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Production Line: Winning Combinations with Greta Wynn Davies

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CYLNDR's UK managing director on knowing your craft, keeping hold of specialists and how small changes have remarkable impacts

Production Line: Winning Combinations with Greta Wynn Davies

Greta Wynn Davies recently joined Cheil Worldwide’s tech-enabled, end-to-end creative production network CYLNDR as UK Managing Director. CYLNDR has produced award-winning work for brands such as LinkedIn, Nike and Samsung and specialises in offering end-to-end creative production solutions for direct clients as well as Cheil Connec+, which gives clients access to bespoke teams and specialisms from across Cheil’s 53 offices and six agencies globally, including CYLNDR.

Her move to CYLNDR followed nearly seven years at VCCP / KIN where she was most recently Deputy Head of Film & Content at Girl&Bear, overseeing a catalogue of award-winning work resulting in a British Arrow, Cannes Lion Gold and countless other awards. 

Greta has produced campaigns for brands including Cadbury, O2 & Virgin, TfL, Canon, McLaren and Nationwide. During her 23 years in the industry, she has held creative, directing and producers’ roles spanning advertising, music videos and animation, in the UK and internationally.


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

Greta> There wasn’t a lot of good to come out of Covid, but the Black Lives Matter movement was up there for me as something to build on. BLM triggered monumental, and I hope, exponential change. The lack of diversity in the film and TV industries has been a decades-long embarrassment. Still today, only roughly 12% of black employees take up senior roles in the industry and it’s not much better within film crews. More needs to be done. We need more initiatives to encourage diversity and inclusion in the film industry.


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?  

Greta> We wouldn’t expect Harry Kane to be playing for England at Wembley on a Friday, and then batting for England at the Ashes the following Tuesday. Integrating with production shouldn’t mean dumbing down the skillsets, getting everyone producing everything. Crews will eat you alive anyway if you walk onto set not knowing your onions! You can’t deliver professionally or confidently if you’ve built out a production team made up of jacks of all trades, masters of none. You need to integrate the right teams, backed up with the right support. You need producers who know their craft. I can’t see how anyone can master five different disciplines overnight and be good at all of it.


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 vs generalists

Greta> There is no end to the talent some of the young producers have these days.

Someone recently said to me, 'anyone can produce'. Hmmm, I said, but how well and at what cost? I think some people get it wrong and expect too much because they’ve not had first-hand experience producing films and haven’t quite grasped what their asking. I also don’t know a lot of producers who’d produce a TV ad and then the following week produce an influencer’s TikTok content spot, a stills shoot the next week, followed by an experiential PR stunt the following month.

This new generation of producers, adapt and eager to produce quality responsive content, is most definitely something all agencies should be cultivating and nurturing, but don’t get rid of your specialists. 


LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? 

Greta> I was a music video creative, here and in LA, writing treatments for Beyoncé, The Rolling Stones, Mariah Carey, and the like. it was a lot of fun back then. Silly budgets. I returned to London, did a master’s degree in script writing at Goldsmiths, before founding a creative content production company, where I white-labelled film and content production into agencies.


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?)   

Greta> Ha-ha, marking nearly a quarter of a century working in this industry, a lot has changed. The move over from film to digital was an obvious game changer. I used to think I knew all the directors out there, and that I was up on all their work, but these days the talent pool is on another level. It’s on such a prolific scale, it’s hard to keep up.  

There’s a lot of work out there, and with it a tsunami of deliverables, different versions, ratios, cutdowns, platforms, and territories… the list goes on. The sheer scale of content being generated in the last five years alone is staggering, and it keeps on going!


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?

Greta> Getting production involved at the start of the conversation is key. Regardless of whether the job is going external or remains internal, if you have an experienced producer who can look at your idea and help get it over the line, why wouldn’t you want to tap into that. It’s a winning combination. I’d never want anyone to feel that they must work with us. It needs to be because they want to work with us.


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

Greta> Production’s reputation is built on trust. And you gain it by having confidence in the professionalism and knowledge of the team. 


LBB> How important is it to you there is diversity across all partners on a production? Do you have any measures to promote diversity when it comes to production?

Greta> It is extremely important. We are fully committed to Free the Work, where you must have representation of both sexes. Just Runners is a great organisation for young kids who haven’t necessarily got anyone to help give them a leg up. All our producers engage in our D&I policy when booking crew. Employers must lead the way on this. We should all be actively participating in diversity and inclusion. If a company or organisation doesn’t have a D&I policy in place, then don’t work with them.


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?  

Greta> Even the smallest of changes have a remarkable impact. We always ensure that all shoots are registered with Green Screen, or Ad Green. The means the production company pledges what they will do to make the shoot as green as possible. The shoot is monitored and scored by a green steward. We also work carefully with catering, the art department, wardrobe and lighting heads of department, to make sure we are monitoring and considering the carbon footprint, and continually assessing how we can alter ways of working to ensure that we are part of the solution, not the problem.

 

LBB> Has the pandemic accelerated this conversation at all, in your opinion?

Greta> Yes, and we should all make concerted effort to keep numbers on set to a minimum, and waste down. The days of excess are over. Covid showed us that we could still produce great work without a huge team. I think agencies and clients need to be mindful, and really think about it. Do we really need to have eight people attending a shoot when you can livestream the director’s monitor to laptops anywhere in the world?


LBB> What conversations are you having with clients about issues such as diversity and sustainability? Is it something that clients are invested in or more that agencies need to take the lead on?

Greta> I find clients are playing an active role in asking the right questions about how sustainable production is. It is a genuine concern for them, and they want assurance that we are doing the right thing. The client brief is always clear that D&I policy is followed with casting. Everyone is very much on the same page.


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

Greta> I bloody love it. I love nothing more than having a budget forensically examined and winning most of the argument! But seriously, procurement is not just there to chip away at your budget for the sake of it and make you want to pull your hair out. A good cost controller is there to make sure what you’re promising, scheduling, and how you’re planning to deliver it, adds up. I’ve often found them to be incredibly helpful when a client is playing hardball and the cutbacks will damage the shoot.

Production is built on trust and to gain it we must be transparent on how we’re spending a client’s money. Production routinely pulls rabbits outta hats, coming up with ingenious problem-solving options, mustering up impossible but workable ways of making and delivering big ideas with a plethora of deliverables, with less budget. 


LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? (I know we’re always hearing about how much easier it is to educate or train oneself on tech etc., but what areas do you think producers can benefit from more directed or structured training?).  

Greta> I’m big on training. Agency producers should all take the IPA course, and film producers should head to the APA’s masterclass. Confidence is key to the success of a working relationship. Knowledge and experience give you that confidence. You want producers to walk out there and for directors and creatives to feel secure that they’re in the right hands, talking to a producer who knows their shit. 

It’s up to us heads of department to empower our staff and not just expect them to know all this or figure out for themselves. Mistakes can be costly, not only to the shoot and the budget, but also to the health and safety of the crew. There is always an amount of learning on the job. All agencies are different, and productions come in all shapes and sizes, with an array of personalities and demands. So, it’s important to have solid support resource on hand so young producers can learn and progress.

 

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?

Greta> Young people want content, content, content. It doesn’t have to be good, funny, shocking, it has to be everything…. scroll, engage for seven seconds, scroll, scroll, scroll…. it’s insatiable. I think Covid lockdowns triggered a deeper desire to devour content. It changed consumption habits, so production had to change with it, and it’s here to stay.

Even small crews shooting on DLSRs with some light panels can be too cumbersome and pricey for these types of social content jobs and budgets. There’s a big move to shoot a lot of this content on phones. It makes sense. Keep the money for the ATL!

Look, anything’s possible. But is this content any good? Something’s got to give, and that give, is for producers to figure out the winning formula of delivery craft, with speed and value. And that means there has to be a reality check and acceptance that we need to shoot in different ways and streamline where we can. Agencies and clients need to be behind this change and support production.  


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?

Greta> Any agency that has in-house production but doesn’t embrace and work with it is missing a trick. Value production like it values your idea, your clients, and getting the work made in the best way it can be. You have people in your agency with the expertise you can tap into. Everything is so time critical, so the quicker you can get a brief and creative over to the guys who will help you to make it, the better. It’s a no brainer. 


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

Greta> Go and do the IPA and/or the APA masterclasses. Run or production assist on as many shoots as you can. Get to know and work into agency or film producers whose work you admire. Think about the kind of work you want to produce. If you have an in-house production offering, go and spend as much time as you can with these guys. Learning from them will make your job as an agency producer, or integrated producer, ten times more productive and rewarding.

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Cheil Worldwide, Tue, 01 Nov 2022 11:13:36 GMT