English, so I went on to get a computer degree, which led to the graduate program at Deloitte. It was there I was able to loop back to my passion in film, and I did the post-graduate film course at the Victorian College of the Arts, made a short film that was lucky enough to win international film festivals, which put me on the radar for advertising. I was at a traditional film company for years, before co-founding Airbag to incorporate the technology aspect. So no real plan as such, it’s just that my two disparate passions finally coalesced!
LBB> When did you realise filmmaking was your thing? And how did you first make moves in that direction?
AB> When I was at Deloitte, I worked out a way I could exercise that English skillset, and pursued the VCA film course, which had an outstanding scriptwriting component. They challenged you to write, direct and edit a short film. Mine was called ‘Marco Solo’, an eight-minute dark comedy which followed the story of a first generation Italian-Australian little boy growing up in Moonee Ponds. Creating that was a massive eye-opener. It opened the St Kilda Film Festival and having 3,000 people laughing at something you’ve created, was an immensely amazing feeling - the ability to make an impact on people was very profound, and that is something I’ve carried with me to advertising.
LBB> Then you co-founded Airbag. What was the story there? And how was the transition from director to MD?
AB> Steven Nicholson is a friend from VCA, and we worked together a lot when I was directing. I also worked with Travis Hogg and Nick Wright, who had built a solid production company that specialised in Visual Effects. I thought that if we all created something together, it would be an interesting and unique offering in the production world. The move from director to MD happened organically over the years - it’s a way of having creative oversight of the overall output from the studio.
LBB> You've spoken about the merits of recruiting talent from outside the advertising or production bubble. What are your favourite kinds of geek?
AB> Different geeks for different aspects. There’s your pragmatic programming geek, who love solving problems and just getting it done - but some of them don’t enjoy the client aspect. There’s the conceptual technologist that understands top level technology, and how to integrate it with client strategy. Then there’s also the geeky director, who is curious about how technology can change their storytelling. I love all of them for differing reasons, but I have a special place for Steven Nicholson, who balances the uber geeky with consideration into the communication and amplification aspects for client.
LBB> You've got the resources and talents to do some futuristic stuff, but clearly the idea always has to come first. How do you make sure geeks and clients don't get carried away with new tech and buzzwords?
AB> We ask a whole bunch of questions around the overall strategy, and have good enough relationships to be able to ask a more questions if we don’t understand the intended audience. We also try to avoid ideas whose audience is a case study for award entry over being of some benefit to client.
LBB> Do you have any whizzy tech that you're just sitting on and waiting for the right brief to come in for?
AB> We are always whizzing - and use the right tech as a tool to service an idea effectively.We do research on new tech daily, our R&D department is always experimenting, and we share this with agencies we have a great relationship with.
Airbag looks at communications, whilst our sister-company, FGMNT, is more product focused. They have just launched Situ, a way for agencies to previsualise outdoor creative as a presentation or in VR. You can see more at https://situ360.com.
LBB> What's the general creative scene like in Melbourne?
AB> Melbourne is abuzz at the moment - Clemenger BBDO took out Agency of the Year at Cannes, D&AD and other global festivals. And then there’s big agencies like Saatchi’s double-downing in Melbourne, Ogilvy Melbourne have won the Cadbury account, The Monkeys are opening in Melbourne. It’s always great for the creative world to have investment in the city.
LBB> What are your big passions outside of work? Do you have any hobbies or nerdy obsessions?
AB> Every spare moment I have to myself is crammed full of reading and film. My secret nerdy obsession is reading tech blogs, and researching and funding a lot of techie kickstarter campaigns. This is why my friend's kid has a gyroscopically balanced never-tip food bowl, and why my carry-on luggage has a battery that can charge a laptop and two devices!
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