Prettybird president Ali Brown tells Addison Capper about the type of work that’s been keeping the production company busy in recent weeks and its implications on the wider production industry
Ali Brown is struggling to recall exactly when Prettybird, the production company that she is president of, started to feel the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It feels like we are just living one long day so it’s hard to remember!”
But when she and the team began to feel that ripple effect, they immediately dived into researching what was happening across every state in the US, what regulations were being put in place, what people were projecting, and eventually created a huge mindmap of information. Prettybird’s production department was constantly on the phone to rental houses, the permit offices, etc. to make sure that they were staying on top of every update.
At the time, Ali tells me that Prettybird was lucky that it wasn’t in mid-shoot on anything, avoiding the messiness that would have come with something cancelling during production. But they were in the middle of delivering a show for Quibi, racing through the final phase of VFX to hit the launch deadline before it slowed to a snail’s pace due to the VFX company needing to shift its artists - and their equipment - home.
What’s more, there were two projects that were open to adapting how they shot based on the relevant restrictions, which proved to be really informative for Ali and the rest of the Prettybird crew. Neither job ended up happening - one ended up being directed by someone on the creative team, while another was for a luxury brand that decided to not advertise for the time being. “But they really pushed us as a company to figure out everything that was possible,” Ali says. “What did shooting with a crew size under 10 look like? How could it be done in a way that work was done in shifts? Investigating all protocols around sanitising spaces, providing safe meals, exploring camera equipment that kept distance between the talent, and ultimately remote prep, production and direction - everything from shipping lighting panels and backdrops to talent to doing glam tutorials prior to shooting.”
Since then, despite the uncertainty of what feels like everything at the moment, Prettybird has been busy. It worked with Wieden+Kennedy on an Uber campaign that thanked people for not using its services. The spot was interesting because it really leant into Prettybird’s network of creators and got stuck-at-home filmmakers to document their new reality - instead of being a selection of homemade films with the front camera of a phone, it properly deployed the talents of a selection of directors. “It was a really unique process with our creator community and it infused all of us collectively with a ton of creativite energy and, honestly, hope,” says Ali. “That’s spawned additional opportunities which are somewhat similar.”
This way of working is a trend that Ali has spotted in the type of work coming through the Prettybird (home) office at the moment. Due to the fact that directors are limited to the talent and locations that they are quarantined with / in, it’s hard for just one single director to execute a script alone, Ali is seeing a lot of work that is vignette based. They’re currently working on a project that will involve a collective of directors that will be hired to shoot a campaign of scripts. There will be one director acting as a sort of team leader for the agency, and then the various directors will divvy up the shots and scripts depending on what each entails.
“The vignette montage trend will be a signifier of this moment in our industry,” she believes. “But I also think that because of the sense of isolation that people are experiencing, work that provides glimpses into other people’s worlds is welcome. We want to laugh at what someone is doing to pass the time, or cry because someone is far away. There is a lot of work based on eliciting empathy right now and that’s a good thing. We need to be reminded of that right now.”
There are also jobs to be working on for when Covid-19 hopefully isn’t a worry anymore, which is proving particularly important for Prettybird, not just because of the ensurance of future productions but also the time that this situation is allowing them to spend on them. “Not only does it allow us to have something to bank on - to know that there is a job ready to happen on the books,” she says. “By bidding out projects now and not leaving it for when everyone wants to race to do things, it helps production companies use their resources wisely and not have to outsource to try to keep up with a stockpile of requests. I think it’s safe to say that all companies right now are happy to have the proper time to bid things out and directors can spend time putting thought into their treatments. So please don’t just wait until all this is over. It’s an important light at the end of the tunnel.”
That doesn’t mean that there’s more time to sit and ponder productions though - if anything, the opposite. Pace is the main thing that Ali and the team is struggling with from a remote production perspective due what she calls a “race to get work out”. Brands had campaigns sold in with the intention of shooting them for months. “Suddenly it’s like, scrap that, can you get something out in three days?
“My friends that are creatives are working around the clock across multiple brands trying to hone messages that are unique with limitations that are universal,” she adds. “It’s a tough assignment. So the speed when we get something to not then be able to all huddle in one office and divide and conquer is definitely a challenge. But we’re rising to it.”
Looking to the future, Ali can’t see production ever going back to the way it was. “I think as with any event that has an impact on our industry or our lives, there is an evolution that will happen and that’s necessary.” But that’s not to say that everyone will be producing from their homes in the future - far from it. But, thinking positively, Ali is hoping that Prettybird and the production industry in general will come out the other side of this crisis more nimble and able. “I think that by adapting to these challenges we will be more diverse as a company in terms of how we can produce, what we can produce, and how we look at a project,” she says. “I think when applied, pressure can force decisions made from gut and from instinct, and can quiet the brain a bit in some of the overthinking that comes naturally to producers. It’s our job to think of every possible scenario that could happen. But moments like these, you have to revert to instincts in moments and that isn’t a bad thing. So I hope we become better, more evolved producers for this experience.”
She is also keen to send a gentle message to agencies and clients about the production community of which she is a “proud member”.
“[It] is really just a conglomeration of small business owners,” she says. “We don’t have holding companies, we don’t have revenues in the billions, and we do have a lot of people who rely on us for their livelihoods. So please pay companies that have performed work what you owe them, so they aren’t acting as a bank in a time when no income is coming in.
“And please do tee up any projects you know you want to make,” she adds. “Get them ready so that when it’s all systems go, we can bounce back from this with beautiful work that can entertain and inspire.”