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Production Line: Renee Williams Royal on Why the Possibilities with Virtual Production Are Endless


Head of production at Chemistry and Test Tube Productions on producing completely integrated campaigns all at once, shooting scenes in a boxing ring in Australia and nuanced technology

Production Line: Renee Williams Royal on Why the Possibilities with Virtual Production Are Endless

Renee Williams Royal is VP, head of production at Chemistry and Test Tube Productions in Atlanta, Georgia. She leads an all Black, female team and in less than a year has reshaped Test Tube by turning it into an independent, fully functioning production company, shooting everything from big-budget, buzzy TV spots to small-scale content for clients including CG Insurance and Krystal.

Originally from Jamaica, Renee is a mashup of Islander and Southern Peach. She graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in broadcast journalism and sociology. 

She started her career as a TV reporter, anchor and producer in Charleston, South Carolina. After four years, she turned her attention to advertising and never looked back. Renee’s first advertising job was as a content producer at J. Walter Thompson, now Wunderman Thompson, in her hometown of Atlanta. She quickly fell in love with commercial production, working on clients such as The United States Marine Corps, Verizon, Rachael Ray Nutrish, Brooks Running, AT&T, and Georgia Lottery. 

She is passionate about growing the next generation of producers and opening the door of the advertising bubble to talented individuals who need a chance. 

LBB> Production used to be quite siloed, then it moved to integrated and now it seems producers can be media/platform-neutral problem solvers - what’s your take?

Renee> Producers are absolutely media/platform-neutral problem solvers. By definition, producers will figure out what they must do to complete the project. Still, I think there’s something valuable about having expertise in an area or two whether that’s a big broadcast campaign, social content, stills, or even radio. I’ve found that the most successful producers have some specialty but can flex into different spaces. 

LBB> Can you talk us through one or two of the most exciting recent productions that you’ve been involved in that you think had a really interesting innovation or technological aspect to them?

Renee> I am the VP, head of production for Test Tube Productions at Chemistry. In the Spring, we wrapped our first virtual shoot for CG Insurance. This campaign introduced the first brand character in the Caribbean insurance space, Aunt Angie. In just two days, we could shoot scenes on a beach, in the mountains, in a boxing ring in Australia, and even at a monster truck rally. This happened all through a virtual wall. If this technology did not exist, there is no way we would have been able to pull off the creative we were tasked with on the timeline and budget. The possibilities with virtual production are endless. 

LBB> Virtual production is growing in popularity with film and TV (e.g. Loki and The Mandolorian) - what are your thoughts about its potential in the advertising space?

Renee> There seems to be a bit of hesitancy regarding virtual production in the advertising space. Creatives are used to tangible items and scenes in a shoot, so having the opportunity to create wherever and whenever with a virtual screen definitely takes some getting used to. When up against a limited budget and timeframe, I believe virtual production is a great option. And as the years go on, virtual production will continue to become more nuanced and advanced. 

LBB> It looks like, if it does catch on, it will involve quite a different workflow/process - is that something agencies and brands need to educate themselves on?

Renee> On the plus side, you’re able to change the backgrounds and shoot in nearly any “location.” You can accomplish much more without travelling, as you’re in a studio for all your shoot days. This makes it cost-effective, but agencies need to realise that it’s not inexpensive. And there are some limitations. It does not look 100% real and likely will not in the near future. Virtual shoots also often require a change in the workflow/process that agencies are used to. Agencies should talk through the process with a producer from a virtual studio before coming up with creative or pitching it to a client to ensure it’s a good fit.

LBB> With so many platforms to produce for, what’s your preference, to maximise assets across platforms or to produce content that’s more tailored to each content - or some sort of balance? What sort of conversations do you tend to have about this sort of thing?

Renee> I’m a true believer in producing completely integrated campaigns all at once, meaning shooting the TV, stills, radio, and social all at the same time. This creates efficiencies and gets the content done in a timely manner for the campaign launch. This process gets the message out across all mediums simultaneously while strengthening the message and creative.

LBB> Quite often production involves trying to solve a problem that’s never been attempted before - and that can mean hacking existing technology or trying to find new technologies. When you get a project that has such technological challenges, how do you and your team like to approach them?

Renee> We like to reach out to the experts in this technology to figure out the best path forward. As producers, it’s our job to know what we don’t know and find the answers to keep our projects moving. Once we have the experts on board, we try to distil the information they’re telling us into easy-to-understand language for our internal teams and clients. I always want to keep these partners close as the project progresses so we can stay on track.

LBB> What are the technologies that you have your eye on that either are having a big impact on how production is done - or have the potential to change things in a big way? 

Renee> I truly think virtual production is going to change the game. We will see more of this once clients realise how much time and money can be saved while still producing great creative. 

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Chemistry, Tue, 23 May 2023 12:26:00 GMT