America – home of the brave corporate film
Our New York-based Executive Producer, Mark McKenna, explores the idea of corporate film and what it means in North America.
If the home of corporate film is really something you can lay claim to, like “the home of golf” I think the UK has a pretty good shout. Leaving London for the Big Apple reinforced that thought. It was clear the corporate film industry, as I knew it, hadn’t been around for long in the US. Which was perplexing, but oftentimes so is America.
For me, the idea of the traditional corporate film died with the birth of digital film-making. Back in its heyday, read late 1990s, a corporate film used to be one of two things. A low budget homage of what happened to be on TV that week, or a somewhat mercenary interview piece. High margin, fast turnaround, a little unloved and ultimately not particularly good. Our industry was the place that aging broadcast professionals were put out to pasture. “Your time is up Sir, now go make a safety film.”
Digital challenged that. It opened the eyes of commissioners and altered expectations. It introduced a generation of creators, curators and consumers. It provided them tools to communicate with immediacy on subjects that matter. Audiences were no longer passive viewers.
But changing the perception of corporate film and shaking long held stigma is difficult. Do something a particular way for long enough and it becomes an identity.
We say film because it implies craft. And that may be true. But it also suggests rigid production rules that no longer exist. A format that has become less relevant and a final delivery that is outdated. Would you ever describe an Instagram Story as a film? This isn’t the Oscars and the word “film” can sometimes be counterproductive to both commissioners and agencies. I'm not suggesting rebadging what we do but, let’s be clear, the corporate film offer concerns all moving image.
A three minute, scripted and beautifully shot brand narrative is a corporate film. So is a thirty second animated motion graphic. A series of short documentaries are as much corporate films as a collection of kinetic typography. What do you call an edit of 50 different clips people shot on their phones and sent to us? You guessed it, corporate film! A 360 interactive video is... are you noticing a pattern yet? Even a Gif, used in the right way is a corporate film.
So, what of our industry today? In the home of the brave and the land of the free we’re somewhat immune to the scars of the corporate film label. The American “industrial” rarely pretended to be anything more than that. Expectations on today’s corporate films are pleasantly high and come without prejudice. They are seen as branded content. The collision of corporate and consumer is more prominent here than anywhere else in the world. Opportunities in corporate film are thriving because in America the old rules, whatever part of the world they’re from, almost never apply.
I’ve found North America to be a place where we can re-imagine what a corporate film is by today’s standards. Where we can do something quite remarkable by musing on turning the traditional idea upside down, for the better. It is not assumed we will compromise on creativity, quite the opposite. And, in turn, we can build innovative agency culture and strong client relationships, from sea to shining sea.