Art Buying Best Practices: Facilitating Collaboration on Nadav Kander’s Monte Carlo Campaign

by Heather on July 14, 2010

Last month, Kristina Feliciano at the Stockland Martel blog posted an interview with the creative team behind Nadav Kander’s Monte Carlo campaign. Some shots from that work:

After reading the article, I was really curious about a few things the creative team mentioned in regards to how they approached the shoot. I think AB’s are always trying to create the most favourable conditions to allow the best collaboration between artist and agency team- with a bit of further investigation, I thought this might give us a clue to one, successful approach.

Having previously corresponded with Andrea Mariash, Senior AB at David & Goliath in LA, I was excited to see her credited as the AB on the Monte Carlo project- so I soon followed up with her. And good news, she’s got a fantastic approach to Art Buying- if you think you’ve lost your faith in Art Buyers (and I know some of you have), Andrea just might restore that faith.

Let’s start by reviewing a couple of interesting notes from Kristina’s interview with David & Goliath Creative Director on the project (now Associate Creative Director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder) John Kieselhorst:

SMB: What were your criteria for the photography? And then how did you go about searching for a photographer?

JK: The criteria was pretty simple: the photography needed to be extremely high end and make the property look absolutely amazing. But in order for the lines to work, we needed to capture something else. The whole campaign rested on the juxtaposition of “high culture” luxury imagery against low brow language (and in that sense, I sincerely believe there has never been a smarter, more fitting print campaign done for Las Vegas). But in order to achieve that juxtaposition we needed to find the exactly wrong photographer for the job. Someone who understood that Vegas is a truly perverse place, and that the imagery we were there to create was about fusing together the sacred and the profane. Nadav is one of those rare photographers on earth who does this masterfully.

The shoot was an absolute pleasure to work on from beginning to end. Because it was a complete collaboration and an opportunity to make images as we went. Other than getting screamed at on the phone by my boss at the time for not shooting any of the scenes that we’d comped, we had an amazing experience creating this campaign together. I think more advertising should be made this way.

Indeed. Let’s take over with Andrea from where John left off.

HMAb: Basically I’m interested in these “other” ways of working with shooters- like when true collaboration is allowed to happen rather than asking a photographer to just execute an idea that’s been researched to death. In this case, it sounds like the creative team and Nadav improvised ideas on the spot, on location. Is this true?

AM: Yes, to a degree. In actual fact, initially, this project was comped nearly to death. We did this for a couple of reasons: 1) the interplay between the headlines and the images needed to be complete thoughts to sell through to the client. 2) we felt we needed to approach Nadav with solid, funny, intelligent creative. At the end of the day, the 10 or so executions that are in media are the result of dozens of image/line pairings that got killed, both agency-side and by the client, for various reasons. So, it’s not like we showed up at the locations, looked at Nadav, and just shrugged at him. We had fixed starting points for everything.

There was an incredible amount of pre-production going into the project. Realize that we are shooting in — taking over, basically — the client’s “house” [Monte Carlo Casino] which needs to remain operational 24 hours a day. Our goal is to be as buttoned up as possible at all times, in order to be as low-impact as possible for our client. Also, all of the images involved casting, which has to be run up the normal flagpoles for approvals. And then, obviously, the talent needs to be flown in from wherever. We also had locations locked in advance of the shoot so the client could take care of security. There’s also a lot of clearance, both operational and legal, that happens when you shoot in or advertise in Vegas. All of this needed to be handled before we got to set.

But, that said, my goal is always to work closely with my producer – in this case, the unparalleled Loni Weholt – to have all this happen seamlessly and silently behind the scenes. I want my creatives and my photographer to have as much flexibility and freedom as they possibly can once they get to set. I figure the best way to do this is to have all the pieces there for them, and then to let them do what they do best. If they need 10 dozen chicken wings at the last minute, I need to know that all of the production basics are handled so that I can execute Project Chicken Wings. (Yes, that was actually Nadav’s request on set, and yes, we made it happen.)

At the end of the day, I think probably 25% of the executions that were produced were ideas that were relatively spontaneous. The rest were more or less as scripted. We were lucky in that we were shooting on the client’s property so that location changes were only a mid-level nightmare instead of utterly impossible, and that we cast out of LA, where just about everyone has acting and improv talent on top of being a pretty face. It also helps that our client was on board with the project and was gracious and facilitating throughout.

HMAb: Can you run us through a scenario that was one of the 25% that wasn’t scripted, to show the type of things that happened on set? How spontaneous you were? For example, in your chicken wings scenario, was this something that came up on the shoot day or was it something in pre-pro that Nadav thought he might want?

AM: The beautiful Mare See Bo Koo shot was something that Nadav formulated in his head during the walk-though/tech the day before the shoot.

He noticed the stained glass above this particular bank of slots, and then he and the art director started riffing along the lines of the casino being a Cathedral of Gaming. This is all completely spontaneous, literally on a walk across the casino to the actual location that we had cleared with the clients. So, it took about 10 seconds for the idea to formulate, 10 minutes for practicalities to make the location switch, and about 40 minutes to shoot the next day. Everything fell into place. This was an add-on shot to the campaign, one that we did not plan for in pre-production, but it ended up being one of our favorite images.

Nadav was also obsessed with this giant sculpture of a devil woman on the patio of Diablo’s (a restaurant on the property.) It was hilarious how much he loved this thing. We had a rather elaborate shot planned for Diablo’s, so when the crew was prepping for it, he just wandered outside and snapped a picture of her. No art director, no lighting, nothing. The shot was amazing – so much so that we ended up writing lines specifically for it after the fact. Again, completely spontaneous. This shot hasn’t been released in media, but we hope that it will live some day.

I honestly don’t remember when the chicken wings idea was first floated. And, in the end, it’s not a shot that we ended up using. No regrets, though. You have to try some things that ultimately fail. It’s part of the process.

HMAb: So the client- did they know it would go down like this? Were they on set to approve the evolving ideas?

AM: The client has been well-educated by our account team, so they understand that comps are comps. They are not paint-by-numbers kits. So we prepped them as well as we were able to do, that comps are only ideas, and that we didn’t really know what we’d come out with on the other end. I think they were understandably very nervous, but they trust us. They were also involved in location scouting and casting, so they did have control over some elements of the shoot.

Yes, they were on set, and they were welcome to participate in the evolution.

HMAb: As an AB, how did you help manage this way of working- how do you think this approach added to the impact of these images.

AM: I don’t know that “manage” is the best way to put it. It’s a collaboration; I don’t control anything but the money. (Although, I am not insensitive to how much power that is.) I’m lucky to have lovely creatives that treat me with respect, and I fight every instinct I have to say “no” to a request. That gets tough sometimes when you’re up against deadline or wrap time and someone’s asking you for chicken wings, but what kind of story is “no?”

I worked with a creative director a million years ago who had gone through improv training. His approach to production was, “yes, and…” which is a traditional technique to up the funny. (I guess you’re not allowed to say no in improv; it’s a creativity killer.) The CD was a real wild card on set, but his ads were celebrated. Anyway, his attitude kind of rocked my world, to use a terrible but apt phrase. I stopped producing with do-not-cross lines, and adopted the “yes, and…” mentality. To me, basic production, being totally prepared, is the “yes” part. That’s the bare minimum I can give to my creatives and photographer. And then I feel like I’m free to spend my time on set facilitating the “and…” if it happens to come up.

I’ve come to embrace the unexpected and the surprising. I absolutely think it makes for better images. I’m all for hiring a dark horse photographer, or trying something new on the fly, or learning new stuff. I’m an early-adopter, and a risk taker. Not all producers and art buyers want to work this way, but it’s worked well for me. I guess it goes against our innate control-freak nature, so I’m constantly at war with myself. It keeps me thin, I guess!

HMAb: You’ve talked a lot about “collaboration”. How often are you able to work this way with your creative suppliers (or your creative team is able to work this way) vs. more of an executional, paint-by-numbers way? Has this ratio changed over the years from your perspective?

AM: I hope I’m not just a lucky one, but I suspect not every art buyer has had my good fortune to produce as much as I do. And I’ve really only worked with creatives that believe in collaboration across the board. I came up as an art buyer totally confident that I’m valued as a participant in the creative process. In turn, when I call a photographer about a job, I’m not simply asking him to execute a comp for someone on autopilot. I pay forward the trust that the creatives have in me.

My creatives expect photographers to bring something to the table, just like they expect me to bring something to the table. We’re all accountable. I’d say that in production, we absolutely expect to work this way, every time. So, I’d never approach any job as being strictly executional, but of course the amount of creative leeway that we are able to bring to each job is variable. Sometimes a photographer is hired for his technical expertise, and sometimes he’s hired because he can concept on the fly with the creative team. But those are two ends of a collaboration continuum, and this continuum doesn’t include “shutter monkey.”

As far as changing over time… All I can say about that is that I’ve noticed my newbie art directors coming out of ad school are virtually untrained in regards to production, and they are very sophisticated in terms of Photoshopping already-existing photography. So there’s a bit of a learning curve as we encourage them out of a strictly DIY mentality into how to work with an artist, and the benefits therein. (I think that art directors trained in the days of marker comps and stock slides could probably skip this lesson.) One of the great things about the kids being so self-sufficient, is that nearly every time we shoot bespoke photography now there’s a complexity behind the idea that the art director couldn’t turn out alone. There’s a creative reason behind every shoot, and a genuine need for a photographer.

HMAb: Hallelujah!

- – - – - – - -

Many thanks to Andrea for her candour and indepth answers to my questions. Before we go, let’s review a couple of crucial notes: The agency account team had fully prepped and comforted the client so they knew there would be some uncertainty on set. And the client trusted the agency. Plus: You have to try some things that ultimately fail. It’s part of the process.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Javier Lovera July 14, 2010 at 11:39 pm

great interview! enviable process and the images are great aswell. thanks for sharing!

robert gallagher July 15, 2010 at 12:45 am

excellent post heather, thanks so much for sharing. Man, i hope i get to work with Andrea some day! sounds fantastic.

Tim Skipper July 15, 2010 at 6:43 am

As always your blogs are interesting and informative. Its great to see the inner workings of a campaign and get a glimpse of the why.

David Zaitz July 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Great interview, thanks for posting! It really underscores how the art buyer/art producer can be the photographer’s best ally during all phases of an assignment– it’s not just about estimates!

Beth Dixson July 15, 2010 at 5:07 pm

What a great project. It’s wonderful reading how the behind-the-scenes unfolded. Great shots!

Anthony Rhoades July 15, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Thanks Heather and Andrea and great work Nadav as usual!

Jean-Marie July 15, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Excellent interview and insight into the process. But: am I the only one who thinks the images just aren’t all that great? Everybody seems to fawn over Nadav and I don’t get it. His latest work hasn’t been that interesting compared to his earlier work.

Rose Callahan July 16, 2010 at 4:33 pm

This was very inspiring! So much of the commercial photo world is about letting creativity happen with in the constrictions – of the client needs, of the market, of the editorial viewpoint, etc. Sometimes restrictions inspire more creativity. This reminds me of the interview with the White Stripes on Charlie Rose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwMkYEOWr-o pick it up at 4:35 to hear his comment on setting creative restrictions.

Jalani Morgan July 17, 2010 at 8:55 pm

great interview on a creative process tool i love – spontaneity. nadav had his ‘rules’ however was able to shine because of spontaneous moments you can’t create with comps. kudos to the AD for creating the right environment for his team to succeed.

Ian Ethan Vloke-Wurth July 19, 2010 at 7:37 am

Yes…its wonderful he was free to adjust to his inspirations. The spontaneous moments always shine brighter. While I am very logical I am also an extremely intuitive human…and coupled with a healthy dose of no fear as a photographer…. it is most always the unplanned moments when I follow my intuition and perfectly in sync with the subject…. the unplanned…unscripted moments that just seem to happen ..that end up being the work used by a client. —- THANK YOU!!! GREAT BLOG!!

Ian Ethan Vloke-Wurth July 19, 2010 at 7:47 am

Rose, yes…that White Stripes comment made on that Charlie Rose interview was also a very great point. Basically says… to have to dig deeper with less… sometimes makes for better creativity. Thats great advice!! …so keeping within the box so you do not stray or get caught up in trying to solve the lack of creativity with more money, etc

Justin Carrasquillo July 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Gotta love AM sticking to the guns!

Guess the Lighting August 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Nadav always has such a unique approach to his images and this process seems to fit in perfectly. It would be nice if more agencies and clients were confident enough to allow the creative process to continue throughout the shoot. If you’re interested in also learning how Nadav lights some of his images, check out http://www.GuessTheLighting.com.

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