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Industry Leaders Discuss Slowing Economy

Conclude Talent Continues To Drive Market By Carolyn Giardina


Chris Byrnes has been named president of Charlex, New York. He has been with the company for 15 years. Also, as part of an expansion in the management team, nine were promoted to VP: John Zawisha, senior editor; Greg Oyen, senior Flame artist and technical director; Marc Goldfine, senior Flame artist; Steve Chiarello, senior producer; Harry Skopas, director of engineering; Amy Kindred, executive producer; Tom Ferguson, business manager; Donna Herman, controller; and David Langley, corporate affairs. Founder Alex Weil continues as CEO/executive creative director… New York-based production company Pfeifer Van Dusen signed director Jacob Williams. Williams’ work includes spots for Burger King, McDonald’s, Philip Morris and Burger King… Pam Thomas of Moxie Pictures directed three spots for Cingular announcing the advertiser’s support of the Special Olympics. Featuring Special Olympics athletes, the ads for BBDO South were edited by Doug Walker of Filmcore, San Franicisco, and with visual effects and post completed at Santa Monica’s The Finish Line. Finish Line’s James Bygrave served as visual effects artist... Los Angeles-based A Band Apart has signed director Simon Brand to their commercial and music video roster. Brand has directed numerous music videos and commercials, and his production company Kree8 out of Miami represents talent in the Latin, U.S. and European markets. Recently Brand directed the music video, “Irresistible,” for Jessica Simpson. A Band Apart and Kree8 have also announced plans for an alliance. Brand is currently in Rio shooting his first music video with A Band Apart, "Cash, Money, Cars, Clothes" for the band Ruff Endz… Treat, the commercial arm of Dogmatic, launched a series of eight Pepsi "webisodes" that take viewers behind the scenes and into the dance line of the cola company’s Britney Spears commercial campaign on a spoof. The webisodes, directed by the comedy directing team kranky, combine flash animation with live action.

From left: Frank Stiefel, Steve McCoy, Damon Webster and Jack Schaeffer.

Leaders in the commercial advertising industry got together at ShowBiz Expo (held last Spring in Los Angeles) for an open and frank discussion about the state of the spot production business in Los Angeles. The participants were Steve McCoy, president of Filmcore Editorial (Santa Monica and San Francisco) and L.A. chapter president of the Association of Independent Creative Editors (AICE); Jack Schaeffer, president of post/effects house The Finish Line, Santa Monica; Frank Stiefel, president of commercial production company Stiefel & Co. (Santa Monica), past national chairman of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), past chair of the AICP Show, and AICP L.A. chapter board member; and Damon Webster, director of advertising production at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, Los Angeles. The speakers debated the effects of the slowing economy, the aftermath of last year’s SAG strike and new media opportunities. They emphasized talent would continue as a driving force. Following are excerpts from the dialog:

Schaeffer: Yesterday I read an article about the upfront meetings, where the advertisers commit to commercial buys for time slots in advance. This year they expect a drop of about $1 billion dollars. This is really consistent with the economy in general where everyone is hesitating and holding onto their money. As a result, it's a buyer's market. One would expect that the networks would have to lower their media rates, although they have been at an all time high. This may just be a correction in the market. Consequently, there will be a trickle down effect, since there is less money in the pot.

Stiefel: What I’m feeling is a sense of unease and any decision that can be postponed, is being postponed. So I’m curious to see how much of that billion dollars gets [bought].

Webster: If somebody has a product that they have to take to the marketplace, whether they delay the decision or not, they have to bring it to market and they are going to bring it to people in the broadest format that they can. And whether [or not] they delay it, they will certainly spend the money in the end.

McCoy: Well, the editors certainly hope there is more business soon. We essentially saw a disruption of the workflow in Los Angeles due to the SAG strike. What happened to us was that, specifically in Chicago-based agencies, they shot in [a foreign country] and just went back to Chicago… for many people there was the sense that the strike knocked off 15 percent across the board in Los Angeles. Although the strike’s been over for five months, the [agencies] have not returned to L.A. to shoot. What the SAG strike [against the advertising industry] did is [demonstrate] that it is no longer a risk to go out of the country. There are new resources that are being tapped… Between the advertisers being cautious about their money and the SAG strike, the Los Angeles postproduction market is definitely off.

Stiefel: There hasn’t been a pattern. At one point, we were averaging four-and-a-half dot-com commercials a month in an industry that didn’t exist. That now is gone. And you are now facing the possibility of the first down economy in 11 years. So that’s a factor.

McCoy: The Internet companies have pretty much vanished as accounts… And San Francisco is definitely suffering from the devastation right now. At agencies you are seeing layoffs.

[The discussion shifts to talent over geography, and the participants conclude that talent will remain the market driver.]

Webster: Talent is talent. As we start looking outside of Los Angeles, we are doing exchanges. I talk to our offices around the world… If in the end, we have spent [very little] on a spot, if it’s crap, it doesn’t matter. We are also looking at how everyone else in the world is [working] and maybe we have to adopt some of that. For the first time we had a director at the transfer, in London. To be honest with you, I’d rather see a director’s vision go all the way through

Stiefel: I think more and more, we are seeing a director’s desire to see a project through until the end.
Webster: It shows respect for them and what they’ve done, so they have a sense of completion.

[A conversation about technology begins. Webster describes his company’s in-house capabilities.]

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