Director and creative director on signing to Golden LA, viral success and launching creative studio GenPop and automotive channel Donut Media
Ben Conrad is largely impacting the entertainment space from viral video to the big screen, and is the director behind the wildly viral Gymkhana series that boasts over 200 million views. Recently signed to Golden LA as a director and creative director, Ben is the founding partner and owner of creative studio GenPop, as well as Donut Media, one of the fastest growing channels in automotive (and where he will maintain his responsibilities while focusing his primary attention on creative projects at Golden LA).
We picked Ben's brains on the temptation of joining Golden, the entertainment industry, and a love of all mediums of film.
Q> How has your role as a business owner and executive evolved in recent years?
Ben> Maintaining a clear vision and using that to motivate a team to achieve that vision is pretty much the most important thing you can do. I’m stating the obvious, but it took a career to see those results directly, and I can point to projects and specific times in running a business that either worked or failed based on that simple math.
In the advertising business, you work on a great many different types of projects. Some are not as exciting as others on the surface, but when you dive in with really clear goals and can extract a fresh angle from it - the whole team aligns and you usually will succeed.
With a business, as a whole you will undoubtedly go through many iterations until you find the lane that works best for that business. The biggest takeaway for me in business has been to try and not be too many things (and this has been a challenge as I personally have many interests, as we all do). Find that one thing and do it really, really well.
Q> Are there any challenges that are completely different with the changing state of the industry?
Ben> We see a lot of briefs now that want to encompass a lot of different pieces; livestream, spots, social content, etc. all from one concept. I think there are opportunities there to lay some groundwork to build an audience rather than blast a bunch of content out all at once.
Q> What was the impetus for your decision to join Golden LA while already running two successful businesses?
Ben> Heading GenPop and Donut Media takes a lot of focus. I didn’t want to let go of what I do as a CD or director, so joining forces with Golden LA and Matthew Marquis made a lot of sense. Golden LA is where I can really focus on that creative aspect of my career. The collaboration frees me up to be the most creative version of myself in the advertising space while still having the freedom to evolve GenPop and Donut Media to be the best versions of themselves.
Q> What do you have planned for the future of GenPop?
Ben> With GenPop, I will continue to explore launching new entertainment verticals on social video platforms in addition to film and TV, and exploring how all three intersect. When I created GenPop, it was a vehicle to facilitate my existing clients and a place to continue to develop original material while also putting my energies into launching Donut Media.
Today, and in large part thanks to my work with Donut, I see the nature of a campaign as adding another spoke to the wheel of building an audience in addition to attracting that viewership. I see a lot of potential working with brands and thinking about the publishing aspect as a vehicle to deliver content in a way that is more meaningful for an intended audience. A good case study for that was a project we did for Genesis, where Donut created a three-part series called ‘The Art of the Stunt’, which featured Donut hosts and broke down how Hollywood-style automotive action was accomplished. Each episode was 15 minutes long and took the audience through the process of creating a massive stunt all featuring the Genesis. This requires more work upfront to lay the foundation, but the payoff is much longer-lasting and you have now invested in an active audience that can be grown even further.
Q> What was the inspiration behind Donut Media and its format? What do you think has made it as successful as it is?
Ben> When we first launched, we did a lot of stunt-type videos which we all thought would get views, at the same time we were also doing a lot of production work to pay the bills. This went on for nearly two years until we made the decision to turn down production work and focus our energies entirely on creating weekly content with a more educational angle. This was of course a scary decision, and I will credit my partner and Donut CEO, Matt Levin, with really leading that charge. It made all the difference, and in a short amount of time, Donut found its voice. Matt Levin really helped create an incredible company with one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. We went from a hundred thousand subscribers to over a million in less than a year. Today, I’m looking to focus on launching other channels in different categories as well as focusing on film and TV pursuits.
Q> What was it about Golden LA that made it the right fit for you as a director and creative director?
Ben> Matthew Marquis and I worked together at Logan for three to four years. After some time exploring our own careers and as things started to change, we realized working together just made sense. We complement one another super super well and have developed a shorthand over the years that makes working together go very smoothly.
There is no better EP than Matthew Marquis. Plus Golden LA just fosters a nice creative atmosphere. Golden allows me to focus on the production and studio side with Matt and grow as a creative, while I can focus on the publisher model with GenPop.
Q> As someone working with multiple forms of media, where does your heart pull you towards first and foremost? Is it animation, design, extreme live-action, or VFX?
Ben> All of the aspects of filmmaking interest me. Taking motion graphics and combining it with live-action in interesting ways, as we did when I first started, that was my gateway into becoming a director. All of it is interesting to me; writing, costumes, production design, even acting. I actually love acting and working with actors to create a photographable scene is an incredible experience.
Q> What is your favourite piece of directorial work to date? How is this particular film an example of your creative process as a director?
Ben> I think Gymkhana 7 was a favourite of mine. After doing three of them, it was an opportunity to explore a different style. Mainly because the car, the Hoonicorn, was in a lot of ways purposely built for the film, which was different from the previous Gymkhanas where it was a rally car featured in a film. This was a chance to really build a world around the Hoonicorn, and my overall approach was more cinematic because of that. It felt a lot more like making a film rather than a viral video.
Q> What is your favourite project you worked on as a creative director?
Ben> My favourite project would have to be The Avengers. It’s interesting because it’s not something that can be extracted independently from the film the way a title sequence can, but the whole experience was incredible. Mainly because it was a concept I pitched from left field for the title sequence (which we ultimately ended up not getting), but the concept impressed the Marvel team and the director enough for them to incorporate it into the film. It reaffirmed that the ideas that come to you which may be off-brief, but in your gut you know are in service of the story…those ideas are usually pretty damn good. The payoff of getting to see your stuff in a massive blockbuster was the cherry on top.
Q> You’ve had a busy start at Golden with your Best Buy and Cap n’ Crunch campaigns, how did you navigate those with the new Covid-safe guidelines in place?
Ben> The process was different in that nearly everything was done remotely. However, the approach was the same: sticking with a concept and a goal for what the films needed to be. Thankfully, everything fell into place from there.