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The industry that dare not speak its name

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06 June 2016

Nick Francis, chairman at Casual Films, urges corporate filmmakers to be proud of their creativity

We are astoundingly lucky to be able to call ourselves filmmakers.  Pretty much everything about the filmmaking process is great: the blow of finger warming coffee on a predawn call; the flashes of inspiration made beautifully, satisfyingly tangible; working in strange locations with even stranger people.  It’s not the world’s most valuable, or most lucrative job, but it just might be the best.
 
So why are we corporate filmmakers cagey about it?  Why do freelance portfolios neglect to include work sullied with the term?  Corporate can match advertising for creativity, cinema for production quality and television for drama, so why are we furtive about it?  Of course, there are dodgy fringe examples, but no more than in the late night depths of the other disciplines.  It seems to be the residual fugg of a name that has meant many things over the years.

During its golden age in the middle of the 20th century, ‘Industrial’ filmmaking in the UK had a strong, global reputation.  Many famous filmmakers of the time, including ‘father of documentary’, John Grierson honed their craft making films for companies. 

With the recessions of the 1970s and the advent of the videotape, things changed.  Cheaper production and distribution lead to ‘business television’ - dry corporate comms, guzzle fed to captive audiences in magnolia washed offices.  Creativity became redundant, money and talent moved on; quality plummeted.

By the late 90s a new breed, chief among them the Edge Picture Company, began to bring a new creative rigour to the corporate sphere.  But, if it was technology that ushered in corporate’s dark age, it is technology that has provided its renaissance.  Three key things happened in the ‘mid-noughties’:  Cameras moved from shoulder to palm, prices from Porsche to Piaggio equivalent; Domestic computers began to run editing and graphics programmes; broadband made the Internet a medium for film.
 
The most powerful comms medium known to man had a new home and a billion new proponents.  Anyone with a website (pretty much everyone) needed a video.  By any metric – engagement, reaction, future recollection – video makes the online experience more effective.  As brands understood this they needed video more than ever.  Where did the new wave of commissioners look for the work?  The creative corporate companies that were lithe enough to react and resourceful enough to flourish.

The restricted logistics actually lead to the levels of creativity we see across the industry.  Simply, commissioners are less likely to lose their jobs over a lower budget project - less micromanagement means better work.  Combined with a growing understanding of the expanding list of tools available - interactive, 360, VR, drones, geotagging, GoPro, digital / app integration - makes this the most exciting time ever to be a corporate filmmaker.

We have only just begun to see what the sector is capable of.  Advertising budgets are moving online, the advertising agency model is holed pretty close to the waterline, brands are becoming broadcasting channels - commissioning ever more TV type content.  The world of film is changing and moving.  Corporate sits where these macro-movements meet. 

So, whether we need a rebrand, a new name, or just a new way of thinking about ourselves, the time it should happen is now.


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