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Germany: Why We Need Agile Swiss Army Knife Producers and Talent

Trends and Insight 615 Add to collection

Some of Germany’s top agencies and production companies say the demand for a multi-skilled breed of talent is higher than ever

Germany: Why We Need Agile Swiss Army Knife Producers and Talent
Over the past 50 years, the job of the agency and production company producer may have changed more drastically than any other role. The rise of digital hailed a new era of content creation that required the traditional TV, radio, and print producer (or FFF producer <<Film, Funk and Fernsehen>> as it is known in Germany) to drastically expand their skill set. 

More often than not, agencies are being asked for ever more complex briefs to answer - particularly when it comes to digital and social content. They must now not only navigate the film production landscape but a digital one - working with an ever diverse pool of talent and an ever diverse output. 

Now with the coronavirus pandemic greatly restricting shoots, production and the travel of key talent, from creatives to producers, directors, DOPs and others, the challenge to source the right people for the job is harder than ever. 

Wanting to find out more about the demand for talent in Germany, LBB’s Sunna Coleman speaks to Steffen Gentis, Chief Production Officer at BBDO Germany; Christoph Everke, Managing Partner at Serviceplan Campaign; Axel Doepner, Head of Moving Images at Grabarz & Partner; Carlo Walther, Executive Producer and Managing Partner at TP Film; Alexander Schillinsky, Executive Director Integrated Production at Kolle Rebbe; Werner Klemm, CEO of Rekorder in Berlin; Ada Zuiderhoek, Managing Partner and Executive Producer at Soup Film; Jochen Hirt, Managing Director and Head of Production at Namoto; and Philipp Haeberlin-Collet, Co-Founder of .fount, the platform for digital production talent and consulting.

The Age of Agile

Agile ways of working have received a big boost during the lockdown as creatives found new ways of approaching production problems. “We’ve seen how adaptable people are, especially in the film business. They’re really resourceful and good at dealing with unforeseen challenges,” says Steffen Gentis, Chief Production Officer at BBDO Germany.

“Agile processes are much more  in demand at the moment and luckily we had already been working like this before the crisis,” says Axel Doepner, Head of Moving Images at Grabarz & Partner. “It is the permanent agenda of any modern agency, but it also has to match with the client’s system. Today we see many more possibilities and acceptance for agile working.”

He continues: “On top of this, content is constantly changing and we’re all continuously learning about new media and production techniques. And clients want work delivered faster yet more cost effectively than before - and they want more of it! The number of assets on one single production is enormous now. Jobs can become very complex and no one can handle all the requests alone, no matter how experienced. The majority of the work we see at Grabarz & Partner now is online film rather than classic TVCs. And the range of budgets we have to deal with is much wider these days. That is definitely the biggest shift I’ve seen.”

“The demand for "always on" is high,” agrees Kolle Rebbe’s Executive Director Integrated Production, Alexander Schillinsky. “The complexity that comes with it can only be faced with a completely new production approach. You always have to be open minded and embrace new challenges. With this curiosity you enjoy the development of our media world.”

Jochen Hirt, Managing Director and Head of Production at Namoto thinks of different channels as different languages. “In that respect, the ideal producer of the 2020s definitely needs to be multilingual,” he notes.

Steffen Gentis thinks of it in a similar way: “If you think of it in terms of knives and you have six different knives that can cut things in a different way, but right now, the Swiss army knife is becoming really important. There’s a new breed of producers who have actually been empowered by technology and have a really really interesting approach being able to film and edit really well. Sometimes they even come with a huge online following so the brand is willing to pay a little bit more because the talent comes with a following.”

The market is clearly in a constant state of fairly rapid growth and change with new channels and forms of media being explored year upon year. So the more agile and technically savvy the talent involved is, the better the results obtained for the client. But how do you find the perfect fit for a job and where do you start when looking to source fresh talent out of the hundreds of choices?

Philipp Haeberlin-Collet, Co-Founder of .fount, the platform for digital production talent and consulting says: “Turning towards people you trust and have worked with is always a good thing. But the pandemic showed us how fast paradigms change and that the capability to adapt and transform is key to survival. You can only transform if you are ready to encounter new perspectives and people, and broaden your horizon. You can accomplish this by looking outside your bubble.”

He explains: “Every bubble aka. network has its limits. Although these limits have expanded - through video calls and digital tools for remote production - it’s become more difficult to source and find the right talent outside one’s own network, especially when timings for complex briefings are tight.” 

One of the luxuries of working with familiar talent is that you know each other’s shorthand. But approaching new talent need not be a lengthy process. Philipp advises: “Our goal is to establish trust between clients and our talent base to make discovering new talent something exciting and positive. The most important thing is to approach each talent with respect at eye-level and be transparent and clear about what you want from them. At .fount we help facilitate first contact, making sure everyone’s on the same page so that things can be set up smoothly. With our consulting we focus on projects from (digital) agencies and brands that need any kind of production solution for digital video and imagery. To meet that demand we combine digital experts with integrated producers to enable the film productions of tomorrow.”

“To keep up with the changing times, you need to think out of the box,” says Axel. “You need to work with all kinds of production partners to get constant input of new approaches. You need to stay curious and flexible even when that means that you have to convince your team to go a new and different way.”

As TP Film’s Carlo Walther puts it: “Don’t fall into dreary routines. Routines make people slow and easy-going. Breaking routine leads more often to fresh results.”

Finding the Right Fit

“These days people need to have a far more diverse skill set to stay on top of the different channels that a campaign is required to be launched through,” says Kolle Rebbe’s Alexander Shillinsky. “People with multiple qualifications - such as a cameraman and editor in one - are certainly more in demand than ever. Since we like to produce a lot of material, we like to book people who shoot material professionally and independently in very small crews, which later on is made into many assets in a complex editing process.”

Steffen says: “There’s a new generation of producer coming who can do an integrated production for all channels. They’re good at creating production strategies to get the most bang for the buck. It’s good if a producer has different skills and knows how to direct or another additional skill or trade in the film business that opens their horizon beyond just producing. A lot of the producers today can edit as well - editing is really powerful storytelling because editors know what they need. So if a producer knows that they can just guide the production knowing what shots are needed.”

At Grabarz & Partner, “adding juniors to the team who are generally familiar with all the latest digital channels is a great way to stay relevant whilst supporting the next generation,” says Axel. “Collaborating with university and college students is a great way to find fresh talent to educate.”

However, as Serviceplan Campaign’s Managing Partner, Christoph Everke points out, “It is not only about finding the “new kid on the block” a.k.a. a new director – it is more about rethinking the whole process according to each task.”

And that’s exactly where talent platform .fount steps in. Sourcing digital production talent with multiple skills and experience in digital content creation, UI, digital project management, and digital creative direction in addition to the classic film departments, they’re set up to cover a wide range of single tasks or entire projects with great ease. 

“Being creative, flexible and agile has always been important in the field of production. Our goal is to help clients discover and source exciting talent with ease to deliver digital production solutions,” Philipp explains. “Be brave, step outside of your bubble and take campaigns to the next level with production talent and solutions tailored to match your brief.” 

Shoots Will Never Be The Same

As one of the first countries to be able to safely re-open production after months in lockdown, Germany sets a great example of how the rest of us may eventually return to work. 

In the midst of the pandemic, attending a shoot in person was impossible without huge risks to our own health as well as the safety of those we’re in close contact with. But as the R rate continues to decrease, film production crew and cast can slowly but surely return to some kind of new normal on set.

“I don’t think we will ever return completely to the way things used to be,” muses Steffen Gentis. “We’ve learnt too many things under lockdown that work very very well. I think digital tech and digital communication are going to take on an increasingly important role and we’re going to see less physical meeting up.”

Speaking to a range of production companies and agencies across Germany, it seems that everyone agrees. Christoph Everke says: “Clients have learned to rely on remote-shooting, and now understand how to attend a production without being on site.”

Axel Doepner, agrees: “I personally think we’ll never work exactly the way we did before the crisis. I think we have a lot to learn from remote shooting and I think it will become an additional option.”

As well as new ways of collaborating without having to meet face-to-face, the traditional experience on set has completely transformed, as Carlo Walther, Executive Producer and Managing Partner at TP Film describes: “Besides general measures like social distance, washing hands, wearing masks, clustering crews and disinfection of gear, a new position has been established on set: a risk assessment manager. This person develops upfront detailed risk assessments for each location, briefs the crew on arrival, and supervises all measures while shooting. In close collaboration with official authorities, our producers association and certifying companies like the DEKRA, we even have implemented a professional training and certificate for this position. Maybe that's what people call German efficiency!”

BBDO’s Steffen Gentis adds: “The APA are calling it a covid supervisor, but they are also known as hygiene specialists or social distance managers.”

“The first shoots that we realised under these special conditions were highly professional and had very good results while ensuring everyone’s safety,” comments Kolle Rebbe’s Alexander Schillinsky. “All those involved are characterised in these times by their creativity and by their solution-oriented work. A certain spirit of new optimism can be seen and people are ready to go back to work and get used to the "new normal".

“Think locally has become the new standard,” says Werner Klemm, CEO of Rekorder in Berlin. “Berlin has a great production infrastructure, great locations and highly skilled technical crews. With regards to travel restrictions, and in respect of all the precautionary measures we have to put in place, we have the ability to handle even complex productions in Germany.”

Not only that, but “lots of clients are adjusting their scripts to the current situation, be it because they are eager to produce content that’s relevant, or to deal with restrictions they are facing creatively,” highlights Ada Zuiderhoek, Managing Partner and Executive Producer at Soup Film.

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.fount, Wed, 24 Jun 2020 11:52:49 GMT