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In Our Corner: The Producers

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Kaboom's Original Content

Q. What is the origin of the content series Family Scrapbook Stories? steve: A few years ago, we produced two seasons of a content series for the network called Disney Poetry, which was directed by brandon dickerson. Lori Mozillo, Director of Short Form Programming at Disney Junior, contacted us this year develop a series around the theme of origin stories.

lauren: brandon crafted the name and concept for Family Scrapbook Stories, in which the pages of a scrapbook would come to life to reveal real families who share traditions and important moments. In partnership with the network, we developed, produced and delivered 18 mini episodes that have just started airing.

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Q. How was the project different from other kaboom productions? lauren: The project was unlike anything we’d done previously, and also a great expression of what kaboom can do as a team. We ushered our collective strengths and each stretched creatively. As a producing team, our role was more aligned with those of of a television series, with creative choices and content decisions at the fore.

steve: The daytime block is more geared to kids 3-7, while the nighttime block is directed at parents who may be up late with kids. Throughout, the key was story, and the way kids love to be connected to something bigger- to family and traditions.

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Q. The families are charming, and the kids are amazing. How massive a role did casting play? lauren: Seeking stories and the ability of kids and parents to tell stories was what informed casting. It was a more journalistic pursuit than traditional commercial casting, where the emphasis is on finding the right look or someone to deliver lines. In advertising, the idea is king. Here, the story is supreme. We cast and filmed in San Francisco, twelve families in all.

steve: During the shoot, brandon connected with the subjects and coaxed authentic moments from the kids using an interrotron-style camera set-up that mimics a Facetime or Skype conversation. It was more like a talk show rather than a cinema verité documentary shoot. We knew what we wanted going in and it had to be authentic. What we didn’t know was how many parents unconsciously mouth what their kids say. It was hilarious.

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Q. Who was involved in post? lauren: We all were deeply involved, but the cornerstone was doug werby. He’s a docu-style director who began as an editor, so we knew he’d be the ideal person to cut the pieces and oversee the post and delivery. For the animated sequences we tapped animation company Idle Hands. As you can imagine, it was daunting presenting animation to Disney - but they loved it.

steve: Another major component was music. kate kilgour, our staff PM, did an extensive music search and ultimately sourced Jingle Punks to create the main score and the music for each segment. The key was to support the story with the right hits and beats, while not overshadowing the narrative. Lauren’s passion and experience with music also played an integral role in guiding the process.

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Q. The big take away? lauren: While we love advertising, it was great to create something purely aimed to entertain. It was a major undertaking, involving all of our collective resources and abilities, on behalf of the biggest story-driven company in the world. We’re immensely proud of the project.

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Little Black Book

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We’ve all been there: nervously anticipating a presentation otherwise known as the moment before the moment. kaboom director michele atkins captures this feeling, and the way cloud-based software Prezi can transform presentations and hold the attention of any audience. The spot unites subtle performance with motion graphic design that, like Prezi’s capabilities, will draw your boss’s attention away from her smart phone. “It was great to convey this feeling we all must go through before we are to deliver,” comments michele. “Whether it’s the moment before a big game or the minutes before a sales meeting – it’s critical knowing you have the right tools in place to win. The butterfly sensation is something universal, but finding the right actors who were able to communicate that authentically was key.”

During some of the down time inevitable on set, michele, who also served as DP, filmed actors while they were waiting. In doing so, she was able to capture their true-life pre-performance moment. Enhanced natural lighting was used to produce authenticity of the moment.

Director's Corner: ricki + annie

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Q. How did you become directing partners?ricki + annie: We met working on a narrative feature and we began spontaneously working together on projects when we were at HBO. It was an organic process that started with The Trials of Darryl Hunt and In My Corner, and eventually fused as our roles became increasing interconnected.

Q. Baseball, fashion, foodie finds, political issues and the late, great Joan Rivers.  How do you choose your subjects? ricki + annie: We thrive on diversity and the balancing act of where our interests lie; however, we tend to tell stories through character. It is always going to be a love affair with character, even against the backdrop of a larger issue or when we are hired to tell a story for a brand or network.

Q. How do you get people to open up and go deeper than a surface answer? ricki + annie: You need to be emotionally available and really connect with people so that they trust you to tell their stories. If you only have a few hours – as is often the case with short form projects – it is about guiding them through the process, and finding a mutual connection point. Having a crew with whom you share a shorthand really helps to keep the focus on the subject. That’s always the number one priority.

Q. Do you ever provide questions in advance of filming? ricki + annie: On occasion with brand based projects, but rarely on our documentary features. We write volumes of questions before filming, but once that camera rolls we don’t break eye contact to look down at notes. It is more important to listen and be open to where the conversation takes you.

Q. What do you enjoy most about short-form work?  ricki + annie: It’s amazing how big a story you can tell in a short period of time. There’s an eloquence to short form that we really appreciate.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of what you do? ricki + annie: There’s so much planning, changing, evaluating and responding that is required in the production process so it is gratifying to sit in the edit suite and watch the story really come together. On a bigger picture level, to continually have a creative outlet.

Q. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was called a wonderful eulogy for Joan. ricki + annie: Joan Rivers was clever, kind, generous and funny. She was a groundbreaking woman, but she didn’t take life or herself too seriously. The film is an historic record of how she lived her life and we are glad the film exists, and that people are able to appreciate her through it.

Director's Corner: erik moe

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Q. You work in a capacity that the industry is heading - wearing many hats. At any given moment, you are a creative director or director, sometimes both simultaneously. How did you arrive at this happy place?erik: After being on the agency side, I expanded into directing because I wanted to see projects through from the blank page to the screen. I think because of my background I have great empathy to the existing pressure points agencies and clients face. This has been helpful in maintaining the integrity of the creative concept and solving problems.

Q. What inspired you to take the leap to directing? erik: As an agency creative I had the benefit of collaborating with many exceptional directors, from Phil Morrison to Roger Woodburn to Tom Kunz; it was an amazing, on-the-job film school.  But I was always interested to see what it was like to handle the dialogue as I imagined it. As I heard it in my head. My first project a short independent film “Young Artie Feldman.” It was well received and that gave me the confidence to take the next steps with commissioned work.

For a short clip, plus more of erik's hilarious work, go here »

Q. Comedy is about performance and timing, but it often begins in the writing. How does your writing background influence your directing approach? erik: It is incredibly influential, whether I am writing the script or not. In instances where there’s the opportunity to improvise, it enables me to think quickly and come up with line suggestions or wording on the fly.  Writers can hear how the jokes are meant to play out so I really enjoy having the opportunity to write the script and direct the delivery.

Q. What’s the most compelling aspect of working in a dual capacity on a project? erik: The process is streamlined and very satisfying.  It’s about problem solving start to finish. Cracking the caper.

Q. What do you do in your spare time? erik: I spend a lot of time with my kids and I play in a hockey league every Wednesday night. It is profoundly cathartic. When you’re on the ice you can’t think about anything but the game. There are still the comments to deal with… but they are rarely about advertising.

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Watch "The Young Artie Feldman" on YouTube »

Director's Corner: doug werby

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doug werby’s domain is in satisfying the ever-increasing demand for content that ranges from broadcast to online campaigns and internal brand films- sometimes a combination of each. He’s the perennially easy-going guy who comes with a secret stash of tools and talent. Turns out, he’s happy to tell all (so much for the fake spy bit). Q. What do you love most about what you do? doug: The entire process of filmmaking has always been a magical experience for me. To this day I get excited every time new concepts or new boards present themselves, and I will always love being on the set with my cast and crew, creating new images and sound, always anticipating what it will look like when we get to put it together.
 I look at each shoot day as a blessing and editing the footage is like unwrapping a personal gift. It never gets old.

Q. What do you bring to the table that makes you a real asset to agency and client partners? doug: My job is to bring a client’s idea to life and maximize its potential. First, I try to deconstruct the idea. Then, I spread the pieces out, get a certain perspective and try and figure out the best way to construct it back together. And what I've learned from extended time in the editing room is that there are infinite ways to reconstruct any idea on film, but really only a few ways to find the truth in a piece.

Q. How does being an editor, and your roots as an editor define your approach? doug: Even if I am not cutting a project, my editing experience allows me to easily recognize when we have nailed a good take from a performance and technical production point of view, so we can move on to the next set-up. It allows us to be extremely efficient, and the assurance that we are covered from the outset. During my years as an editor, I saw my share of work, from well thought out to a little less so…needless to say that whether I am editing or someone else is, I like to be the director who thinks it out ahead of time!

Q. Your casting choices are exceptional, whether real people or actors. How do you get the best performance from your subjects? doug: I listen very carefully and I try and hear what sounds like a natural, conversational response in both actors and real people. There is a rhythm to the way an authentic conversation sounds and when it's right you feel it and then you move on to the next take. I'm always looking for new voices when casting; but if I find someone I really like it's a pleasure to work with them again.

Q. What were the biggest creative challenges on Wells Fargo and HP Qualcomm, and how did you meet each? doug: For the HP Qualcomm campaign, we shot five spots in two days, with multiple locations all within reasonably close range. The agency trusted us to honor the concept and were open to try anything, including improvisation, for the sake of the project. There were so many excellent performances that I couldn’t wait to get into the edit room.

With Wells Fargo, the challenge was leveraging the most out of this set that we had designed and built. We made the most of every angle, figuring out ahead of time how best to place the actors in the space and connect them to text and graphics that were yet to be developed by Ring of Fire. It was essential to make sure it was all going to work from a both creative and a technical point of view. We also filmed vignettes at actual Wells Fargo locations with actors who needed to come across as believable employees. Every project comes with a series of challenges, and solving them is part of what makes the job so rewarding.

Q. What are some creative influences outside of the world of directing? doug: Believe it or not, collecting images on my Pinterest boards. Really, you should follow me. My cat. World travel. Riding my road bike. Watching our kids grow up. Reading a good book. Seeing a great play, piece of art, a musical performance and of course a good movie. And being amazed at the strength of my domestic partner (as she likes to call herself).

SHOOT: Wi-Fi Hunters

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HP/Qualcomm’s new campaign via agency Doremus marks a return to comedy for kaboom’s doug werby, a director known for eliciting subtle and compelling performance in any genre. The spots are deeply relatable narratives about a truly modern day dilemma; the pitfalls and ridiculous lengths we go to in the pursuit of secure, high quality Wi-Fi. werby says the key elements driving the spots are the magic of misdirection, with casting and performance creating contrast in every spot. Juxtaposition of characters, location and tone, set up the audience’s expectation about the unfolding stories, which quickly turn to reveal a moment of comedic truth.

“doug has a great talent for turning raw scripts and boards into great spots,” explains Creative Director Mark Dunn. “He pluses the work, but stays true to the core concept and brand voice. From casting through final cuts, Doug has a unique eye for detail that comes through in the final product explains Creative Director Josh Locker.

Shot over two days, the spots – five distinct narratives in all - were also edited by werby. “We had great fun on the shoot, and there were so many excellent performances that I couldn’t wait to get into the edit room,” enthuses werby, who has collaborated with Doremus on a number of projects. “Working with the agency was fantastic. They trusted us to honor the concept and were willing and open to try anything, including improvisation, for the sake of the project.”

SHOOT: erik moe for Colgate

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kaboom’s erik moe has directed a digital series for Colgate via agency Red Fuse/NY designed to entertain and inform parents about oral health care. The charming short films, interviews shot against white (naturally), can be enjoyed on Colgate’s “ToothTube” channel: http://www.youtube.com/colgateus For erik moe, the project synthesized his experience directing and writing comedy; the humor in the narratives flows from the fluid interplay between the affable host and the candid, unscripted responses from children. The topics include the tooth fairy, how long to brush, and the way to make a dentist visit fun for kids. To effectively capitalize on the moments and shape each narrative, the host was wired with an ear bud so that director erik moe could offer realtime lines and direction to facilitate the exchange between the host and his adorable interview subjects without missing a beat.

ShootersNYC Editor Dave Bradley was a perfect fit for the Colgate project. With a keen sense of comedic timing, Bradley collaborated closely with the agency creatives on finding just the right segments to include in the edit. There was a wealth of material to choose from, and Bradley says his focus in the editorial was to find the moments that had the perfect comedic tone and allowed the messaging to come through. Working with kids, finding the right rhythm and style, so that it feels true and fresh; was a key part to Bradley's collaborative process on the Colgate project. Additionally, with the arsenal of creative capabilities at ShootersNYC (editorial, color correction, visual effects and audio), the Colgate project was able to get done extremely smoothly under a very tight timeline.

SHOOT: kaboom Signs michele atkins

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kaboom productions, headed by founder/executive producer lauren schwartz, has signed director michele atkins who this past May earned inclusion into SHOOT's annual New Directors Showcase unveiled at the DGA Theatre in NYC. Atkins garnered her Showcase slot largely on the strength of "Back to Basics," her winning entry in Levi's "Show Us The Way" competition for up-and-coming filmmakers. Atkins joins a kaboom directorial roster consisting of brandon dickerson, kent harvey, joe meade, erik moe, gary schaffer, joe stevens, ricki+annie, reynir, and doug werby.

"michele is a true storyteller who creates beautiful and compelling narratives, but it was when we met in person that I really understood the depths of her talent and passion," said schwartz, whose kaboom maintains offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. "She's come up through the ranks of production, and is a writer, photographer and even edits her projects as needed, all of which is a tremendous asset in today's market. She's a perfect complement to our director roster."

atkins related that she was referred to schwartz by an agency friend who praised her work ethic. "I love that she's intentionally kept the kaboom roster small to best serve her directors and clients, and has a very hands-on approach as an executive producer," said atkins whose enthusiasm for TV and film has been a constant companion since she was a child. She was the girl who stayed indoors, watching "oldies" and creating imaginary shows. At university in New York, atkins studied documentary filmmaking and launched her career shooting and editing news segments. This rapid-fire production served her well as she transitioned into working on indie films, music videos and commercials.

Since 2006, atkins has produced commercials for national brands such as UPS, Budweiser, Pepsi, Oscar Mayer, Hallmark, McDonald's, Burger King, and IBM, frequently working with directors Joe Pytka and Zack Snyder. These collaborations provided an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the best in the business, and garner keen insight to serving agency and client needs.

SHOOT: Women in Production

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Lauren Schwartz, owner/executive producer, kaboom productionsPrimary Business: Advertising & marketing content

1. Do you own the company? If so, what year did you launch it? Yes - isn't that why I'm being profiled? With male partner in 1996; rebranded with sole ownership in 2001, a WBENC certified company since 2008.

2. If you business model has changed over time, please briefly tell us about it. We started as a one director, regional shop doing corporate and commercial projects and have grown into a national, multi-director company, internationally recognized for creating a myriad of advertising content, feature films and TV shows.

3. How did you get your start in the business? I started as an assistant account executive at BBDO NY in their training program. I was told that I "hung out too much with the creatives" and "dressed too much like one" and would "never move up unless that changed." I started wearing pumps and pearls and continued to hang with creatives. I got promoted. Yearning for a less corporate experience I landed at FCB/SF as an account exec on Taco Bell where I was hired as AE but ended up playing junior producer to Rob Thomas. There, I much preferred my time on set and in edit rooms…to the tasks of doing decks and strategy. I decided to leave agency life, and had prospects at ILM and a small place called Red Sky Films. I chose small, hoping I'd get more experience. And I did. I went from answering phones (for a day) to assistant to the EP and then got pulled onto a shoot in LA as a coordinator when a job lacked production support for the poor line producer. Two plus years later I left Red Sky as a producer and went traveling around the world. A director I had worked with, Jim Barton, asked me to come back early and produce some jobs for him, which led to our partnership in kaboom. We started a company with no name recognition, a young director (him), located in SF. Needless to say, we didn't realize we were doing something unheard of. I didn't know any better. And that proved to be a good thing.

4. What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you faced as you made your ascent in the industry? I think the biggest challenge we faced was being located in San Francisco and convincing people that we were not a regional SF shop, but rather a production company of national merit that happened to be based in SF. Of course none of this struck me as a problem until I "knew better" years later. It did not help that I was a woman, nor had I come up through the ranks in the Los Angeles production business. My other challenge--as a woman--is "spin." Even today, men are often better at self-promotion-–whereas women seem to naturally gravitate to the promotion of others. I work really hard but have had to learn how to be better at promoting myself along with the company and directors. Perhaps that's why I rely so heavily on my PR gurus at Hype.

5. What do you think would be the biggest challenge or obstacle if you were just starting out today? Would it be easier or more difficult (and why?) to establish yourself professionally and to attain your current role as an executive or leading creative or artist? I would never start a production company today. Part of that stems from the fact that I never really set out to start one. It just happened. My then boyfriend had broken up with me after our round the world jaunt together and I needed something to throw myself into and provide a distraction. Enter: kaboom. Having said that, there are multiple challenges that companies face that would be hard to overcome as a start-up today including insane competition and ever-dwindling budgets with the same or higher expectations. Becoming an EP was the confluence of hard work and events that just conspired to create the right opportunity. I don't know that I would have the energy to build a company today with the myriad of forces working against us. Then again if I stated with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm and lack of obstacles that I did then, maybe I would be able to do it!

6. Is there a shortage of women in the advertising and entertainment production community? If so, do you perceive this as a problem and why? I recently attended the 3% conference in SF--focused on women creative directors in advertising (and the lack thereof). The same lack of female representation is true in production. Women have decent representation in the EP role, often running those companies for the men who own them. But there are very few women who own their own companies, and even fewer who don't have a male business partner. Why is that? I think it's the same reason it happens to women creatives in advertising. It's incredibly demanding and as women have families and a career, it becomes more difficult to "have it all". There is a real push for EPs to be available all the time to directors, and running a company is stressful. We all need a better work life balance, one where men and women are okay having a dynamic personal and work life. I went back to work at week 6 and 5 respectively with my two kids. That's really not ideal; but it's what I felt was expected of me. The 3% conference spoke of the "male lens" and how so many images of women and girls in society come from how men perceive us to be. To grow a better human population we need to reflect a lens of advertising which rings true to the reality of the marketplace and society, one that is not all male focused.

7. And if so, how can the industry improve the situation? What steps can be taken to rectify such a shortage? Women mentoring other women, having men create a balance in their work lives so women don't feel guilty doing it too, encouraging men to lead a more balanced work/home life so they can support their working wives without being emasculated in the process. And need I say it?- hire us! There are many steps being taken by agencies and clients alike including diversity goals, but there is more talk than action. All business is about relationships and then doing great work OR doing great work that opens the door to relationships. But if you can't access great work or pivotal relationships then neither happens. So we need some forward-thinking folks to break the cycle. GSD&M is an agency on the forefront. I went to a diversity day at the agency where they welcomed women/minority owned companies to meet the decision-makers. Like this experience, we need people to put their money where their mouth is and support giving women-owned companies a shot.

8. In what roles is the shortage most profound? Directors? Producers? Executives? Creatives? DPs? Editors? Post artisans? Music/sound? I think the shortage is most profound in the actual creative people in our business: directors, DPs, editors, composers and so on. kaboom represents ricki+annie--amazing doc directors--but I have had a hard time sourcing more female directors. We don't do enough to encourage women to engage in these aspects of our industry and we need to. And the more women that enter the ranks of these professions, the more who will feel the door is open to join them. To quote the 3% conference: "you can't be what you can't see."

9. Are you married? Yes, but it took me awhile to get around to it!

10. Do you have kids - how many, how old? Yes I have two kids. One girl aged 5 and one little boy aged 3.

11. Can you share a poignant or funny "being a woman in a man's world" story with us. Here are a few highlights: going to a really grungy strip club with a group of male creatives and their male agency producer (who chose the venue); the trend of male creatives and directors always casting a normal looking guy with a beautiful woman in the role of girlfriend or wife; pumping (breast milk) while still typing emails at my infamously fast two finger typing rate.

12. What's the biggest challenge in balancing your professional and personal life? My first response to this question is to counter with, "Would a male industry leader be asked these personal questions about children and the balance of work and home life?" Doubtful. But maybe we'd all be healthier if we were more open about our personal lives regardless of gender. The reality is with the 24/7 work week, the ability to work anytime, anywhere using an array of technology; and the use of social media, those two worlds have been blurred in a way that did not happen a decade ago. But to answer the question, the biggest challenge is all of it. Not wanting to let anyone down; family or directors or staff. I think women have this feeling or are pressured to feel that we can do everything and be kick-ass at all of it. Amazing at our jobs, doting mother, great wife/partner….and we need to look good too. Admittedly, it's hard for many working women to let go of every responsibility. This morning, as I prepared my husband to take over on the day before a sales trip to Chicago, I was prepping him on making my daughter's lunch and told him how to cut the cheese just the right way. What's that about?

13. If you could have a do-over, what career would you pick for yourself? When I was in my senior year at Dartmouth, the CIA recruited on campus and I went through the whole interview process. And that seemed cool to me, to be a field officer in the CIA, traveling and being involved on the ground in international geo-politics. Towards the end of the process they informed me that when you do get accepted -no one but your immediate family can know. Everyone else has to be told you didn't make the cut. As it turns out I did not ultimately get accepted to join the CIA. At least that's what I am telling you…