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“Respect the Cat”: A Philosophy for Today’s Production Company


Lief founder Margo Mars on how she’s refocusing the way her business works and presents itself for today’s advertising landscape

“Respect the Cat”: A Philosophy for Today’s Production Company
Artwork: Affaire Projects 

“Respecter le chat, c’est le début du sens esthétique.” 

It’s not a proverb known the world over, but it’s one that resonated with Margo Mars while she was recently reflecting on what her production company, Lief, should be. The French phrase, which Google doesn’t seem to recognise any source for, roughly translates as: “Respect the cat, it's the start of a sense of style.”

After five years of representing what she calls “artist-filmmakers” in advertising, Margo has come to realise that how most production companies sell their talent needs rethinking. Doing away with outdated norms of the business – and traditional commercial reels – she’s designed a new website, as a platform for artists and clients that is more applicable to today's cultural landscape

Each director gets a beautiful platform to showcase all aspects that inform their practice, which enables a broader understanding of their personalities within a quick scroll. But it’s a site that sucks you in, defying the urge to have a quick scroll and inspiring you to get lost in the individuals’ personalities. There’s also a strong sense of the company’s specific sense of style – proof that everyone at Lief respects the cat.

LBB’s Alex Reeves sat down with Margo to hear her philosophy for Lief moving forwards.

Photo: Jen Price Thomas, PJs: ’Sleeper'

LBB> You've had a chance recently to delve into what Lief stands for. What have you realised?

Margo> Someone dear to me said: “You feel deeply so that you can make others feel.” I felt that. That’s what all advertising work should do, make others feel. With Lief, I stand for openness, passion, expression and uniqueness. All of this is now manifested through the new site:
‘Lief’ literally means ‘I love you dearly’, and I know this encompasses our exceptional care, not just for the work, but for the people. And after five years in business, I’ve come to realise that Lief’s central skill is emotion, besides being practical and functional as a top production house, of course!

LBB> How have you reframed what a production company should do in the current landscape of creativity?

Margo> Lief does things differently: we are not afraid to let curiosity be the main driving force behind all that we do. We produce highly artistic and emotional work that stands out because of our curiosity. Everybody can produce, even exceptional craft isn’t rare, and anybody can represent talent. Lief, however, is a platform driven by impeccable curation and cultural relevance and I’ve reframed how we sell this talent. I have always represented artists who spend time shaping and defining today’s culture, so we are no longer trying to fit the filmmakers in a ‘reel’ alone. Instead, we offer a more rich and more holistic platform by which creative directors and marketers can quickly gain a much deeper understanding of what they can offer. 
To contribute meaningfully to society and culture, you have to start focusing on this cultural framework, rather than being blindsided if a director has shot a car ad before, or a vignette ad or whatever the very specific ask is. What you want to know is if they can penetrate culture, and influence an audience. If their work for you will stand out. We offer brands authentic cultural involvement by welcoming these kinds of artists, whose hearts and souls will leap off the screen, into advertising.

LBB> What do you feel should shape the philosophy or taste of a production company like Lief?

Margo> I think my taste definitely shapes our philosophy. Lief embraces humanity and is built from powerful feminine energy. For me, my taste and style are the narrative of Lief, and not just the illustration. Thelonious Monk, known for his unique improvisational style, said: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It is impossible.” Trusting my intuition after all these years is what makes Lief, Lief. 

LBB> When you're so much more geographically distributed as a company, how do you bring that together and maintain a coherent culture? 

Margo> Everybody we work with and for, they all love Lief – and Lief loves them! So I definitely think a shared passion is what shapes our culture and maintains coherency. I make a lot of space for that conversation, and growing with all these unique voices. 


LBB> How do you think that can be communicated effectively to clients that's most useful to them?

Margo> Having authentic connections is so important for clients. Being truthful when saying you are diverse, authentic, and connected. To dialogue with different artists, specific artists, the political, and the contemporary, you need to experience the world and invent a link that makes a brand’s involvement meaningful. Brands that understand that will outperform those that do not, which is where we are very useful to them.

LBB> The less familiar names on a production company's roster need a chance to show off what they can do, but agencies often don't want to take a chance on someone who hasn't got a specific thing on their reel. How do you overcome that?

Margo> It’s so so simple - creative directors who choose directors for their campaigns need to trust the level of culture that gifted filmmakers can bring aside from having vast experience to direct a spot.
For many artist filmmakers who can bring a lot to advertising, filmmaking is often just one of their modes of expression. Reducing them to a limited commercial ‘reel’ and comparing this against those with huge reels, means you are left without a clear sense of the myriad possibilities of working with them. I hope my enthusiasm for these incredibly brilliant, experienced talents comes through on the new site, which gives them an impressive platform; they are each to be celebrated for their uniqueness and authenticity, not feared. The only fear clients should have is not being in touch with what audiences are already freely choosing to watch, and, thus, not stand out.


LBB> Can you explain what 'increation' is and how it will work as part of Lief's culture?

Margo> Increation is a studio within Lief where we, quite literally, bring projects into existence. Here we act as your artistic directors who forge a unique path for each project, instead of following a specific process or template. The best projects start with many unknowns, and in the right hands, you will go on an incredible creative journey. The exact outcome may not yet exist at the time of development, and because of that, you know you are onto something very special. All of creation belongs to Increation - art, entertainment, and commercials. It is a real chance to do mesmerising things together. What sets it apart from traditional work is that you ‘respect the cat’ as that will be the start of your sense of style!

LBB> In what direction would you like to see Lief expand and evolve in 2023?

Margo> Well, we’re opening our office in Paris, launching our first beautiful product and producing a feature doc on a hugely important global subject very close to our hearts. I honestly have no other wish than to continue getting the space to do all this through our wonderful clients and collaborators. 

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Lief, Mon, 21 Nov 2022 16:50:30 GMT