The McCann Health Global Conference with Great Guns and Ram's World Tour
Our very own Matt Cooper hits the road with this travelling show
I was honoured to be asked to attend McCann Health’s global creative meeting in LA. The idea behind this 2-day event was to get all of McCann Health’s global creatives and their clients together in one room, to inspire them to create change within the way they work. This is the second of these events, the first of which was held last year in Berlin.
The event was chaired by Jeremy Perrot, McCann Health’s WWCD and produced in collaboration with Great Guns, who brought in some amazing talent to inspire and shake up the audience (and they sure did). The event was held at the lovely SLS hotel in West Hollywood and what looked like being a decent day or two soon turned into a spectacular event.
What was most thrilling for me was watching Jeremy and his team of creatives interact. I was bowled over by the passion and knowledge of the creative teams. McCann Health’s creative team is smaller than in a mainstream agency and get very involved with all the nitty gritty of production. They have a ‘can do’ approach that I’m more used to seeing in small boutique agencies and an ability to work across all platforms whether TV, print, online, events or whatever is necessary to make the campaign work. Standard old school agencies should take note and learn from these guys as they don’t get mired down in the decision making but just get on with the work – and are the most awarded health agency in the world to boot. Remember also that the part of the business these guys work in is regulated up to their eyeballs, which makes what they do all the more compelling.
I asked Jeremy to sum up why he put the event on and what he, personally, would take away from the event. In his words:
“We bring some of our greatest creatives on the planet together with our major clients to offer inspiration and show them they can change and also to challenge what it is they do. The calibre of speakers talking about their experiences in the business is outstanding and they try to tell the audience how to engage in different ways. And what better way to find out how to do it than with some of the best professionals on the planet who entertain us every day of the week. This helps us up our game as they do it so much better than most of us do.
Some of the guys we met this week get to work on 400 million dollar films and when we listen to people like that it just makes us better at what we do and it makes our whole (small) world so much more exciting. It’s down to us to open it up and make it brilliant. That’s why we bring in entertainment industry people including a band and a stand-up guy. The stand-up guy is there to demonstrate selling yourself in a room of people that have never met you or don’t even know you. Most creative guys in our industry are never given the skillset to do so and I think sometimes they get defensive and that can come across as aggressive. I feel that what Jeff (the stand-up) has taught these guys is to get up in a crowded room without the fear they may have had before. I think his workshops really help us to do that.
I found listening to (director) David Nutter was so inspiring. He stood in front of the crowd and made everything he does so human. He revealed that at the wrap he acknowledges everyone involved in the job, however small their part – he even got quite emotional whilst telling us this story. The finished product is a result of commitment, passion and energy for the job from everyone – and that excited him. As a creative director, I related to that simple human attitude. I understood exactly what he meant because as a global ECD, my job of getting the best from all our offices and those who run them is the key to our success creatively.”
The event was produced by Great Guns and I asked Laura Gregory to tell us how and why she was involved: “I was asked by Jeremy Perrott to participate and organise speakers at his first brainchild conference, ‘Be inspired create change’, in Berlin last year. It was so rewarding for me and the other speakers that I jumped at the chance to be involved in this year’s event in LA. This year we worked hard to improve the experience for the attendees based on what we learned last year. The creatives and clients were inspired by the passion and commitment of all the guest speakers to every part of the creative process. It gave them an intimate insight into how much goes on behind the scenes to deliver great work in any format. The feedback post the two days in LA has been overwhelmingly positive.”
We listened to so many great speakers over the 2 days, many of whom were straight out of the Great Guns stable. They included directors Olly Blackurn and Danny T, and Sheridan Thomas, MD of Great Guns USA, who spoke of his love of the video game, opportunities and big change. We heard from Barry Waldman (Producer and Partner of Jerry Bruckheimer), David Nutter (Director of most of the major pilots in the USA from Sopranos – X Files), Rutger Hauer (yes, he of Blade Runner fame) who came up with one of the quotes of the week, “Take people on a trip ... Till the end”. The Happy Hollows, an art-rock band from LA, talked about how they have had such success online that they have managed to fund their own releases, have had considerable success and have also gotten involved in top quality commercial work. Laura Gregory spoke of her fantastic journey from receptionist to starting a production company that would enlist mega star directors like Michael Mann and David Lynch who are synonymous with big films. Her advice for the crowd was, “If you like someone’s work tell them and meet them”. Jeff Leach, a British stand-up comedian with a huge following shocked the audience into fits of laughter and then came back day 2 to help with a brilliant workshop. Last, but not least was Ram Madhvani, an Indian born director (and one of my personal faves) who spoke of ‘The Hero’s Journey’.
Laura Gregory, Rutger Hauer and Colette Crespin
They were an inspiring bunch, to say the least, and I came away buzzing about the creative process, collaboration, taking risks and letting the whole team in to produce something truly special. Olly Blackurn summed it up saying that his job was not only to make great work but to create work that will never be forgotten. Something to strive for, indeed.
Following the LA conference, the team went on the road, speaking in NY, Amsterdam and London. I’ve plucked two directors out of the stunning array of speakers to chat with. Please read on for a summary of Ram Madhvani's talk and a Q&A with Danny T.
Little Black Book’s Matt Cooper chats with Danny T (Trachtenberg)
Danny T and Matt Cooper at great guns LA office
MC > For those of you who don’t know Danny, he is a multi-talent commercials director and also co – host of ‘The Totally Rad Show’ (Wired magazine refer to it as “the best weekly podcast – period”). Danny has worked on Nike, Lexus and Coca-Cola work and has received over 9 million views on YouTube for his amazing short ‘The Portal’. He is now also developing projects with Disney and 20th Century Fox. I got time to hang with him in LA and talk to him after listening to him speak at The McCann Health/Great Guns conference in LA. In my opinion this is one director to watch! He is the real deal and a star of the new school. Book him whilst you can and don’t say I didn’t warn you!!
Tell us a bit about how you got into the business.
DT > I grew up making movies with action figures in my back yard and kitchen. My brother was cutting commercials and that really got me interested at a very early age. My brother has been in the business a long while and works here in LA at Jump. He has worked with many stars in the commercial business and I was often hanging around watching the work and the reels and I fell in love with commercials. I fell in love with work from people like Jonathan Glazer and Jake Scott and wanted to make films. I clearly remember my favourite film of one summer was a commercial. I think these pieces of work were true works of art that belonged in a museum and I wanted to make them.
So whilst at university, instead of making short films like most others in the class, I made spec spots. No one had any idea what I was doing or why and my teachers weren’t very supportive. You see, what I liked was the craft. Now that I’m making movies I try to take the extraordinary and make them ordinary, so people can associate with the characters. Think big Jason Bourne films that feel kind of normal. Commercials are the opposite. You are making the ordinary into the extraordinary - and I love that. We can take something very mundane and make it so interesting, so beautiful. For example, I was making these Lexus commercials about a bridge maker and bridges, which are something we drive past or across every day and they are utilitarian. We put a magnifying glass on the normal and make it feel special. We only have 30 – 60 seconds to get the message across but we can be more poetic and emotional as we don’t have to flush out a character but an idea and we need to create really iconic images that equate to emotion and story all in a short place. So that was very compelling for me. So I moved to LA showed my (bare) real and got a break.
I then started making short films like ‘The Portal’ which was always burning inside me; big cinematic stuff. I love what commercials enable me to do with emotions work and I want to do more, but what ‘The Portal’ gave me was the space to create a big action special effects piece that was also intellectually engaging at the same time.
MC > ‘The Portal’ got 1 million views in a day. It’s obviously bloody good but how??
DT > It was pushed out via YouTube and the gaming community obviously got pretty excited. I also had some huge names (and heroes of mine) re-tweet it, which got the crowd watching it. It basically got 1 million views in a day 2 million in 2 days and by the end of the week was up to 7 million, which is quite unbelievable. The film has had over 9 million views now. See the film here http://www.lbbonline.com/videos/1006/
MC > The post production work on that was fantastic and super interesting in the way that you got all the effects done at no cost! Can you tell us a bit about that?
DT > Yes, basically I have a show called ‘The Totally Rad Show’ and it has a decent amount of followers on twitter and I thought I would shout out to them and see if I could use the audience to help me make my film. I got some help from some great guys from LA, NYC, London and Stockholm working together on different effects within the film, although they had never met. The process was slow at the start (due to lack of cash) but ended great. What really helped was using ShotRunner to organise. The guys who created the effects still haven’t met, which is kind of funny.
MC > Which media channels do you most enjoy creating work for?
DT > I actually enjoy creating work across all media forms. And whilst I love putting stuff online, there are downsides. You might be lucky and get some nice comments but you also open yourself up to the potential of some pretty crazy critique too.
MC > You’re obviously a big film fan, give us an insight into a few of your faves.
DT > Okay, it’s a long list, but here goes. ‘The Karate Kid’, ‘Big Trouble in Little China’, ‘Sherlock Jr.’, and ‘Magnolia’…but ‘Jaws’ is my favourite film. I've never seen it as a horror movie - it's an adventure movie. But when it's scary, it's terrifying; when it's funny, it's hilarious; when it’s dramatic, it's the most sincere stuff on screen; and when there's adventure, there's swashbuckle. It's every reason we go to the movies in one.
MC > So what about a favourite spot?
DT > Jonathan Glazer's ‘Levi's Odyssey’. Every time I watch it (and I watch it a lot) I am moved and I'm not sure I could ever intellectualize exactly why. It's sort of like a song in that way- it puts my emotions through the wringer and releases them just like music. It's a combination of things that don't go together; Nonverbal communication. It’s violent but beautiful. It has low classical music with fast paced images and a Man and Woman breaking through walls without a scratch on them. It's a work of art and it belongs on a wall.
MC > A fantastic spot that was highly awarded, what do awards mean to you??
DT > I'm fairly driven and pretty hard on myself, so if I feel content with something I've made, I'm satisfied - though it would certainly be a delightful treat to win an award! I think a job supported by creativity and opinion should not depend on award winning- that's counter-intuitive.
MC > So, you basically work in Hollywood on films and in the commercial world now. How do they compare?
DT > I love them both. The only thing I find slightly confusing about the commercial world is the lack of risks it will take. In advertising it seems many people go with the safe bet. In Hollywood, and films, I have found the complete opposite. Hollywood is more open to discovery. The ad world puts a lot of importance on award winning and "what have you done lately" where Hollywood is more excited about discovery and new, who's next, what's next (despite popular opinion about remakes and sequels).
Matt Summarises What he Learned from Ram Madhvani on his ‘World Tour’ with Great Guns
Ram entertaining the crowd at The Ambassadors - Amsterdam leg
Ram first came to my attention a few years back at The Clios, when I saw Happydent “Palace” but I knew nothing of the man behind the spot. Whilst Ram has his own Mumbai based Equinox production company, he is now under the wing of Great Guns for other territories.
Ram presented his speech first in LA and then at Cut + Run New York, The Ambassadors in Amsterdam and Envy in London. It was interesting to watch each event and to see each different city and its people react to Ram’s work. I asked various people at each event what they thought of Ram, his work and if it could work in their market and the answer was universally that he was an inspiration and that his style and skills would work anywhere.
Ram took us through his work and explained how he got from where he started to where he is now, using author Joseph Campbell’s famed book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces". He talked us through the 6 stages of getting there, which are the calling, denial (if you get passed this stage you may just be fine), the road of trials, gaining self-knowledge, coming home and then passing that knowledge on.
Ram spoke about how he felt, after the success of his Happydent work (watch the spot here http://www.lbbonline.com/videos/1004/
), that he had become a bit arrogant. After a ‘dressing down’ on the streets by a mad lady with a stick on his way to a tough meeting at an agency, he felt the arrogance melt away. This led him to his current happy state of ‘humble arrogance’.
He has won many awards for his big effects work and has been called a ‘visualist’ but he’s now on a journey to becoming a ‘humanist’ director, creating work that elicits emotions. He showed an example of a spot he had created for Bollywood star Aamir Khan’s TV show shot on an Indian road trip. I asked Ram about his switch to the ‘humanist’ style. He response was, “sometimes your best strength can become your weakness and come and stab you in the back. You spend many years developing a personal signature and vision and getting people to recognise your voice in your work and then one day people expect that kind of film from you and are no longer surprised. Before that happens it’s important to reinvent. Keep young. Stay creatively greedy. Only you can challenge yourself. So I am in the process of surprising others but most importantly, I would like to surprise myself. However, being a visualist is my strength after many years of practice and for work outside of India I will probably be given visual work and I am happy for that since they don't really know me yet. In India I need to re- invent “
It is immediately apparent that Ram loves to work in a collaborative way with creative directors. I asked him to expand on this and why it is so key to making top work. “A good creative director’s job is to direct the director. My best work has happened because of their motivation and energy. It is this push and pull that is the very back bone of the creative process. This process needs to happen with no creative ego or creative manipulation. With the best creative directors I have worked with there is creative honesty. Sometimes I feel when I make my next feature film I will miss the creative director being there beside and behind me. In my first feature I was happy that I had two. Meanwhile I am lucky to have the creative trust and faith of many creative directors. They collaborate with me and in return they teach me how to collaborate with others. This process of collaboration leads to a sense of belonging - a belonging of ideas and like-mindedness. A sense of belonging is the anchor of all our lives. I consider a good creative director / copywriter as my Co or Associate - Director. “
I totally enjoyed spending some personal time with Ram and his family on this tour and found him to be one of the most inspirational people I have ever met and a complete breath of fresh air. I cannot wait to see his first spot outside of the Indian market. And he seems equally excited, “I am dead tired right now after the jet lagged World Tour but very alive and excited about the future. There is a word in Hindustani (Indian classical music) that is ‘Taiyaar’. It means that the musician is more than just ready. It means that after years of training and practice she/ he is prepared. Or in food terms perfectly cooked. So I am now Taiyaar.“
This tour of Ram’s was sponsored by many great friends in a few great cities, thanks to all those involved including
* The London Cocktail Co - cocktails at the London leg
* Asahi beer - beer at the London party