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From Pioneering Web Series to Ambitious Branded Content with Vincent Peone

14/05/2024
Production Company
Los Angeles, USA
241
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The director and ArtClass co-founder on creating fan-favourite series for CollegeHumor and Vogue, and pushing the boundaries of branded entertainment, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Vincent ‘Vince’ Peone co-founded the production company ArtClass in 2018 with long-time executive producer and friend, Geno Imbriale. An Emmy-winning commercial director in his own right, he was also a founding member of CollegeHumor Originals. There, Vincent pioneered the online sketch comedy scene and helped the channel garner tens of billions of views before taking his talents to the branded content space, earning six Webbys and winning Telly, Clio, and ProMax awards along the way.

In the commercial space, he’s created custom content for films like ‘Spiderman: Far From Home’, ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’, ‘The Post’, and many more, and helmed the launch of several series at the forefront of branded entertainment, including Vogue’s ‘73 Questions’, and Ryan Reynolds’ original Snapchat series, ‘Ryan Doesn’t Know’.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Vincent discusses blurring the lines of branded content, being a cheerleader for every actor he directs, and maintaining his love for the process, regardless of the format.


LBB> What creative content, ads, films, shows, etc., inspired you most growing up? And how did you take your first steps into filmmaking and comedy?

Vincent> I grew up on the Coen Brothers – films like ‘Fargo’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’ were the Holy Grail for me. Those films are still my comedy compass because of how effortlessly they used characters to drive a story. My favourite shows, and to a smaller extent my favourite commercials, use this formula too. 

At the beginning of my career, I had a sketch troupe with some friends called Dutch West, and we made a bunch of dumb videos to make each other laugh. We posted them on the internet at a time when you actually had to download the videos, which only a few did. We were posting them to YouTube the week that YouTube launched, and because of that, we got a lot of attention as an early YouTube adopter. Then, we attracted CollegeHumor. In the early days, CollegeHumor was a content aggregator, but our videos were trafficking well on CollegeHumor, and they asked us to come in to direct and shoot films. It was quite a luxury in those days, especially since we weren’t even out of college yet.


LBB> CollegeHumor shaped an entire generation of internet users’ sense of humour - what was it like being at the forefront of that early wave of internet sketch shows and comedy series?

Vincent> My buddy Sam Reich, a producer, a production designer, and I were the start of what became CollegeHumor Original Video. If you include the writers, that team grew to over 30 staff and three in-house production teams. It was like a mini studio: a music video shooting on Monday, a sketch shooting on Tuesday, and a fake movie trailer parody shooting on Wednesday. You have to remember, this was at a time when internet content creation was a new concept, and we were some of the few who were doing it as a profession. 

Some of New York’s improv legends were coming up in parallel. From Ben Schwartz to Donald Glover to Aubrey Plaza, many were performing regular shows at UCB and excited to be on camera, and CollegeHumor was a vessel for leading roles in decently produced comedy sketches. We didn't look at ourselves as trailblazers, but in hindsight, we didn't realise how important these videos would be until years later.


LBB> What lessons from that period of your life and career have you taken with you? And do any of your CollegeHumor productions/series stand out as favourites today?

Vincent> An early favourite is a series called ‘The Six’. We did a few of those - ‘The Six Girls You'll Date in College’ was the first one of a series I directed. I suppose that was my first foray into creating episodic or long-form content. It let us develop the characters more, create a world, and expand upon it. I’m still in love with that process, and I continue doing it, whether it’s a 30-second commercial or a feature. 


LBB> How did you transition into working with branded content, helping create custom activations for films like ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ and ‘Zoolander 2’?

Vincent> You can do a lot while telling a story if it offers your audience something rather than asks something of them, and that’s what comedy is. I’m fortunate to have found a nice address in directing because comedy is such a huge spectrum. Working in the space has led me to some interesting places, including fashion. I did a lot of work with Vogue and worked closely with Anna Wintour and her teams over the years on some amazing projects, including announcing ‘Zoolander 2’ on a Valentino runway show in Paris. I was backstage when Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson walked out in their outfits on the runway - it was incredible. At that time, fashion brands like Condé Nast and Vogue were smartly owning moments with comedy and clever editorial videos. I was coming in as a director with comedy chops who could ask Ben Stiller to workshop a joke. I remember thinking, ‘The client may be different, but it still has to be funny’.

When I transitioned into branded content, I realised that the rules were a little bit different, but the principles were still very much the same. It's about eliciting that great performance and capturing that moment that will stand out online. My strategy was to think about it like an audience member: ‘How will it reach me? How is it going to impact or telegraph the brand messaging in a way that's going to be effective?’.


Above: Vogue - 'When Meryl Met Anna' (dir. Vincent Peone)

LBB> What has been the most creatively fulfilling or interesting project in that realm of work so far? Tell us a bit about it!

Vincent> Sitting down with Meryl Streep and Anna Wintour was an out-of-body experience. We were interviewing two giants in their respective fields about Meryl's character in the Spielberg film ‘The Post’ - Anna's friend, Katherine Graham. They had a history; Meryl played Anna in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. 

When you have celebrities like the two of them, the rules are inherently going to be different. You're there to shepherd what's happening, nurture it, and capture a really evocative piece of content out of the events that are transpiring. With Vogue, we made series and content like ‘73 Questions’, for example, that felt well-crafted and specialised, which taught me a lot.


LBB> How did ArtClass content come about? What was the catalyst that prompted you to co-found the company?

Vincent> I was doing a lot of work with editorial brands and developing some television [projects], but commercials were a large component of my work. A swath of storyboards were coming in, and I wanted to accommodate all the work, but I didn't want to do it all myself. I wanted to be a mentor and parlay some of the work to up-and-coming directors that I knew and wanted to see shine.

So, I partnered up with Geno [Imbriale], who was my executive producer elsewhere at the time. We started forming what would become ArtClass. We saw it as an amazing opportunity to find emerging talent from all different disciplines and put them in front of brands. We built ArtClass around comedy and culture, not dissimilar to what I loved about working at CollegeHumor.

We always said we'd be happy if ArtClass needed to be a five-person shop accommodating boards for two or three directors. It quickly became much more than that - and we’re still pinching ourselves about that - but we were delighted that we could become the home we've always wanted to be for creatives. The first six years of ArtClass have been an upward trajectory working alongside truly talented people with whom I'm constantly inspired and honoured to share a roster.


Above: ArtClass director Paul Trillo's GoFundMe film

LBB> What are some of the most exciting opportunities in the modern commercial content world? You’ve worked on YouTube content, Snapchat series, traditional ads, and more - where are you seeing the most innovation and creative evolution?

Vincent> Not to be contrarian, but when I see AI content that is humanised and maestroed by people like Paul Trillo, who's on our roster, I'm so impressed and amazed. We did this GoFundMe project where Paul shot actors and directed their performances in a studio environment. Then we took that, used AI to augment it, and created a unique visual approach using lots of different assets and a lot of techniques, which Paul is known for, even before he started using AI to amplify the work.

But what he's doing is an ethical and amazing way to create unique content at scale. He's doing it in a way that is very much on the bleeding edge of what's possible. That content's reaching me via his feed because the world is responding positively to it. Now more than ever, people are finding innovative ways to make their masterpieces, which to me, is everything. That's why we do this. We all want to work with people we like, be able to own that process, and create something we’re proud of.


LBB> You recently directed a campaign with Kaley Cuoco for Priceline - how was that? What other recent traditional TV/video spots are you most proud of?

Vincent> Working with Kaley was amazing. I stepped into a pre-existing campaign that was very successful, and I was amazed to find out how welcoming it was. It wasn't like showing up on a TV show in their sixth season where the cast is like, ‘Here's how we do things around here’. It was a very open environment. She's so whip-smart and super collaborative. I was throwing options at her; she was firing back with her own take on things, and we vibed quickly. We were shooting four spots in two days, so we were working at breakneck speed, trying to get all these ambitious looks - like a jungle or Tuscany - and using quite a few pulls on the location side to make it feel dynamic.

I’m also proud of our recent work for Chili's with Mischief at No Fixed Address, who recently won Ad Age’s ‘Agency of the Year’ for good reason. They've been incredible partners and second to none at coming up with thumb-stopping ideas like having Boyz II Men cover the Chili’s ‘Baby Back Ribs’ Song.

We just wrapped another piece, which equally capitalises on what's happening in the pop culture lexicon. We did something with ‘Vanderpump Rules’ for Chili’s. We got to work with Scheana [Shay] and Katie [Maloney], and funnily enough, Ariana [Madix] is a friend of mine from 20 years ago. We used to cast her in CollegeHumor videos. She’s one of the funniest people. 


Above: Chili's - 'Espresso Martini'

LBB> What are your plans - for yourself and for ArtClass Content - in 2024? Any major goals or projects we should keep our eyes peeled for?

Vincent> We've been doing more long-form content. We produced ‘Bedtime Stories’ with Ryan Reynolds and collaborated with Fubo often. We also worked on a Charlie Kaufman short in collaboration with Likely Story. Those projects represent what I see as a really exciting space for ArtClass to venture into. A lot of the directors we have signed for commercial representation also have a lot of amazing ideas for short-, mid-, and long-form content that I would like to see become a reality.

As we venture into those spaces and continue to push boundaries on what's possible in the commercial space, I see the business overlapping a lot when it comes to that type of branded content. The lines are blurrier and blurrier with what we're making for a brand. I would really love to see ArtClass grow into a place where brands see us as that true hybrid, but also in the form of longer, more ambitious projects.

 

LBB> What do you think it is that ultimately drives and motivates you in work and in your life?

Vincent> Positivity and kindness. I joke that no one has ever heard me yell on set, but I don't think anyone has. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to make comedy and have such a colourful career thus far. It's my goal to wake up on time, show up to this shoot, and get excited for what's to come. As a result, you pump people up. I’m a cheerleader to every actor I'm fortunate enough to cross paths with. I try to elicit the best possible performance out of them that they'll be proud of, that we're all proud of going home when we call wrap, and that the brand says, ‘Wow, this is the authenticity that we're always looking for’.


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