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Production Line: From Runner to Head of Production with Peter Montgomery


Droga5 London’s head of production on the real value of honesty, making an effort to correct the lack of diversity behind the camera and how a budget is much more than a spreadsheet

Production Line: From Runner to Head of Production with Peter Montgomery

In October 2021, Droga5 London appointed Peter Montgomery, who’s worked with the agency as a freelance executive producer since 2016, as head of production. 

As a producer with the agency, he has been behind award-winning work, including Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Great Shows Stay with You’ campaigns, Amazon Alexa’s ‘A Voice Is All You Need’ and campaigns for Setapp and Rustlers. 

Previously, Peter worked with 72andSunny in Amsterdam, where his credits included producing the global Axe ‘Find your Magic’ campaign; BBH and M&C Saatchi, as an EP and senior producer.

LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production? 

Peter> I’m not sure our approach has changed as much as we thought it would at the height of lockdown, but the shared experience certainly forged tighter bonds with our production partners and clients, and I hope it made us all a little more empathetic than before. I’m extremely proud of the fact that we made very few creative compromises during lockdown – if we can produce great work during a pandemic then there should be no limit to what we can achieve now things have opened up.

LBB> Aside from covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years? 

Peter> It’s not the most exciting answer but the ever-increasing number of deliverables is a huge challenge, not allowing this to adversely affect the quality of the work is something every producer wrestles with.

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not? 

Peter> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, but a specialist producer may well do a better job. Having said that, a large part of producing is putting the right team in place, which means bringing in experts where you lack direct experience. 

LBB> And leading on from that, when it comes to building up your team at the agency, what’s your view on the balance of specialists versus generalists?

Peter> It should be exactly that, a balance. Most producers will have a speciality but that doesn’t mean they can’t turn their hand to something else. One of the best things about our business is the fact that there are always new and exciting things to learn. We’re a relatively small production team at Droga5 in London but that allows us the flexibility to bring in the right talent for different projects.

LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time? 

Peter> I started as a runner, working mainly in commercials and music videos, which is an excellent way to get a lot of ‘shoot’ experience relatively quickly. Having an understanding and appreciation of what everyone does on set is vital for any producer. While I was running, I got to spend a lot of time with the camera department which in many ways became my film school. After a few years, I moved into production, initially on the production company side and then at an agency. A lot of things have stayed with me from those early jobs, certainly the importance of relationships, a producer needs to be able to get things done and you can’t do that by yourself.

LBB> If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)

Peter> The volume of assets would certainly be surprising, but I think the conversations around time and budgets would all sound very familiar. The fact that we all have an HD camera in our pockets is extraordinary and has gone a long way towards democratising filmmaking. The advances that have been made in post production are also remarkable, but sometimes it feels like the increased speed and power just get used to create more options. Jobs, where we harness technology to do things that haven’t been done before, are always very exciting for everyone to work on.

LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why? 

Peter> The best models have flexibility built into them, the range of work we create is more varied than ever, so we’d be foolish to try and navigate everything through the same process. 

Something we’ve enjoyed doing at Droga5 recently is working with multiple animators and illustrators on a single project. For example, on our work for Amazon Books we commissioned illustrations from 17 different artists – all working independently. It can be a demanding way to work but the end results really do feel fresh and different and there’s an excitement to not knowing exactly what the outcome will be. 

LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust? 

Peter> Communication and honesty. I’m not sure there’s a shortcut to establishing trust, but with our best relationships, our partners know how hard we’ll fight for their vision and at the same time, they hopefully know that our team will continue to add value throughout the process. It’s important to talk as much as possible; a quick face-to-face meeting or video call can often clarify something that might otherwise get misunderstood.

LBB> How important is it to you that there is diversity across all partners on a production? 

Peter> It’s hugely important that as much effort goes into correcting the lack of diversity behind the camera as in front of the camera. Ironically advertising has not always done the best job promoting itself as a possible career path; too often as an industry we’ve relied on word of mouth, and this inevitably biases things to the status quo. Improving diversity depends on us changing the way we do things and means stepping out of our collective comfort zones. Just Runners is an example of a brilliant organisation that was set up to create a fair and equal entry system to the film industry – representing those ‘who do not know someone in the industry.’

LBB> Speaking of casting, what is your approach to this side of a production? How do you work with directors to ensure a fair and fruitful process? 

Peter> We all know that the right actor can transform a spot, directors often talk in treatments about hunting high and low for the right talent, and they’re right – you need to be prepared to cast widely, relentlessly, and often up to the very last minute, to find the right person. Casting is an area of the budget that too often gets trimmed to the detriment of the final product. We put a lot of thought into where we cast and who we cast with – often doing multiple rounds in more than one city. In terms of diversity, we always work hard to make sure our casts are representative and inclusive. 

LBB> Sustainable production is also, understandably, a big talking point and will continue to be so moving forward. How are you navigating this as an agency? And has the pandemic accelerated this conversation at all, in your opinion?

Peter> Like most London agencies we support and are signed up to AdGreen, this is in addition to being proud signatories of Ad Net Zero and partnering with Green Screen.

We’re also a key sponsor of the 1.4 Awards’ ‘Planet Positive’ category - ​​which celebrates work that demonstrates a positive impact on both society and the planet. Covid showed us what’s possible with regards to remote shoot attendance; the biggest carbon impact from production comes from travel so reducing this is key to reducing our overall carbon footprint. Often there are too many people on set, but it’s also very important on the agency side that younger members of the team get proper shoot experience, so a balance needs to be struck. 

I’m fascinated by what can be achieved with ‘virtual production’– the levels of realism being produced are very impressive and more and more ‘virtual’ studios are being built. It obviously won’t be right for everything, and you need time in pre-production, but for the right project, it can work incredibly well. 

One of the biggest things we can do as an industry is to promote sustainability through the work we make - like our campaign earlier in the year for the pre-loved luxury brand Vestiare Collective.

LBB> What are your thoughts on the involvement of procurement in production?

Peter> I’d refer back to the earlier question about specialists and generalists. A production consultant or cost controller who really understands production can play a vital role in explaining things to a client and helping them understand how their money is being spent. A budget is more than just a spreadsheet – it’s a methodology for the production. 

LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? 

Peter> It should be a combination of more formal training, like the excellent IPA and APA courses, and on the job learning. We are lucky to work in an industry full of highly skilled people who take great pride in their craft. In my experience, people normally like to talk about what they do and are very happy to answer questions - one of the downsides of things becoming more remote is it can reduce the opportunities for these ‘learning conversations’. One of the reasons to get back to the office for at least a few days a week is that you learn a lot from simply listening in to conversations that you might not be a direct part of. 

LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?

Peter> I’m not sure it necessarily needs to be c-suite, but if you want to produce great work it’s essential that production has good, unfiltered access to the people at the top of an agency. However, it’s equally important that they stay very close to the work itself.

LBB> Clients’ thirst for content seems to be unquenchable - and they need content that’s fast and responsive! What’s the key to creating LOTS of stuff at SPEED - without sacrificing production values? Is it even possible?

Peter> If someone has the answer I’d love to know. It is possible to accomplish a lot in a short time and still maintain quality. You need to put a plan in place, do everything possible to avoid unnecessary versions and be honest about what can be achieved. On big jobs, we’ll sometimes bring in a specialist deliverables producer to help manage this side of things.

LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases, production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this? 

Peter> Pre-production is planning, and the best producers plan meticulously. Within a traditional agency structure, there is a danger that production doesn’t get a voice until ideas and scripts are fully baked. But whilst it’s important that producers are involved early enough to advise on feasibility and help shape the work, it isn’t always helpful to have too practical a voice at the start of the creative process – impractical ideas can often lead you somewhere good.

LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now? 

Peter> The next job and the abundance of talented young people making great work.

LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer? 

Peter> Ask lots of questions. Listen to the answers. 
Be passionate and curious. 
Learn your craft.
Learn what other people do.
Watch films, go to galleries, go to plays, listen to music, follow fashion and read.
Always have a creative opinion but learn when to voice it.
Check your budgets. Check them again. 
Use your phone to talk – it’s amazing how often a conversation will unearth something that otherwise might get forgotten.
Protect pre-production time and use it wisely.
Thank people.

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Droga5 London, Tue, 25 Oct 2022 15:37:52 GMT