The Creative Process: Part One – Film Making
To kick start our mini-series, which aims to take a look at the creative process within four different creative industries, we are catching up with Milton Keynes based film makers, Wise Guys.
Fronted by Sam Gott & Charlie Ray, the duo have had a hugely successful start to their careers. Their rapidly expanding list of clients is one that would make any creative studio proud. Their reputation is built upon a solid platform of continuously delivering stunning and engaging filming projects. They’re also super cool guys too. We love em’. Our paths have crossed several times in the past year, most notably with Milton Keynes Museum. Where here at westfourstreet we are currently working on the rebranding of the museum, the Wise Guys delivered a video which is quite simply, stunning. You can check it out a bit further down.
Like us, they too scooped gold at the recent MK Digital Awards and went one step further by being crowned champions at the Digital Awards Champions ceremony held in London last month. Back when we won our award we had the pleasure of sharing a table with them and it comes as no surprise that we were keen to share some more time with them and ask them about their own personal creative process and approach to creative projects.
Lets crack on, shall we?
Q1. When you meet with a new or existing client, what do you set to establish from the first meeting or brief and what are some of the key questions you would typically ask them?
Our first priority is to understand who the company is and what they stand for. We are very lucky that we get to meet all kinds of people doing an array of wonderful work. We will always pitch concepts to clients that get to the heart of what they do or what makes their business special.
In our initial meetings we try and coax that out of them. We might say ‘What aspect of your business comes up more than anything when it comes to positive feedback?’ or ‘Why did you start this business?’ When it comes to corporate filmmaking – it’s easy to promote a product, but it’s far more effective to sell people on a brand and a feeling.
Q2. Once you have established a brief with a client, describe the process you go through within your team in understanding that brief. Could you also elaborate on what influences the decisions you make as a team on what will be delivered from a creative point of view? For example, do you do research into who their target audience is? Perhaps spend some time with the client to understand who they are, their identity in a sense?
Once we get a brief, we get very excited and start thrashing ideas around in the office. We then try and narrow those ideas and concepts down to the best few – which we then take back to our client.
These ideas are formed off the back of understanding the client’s existing or target audience as well as what they want to achieve off the back of the film. If, for example, we’re working with an attraction, we might go on TripAdvisor and look at the positive reviews to work why it is exactly that people love going there, which we then try and communicate in the concepts we pitch.
Once they pick one, we begin our writing process where we constantly refer back to the brief and our notes from the initial meetings. We can then present a fully formatted script once we’re happy and I think clients appreciate this – it gives them a chance to read it over and visualise it themselves.
Q3. Once you have decided on the approach you wish to take a with a client in regards to the creative output, give us some detail on how you would typically schedule the work and whether or not you would drip feed ideas through beforehand.
We keep in regular contact with our clients throughout the writing and planning process and make sure we book in shooting dates early. Before any of this we provide clients with a preproduction schedule. This way they know what we’re doing in the weeks leading up to the shoot (and gives them clear deadlines to provide resources that we might need).
We then repeat this process after filming with a post-production schedule. This isn’t always the case of course, sometimes we have a client ring up and say ‘We need to shoot a promo in two days!’ At this point it becomes less meticulous but you have to work with the time you’re given.
Q4. Do you draw inspiration for projects from similar creative work or from any other creative sources for that matter such as music or film?
All the time. When it comes to style – it’s mainly movies or big budget TV shows. Almost any Netflix original series will be shot beautifully, even if we don’t like the show itself – so we’ll constantly have one eye on anything new. I think sometimes people believe that films for business have to look like corporate videos. The phrase ‘corporate video’ makes us literally wince, it says to us; green screens, cheesy graphics, bad music etc. We think that you can make a cool, interesting video for any company and so far we’ve found that the more time and effort you put into it, the better the results are – so we take our inspiration from the best.
When it comes to substance, we look at the beautiful and engaging storytelling of companies like John Lewis, Nike or Google. They are the masters of getting you excited about a business without actually selling you anything. For example, everybody loves Nike as a sportswear company – they’re not sure why they like them, but everybody likes them. This idea of cool-cats Nike being ‘the best’ is sold to people through creative advertising and brilliant storytelling.
Q5. How would you define a successful project?
Whether it works. I think many of our previous projects, particularly MK Museum and Bletchley Park showed the power of making something a bit different. We had feedback from both saying how well the videos had done online and the difference they had made when it came to visitor numbers. That’s all we care about – does it resonate? Does it get people feeling great about that company or organisation? Has it driven sales? If so, we feel that’s a job well done.
Q6. Do you feel some sense of responsibility to ‘educate’ clients so to speak on what works and what doesn’t work in regards to creative output? For example, assisting the client in thinking about their target audience and providing real life examples of why a specific piece of work did or didn’t resonate with the audience?
I think it’s very difficult to ‘educate’ anybody on creative output because anything creative is subjective. It would be a lot easier if we were in a job that had a right and a wrong answer but the reality is, we aren’t. A shot that we love might be something they ask to take out – and while we might explain that it’s there for a certain reason, they may have their own reasons from a business perspective as to why they don’t want it in. I think one thing you learn in this industry is how to compromise. Some clients are more fussy than others but that’s not a bad thing – they have to be comfortable with the final output. All we ask is that people trust us when we say ‘this will work for your goals and your audience because x, y and z’. We’ve been making films for a while now so more often than not, our lovely clients do!
Q7. What’s your favourite part of the creative process and why?
Sam and I have very similar brains when it comes to the visuals of filmmaking. We like the same stuff and we dislike the same stuff for the most part. When it comes to the actual shooting process, we have our own skills. We both come up with the ideas, which we both love. I would typically write out the script which I find incredibly enjoyable and then on set Sam (the far more technically gifted one) operates the camera, which I know he absolutely loves. Sometimes Sam will write and sometimes I will operate, but that’s typically how it goes. We both take great pleasure in the edit and colour. The colour is where it really starts to come to life so that’s great. This hasn’t been very helpful has it? We love all of it to be honest; it feels like the best job in the world. If we had to pick one moment it might be hitting that ‘export’ button and taking a sigh of relief!
Q8. How do you overcome creative blocks when inspiration or suitable ideas just aren’t happening?
We rely on each other a lot. The benefit of running a business with someone else is if you’re feeling a bit uninspired or stuck, the other person will tend to pick up the slack and come up with some great ideas and lift the energy. As mentioned before we love to look at our favorite directors and take inspiration from them. We’ll WhatsApp each other at night saying ‘Oh my god, did you see so and so last night?! We need to try that shot out.”
Q9. Working with a dynamic team, how do you decide on which member, or members of the team will work on specific projects or tasks?
We work together on everything. We may split in our roles on set but ultimately we both have ownership over every project. This may change as we grow and hopefully bring more likeminded people in, but we love working together and there’s always input from both of us through every step.
Q10. What comes first. The writing, the choice of soundtrack or the filming?
Well the idea and the writing must come first. Then we start thinking about the tone and the pace of the music during the same week of the shoot. Then we’ll usually find a specific track or bed once the shoot is over, unless we’ve found something amazing beforehand that we want to use.
Q11. What advice would you give to anyone looking to make a career in line with what you specialise in?
Get the basics right. Story is the most important thing. A great script and a great concept should be the bedrock of your film. Video content is important for so many reasons but we always try and steer people away from the idea that ‘any video will do’.
Once you have that, it’s important to shoot your project well but there’s a difference between filming something to a great standard and shooting something in the most expensive way possible. Forget 3D graphics, gimbals, drones, 8K cameras for now and concentrate on the more ‘bread and butter’ techniques like using a tripod or shooting handheld.
Have faith in your work and don’t be disheartened if you don’t always get it right first time
Be creative without making it too complicated. Start writing down any organic ideas and take note of cool shots or techniques you watch on TV or online – it costs nothing to try them out for yourself. You’ll be your own biggest critic, as we are, but have faith in your work and don’t be disheartened if you don’t always get it right first time. Like any creative industry, corporate filmmaking can feel like a minefield but it’s all worth it – at the end, you’ll have a creative project that you put together yourself and nobody can take that away from you. It’s one of the best feelings.
Tomorrow we’ll be exploring the creative process to delivering content in the form of blogging.