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Production Line: To Melany Esfeld, Production Is Much Like a Game of Chess



The SVP, head of production at Barkley on always keeping her sights three moves ahead

Production Line: To Melany Esfeld, Production Is Much Like a Game of Chess
As SVP, head of production at Barkley, Melany Esfeld leads a team of over 20 producers, editors and motion designers. Melany started her career at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder and from there went to lead production at Factory Design Labs. She loves the challenge of bringing ideas from the wall to the world and knowing that having the perfect producer and sweating every detail can elevate the work to its highest form. Over her career she has been fortunate to collaborate with high-profile brands, such as Planet Fitness, The North Face, Dairy Queen, Motel 6, Dominos, WingStop, Old Navy, Swell and many others.  

LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?

Melany> The long lasting impact is that while we are able to make work virtually, there are parts of the production process in which in-person collaboration is the best way to produce. There will always be a place for virtual production going forward but nothing replaces being on set or in an edit bay.

LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?

Melany> I would say the most disruptive are less time and larger asks. With the scale of deliverables ever growing but the budget not always tracking to that trend, it has really forced agencies to embrace integrated production and problem solve in different ways to make more things.

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Melany> I agree with this to an extent. Every producer should be able to produce across all mediums but producers have specialties and knowledge in their specific form of media. We have digital producers who can produce for video content and video producers who can produce events. Yes, they can but the goal would be who is the best producer based on their knowledge and expertise to produce the best work.  

LBB> And leading on from that, when it comes to building up your team at the agency, what’s your view on the balance of specialists vs generalists?

Melany> We have specialists who can also be generalists. People can be really good at lots of things but my opinion is people are truly great at one or two things. This doesn’t mean they should be limited to those two things, it simply means they are the best there is in that specific skill.

LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time?

Melany> Starting at CPB Boulder I learned quickly that if you don’t know, ask. Producers are helpers by nature and I learned to embrace our producer tribe. I started producing radio and working under a senior producer on the Old Navy SuperModelquin work. The sheer volume of this taught me to be agile and constantly live in the grey.  Producing at that scale taught me that what we do is very much like playing chess… you always need to be looking two to three moves ahead with multiple moves in play depending on how it all played out. 

LBB> If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)

Melany> I think more than ever, HOPs have to be prepared to always adapt to the faster and every changing production landscape. Budgets and timelines are going to keep getting tighter and production leads have to problem solve for that. 

LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?

Melany> It’s hard to say because it depends on multiple variables. What we are producing, at what rate are we producing and who are the decision makers? All of these come into play in how we plan and organise production. I would say one key to success is strong communication and having transparent conversations about the path to success.

LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?

Melany> This takes time. One silver lining of the virtual space is that we seem to be on director Zooms instead of calls. Having the face to face interaction that in normal times did not occur until callbacks has helped bridge that. For me, I try to be as upfront and honest about the project as possible. By doing so, we are aligning on what makes this job successful and determining if our partnership is the right fit for the goal.

LBB> What new skills have you had to add to the team as a result of the pandemic?

Melany> By far the biggest new skill is how to film virtually. We are wired for in-person collaboration and solving problems in real time where virtual has brought an entirely different way to communicate and film. The different backchannels of client and agency communication and then director and agency communication really provided the ultimate production solves. Overall, I do think this makes us stronger at what we do while using creativity to solve problems.

LBB> Should production have a seat in the C-suite - and why?

Melany> I believe production should have a seat in the C-suite. Having a leader who shepherds the creation and elevation of ideas that our agency and clients believe in should have a seat at the table.  Yes production is part of creative but to have someone with the extensive knowledge of production at the top table of leadership will bring massive value to the agency.

LBB> How have you approached integrating data with production workflows and processes? And, generally, how has data and the fact that we have constant live feedback on content performance changed production?

Melany> You have to be able to move on a dime, especially in live content like Facebook and YouTube live. We have had several projects where we saw data and performance and from there you have to break it down and move in a different direction. This is truly where you see strategy, creative and production as a unit - what needs to be done, how quickly can it be done and how it will be done?

LBB> Clients’ thirst for content seems to be unquenchable - and they need content that’s fast and responsive! What’s the key to creating LOTS of stuff at SPEED - without sacrificing production values? Is it even possible? 

Melany> The key to success here is scale and creating a team of nimble content creators. We can't think of content in the same way we think as broadcast – that doesn’t mean that the quality will be impacted.  This also is something we have to consider in the conceptual stage. 

LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this?

Melany> At Barkley, production is very much upstream. We are integrated from the brief through the entire conceptual process. We have a voice in how we bring ideas to life during their inception.  Not only does this help with the ‘how’ we make the work, I believe this elevated the work.

LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?

Melany> Right now and always – there is always a new puzzle to solve. No job will ever be the same which means we are always learning.

LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?

Melany> Have a point of view on how great work is made. But in addition to having a point of view, listen to others as well. Do not ever be afraid to ask questions and go to the ends of the earth to solve how to make something great. Being in agency production is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs in advertising.

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Barkley, Mon, 22 Mar 2021 17:03:14 GMT