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Midwest Production: Commercials Trends

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With lower costs, better viewer metrics and forgiving production values, new media is eating into budgets for broadcast and print advertising, say industry insiders.”The new media is actually starting to wag the tail of broadcast,” says David Burton, visual-effects supervisor at Detroit ad agency With a Twist. “The bigger budgets are going to interactive.”And because ad campaigns often launch on the web, adds Burton, “new media sometimes drives broadcast in as far as the brand and the culture of the particular spot. The look and design seems to be happening on interactive sites first.”With a Twist specializes in automotive spots, traditionally the kings of the 30-second television spot. But clients that have soured on Nielsen ratings and the ad-skipping TiVo love the detailed feedback available online. Want to find out how many people went to a new car ad, what colors they preferred, and how long they spent on the site? Easy.”Every click you make is measured,” Burton says.The plummeting cost of digital acquisition also is hard to resist. The new Red camera will retail for well under $20,000 when it hits the market. Dixon Galvez-Searle, editor of Screen magazine in Chicago, has seen post houses getting into production, as well as production houses dabbling in post.”A lot of the new companies that we see coming up are companies that have their hands in a lot of pots,” he says. “You can start a business with $35,000. If you have the talent to sustain that, it’s something entirely new.”The lower entry cost translates into lower fees, says Galvez-Searle. “One of the beliefs on the client side is that it should be cheaper to produce a commercial for the web.”As a result, new media commercials may lack some high-end gloss.”They tend to be of lower quality,” says Matthew McManus, executive producer at the Riot post house in Santa Monica. “But that’s not really the point. The point is the idea. A good idea always wins out.”Besides, he adds, digital technologies surpass film in crucial respects. Without the physical limit of a film can, “suddenly what you have are takes you couldn’t get before.””It’s going to do what Avid did for editing” as the technology filters from new media into mainstream television and film, McManus predicts.But McManus cautions against a simplistic view of digital tools. With so many different formats, an inexperienced director may run into time-consuming issues at the postproduction stage. Worse, the money saved at the front end may go to pay for a bloated post budget.That is why McManus advises customers to discuss their digital acquisition options with the post house well before the first day of principal.”Let us know ahead of time,” he says, “so we can help you get to where you need to go in a very efficient manner.”Some directors and producers remain unimpressed by the digital revolution. Andrew Hardaway, a director at Boxer Films who specializes in automotive commercials, swears by film for its ability to capture motion blur and to crank the camera consistently at different speeds.”We all want digital tools to be there, but they’re not there yet,” he says.He holds a technology-neutral view of directing: “It’s still storytelling. It’s still selling products.”But where in the past there were many more storytellers than the equipment available to tell stories, now the limiting factor may have shifted to the talent side.

Written by Carl Marziali

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