“A branded film won’t work if it’s thinly veiled or disingenuous,” says Rebecca Skinner, MD and executive producer at the Los Angeles-based production agency Superprime. “The characters, the setting, and the story have to stand on their own, and the brand message has to naturally tie together as part of the narrative.”
At the heart of branded films is a desire to tell a story and connect with the audience. “With our branded films,” notes Ursula Terlecki, cofounder and producer of Ontario, Canada’s The Creators Bureau, “we’re not looking to distract an audience or simply sell a product. We hope to engage with them, make them feel a certain way, and plant the seed for establishing a relationship.”
At New York City-based RSA, “we try to harness new technologies to execute creative storytelling in the most compelling ways possible,” reports Jen Dennis, head of VR. “We have produced a variety of VR experiences from a full CGI room-scale project (such as the multi award-winning The Martian VR Experience), which requires new tech to be built for the production.”
Optimize the client relationship
In order to accomplish amazing branded content, you need to have a close working partnership with the brand and an understanding of what connection they want to make with the audience. “Having that trust in place allows you to tell a story that naturally connects with the brand,” says Skinner.
“Having said that, in order to make bold content and tell a great story, the brand has to be open to content beyond the traditional forms they may be more familiar with,” she says.
Organization and collaboration also play a key role in establishing a good relationship with the client, Terlecki points out. “Knowing what happened yesterday, what’s happening today, and what is planned for tomorrow, allows our clients to not have to worry about what’s happening with their project and establishes a high level of trust.”
“The Creators Bureau is adamant on collaborating with others. Whether it’s working with others in our industry, up-and-comers, or just other creators. This helps keep our creative juices flowing,” Terlecki says.
Leveraging cutting-edge tech
VR isn’t a magic storytelling bullet, but with the right vehicle creators are finding the technology can elevate the story. After the success of The Martian VR Experience, RSA is releasing a 360-degree, 3D underwater film, while Superprime recently finished a project with Terrence Malick showcasing the power of human connection through VR.
Santa Monica-based RPA used AR and VR to tug at viewers’ heartstrings in a campaign for Honda and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, explains Ken Pappanduros, VP and creative director of RPA. Young patients unable to leave hospital for the holidays were shown opening virtual greetings cards packed with holiday greetings from their friends and family instead.
RPA’s technological expertise is also evident in its work using animation, special effects, live action and a mixture of all of three. “I wouldn’t say that anything is off the table,” says Pappanduros. “It still comes down to story and imaginative ways of telling those stories. When you can tap technology and still tell a relevant story, then you can create something quite interesting,” he notes.