Fresh from winning two Lions in Cannes, it plans to use its
experience in commercials, features and TV to make
inroads in the global production services market.
By Anthony Vagnoni - http://www.sourceecreative.com/news.php?ID=5874
Virginia Cooney picked a great week to come to New York. We’re sitting at the outdoor cafe at Coffee Shop, a trendy eatery on Union Square, talking about the heat wave that’s just started to lift. Temperatures during the day reached upwards of 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Central Park – 40 degrees Celsius for those in the rest of the world.
Yet the heat and the humidity didn’t deter this young dynamo from her appointed rounds, which included visiting production companies across Manhattan. “Remember, I’m from Alabama,” she points out, where heat like this apparently ain’t nothing.
Cooney is 26, yet comes off as beyond her years in terms of insight, experience and maturity. These days, when not in Europe, New York or L.A., she spends the bulk of her time in Bogota, where she’s Production Services Director for Colombo Films, one of the top production houses in the country and one of the major production powers in Latin America.
Virginia Cooney, Colombo's Production Services Director, speaks four languages.
Her mission there is to not only launch Colombo’s production service business, but to grow it into a vibrant part of the company’s offering. Her timing couldn’t be better, for it won’t be long before those 104 temperatures in the Northeastern US give way to 20s and 30s. And that’s the time producers here, as well as in Canada and Europe, head south to shoot scripts calling for warm weather environments.
Colombo’s history is an interesting one. The company got its start as the production arm ofTelecolombia, one of the top broadcasters in the country, which was eventually purchased by News Corporation and put under the Fox brand. Colombo Films no longer shares any ownership with Fox Telecolombia, but Cooney says they share some production resources. The relationship helps, she adds, since clients both in entertainment and advertising know that Colombo is affiliated with a major global player on the media scene.
“It’s actually unique,” Colombo’s Juan Pablo Montejo, General Manager, tells SourceEcreative. ”No other production company here can make that claim. It’s helped us transition the company into the international market and been the foundation for our diversification into new areas of production.” While its commercials work is well known – a spot it just produced for the Colombian Ministry of Defense, directed by a young team called La Dupla (“The Double”), won two Lions in Cannes this year -this move into new genres and categories has already begun to pay off, Cooney notes. Much of this is driven by the directors themselves, who are as at home in the feature or programming worlds as they are in advertising, she adds.
Director Camilo Martiz is a partner in the company.
For example, Director Camilo Matiz, who’s a partner in the company, hooked up with the American indie film actor Vincent Gallo two years ago to write and direct and produce a feature called “1989.” Co-produced by Colombo and FoxTelecolombia; it screened as the closing film of the 48th Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009.
The studio has a variety of entertainment and production service projects in the hopper. They recently produced a reality TV show called “Dating in the Dark,” an import from Europe, and are currently working on another reality show as well as a sitcom. Those latter projects are shooting in Colombia but will run on American broadcast or cable networks, Cooney notes.
In addition, Colombo is in talks with a feature production company based in London to handle production service on several films, one of which would shoot in Colombia, the other in Chile (the location was chosen to handle downhill skiing sequences). “Even though our production service business is quite new, as you can see we’ve kicked it into high gear this year,” she says. She adds that Colombo has just signed on with GPN, the Global Production Network, which is a collection of production services
Matiz wrote and directed the independent feature 1989, starring Vincent Gallo.
Better schooled in geography than most Americans, Cooney points out that Colombia is ideally situated for production service work. It’s perched at the top of South America and relatively close in flying time to New York, L.A., London and other European capitals. The country’s geography allows for diverse locations, all within a short flight or drive. From its Pacific coast to its Caribbean shore, the country includes the colonial city of Cartagena (anyone remember “Romancing the Stone“?)
Montejo points out that Colombo’s status as a full-service production company serves it well as it builds its production service arm. ”While our focus is always going to be on commercials, we’re essentially a talent-driven company,” he says. “Our directors shoot ads, but they do other things as well. If we can arrange the backing, then we’re able to produce them through Colombo.” That was the case with Matiz’s ”1989,” as well as with the TV shows they’re working on.
The structure for commercials work is based around the shop’s team of senior executive producers, all of whom maintain relationships with specific agencies, Montejo explains. Essentially, the company has shifted from one based on director/producer relationships to one based on producer/agency relationships. “It’s changed the way we work,” he notes. “The EPs collaborate with their agencies when a job comes in to figure out who on our roster is best suited to direct it,” he says. “It’s allowed them to focus not just on strengthening their relationships with established shops, but also to start developing new ones both here in Colombia and in other countries as well.”
Jamie Gonzalez and Jose Maria Angel, seen above, are the directing teams known as La Dupla.
The approach has paid off, as Colombo has worked not just for the established network agencies working in Colombia, but for a group of up and coming creative boutiques as well, Cooney says. Shops such as Proximity and Soul are on the client roster, along with brand names like McCann, BBDO, Leo Burnett, Grey, Saatchi & Saatchi and Lowe.
The company’s director roster runs the gamut from home-grown talents to transplants. Anchoring the roster is Matiz, whose work ranges from narrative to comedy. He’s made waves both in traditional commercials as well as in the viral world. For example, his “Correspondent” campaign for the Colombian financial services company Davivienda, which was tied to last year’s World Cup, was both a YouTube hit as well as an award show favorite. The spots feature a hyperactive TV reporter who can’t seem to focus on his interview subjects. The director has gone on to shoot a sequel to the spot for this year’s U-20 World Cup, FIFA’s tournament for youth players, which Colombia hosted.
The shop is one of the few Latin American production companies to have women on its directorial roster; indeed, they have not one but two. There’s the veteran Tanja Mairitsch, who’s from Austria, and Tana Vallejo, who made the leap from assistant directing to directing just a few years ago and represents one of a number of fresh young faces at the company. Joining her in this youth movement is La Dupla, which is the directing team of Jose Maria Angel and Jaime Gonzalez. The most recent signing at Colombo is Mauricio Pardo, whom Cooney says brings a design background to the company as well as an ability to integrate visual effects and live action.
So how did this girl from Alabama find herself selling production services around the world? It’s easy, Cooney explains – you fall into it. Coming from an intellectually-focused family, she studied Middle Eastern culture and language at NYU and interned at a documentary production company while in college, which is where she got the production bug.
Not surprisingly, Cooney began to develop an idea for a documentary of her own after graduation, on the role of dance in various cultures. Figuring that she needed to explore some different environments to better frame her subject, she moved to Bogota, where she met some of the Colombo partners who were impressed with her capabilities and production background. They brought her on 18 months ago to help shape and launch the production service arm. Her language skills are a huge plus – unlike most native Alabamians, she speaks English, Spanish, French and Italian.
Cooney has used these to good advantage, building up contacts at shops all over. “We have great relationships with companies throughout Europe and the States,” she says, “many of them major players like Stink, MJZ, and Academy Films. So we’re confident that we’ll make major inroads into the market.”
The company intends to use more than just its address book to build its service work, however. They intend to aggressively promote the advantages of shooting in Colombia. “Our location lets us optimize shooting days, says Montejo, “and our team has mastered the art of getting a competitive bid back to the client within a day and a half. The group has come together very well, in terms of providing specific location photos, local casting videos and art department references, along with the budget, in the most time-effective manner.”
Cooney cites a number of positives to working there, among them a stable currency and, just as important, a stable social environment. The country has moved well beyond its image as a haven for traffickers and has been attracting both foreign tourists and international business investments at a healthy clip, she points out.
It also boasts world-class crews and access to the latest film production hardware and technology, adds Montejo. Colombo offers production service clients access to its own in-house pre- and post production facilities and its casting service as well, and was one of the first production houses in the country to offer clients Wiredrive. “It’s been invaluable in terms of letting our international clients manage their production service workflow,” he says.
New production technologies are top of mind as well, Montejo says. “We’re experimenting with everything from RED to D5 to Alexa,” he notes. “It depends on the demands of the job and the budget, of course, but it can go a long way to make some projects economically viable.”
Wrapping up her time in New York, Cooney is enthusiastic about Colombo’s potential in terms of servicing more global production work. The company already boasts an international presence of sorts, having been a regular at both the Cannes Lions and the Cannes Film Festivals in the past.
Next on her US itinerary was a trip to L.A., where she toured a number of production houses and probably spent time sitting in traffic. Later this year she’ll make the rounds at the Toronto Film Festival, then heads back to Los Angeles for the American Film Market in November. ”We’re really committed to this, and we hope to make a major impact in the marketplace,” she says. “It’s going to be our major focus for the coming year.”
Sounds to us like she’ll be going from a hot summer up here to a hot summer down there.