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LBB On Location In Prague

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LBB chats with independent agency Hullabaloo and production companies Bistro Films and Target Productions

LBB On Location In Prague

Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, and the 'City of a Hundred Spires', was founded in the 9th century and became the seat of Bohemian kings. Its medieval centre was left virtually undamaged by WWII, making it an architectural treasure trove and the historic centre is included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. A modern and vibrant city, Prague is home to more than 1.2 million people and is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. It is the sixth most visited city in Europe and Prague is ranked amongst the 12 richest EU regions. As a tourism centre, it can boast great hotels, restaurants, bars and is culturally rich with loads of museums and sites of interest.
 

Prague is one of the prettiest cities that LBB has visited and so it’s no surprise that since the late 1990s, Prague has become a popular location for international productions and many films, music videos and advertisements have been shot on location here. The varied architecture, top notch studios, relatively low costs and the existing motion picture infrastructure have proven attractive to international film production companies. There are people from all over the world working in the advertising and production market in Prague. The story we heard over and over was that they meant to go for a year and, ten years on, they're still there!
 

Prague has the charm of a compact city but with everything you would expect from a much larger metropolis. Locations range from historical and modern city scenes to countryside and Barrandov studios are rated one of the world’s best. The city can double for many different cities, making it a versatile location and it is known for having the best craftsmen and art departments. Most companies are centrally located and the city is easy to navigate.
 

Little Black Book paid a visit to two of the city’s most prominent and successful production companies, Bistro Films and Target Productions as well as agency Hullabaloo. Both agreed to show us the lights and sights of Prague, introduced us to their team, showed us their offices and took the time to share with us the secrets of this ancient city.
 

Time Zone:  GMT +1 = 1 hour ahead of London, 6 hours ahead of NY and Toronto, 9 hours ahead of LA, equal to most other European cities, 4.5 hours behind Mumbai, 7 hours behind Shanghai
 

Currency: Czech Koruna (or Crown) 1.00 CZK = 0.051 USD = 0.038 EUR = 0.033 GBP (Nov 27 2011)
 

Climate: Temperate continental with hot summers until mid to late September, and cold winters, usually with snow. Most rain falls in summer. Landlocked geographical position and the elevation result in variation around the country.
 

Peak Season: Because of the world class studios, Prague manages to stay busy year round with the biggest dip coming in July and August
 

Recent Activity: Production companies who rely on local work have seen things get a little quieter recently but because so many of the production companies do service work too, they have been kept busy with foreign jobs. Production companies said that the most creative work was coming from the smaller agencies like Hullabaloo and Kaspen/ Jung von Matt.
 

Recently Shot on Location: Milk and Honey serviced a nice spot for Kohler with Acne U.S. directed by Jesper Hiro, agency GSD&M where Prague doubled for New York/Boston.
 

Getting there: Prague airport is only 30 minutes from the city and it’s worth booking a taxi before you set out www.pragueairport-transfer.com are particularly good, English speaking drivers, free city map and are waiting for you when you land. Saves hassle on arrival.
 

Local Contacts: 
Asociace Komunikacnich Agentur (AKA) www.aka.cz
AudioVisual Producers Association (APA) www.asociaceproducentu.cz
Czech Film Centre - Film Commission www.filmcommission.cz
Barrandov Studios www.barrandov.com 
 

At a Glance: It can be a good idea to get hotel or companies you are visiting to book cabs for you. Yellow AAA cabs are okay to hail but other minicabs on the street have a reputation for ripping off customers. Day tickets for the tram, bus and metro system only cost £4/£5 and are a great way of getting round the city. Prague is a safe city by any standards but be aware of teams of pickpockets that lurk outside of metro and train stations and in the main tourist spots. Many groups use children to work as the actual pickpockets. Common sense is your best protection. If you find yourself in emergency, dial 158 for police, 155 for ambulance or 150 for fire fighters. You can also dial 112 for a general emergency call.
 

Locations:  The service companies have excellent locations departments, there really is everything to choose from mountains, to beautiful cobbled streets, plenty of castles, Barrandov Studios and smaller studios in the city. The only thing that Prague or the Czech Republic can’t offer is seaside locations.
 

Tourism Infrastructure: Tourist infrastructure is excellent as Prague is also a very popular vacation destination. Good choice of restaurants, especially for meat eaters although more options are becoming available for vegetarians. Top class hotels. It is a very safe city, English is widely spoken, although not always by taxi drivers so if you don’t speak the language it’s a good idea to write your destination down.
 

Why Shoot There: Fantastic locations, great tourism and industry infrastructure, brilliant craftsmen and art departments, excellent studios, close to many European advertising centres, good local crews.

Some of the Companies You Can Find in the LBB WORK Directory: Starlite Productions, Milk &Honey Films, atSwim, UPP, Soft Pilllow Production, Unit + Sofa, Filmservice Productions, 5to12 Productions
 

Q&A with Tim Hennessy, Managing Partner at Agency Hullabaloo
www.hullabaloo-eu.com


LBB: Tell us a little about your agency and the guys you have working there; it’s a very international set-up. How did you come together and why did you choose Prague as your base of operations?
TH: Yes we are international. In all we have 9 different nationalities working in Hullabaloo out of 15 people. The three partners, Jirka, Coxy and myself met when we were all working at Lowe. Coxy and I had already worked together for about 7 years, in Australia, Vietnam and CEE and we brought Jirka in as Exec CD of the Prague office. And then we began talking about doing our own thing. Our staff are International because we are international. It was always our aim to work within the Czech Republic but also across CEE. As it turns out we have had work appear in 20 countries across Europe. Most of the creative people we employ came to Prague to study a creative discipline; photography, illustration, animation etc. They all have very active creative lives outside of the agency. I rather like the fact that you are as likely to hear Spanish being spoken as Czech. We chose Prague for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a place creative people want to live. I have also worked in Warsaw and Moscow and they are a little less inviting. [The main reasons are:] 1- It’s central. We can drive to Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava, Munich and be in either London or Moscow within two hours. 2- We can keep our overheads under control, which means we can offer international standards at highly competitive rates. 3- It’s a really nice place to live. 

 
LBB: Tell us a bit about your role? How did you get in to advertising?
TH: I went to Watford College and then got a job at Allen, Brady and Marsh, an agency that is seldom mentioned, but produced some iconic work. I loved every day of it. I then got the travel bug and ended up at FCB in Melbourne and I haven’t been home since. I ended up working for Lowe in Vietnam, China and then as Regional CEO for CEE, Russia and Turkey. I really enjoyed it but it was a bit chaotic towards the end and I had always wanted to run my own business. So here I am. Coxy started at DDB in Melbourne and then JWT. He joined Lowe in Vietnam and we have worked together ever since. Jirka is a local Prague boy. He worked at Leo Burnett in Prague when it was regularly scoring in the top 10 of the Gunn report.
 

LBB: We have asked you to select one of your favourite pieces of work that best represents your agency. Can you tell us about it and why you chose it?
TH: Vitana – Grandma’s is one of my favourites. To be honest it’s not the most original idea but is probably the most successful commercial Vitana have made and represents their core brand values. We all really like working on Vitana because it’s a local brand in pitch battle against Unilever and Nestle, two clients from our past. I suppose it’s because they are an underdog and it’s great to win against the odds.
 

LBB: What job/spot have you seen in the past year or so that you wish you’d worked on?  
TH: I can’t think of anything. I honestly think the industry is going through a bit of a creative downer at the moment.
 

LBB: Do the new delivery channels available to you and the new media on which to create content excite you? Frighten you?
TH: Not at all. In fact I think it’s a very exciting time to be in advertising. We recently set up Praha Digital, a dedicated digital agency and we all love the things it does. However, as with everything, you can’t hide behind technology. You need a good idea if it’s going to have any impact.

LBB: How many people does your agency employ and what is the configuration?
TH: Hullabaloo is 15 people, Praha Digital is 4. Our emphasis is on creative output, so that’s where the money goes.

LBB: Have you had to employ a lot of new staff to adapt to the new technologies and ways of thinking? 
TH: We employed a creative guy from Boondoggle in Belgium to head up Prague Digital, supported by a local Business Director. We also have a Technical project Manager who pulls everything together. It’s a horrible job because a lot of the programmers work quite different hours and are sometimes lacking discipline. There is no question it’s a different world but overall the process is similar to making a TV commercial and the standards we have across both businesses are common. We aim to produce high quality creative ideas, executed to international standards. What is your personal view on the link between great creativity and effectiveness and how do you make sure the work does what it is supposed to? There is no such thing as ‘great creativity’, without effectiveness. If an ad’ does not sell more then it is a waste of time and money. Creativity is a tool, which we use to make our client’s advertising more visible. Sometimes, if you have something really interesting to say, you don’t need to add additional layers of ‘creativity’. However, as products become less and less distinguishable, so the role of creativity increases. Sometimes the only thing that differentiates products in a category is the advertising, which creates the brand perception. ‘Creativity’ is shorthand. It helps the consumer remember what we want to tell them.
 

LBB: Do you find pitching more exciting now? Are the conversations in pitch so different now you have so many more platforms?
TH: I hate pitching. I can’t think of a less effective way of selecting a supplier. I would be much happier to be taken on 3 months free trial than have to go into a lottery. There is so much more to a client/agency relationship than can be demonstrated in a nervous 90 minute presentation. Some clients are a bit in awe of the digital world. I don’t blame them. There’s a lot going on and a lot of it is total bollocks.
 

LBB: Which aspects of your country’s culture stand out in the advertising? Is there a genre of work that your city is known for?
TH: Czechs are quite cautious people and so if anything the advertising is a little cautious as well. However, it gives us greater opportunity to create work that stands out. I really do think Prague could become a creative centre in CEE. It’s quite alternative and, forgive me, ‘Bohemian’. I’d like to see the Government do more to encourage creative industries, in the same way that they have helped the film industry here. Prague’s film business is truly world class, and so it can be done.

 
LBB: Is your agency international in outlook or is most of your work specific to your country?
TH: We definitely compare ourselves with European agencies and try and ensure truly international standards. Our revenue splits about 50/50 between international and local business. We have just opened an office in Moscow and have had work appear in over 20 countries.

 
LBB: Is it important to the work you do at your agency that a local director shoot the spot in order to capture subtle cultural nuances?
TH: No. Big ideas are universal. We use suppliers from all over the world. The only prerequisite is they know what they are doing.

 
LBB: What value do you put on winning awards? And which are more important, awards for creativity or effectiveness?
TH: Honestly, there is so much scam now we can’t be bothered with it. I feel it really devalues what we do for a living. I would go as far to say I am passionately opposed to Advertising Awards, as they currently stand.

 
LBB: How do you find talent for your agency?
TH: Word of mouth or through a local recruitment consultant, Richard Hunt. We have quite a few people contact us directly, and we will usually make the effort to see anyone that sounds interesting.

 
LBB: Does a recession call for stronger creativity to counter lower budgets? Have you seen that during this recent economic downturn?
TH: I think the whole point of creativity, is to decrease the level of investment in media. Whether it’s a recession, or not. If an idea is seen once and remembered, you don’t have to keep repeating it. We have a very simple approach to advertising, which is summed up in our ‘strap line’, ‘Make a Noise’! Be seen. Clients spend so much time knocking the hard edges off of work. This is the stuff people remember.
 

LBB: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing advertising industries today?
TH: The problem with the industry today is training. Both clients and industry people need to understand that the creative process is special. Everyone cannot do it. And ideas are fragile. If you keep on bending them they will break. Apparently, there is software the removes advertising from websites such as You Tube. If you want to remove advertising from an App, you have to pay extra. It tells us everything we need to know. Advertising is an intrusion into the lives of people. It needs to become part of people’s lives if it is to be effective. When I started the vast majority of people actually liked advertising. It was interesting, challenging, beautiful, clever, informative. People were seduced. Now they are hounded. I remember looking forward to the next Stella Artois commercial, what would they do this time, would it be as good, or even better? Now most work is simply ignored. We have to realise that if we smooth away all the rough edges, there is nothing to remember. It’s like any form of communication. We remember the people with the outrageous views, who dress in a particular way, who are beautiful, clever, funny. Being like everyone else is not memorable. Same with ads.
 

LBB: Do you see a future for the large agency networks?
TH: Of course. They are like Banks. We might not like them very much, they might be a bit average but they are here to stay. Besides, we need someone to compare favourably with!!
 

Bistro Films
www.bistrofilms.com
 


Bistro Films is an award winning production company based in the magical Lesser Town, just under the Prague Castle. They represent local and international directors producing commercials and music videos for all markets and supplying production services to any out of town company that needs to know the ‘who, what and where’ for Prague. Believe us, these people know their area. Kindly hosting the Little Black Book team at their favourite hotel, the retro design hotel Sax, and showing where to get the freshest beer in Prague: Lokal. LBB had a chat with Viktor Mara, International Producer at Bistro Films.
 

LBB: Tell us a bit about Bistro… what makes you unique?
VM: We love food and have an appreciation for quality. We run our production the same way. We love what we do and do it the best way we know how. Situated at the footsteps of the Prague castle in the beautiful historical lesser town we are perfectly set-up for your needs. We are an award winning, boutique production house with years of international experience.
 

LBB: Tell us about Prague and why people should come to shoot?
VM: Prague? Google it, seriously. Breathtaking city. Prague can double for any European city that’s in your script. Beyond the city, the countryside offers mountains, lakes, castles, famously beautiful women, and delicious Pilsner beer. The Barrandov film studios have been standing strong for over 80 years and are equipped to house the largest of American blockbusters. The crews are experienced and the depth in each professional department runs deep, so no need to worry if you are the 3rd or 7th production in town.

LBB: What are the financial benefits and incentives of working in Prague?
VM: We may be a part of the European Union but we have not yet
adopted the Euro and therefore we remain extremely competitive. For commercials there are no financial incentives from the government, but for films, there can be up to a 20% return if you meet the criteria.
 

LBB: What, if any, safety issues should foreign productions shooting in your country be aware of?
VM: Health hazard, due to the delicious food and beer, you may gain some weight.
 

LBB: How varied and adaptable are your locations?
VM: The Czech Republic has all four seasons, and winter tends to
be studio-based unless you are looking for winter landscapes. Travelling around the Czech Republic is very easy and almost all interesting destinations are within an hour of Prague if needed.

LBB: Can you partner up to offer local post production if needed?
VM: YES. We have long-term relationships with several post-production houses and we can help in suggesting which will suit your needs best.
 

LBB: What hotels, restaurants and bars in your city would be on your ‘RECOMMENDED’ list?
VM: Chez Bistro Films. The BBQ on our terrace is quite popular. Otherwise, in town, we have our favourites and we can’t wait to take you there. We have four hotels within a stone’s throw from our office, each with a different style and price point to suit all budgets and tastes.

LBB: How easy is it to crew up locally? Is there any shortage of talented staff? How do you handle this?
VM: The long history of filmmaking in the Czech Republic has created an extremely talented pool of film professionals, with lots of depth. Thanks to the number of American blockbusters shot here since the early 90’s, Czech crews have obtained great experience.

Target Productions
www.target.cz
 


Target Productions have over 10 years of experience and as such, are regarded as one of the best production companies within Prague. Equally at home shooting locally or servicing foreign companies, their offices are able to provide space for visiting production companies and with a team of multi-linguists, communication is never an issue. Great international connections, mainly in South America. Paulo da Costa recently joined the team to expand their international aspect and give a new dimension to their servicing opportunities. LBB put some questions to him.
 

LBB: Tell us a bit about your company and what makes it unique?
PdC: Target Pictures is based in Prague in the Czech Republic. Target’s main area of work is producing commercials either locally or supplying services to companies that come to shoot here. The country has a lot to offer, it has a magical countryside with mountains, rivers, green meadows and forests, castles and historical cities, to mention but a few. Prague, its capital has it all. Prague easily doubles for many different world locations or if you are looking for a really beautiful classical city you can, once again, come to Prague. It has been the host to numerous box office feature films due to its beauty and the support of its film industry. Here you can find and shoot mostly anything you need.

You can count on Target Pictures’ know how, we have a history of more than 15 years producing commercials, virals, documentaries, music videos and are now preparing to enter the TV content world. With us you can rely on experienced producers that can speak English, French, Spanish and Portuguese so you won’t have a communication problem during your production. No matter whether your project is big or small we are ready to gather the best crew you can get around the region. As a special offer you get 5% mark-up fee for the first 3 productions you shoot with us. You have most of the elements needed to shoot in just one place so just bring your project and your imagination.
 

LBB: We know you have some hugely talented directors, but we wondered if you feel clients also come to you because of the great experience on a past job. What we are asking I guess is do you feel that clients buy your brand /staff knowledge as well as the director?
PdC: Yes we do believe that the main reason our clients (mainly agencies) come back to us is because of the service they receive and the easy experience they had during their last job. We try to keep it simple. We sort out everything and make their lives easy!
 

LBB: How challenging is it to develop a young director in your region? What is involved, how do you approach it? Are agencies open to new directors?
PdC: It is extremely difficult to develop a young director here. It requires years of dedication and loads of money to set up his/her reel. The agencies are often interested but the appeal of established directors is huge over here so the young new talents often get left behind when a new tender gets started.
 

LBB: What percentage of your work is made for the local market? And do you find that you have to compete with foreign directors when bidding on jobs in your country?
PdC: 90% of our work is made for the local market. We have been concentrated in making a strong brand for Target in the local market and as it is already developed we are now pushing strongly the services so we can somehow increase the service work and make it more even. We do present mostly foreign directors so it is not an issue for us.
 

LBB: What percentage of your work is shot locally against internationally? I.e. do you find other territories calling upon your Directors?
PdC: We mostly shoot in the Czech Republic but as a tradition we do shoot one job abroad every year, no matter how many commercials are part of the specific campaign we are doing at the moment…
We don’t have exclusive Czech directors therefore we do not represent them abroad. The directors we do represent abroad are foreigners and their volume of work remains the same.
 

LBB: Do you feel a production company has to work differently nowadays with interactive, integrated, etc. projects? What percentage of the work you do is traditional television spots?
PdC: It is growing and diversifying a lot. I would say that 30% of the work has turned into viral, interactive and others, it should continue growing rapidly. The remaining 70% is still traditional TV spots. We are diversifying and next year we should start with TV content and others.

 

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Bistro Films, Sat, 26 Nov 2011 15:00:00 GMT