The production studio pulling in Oscar wins on debut features, busting out Cannes-Lions winning commercials, and signing talent like Jody Hill, Marielle Heller, Keith Schofield, Chloé Zhao and Cloé Bailly
Whilst many in the production industry battle to find their place and define their client base with an ever-blurring line between entertainment and commercial film, for independent film production studio Caviar, it's been simple for many years.
Their work in entertainment ‘advertises their advertising’ and it's easy to see why. In the past 18 months alone they have been racking up an eye-watering list of accolades - not to mention two Oscars, three Independent Spirit Awards, a BAFTA and a Gotham Award for Darius Marder’s debut feature film, Sound of Metal.
“That was truly surreal,” recalls executive producer and managing partner at Caviar, Michael Sagol. “Receiving six nominations and walking away with two Oscars on a director’s debut feature is just amazing, and luckily our phone keeps ringing. Our motto has become – before Oscar, carry water, chop wood, after Oscar, carry water, chop wood!”
A phone ringing is surely no new phenomenon for Caviar, however. Unlike many production companies in the commercial world who are dipping their toes into the content boom triggered by the likes of social media and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, Caviar’s success in the entertainment and feature film space happened long before SVOD changed our lives.
They’ve built a reputation for spotting talent and giving them their shot to true fame, having signed the likes of Jody Hill, Jonathan Krisel, Mari Heller, Jorma Taccone and Jason Woliner before they received their big breaks.
In 2019, the company also acquired Gifted Youth, Funny or Die’s award-winning commercial production arm. Its enviable director roster includes Jake Szymanski who Caviar helped break into the ad world while he was at Funny or Die alongside Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. “Having a heritage in comedy, meant the addition of Gifted Youth was another string to our bow,” Michael comments.
Today, Caviar is home to an ever-growing circle of creators and storytellers across their bases in Los Angeles, London, Paris, Brussels. Each studio is independently run by its own managing directors and they tell us that this is a reflection of the creative pulse in that marketplace - with comedy a big offering in the States, fashion a big focus in Paris, London a hub for amazing music videos and breaking global talent, and Brussels where it all began and where all the facets of the company thrive.
LA-based executive producer and partner Kim Dellara shares: “Our company really functions as one whole unit. Being spread across the globe comes with its challenges but we have really managed to lock arms on great directors and work together to build their reels. From Los Perez who came to us through Paris, broke in America and just did two amazing pieces after joining London, to Darius Marder who just booked his first commercial in the UK, we are always striving to be a company that can support our roster globally.”
Notable clients and projects include the likes of Ikea, Apple, Playstation, Nike, adidas and Gucci within its commercial client base; Jay-Z, Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry within its music portfolio; and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Netflix’s Cheer and Chloe Zhao’s breakout film The Rider within its film and TV.
Over at Caviar London, managing executive producer Sorcha Shepherd says, “When we first started in London our directors were relatively new to the UK market so I feel that my team, directors and I have just had a steady trajectory by picking great projects to work on, and we are finally getting the recognition we all deserve.”
“In the past few years we have won big at Shots, UKMVA, British Arrows, Ciclope and have had great success at building young talent. I think doing Caviar Connects - our series of live workshops - gave people a chance to get to know our directors, staff and producers and hopefully they liked our vibe. I think these days, agencies and clients only want to work with good people and Caviar Connects gave us the opportunity to give people a glimpse into our culture.”
Belief In The Vision
With its creative heritage spanning some of the world’s top ad campaigns, blockbuster movies, hit TV shows, killer branded content and star-studded music videos, Caviar has undoubtedly been a sought after destination for breakthrough directing talent.
This is something that Michael, who was responsible for launching Caviar in the States, puts down to their “steadfast belief in building a director’s vision, whatever the project is. We always double down on the director’s idea and give them as much support as we can to see their vision through as a creative partner. We love this process of building towards something together.”
Testament to this value, he tells us that Caviar’s ethos is built upon creative freedom. “We strongly believe that talent should not be pigeon holed,” he states. “Someone who has only worked on movies can do commercials too. Someone who has only worked on commercials can do a movie. It's the belief that we're filmmakers and storytellers, and that can apply to whatever medium we choose.”
“Our TV shows and our movies could be classed as advertising for our commercials. It’s how we show people the kinds of stories we’re making to draw them to us. That, in turn, makes them want to work with us in the branded space too. We’ve created this ecosphere of storytelling, whether it's branded or narrative, just having one help the other.”
Michael explains that across the ecosphere they have built at Caviar, this really comes down to relationship-building. “We've developed great relationships with talent over the years who have grown with us,” Michael says. “So we’ve created trust within the community that we know how to do this and can help filmmakers make a name for themselves. We build belief and vision, and try to do everything in our power to guide them to success.”
Before joining Caviar LA in 2014, Kim says that she “had always admired Caviar for not taking itself too seriously and it was making an impact on the industry. It was an immediate great fit for me with a culture that felt fun and welcoming to outsiders. I felt like I could bring a fresh set of eyes to the team and hoped to focus on the more visual side of things to complement the comedy roster and find my niche.”
For Sorcha, it was the talent that drew her in: “When I was offered the job at Caviar I was actually on the cusp of leaving the industry, but then I watched Keith Schofield’s reel and was like OMFG, I get to rep this guy? Sign me up! I stay because I love the people, the staff, the directors and our freelancers. I laugh a lot and that’s because I am surrounded by great people who value creative excellence and banter.”
High Profile Hits
It is evident that Caviar’s success is not just talk. Over the years, the team has picked up more than 50 Cannes Lions and countless other industry awards in addition to their recent Oscar wins for Sound of Metal. They have an undeniable string of high profile hits.
When asked about the company’s secret to success in the feature film and entertainment world Michael says, “I feel like a lot of the movies that we produce are, in essence, low budget indies, which is very much a testament to the craft. You build from the ground up. Sound of Metal was five years of laborious work, development and tweaking. It was the same with The Diary of a Teenage Girl with first-time filmmaker Marielle Heller. And that movie picked up a Grand Prix within Generation 14plus at the Berlin International Film Festival, Best International Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Best Actress at the Gotham Awards and Best Cinematography at Sundance, as well as the Spirit Award.”
Reflecting over the award-winning ingredients of some of Caviar’s most memorable commercial projects, Michael finds it difficult to choose one over another. “A piece that stands out is our work for K-Swiss which has a style of comedy that is so our own,” he says. Going further back in their history, Michael recalls working on Gatorade’s Replay, before branded content really exploded. “We took a first-time commercial director and got a boatload of awards for the campaign which was a game changer for a lot of brands and the way that people look at advertising.”
Turning his attention to the final piece of the puzzle in Caviar’s ecosphere of storytelling - music videos - the hits continue, backed by a string of UKMVA nominations and awards. Recent projects include videos for Jay-Z, LCD Soundsystem, Dua Lipa, Selena Gomez, Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, Stormzy and Katy Perry. This is an area where talent has historically crossed over from other content formats to great success.
“Having the opportunity to work with Rian Johnson on something like LCD Soundsystem, Alan Yang on Jay-Z, Los Pérez on Selena Gomez and so on… is incredible," Michael comments. "They were all accomplished filmmakers in their own right but a lot of these videos have been the tipping point in their music video directing portfolio. For example, Alan Yang had never directed a music video before, and I'm so proud of that.”
One personal highlight for Michael is the career trajectory of Keith Scholfield. “I’ve loved seeing his career blow up with him owning the music video world. He was our first US director and I see him as the godfather of subversive storytelling. I've just always been enamoured with everything he does and his talent always blows me away.”
For Caviar LA’s Kim, "the relaunch of Adidas Superstar, Los Perez’s Drink What Your Mama Gave Ya and Olivia Rodrigo’s good 4 u are three stand-out projects. But despite all of the incredible brands and artists we’ve produced memorable work for, the one that I keep going back to is Jorma Taccone’s AT&T You Deserve It, with those kids dancing and making goofy faces! Kills me every time.”
As the London office’s first staff member, Sorcha has a whole string of memorable projects to look back on. From Keith Scholfield’s Be More Dog for O2 and Very Fast Chair for Virgin, to Lainey Richardson’s work for Football Beyond Borders and Cloé Bailey’s When 2020 Met Dating for Bumble. “Memorable moments are of course when your talent wins an award for something they have given their heart and soul to, as well as the fact that every time we win a job, I get to tell my directors it’s yours. That feeling never gets old.”
Show Up, Level Up, Crush It
Looking at what’s next on the cards for Caviar, Michael puts it simply: “We just want to keep evolving with creativity and continue to work on super cool opportunities. The pandemic proved to us that we have a pretty strong culture and everybody really is such an essential part to the company. We all rose to the occasion and rallied together to see this pandemic through and I feel quite energised and hopeful coming out of it now that we're really on the right track and our relationships have just strengthened.”
“I love the homegrown element of Caviar,” Kim adds. “Every year we continue to develop our talent within the company - both directors and staff - across different genres and disciplines. We can grow our directors from music videos to commercials to documentary to film and TV, all within our walls. We’re a full-service company not just for our clients but also our talent, and I think that’s really special.”
“I’m also excited by more diversity and inclusivity in our talent roster and our crews,” Sorcha says. “I’m excited by the idea that companies are waking up and realising that mental health in the workplace needs to be better managed. I want to see the London office evolve into longform and to stay as dedicated to creativity as we always have. We have always prided ourselves on discovering and nurturing creative talent and that’s never going to change under my watch.”
“We're here to tell stories,” Michael concludes. “And the thing that's really exciting is the places that we're now able to tell and see these stories come to life. It’s about showing up, levelling up, and crushing it.”