Everyone’s shouting about working direct with brands, Citizen Films is doing it - and doing it well
For eight years now, Citizen Films has been operating entirely outside of the traditional ad agency model with great success. Working directly with an enviable list of clients, the London-based production house delivers high-end, beautifully-crafted storytelling that misses out the middle man.
While direct to brand is a new trend production companies are looking to get on board, for Citizen Films, it’s simply the way it’s always operated. Throughout the years, Citizen has gone from strength to strength, as its full end-to-end service from idea generation through to delivery has proven to be a winning proposition with brands.
Ahead of the trend
Set up by ex-BBC broadcast journalist Gretchen Shoring in 2009, Citizen’s client base has grown organically, seeing them create TVCs, brand films, factual TV, photography, animation, copy, and design.
Having spent 12 years at the BBC as a TV Series Producer and Director, Gretchen set up Citizen with the aim of bringing strong storytelling know-how and super sharp production expertise together with the ability to deliver good looking, creative and innovative films to brands.
“Citizen’s story is unusual,” comments Managing Director, Gretchen. “Right from the outset, we have spearheaded an exciting approach to production that operates entirely outside the traditional ad agency model. Holding the trust of brands like Epson, Sprint, Mothercare, the FT and Direct Line, today our portfolio demonstrates real return on investment.”
Racking up 15 million viral hits, Citizen worked with 400 litres of ink, 10,000 sheets of paper and three-time FIA Formula One Drivers’ World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, to create this spot.
Bringing her keen eye for detail to the operation is Citizen’s lead producer, Nishi Bolakee. Also formerly a producer at the BBC, Nishi brings a strong background in docudramas, as well as VFX clout from her days working at the National History Museum, to Citizen. Citizen’s high-end CGI capabilities allows it to bring to life even the most technically ambitious ideas with a sleek finish.
“When Citizen Films started many years ago, the expectation for a company of this size was to work with agencies,” explains Nishi, “but Gretchen stuck to her guns and was out to redefine what content was. That’s what has kept it fresh. Having that direct and personal relationship with the client means that you end up having more frank and interesting conversations, which in turn, leads to more interesting work.”
To promote Epson’s augmented reality glasses, Citizen delivered a futuristic experience - ramping up the visual style and design to produce a truly aspirational piece. The team brought the king of the dinosaurs to life for the video, which quickly garnered buzz on Twitter and YouTube.
Equipped with Gretchen and Nishi’s years of broadcast training and keen creative eye, Citizen has the power to transform even the most fledgling of ideas into engaging pieces of content that cut through the noise.
“Telling a compelling story, often out of nothing, is something we’re very strong at,” explains Nishi. “We don’t just make pretty pictures. We’re constantly questioning how effective a film is going to be in driving home the brand message.”
Adds Gretchen: “From the start, I set out to ensure the production standards were high regardless of the margins, as I never wanted us to be in the business of churning out badly produced content just for the money. What would the point of that be? I’m a firm believer that this line of work should be something you put real pride and joy into.”
One of a series of films Citizen created for the national children’s charity campaign Jeans for Genes, the team made this short documentary aimed at patients with chronic granulomatous disorder (CGD) and their families. The team filmed with Alfie, who was born with CGD, over a six-month period at home and throughout the difficult bone marrow transplant process.
Reliable Problem Solvers
Citizen’s multi-talented, tight-knit team presents a lean and modern production offering. With no roster of expensive directors, the best talent is matched to each job – resulting in great value for money.
“Always deliver on time and on budget,” says Gretchen on one of Citizen’s mottos. It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s a rule that gets bent far too often in the industry.
Key to Citizen’s ability to make competitive budgets work hard, is its involvement from creative conception through to delivery. Working closely with brand marketing teams, Citizen devises intelligent, realistic solutions within their content budgets. Its deep understanding of the production process allows Citizen to pitch to budget - saving brands valuable time and money.
Gretchen comments: “When we pitch an idea, we can tell you on the spot exactly how it’ll be executed and what it will cost. Our partners aren’t going to get stuck with a surprise bill or delay because they’ve agreed to an idea that just isn’t possible for their budget.
Citizen’s first ever job was for the emergency appeal around the 2010 disaster in Haiti for International Medical Corps fronted by actress Sienna Miller. Working off a tight deadline, Citizen completed the job over a weekend.
The Citizen family prides itself just as much on its approachable attitude, as its other strengths. Hand in hand with its drive and professional outlook are the team’s fun, outgoing, and curious qualities.
The buzzword-weary amongst us will also be happy to hear that Citizen is all about demystifying and simplifying the process.
“We’re very human and upfront,” continues Gretchen. “We aim to be as transparent and accessible as possible – even in the language we use. We don’t litter our call sheets and scripts with industry shorthand that might be jibberish to someone who doesn’t come from that background. We’ve always been in the happy position of being able to avoid industry bullshit. We’re here to take the pressure off clients and anticipate what they need – they know we’ll go the extra mile.”
This openness and transparency means Citizen shoots always feel like a happy ship, with production and client understanding and enjoying the process from idea generation to delivery, and pulling together to make the best possible content.
Gretchen says: “Collaborating so closely with our clients also carries the great advantage of being able to work reactively – it means we can turn around campaigns incredibly quickly because there’s a direct line of communication. That allows our clients to be topical, to hit specific markets more effectively, and to cut through the competition. It’s a proposition that has won Citizen its impressive list of clients – many of which mirror the company’s curious and reactive outlook."
Nishi comments: “Epson – who we’ve been working with for over seven years without a retainer - is a huge company but refreshingly forward-thinking and receptive to new models, and that’s a testament to its success.”
With a smart model that has proven to be successful, and an equally appealing personable approach, it seems Citizen is onto a winning formula.