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“Global Cosmopolitan” Andre Troubetzkoi Knows How to Surpass Production Expectations


The head of development at OTO Film tells LBB all about his colourful career history, the 'no assholes' policy that keeps talent happy, and why OTO and its location is uniquely positioned to solve modern production challenges

“Global Cosmopolitan” Andre Troubetzkoi Knows How to Surpass Production Expectations

This industry isn’t short on characters who can claim to have ‘really lived’ through the heyday of advertising, a time when creativity was unbridled, budgets generous, and processes minimal. Then there’s Andre Troubetzkoi, head of development at OTO Film, who has lived in Moscow, London, Prague, Brussels, Dubai, Montreal, Mallorca and Toronto in his twenty years as a producer. 

It’s those early days in mid-90s Moscow that deserve a special spotlight, which Andre calls “mad and euphoric”, words that can only approximate the feeling of the iconoclastic period in post-Soviet Russia. With only a three month TV station internship under his belt, and fresh out of film and photography school, Andre knocked on the door of all the American agencies in a desperate bid to land a steady job. BBDO answered, hiring him as the head of television, much to Andre’s surprise as he now confesses to not having seen a commercial showreel prior to the role. “It was simply a time when opportunity was given to those who showed potential,” he reminisces. What followed was a truly madcap two years. At one point Andre and his team had all but 30 minutes to shoot the Pepsi spokesperson, Cindy Crawford, who was in Moscow with her then partner, Val Kilmer. Andrew wrote the script and directed the supermodel himself - do read on to find out what happened to her chewing gum post-shoot…

Andre says he feels like a “mega-lottery winner” for all the experiences that an international life has given him, noting that he’s keenly attuned to the quirks and customs of many places with an ability to maintain relationships, personal and professionals, across continents and time zones. Though not without its challenges, he credits his “global cosmopolitan” status with the success he has today. 

Now the head of development at OTO Film, Andre puts into good practice all the skills and experiences gained in his time by building OTO’s profile on the global stage and looking for new, exciting business opportunities. 

Today, we spoke to Andre to learn about his anarchic career start in Moscow, why he couldn't do his job without CRM, and the reason that Polish talent is key to the company’s international success. 

LBB> Andre, please tell us what your path to producing looked like - did you always want to become a producer?

Andre> As a young kid I was often in school plays and basically the class clown. I always wanted to be somewhere in front or behind the camera. In high school, I was either on stage, backstage, or the photographer for the school newspaper. In my final year in high school, I produced our school’s first ever video yearbook which was a hit. I took acting lessons and went to auditions, got small parts in commercials and series. Academically, I was below average - but for university I was accepted into a prestigious arts institute and studied film and photography. For sure, I was on the path to production.

LBB> Your first job was with BBDO in Moscow. Can you tell us a little bit about that time? What was adapting American ads into Russian like?

Andre> Oh, the mid-90’s in Moscow were totally mad and euphoric, ask anyone who was there! I was in my early 20s, and fresh out of school when I went to Moscow – without a plan – only to experience the culture and heritage of my family history which belongs in Imperial Russia, long before the Soviets. My sister also did the same and moved to Moscow a few months prior to my arrival, so I had a comfortable start with a place to stay and a group of friends, mostly foreigners. At first, I did a three month internship in a local TV station, spending time with local editors and learning some Russian. Two security guards at the station, Yuri and Genia, took me into their fold, they became my brothers and still are to this day. They showed me Moscow through a unique lens that very few people get to look through, to say the least. That time had a huge impact on my development. The internship ended, I desperately wanted to stay in Moscow but needed a real job with money, so I went knocking on the doors of all the big American agencies in town and BBDO hired me as ‘head of television’. I had never seen a commercial showreel before. It was simply a time when opportunity was given to those who showed potential, during a time of massive change and opportunity. There was no TV department and account managers were making adaptations. Nobody was there to show us how to start up a real production department.

In my first year at the agency, Pepsi and BBDO New York released their global ‘Generation Next’ campaign with a new blue colour on the Pepsi logo. It was among the highest spending campaigns and accounts in BBDO history.  We were tasked with adapting the USA commercials into Russian, including original content of our own with several teasers leading up to the big launch day - which we wrote, directed, and even acted in. That campaign we produced, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well with head office or with the press.

We also hosted and produced B-roll of then famous British boy band, East-17, for three days as they performed the first ever pop/rock concert in Red Square, sponsored by Pepsi, the choice of a next generation we fully embraced. Cindy Crawford was the Pepsi spokeswoman at the time and her partner actor Val Kilmer happened to be in Russia shooting a feature called The Saint, so they were in town, and we had 30 minutes with Cindy to shoot a testimonial about her favourite soft drink. We had written the script ourselves and I directed her myself, which was nuts, we improvised the whole damn thing. They showed up in a small Mercedes with one guard, nobody else around noticed but our five person crew. I remember standing next to her holding the cue cards and having a chat.  She wanted to throw out her chewing gum to rehearse the lines but could only manage to stick it onto the papers I was holding.  We did a few takes, minutes later we wrapped, and they left. I stood there in awe, looked at her gum and popped it in my mouth. Early 20s me was super happy that day with a great story to tell my friends, which became urban legend.

We also produced Gillette’s first ever adaptation for the Russian market; a pack-shot can of shaving cream with Cyrillic letters firmly placed onto a counter with water splashing in slow motion.  It was a massive deal for Gillette, senior management from Boston flew in to lead the national PR and attend the shoot. The worst is that we shot on super 16mm at 140 fps…the magazine was shaking so hard along with the tripod and spreader, obviously we should have used 35mm, but no one had encouraged it. It went from bad to worse when the ‘fire chief’ entered the studio claiming we’re using too much electricity and that we would be shut down immediately if we didn’t pay a ‘fine’. We were always improvising and finding solutions with the limited resources we had available.  And then, because back then there was no express courier service between major cities, when it came time to ship the tapes from Moscow to St. Petersburg, we would go to the train station, profile the passengers, and pay a random stranger to bring the master Digi Beta tapes with them, and be met by another producer upon arrival. Those days were wild, so many stories.  That was my first job.

During those two years in Moscow, I met Daniel Bergmann who later would hire me at Stink in London. Two years later he would transfer me to Stillking in Prague where I spent three years. That led me to working with Massivemusic in Amsterdam for two years. I returned to agency producing in Dubai for two years. Then back to Canada for three years, only to relocate to the island of Mallorca for four years with Palma Pictures. I moved back to Canada for another four years (mostly with Palma Pictures). And now I’ve been living in Warsaw for two years.  

LBB> You’ve lived an incredibly international life. What have you learned from moving around and experiencing so many different cultures?

Andre> I feel like a mega-lottery winner when it comes to life experience. Professionally I’m in regular contact with many tribes in different places. Personally, it’s always been a challenge on some level. My daughters are now 14 and 16 and they’ve changed schools many times. My partner has had to reinvent herself with every move, find a new job, new friends, etc.  We’ve always paid ourselves for each move, renting accommodation and choosing not to have much material stuff. All that has for sure put a strain on things. In the last six years we were living together in Canada, then two years ago I chose to move to Poland for my job, returning to my family every two months for two weeks or so at a time.   It’s been working out better than expected which is great. We’re meeting up in Ireland and Poland this summer.

There are skills one gets from moving around and experiencing so many cultures. This will sound familiar to some friends, and to borrow from author Linda Brimm, you become a “global cosmopolitan” which sounds like a fabulous cocktail. It means you develop an extraordinary ability to adapt and become skilled at assessing what you need to find out which is invaluable for personal development and thinking outside the box. You learn to grasp the invisible rules and norms that govern relationships across tribes and cultures. You develop humility, empathy, and a sharp sense of observation. It turns you into a social chameleon that blends in with very different sets of people. You learn to collaborate and maintain relationships with people in different time zones and cultures and pick up the art of nurturing remote relationships – and know when a phone call, email, video or in-person visit is needed or when to pull back. I’ve learnt to take risks as optimism takes over turning crisis into opportunity. You learn to view people, organisations, and issues from a wider angle, a ‘bigger picture’ vision that allows you to assess situations from different viewpoints and incorporate the broader context into your understanding of things. Moving around and experiencing different cultures is something I would encourage everybody to strive for and balance in life.

LBB> You’ve worked with huge industry names Stink, Massivemusic, Stillking.  What drew you to working with OTO Film?

Andre> It’s simple. Covid had squashed my business of repping service companies around the world. I needed a full-time gig with a fixed monthly salary to help support my family. I searched in Canada, had a few close calls but no firm offers. My family encouraged me to search in Europe where generally I’m a better fit. I thought of London or Amsterdam but then saw a post on LinkedIn that OTO Film was looking for an international producer. I remember bidding with OTO back in Mallorca, we brought many Polish clients to the island and they were always kind and professional. I saw OTO Film as a small, local company with a good reputation. I imagined if they took me on, I would take them by the hand and help raise their profile internationally. I saw it as a challenge and different from working with major league studios, a community in which I could for sure make a bigger impact. We negotiated and the rest is history. Ironically, fast forward two years today, OTO Film has morphed into a major studio and holding group far beyond our expectations, for several reasons. I’m back again in the big leagues with fresh and futuristic resources and production solutions. Not sure what forces are behind this, but I’m on a roll being in the place at the right time.

LBB> You’re the head of development at OTO Films. What does the role entail? What’s a typical day for you?

Andre> It’s literally heading the process of development, mainly growth by expanding the clientele. It’s about raising the company profile and creating opportunity, new business. It’s a strategic and sales role together. My typical day is spent on several things; first and foremost, I’m deep inside my CRM where I keep track of all my stakeholders and touchpoints. I’m a huge geek when it comes to CRM. It’s client relationship management.  There are hundreds of people we meet each year and I need to remember who they are, what they do, how often we communicate and what we talk about. I couldn’t do my job without this, it’s essential.

I do research, look at the right websites, read relevant articles, I try to be that periscope that’s looking ahead for opportunity. I supervise the bidding process and ensure that we are as responsible as possible towards giving our clients the tools they need to make the right decisions towards their own clients or projects. When a job confirms, clients are here with us and then of course it’s all hands-on deck. The role entails understanding what clients want and need, and then responding appropriately. 

LBB> OTO Film is one of the leaders when it comes to virtual production and VFX-heavy spots. What gives you the competitive edge in these areas? 

Andre> I think firstly when a company or a group or collective are leaders, it means they’re working extremely hard at whatever it is they’re doing. In most of North America and Europe, for example, the Polish living abroad have a reputation of being hard workers and that’s more a reference to blue collar workers and labourers. For me, having recently moved to Warsaw, I see it’s not just labourers or construction workers, it’s the whole frigging population, and I really mean everybody, it’s quite something. The working ethos here is unlike anywhere I’ve lived so it’s not surprising a Polish company is a leader in their respective industry.  

And then secondly there’s the idea of talent. It’s one thing to be very good at what you do but having talent is different. It’s not just Polish DPs known globally for their talent, but also Polish VFX supervisors, artists, and technicians. And most of them are here in Poland and not in LA. Because Warsaw is small, trendy, affordable and it’s a busy economy, there’s work here. So, getting back to virtual production and VFX, it’s not just about having the latest hardware and software, but it’s the individuals and crews the OTO group has heavily invested in. We’ve also been around for over 30 years. Then being a profitable entity along with having a strict ‘no assholes’ policy allows us to retain the best crews, full-time. All that put together is our competitive edge.

LBB> OTO Film works with different international clients across different industries and forms of content. Have you noticed any common challenges that they’re facing and that you’re helping them solve?

Andre> Regardless of nationality, industry, content, or wherever projects come to us from in the hierarchy of commissioners, there are challenges. Some that immediately come to mind are tighter production budgets, sustainability, and fast-changing technology. Nobody’s untouchable when it comes to receiving unreasonable production budgets. That issue is many years old. It comes from recessions, a digital revolution, and some natural ignorance in the corporate world regarding the art of production and craft. We’re often having chats and sharing knowledge with commissioners, hoping to raise awareness regarding basic envelopes necessary to maintain a high level of production. Not easy, not giving up.  

Then there’s sustainability, which is no longer just a buzzword, it’s a lifestyle. It's what our partners expect of us. OTO Film have long been at the helm of initiatives like Ad Goes Green and our new villa-office was inspired by guidelines required of EU eco-management schemes which helps keep us aware and conscientious. Another common challenge, along with sustainability, is technology and this is where we truly help our clients overcome those challenges, with our expertise in tech and virtual production. Last year we opened our own in-house virtual production studios. It means we’re not just helping our clients become more sustainable by reducing their carbon footprint with fewer flights, company moves between locations, repurposing assets…we’re opening a whole world of limitless creative and visual possibilities.  We’ve been working solidly with brands like Reckitt / MCA / Havas and some of their network agencies with whom we shoot at least 20 spots a year inside our virtual studios. The future's looking bright.

LBB> OTO and Aggressive have collaborated on quite a few projects together. Why do you think you work so well together?

Andre> Yes, we have, and long before I joined the company. On a personal note, both guys have family roots and life experience in this part of the world. They’re naturally curious and attracted to Eastern European history and culture. Our CEO, Jacek Kulczycki, and the team at VuFinder really appreciate this, so we all have this culture in common. Jacek has a strong thirst for new media and technology. Alex and Dan are both tech wizards and storytellers. They’re constantly blending live action, design, technology, VFX and CG in fun and unexpected ways. They happen to be talented which of course is very attractive. Then our costs are also efficient, production value is high and Aggressive is given all the tools and support they need to make their magic happen. On top of that, Aggressive must answer to demanding American clients with very high levels of expectation. They know they can count on our support. The best is seeing everyone’s reaction at a wrap-dinner when you clearly see happiness and talking about the next job together.  When people work so well together it’s typically for the same reason - they understand and enjoy working with each other.

LBB> What makes Poland attractive as a location destination for clients? 

Andre> Warsaw has a legitimate modern urban city-centre you can’t find anywhere else in most neighbouring countries. Our skyline and streets attract automotive brands for car commercials. There’s of course plenty of old European charm in the streets, and classic architecture within a few minutes’ walk of those modern avenues and skyscrapers. Cafés, restaurants, boutiques, theatres, modern interior houses, sports facilities, lush green parks, the list goes on. We have the Tatra mountains in the south with scenic countryside along the way. There are long stretches of sandy beaches and coastline in the north by the Baltic Sea.  It’s not just locations, there’s value for the dollar or euro. Poland is an excellent mid-range option in the sense that our price point falls exactly between markets in the west and destinations in the east. The further east you travel the less expensive production becomes but at the end of the day Poland has infrastructure and expertise to consider which is a big advantage. The people and crews speak for themselves.  If you’re travelling abroad and placing your trust - and client’s money you’re responsible for - in a place, you obviously need to be certain of where you are and who you’re with.

LBB> Thinking about the future, what’s on the cards for OTO Film? Are there any upcoming projects you can share with us?

Andre> In 2024 we’re launching a 4000m virtual studio facility in Warsaw. It will have two 1200m stages, another two smaller stages, make up and wardrobe rooms, kitchens, hotel accommodation for visiting crew, exercise rooms, solar panel rooftops with gardens, and more. This will be a new era for VuFinder and the OTO Film group, marking what will be the start to sustainable and long-term collaborations with advertisers and their brands, as well as with content creators across long format industries.

We have a small but growing list of commercial clients for whom we are preferred partners. Our group will be launching OTO Family consisting of seven companies: OTO Film (line-production); Orka (VFX / post-production); Café Ole (music and sound); VuFinder (virtual production); Jugglers (director / DOP agency); Difference (ethnically diverse casting agency); and Under Ski Tower (original content).

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Genres: Visual VFX

OTO Film, Thu, 15 Jun 2023 13:53:41 GMT