Wed, 03 May 2023 16:53:00 GMT
Making your way to the crest of the entertainment industry can be an arduous task, filled with menial roles and unappreciated labour before opportunities arise. However, occasionally, a young leader or two manage to take a risk and quickly paddle out to where the waves are biggest, without wiping out. This reflects the story of LA-based London Alley’s co-founder Luga Podesta, who - along with his partner Brandon Bonfiglio - turned his college thesis project into a renowned production company that made its name producing award-winning music videos for the likes of Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande, SZA, The Weeknd and more.
Shifting its focus slightly in 2016, London Alley began to apply its full-service approach to filmmaking to the world of advertising, and has since even delved into television, film and documentary too. Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, the co-founder and executive producer Luga discusses the history of the company and the projects that shot it to stardom.
While his classmates at college were interning at Sony Pictures or the Creative Artists Association, Luga landed a role running the video portion of a surf magazine, travelling the world to shoot and edit in the extreme sports world. When it came time for his senior thesis, he convinced his school to let him do two music videos instead of the short film that was required - creating videos for Chicagoan pop-punk band A Kidnap in Colour and rapper Tyga. From there, he met with people in the music industry and worked with, at the time, fellow film school student Carlos López Estrada (director of Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’) to film videos for Sony Mexico, winning a Latin Grammy along the way.
A big believer in branding and projecting a sense of scale and professionalism in the early stages of a company, Luga started London Alley as its own production company, despite working from their living room at the time. “That was kind of our big motivation,” he says. “Let's have a facade of a company, and then just grow into that.”
Shredding the (air)wave of the music video resurgence around 2012, Luga and his partner, as well as some early directorial signings like Hannah Lux Davis and Colin Tilley, set an “insane” production pace in the music video scene. After two years of rapid content production, this piqued the interest of brands, who began to reach out for commercial content. Despite previously being “under the impression that it was less creative”, Luga says that by 2016, the company had made an active effort to get commercial reps and make ads a significant focus of the business.
After hiring an EP and head of production and partnering with the talent agency Hustle, the journey truly began. “It's been awesome seeing how they work to break us from music videos to commercials. We were recommended to them by someone on the agency side, because they had a track history of working with Partizan and all these music video directors that were able to make the jump into commercials. Since then, it's been crazy to see what they've done with everyone - it's exciting!”
(London Alley director Christian Breslauer's 'A New Day Resolution' spot for LA Fitness)
Looking back at the company’s beginnings, Luga believes that they ‘bought into’ music videos at the right time - “when the stock was at its lowest”. He says that starting the company in the gap between the heyday of MTV and the YouTube-led revival of the music video had its advantages for the new kids on the block. "We weren't at the top yet, where the crunch was being felt - so it was still exciting for us. And when people hired us, they felt that excitement. I think that's what kept us on an upward trajectory.”
Now standing at around 50 employees, with writers, designers, creative directors and post-production all on staff, it’s this shared excitement and synergy generated by keeping as much as possible in-house that helps produce quality work that clients come back for. This is a philosophy that began back in 2012, when Luga and Brandon were writing, shooting and editing music videos themselves.
“We're not a scrappy company by any means,” he says. “If you ask any of the labels here, most of them will probably say we’re the most competitive that's around right now. But the difference is in what we can do with the money, because of our infrastructure here. And it goes back to the creatives, directors, producers, everyone we work with, they all love what they're doing. It just feels like we get so much more out of a budget.”
Aiming to produce a couple of projects every year that really cut through the noise and capture a moment in pop culture, Luga reflects back on some pieces that catalysed London Alley’s growth to where it is today. After a surprise call from director Alan Ferguson in the early 2010s, he shares that the team once had to snap into action to produce two music videos in five days for none other than Beyoncé. Rushing to get the films - which were co-directed and creatively overseen by Queen Bey herself - shot before her pregnancy was announced, Luga found himself sat at the artist's home with her and Jay Z, discussing lens and lighting options.
“Afterwards, we were like, ‘Wow, I wonder when we'll next be able to do a project of that scale’. But from that moment on, it was just like the floodgates opened, which was kind of crazy,” he says. Subsequent special projects included Hannah Lux Davis’ video for Ariana Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’ which became a momentous viral moment, as well as videos for Kendrick Lamar, Lil Nas X and Lizzo. “It's just exciting when a project has legs and goes beyond the normal press you get from a video.”
On the commercial side of things, some recent projects of pride for Luga and the team have been the Pepsi work, also from Hannah Lux Davis. “Two years ago, we did a collab with Pepsi and Doja Cat, recreating a scene from Greece,” he says, “This past year, we recreated a scene from Footloose with Chloe Bailey. Those ones are really special because the level is brought up a notch to where you get the time and money and everything to do an execution properly. And it's still calling back to our roots, as it’s music-inspired, so it's pretty exciting.”
Now tipping the scales with an output at around 80% ads, the founder says that London Alley has also ventured into documentaries. Through its small development division, the company works on film and TV projects, recently selling a to-be-announced show to a distributor, and also has two unannounced documentaries being released later this year.
However, the passion is still there for its music video origins too. Priding itself on the “unique and inviting energy” that its creatives generate and attract repeat business with, Luga says that artists usually approach the company in a more intimate way, often directly working with them through their management or label on specific projects. To date, London Alley has done over 30 videos with Nicki Minaj, several with The Weeknd and, after the success of ‘Thank U, Next’, is into double digits with Ariana Grande.
To create this inviting atmosphere that benefits not just the employee culture, but the artists they work with too, Luga says that the hiring strategy and internal dynamics are aligned to “make sure everyone feels like they’re part of the family”. From socialising together as a team to the annual company trip, he acknowledges the importance of people’s passion for their work and how vital it is to create an enjoyable climate within an innately stressful industry. “You have to love doing it,” he says. “Otherwise, there's no point. You can see right through somebody who's just there to be there and punching the clock - and that goes from our directors down to our assistants within the company.”
Looking ahead to the future, ‘going viral’ is still very much a goal for many in the music video and commercial content spaces - and new ways of reaching this deified virality are being developed every day. For Luga, he sees AI becoming a “great tool” that will create efficiencies in the industry, however, there’s no catch-all solution. And furthermore, he sees the metrics of success moving beyond simply view counts already.
“Viral is something that everyone's trying to chase but, to me, it's when people outside of the industry either reference or have seen something. To me, that’s the most exciting thing.” He continues, “We can have a video get 30 million views, but they're all the fans of that specific artist or whatever. But when we're in a meeting, pitching for a documentary or a film and television project, and they see our demo reel and say, ‘Oh, I've seen that video’... that's what's really exciting.”