Friday, August 17, 2007

Branded Filmmaking?

This is written by one of my mentors, Wright Massey of Brand Architecture Inc., who pretty much made Starbucks who they are. (Google him.) Imagine taking his ideas and converting them to filmmaking...GENIUS!

Themed Vs. Branding

By Wright Massey, April 7, 2005
There is often confusion when addressing the differences between a Themed concept and a Branded concept. Differentiating the two is crucial when developing a holistic consumer experience. Outback employs a "themed" strategy to communicate the Australian ("Aussie") experience. When companies associate their brand to a familiar subject matter, consumers will assign their own interpretations or apply familiar stereotypes of that subject. With the "Outback" some may envision diving in the Great Barrier Reef, hiking in the wilds at Ayers Rock, visiting the Sydney Opera house, flying boomerangs, Aborigines playing didgeridoos, or creating their famed Bark and Dot paintings.

The unfortunate risk of themes is that they may conjure good and bad associations with consumers. The same theme may have been incorporated by other brands, which may influence the consumer's perceptions. Themes have built-in "visual brand languages" that can be defined by outside influences such as television, pop-culture, movies and competitors who use similar themes. Themes can feed or create stereotypes. A theme may have inherited traits that cannot be managed or influenced by its "owner".

Outback's existing visual brand language is rooted deeply in the mystique of Australian imagery. However, Americans' vision or perception of Australia may have been formed via movies such as Crocodile Dundee in 1986 or Quigley Down Under in 1990. Outback's brand guidepost reflects Dundee's personality of being honest, unpretentious, straight up, and having no worries. This is a very strong and clear brand mantra and one which will insure consistency in developing Outback's future brand communications.

When building a branded environment one must dig deep to find its heart and soul. One must define and create its own brand voice from within. "Owners" must develop their own unique brand story, personality, voice, look, style, and touchstones. They cannot borrow directly from established identities or cultures with pre-conceived connotations. Branding is developing a unique story and a distinctive visual brand language that borrows, contributes and relates to existing conditions, myths, ideologies, legends, cultures… Creating a branded experience is not unlike inventing new and unique DNA, but creating a themed experience builds onto existing DNA.

The Disney Store is a great model of successfully building a theme into a unique brand experience. The Disney brand is comprised of a collection of stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, Lion King, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and many more. Each story has its own color palette, characters, looks and styles that create a "unique" visual brand language. To "brand" the store, Wright and his team created a brand story to communicate the familiar Disney stories. Nothing new was created. All those Disney stores aided the design team to create and organize the store's branded story. There was no need to develop a visual brand language since it was so richly and successfully established in the consumers' awareness. Outback's challenge is to collect the rich and authentic stories of Australia to create its brand story. Unlike Disney, Outback must enlighten and educate the consumer of the colors, characters, arts, styles, stories, etc. of Australia. Disney Store illustrates the point of creating original stories with a unique and extensive visual brand language to contribute to a holistic branded experience.

Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar & Grill ("Uno") is an excellent example of a theme that has become a brand. Uno's visual brand language has been derived from the culture, history and the many artifacts of Chicago. It draws its inspiration and storytelling prowess from the early industrial days of Chicago, when Coca-Cola was king and Chicago still had stockyards. Uno's visual brand language is wrapped in nostalgia. The Uno's brand message is not about the quality or the price of the food, but of the experience to enjoy the food.

Uno is a very well conceived and executed "themed" concept that convinces consumers that it is authentic. The themes are varied and intertwined to create a place and an experience that may not exist in Chicago. It is the best of every bar in Chicago - better than the real experience. That makes it a unique brand experience. The Uno's visual brand language tackles many themes; famous sport figures, unique Chicago architecture styles, famous interiors, famous Chicago places, Chicago cultural scene, the arts, foods, drinks, and lexicons. The components of the visual brand language used to communicate the branded experience have been uniquely adopted by Uno. It is so unique that it gives the impression that no two restaurant designs are alike, but the experiences are identical - as with Starbucks! Uno has taken a theme and enhanced the real story to create a unique branded experience. Many of the parts may not even be authentic but Uno's has made it its own authentic Chicago experience.

The success of any retail concept is found in the holistic usage of the brand components. Uno's branded kit-of-parts creates an environment that resembles a stage set; it immerses the consumer in the Uno's experience. The effort easily connects with consumers to communicate in a real, authentic, straight up, unpretentious, easy-going, and "popularist" view of Chicago rather than in an elitist, stereotypical one.

Another well-branded restaurant is the The House of Blues ("HOB"). HOB is by far the most immersive brand experience in the industry. The HOB experience is unique, highly imaginative and it is always a challenge to fully process the experience. Great brands go the extra mile. Great brands do not apologies or make deals. The folks at HOB live and breathe their brand and they never compromise.

Every aspect of HOB venues has been designed and scrutinized. Not one corner of the venues has been left out of the branding experience. Every element seems to fit naturally and effortlessly. The folk art is totally integrated into all communications, products and services. With such integration one would expect a degree of excess that could lead to a perception of being unauthentic. But the opposite occurs and the experience feels more real than life. HOB has raised the bar on themed experiences.

HOB has developed a visual brand language inspired by southern American folk art. One can easily argue that HOB lifted southern folk art as a theme and turned it into their brand. HOB spared no expense to create a real sense of authenticity. This no compromise approach has paid off and proves that consumers seek and approve such efforts. Even at a premium price, consumers are willing to support HOB because it presents an exemplary, straight-up and unpretentious experience.

Both Uno and HOB draw their inspirations from a specific region and explore its people and culture. The Outback story is every bit as rich and can be extremely interesting, authentic, engaging, and surprising. Brand Architecture ("BA") needs to raise everyone's (our designers and OSI's executives) brand awareness expectations. Outback's brand experience has been described as having a western bar feel with Australian objects sprinkled on the walls. Outback does not depict a holistic story. The objects found in Outback are the ones that you would expect to find in an Australian bar. Fosters beer can, surf boards, aboriginal art, wooden booths, metal light fixtures, neon beer signs, low lighting, wooden floors, all creating a very masculine feel.

This all worked very well in 1986 when Crocodile Dundee first lit up American movie screens. Times have changed and the story is now a little dated and does not quite resonate with the 20, 30, and 40-somethings. The objects used to communicate the story seem artificial, stereotypical and contrived. For example, rather than showing a real, scuffed surfboard hanging on the walls, Outback features a miniaturized version with its logo on it. The materials used to make the surfboard are not authentic. The Outback name placed on the surf board has turned what could communicate as a real artifact into a promotional gimmick. Such actions commercialize the experience. Is this surfboard straight up, unpretentious, honest and real?

Surfing is a part of the Aussie experience. To have made the surfing theme a more genuine brand experience, one could have researched the most famous surfer in Australian, copied his or her surfboard and found a more "unique" way to impart his or her story. The current props and artifacts in Outback restaurants seem to be "engineered" to easily decorate the walls with canned items. The objects seem to be packaged for easy installation. Another example of commercializing an authentic story is the vast array of "framed" aboriginal art. Aboriginal art is unique and warrants thorough research to seek out the ways to heighten its relevance to communicate the Outback brand story in a larger-than-life approach.

Outback's visual brand language is limited, ineffectively integrated into the environment, lacks attention to detail, and does not create a sense of surprise. Great brands pay attention to detail. Both Uno and HOB are all about details. Many causal dining experiences are using the playbooks written by the QSR concepts years ago to efficiently and cost-effectively package experiences. The differences between QSRs and causal dining concepts are the use of upgraded fixtures and finishes to communicate their branded experiences. QSRs are now creating "quick causal" dinning experiences. Brand Architecture created such a concept for Jack in the Box called JBX and another example is Chipotle. QSR executives are beginning to recognize the importance of the lessons taught by Starbucks in developing the third place concept in 1995.
The competition for America's stomach is ratcheting upwards! Restaurant environments are slowly becoming more intelligent, expensive and relevant with consumers' values. Brand communications can no longer remain obvious (such as, "we serve fresh vegetables" or "our food tastes great"). Chipotles says it best on one of its in-store posters: "Food quality should not be an oxymoron."

Every time a new brand enters the marketplace it looks at the competitive environment and strives to outclass the competition. This ratcheting is why it is extremely important to develop a unique visual brand language that is flexible to avoid the "McDonald's Syndrome." BA will develop a broad and flexible continuance of the Outback brand story. The outcome will be uniquely and abundantly applied to all aspects of the brand to insure its lasting relevance and to create an authentic consumer connection that will define a larger-than-life Australian experience.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Misfits - one of the greatest films of all time

Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gables last film:

The trio of men -- Langland, Guido, and reckless, worn-out, injured 'rodeo cowboy' rider Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift) -- team up to go after a herd of wild horses in the desert highlands for a last roundup, and they take Roslyn along. After Guido's small airplane guides and terrorizes the animals down from the hills, the others lasso and roundup the 'misfit' horses from a speeding pick-up truck.

Roslyn is ultimately shocked to learn that these free and wild horses will be slaughtered and cheaply sold to a dog food company for pet food. She hysterically screams at them, accusing them of being murderers - in a dramatic long shot - gesturing and attempting to persuade Langland to call off the roundup. When he refuses, she successfully appeals to Perce to release the horses that have already been captured. This infuriates wrangler Langland, who recaptures the stallion leader of the horses after a rough struggle. [Sources claim that Gable's subsequent heart-attack, only about two weeks after filming ended, was due to executing his own strenuous, bronc-busting stunts without a double.]

After he has proved that he is the boss, he then decides to let the horses free, thereby reconciling with Roslyn:

Don't want nobody makin' up my mind for me, that's all. Damn 'em all! They changed it, changed it all around. Smeared it all over with blood. I'm finished with it. It's, it's like, like ropin' a dream now. I just gotta find another way to be alive, that's all. If there is one anymore. (He stands). Perce, cut that mare loose for me, will ya?


The roundup ends up as a financial failure, but from the ordeal, Roslyn and Langland make a new start together. In the final scene from the front seat of a pick-up truck, Roslyn asks Langland:

Roslyn: Gay, if there could be one person in the world, a child who could be brave from the beginning - I was scared when you asked me, but I'm not so much now. Are you?
Gay: No.
Roslyn: How do you find your way back in the dark?
Langland: (pointing to the nighttime sky) Just head for that big star straight on. The highway's under it - it'll take us right home.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Element video

Go here:

Heres that promised video i shot of my wife Kendra for Element Skateboards and Clothing. Its too low rez in parts, but one of my hard drives fried today.

Friday, June 8, 2007

great editing example

Black Narcissus here on YouTube (rent the DVD) is an example of great editing, which I prefer instead of the jumpy editing of today.

notice the reply below the video: the fabulous scenery is all mattes, on glass! It was all shot in the studio, in the Greater London area, and the only 'location' work was in someone's local suburban garden.

Lenses for a look like Children of Men

Another important nugget I compiled by David Mullen, ASC:

David, I was really impressed with the look of Children of Men, and read that the DP used very little in the way of movie lights. In my upcoming feature I would love to get away with minimal production lights and go for a more realistic, documentary feel, yet still maintain a "filmic" quality. There will be many day interiors, some outside day and night, and a few low light interiors, including hallways.

Given the speed (t3) of the 18-50 red zoom, which I plan to use shooting mostly on the shoulder, how realistic is it to assume I can get away with mostly available light? Particularly if I want shallow DOF on occasion with wider lenses...

Being able to move quickly and shoot a lot of set ups each day with a small crew is a factor as well. (not to mention budget)

Thanks in advance!

David Mullen ASC:
T/3 is a bit slow for low-light work, unless you are willing to live with some noise from underexposing and having the brighten the image in post. You can gain another stop of speed by turning off the shutter (360 instead of 180) but with an attendent increase in motion smear which some find to be very video-ish (see some of the action scenes in "Apocalypto" for an example.) You can also gain exposure by undercranking, but then you have motion problems.

If you are determined to use very low levels of available light, like for night exteriors or candlelight scenes, you should get some high-speed lenses (T/2 and faster.)

For day interiors, T/3 is probably fast enough most of the time. And well-lit night interiors.
David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Directing methods

From David Mullen, ASC:

Just a description of some of the styles of directing I've come across, regarding being organized:

One director drew his own storyboard on index cards, white for day and blue cards for night scenes. At the start of the day, he'd lay out all the cards and we'd shuffle them around in what we (the AD, DP, and director) thought was the best order. The director would label some cards as less important than others (some he would tear-up right on the spot). During the day, he kept the cards on a metal binder ring on his belt loop and would flip through them, crossing off the ones we finished.

I've done a number of movies where the director and I would sit down and draw up a shot list for the week's work, for each day, and try and put them in shooting order. This was a quick way of seeing if the days were balanced properly, that we didn't have an excessively heavy day that perhaps could be re-organized, a scene moved to another day. I've even done a shot list for an entire feature during prep, but that's almost too much work.

When I did my first feature, I asked Allen Daviau, ASC for some advice and he said "Know your first week backwards and forwards." It's the best advice I've ever gotten. After the first week, you fall more into a groove where you can deal with upcoming work and know how long things take to do with this particular cast and crew, but it's great if you start the shoot out running, and know where you want to be minute by minute during the day, know exactly how you want to shoot every scene, etc. It also impresses the crew and cast when they see how organized the director and DP are and sets the right tone. By the end of the shoot, though, you are more in a reactive phase where you are picking up the pieces of what's still missing, etc.

On the TV series I just did, I worked with seven directors and they were all very different in style and temperament.

One director used little Post-It notes on his script for storyboarded shots and ideas, so he could transfer his notes to each draft of the script that came along. Other directors would email me and the AD a shot list for the next day's work. With the alternating DP approach, I could walk all the sets and locations with the new director a few days before the shoot began, and plot out how we were going to shoot each scene. But some directors didn't want to be nailed down too much, and some directors wanted more time to think. I had one director who wanted the key people on the scouts (DP, production designer, AD) to be quiet for stretches of time and just contemplate the location, rather than spit-out ideas quickly. Other directors would just march into a new location and start saying "the camera goes here and then here..." immediately without discussion.

I have worked with very inexperienced directors too -- I remember one guy who would constantly ask me whether we should cut the camera once the scene was over and the actors had left the frame and we were rolling on a blank wall for a minute. And then ask me what we were doing next. But when it came to talk to the actors about performance or story, he was one of the best directors I've ever seen at work.
David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Kendra on Element's site

Go to Element Eden to check her out. We'll be sending them the video soon.