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The commercial industry: Built on the backs of production companies

You don't hire a dentist to do brain surgery. You hire a qualified, accomplished, and trustworthy neurosurgeon who can carry out meticulous craniotomies while brushing their teeth.
Sourcing a production house for your commercial shouldn’t be any different. Because even though an advertising agency’s in-house production company (IHPC) may look like it costs less at first glance, you usually get what you pay for in the final product. Here are four reasons why:

1. Experience

Having worked in the industry for years, experienced production companies know who’s who in the industry; and they know which professional has the best skills and experience for the job at hand.

Directors, for example, are experts, and have honed their craft through great effort over considerable time. Effectively directing a 30-second commercial isn’t just an art, it’s also, in many ways, a science. Every frame matters. Every aspect, from the image and narrative, to the cast and filming technique, makes a difference.

Directors are also recruited for their explicit skill set. A technical SFX director, for instance, is experienced in shooting with an eye for post-production. A comedy director, on the other hand, may not know how to film children or animals (which are skills on their own). Like any profession, it takes years to build proficiency and recognition.

A crucial difference between production companies and agency IHPCs is that the directors on an IHPC payroll are creative directors by trade. And, because it costs less for an IHPC to use them for a project than to outsource to an external specialist, they’re often called on to act as film directors. Because these in-house directors often don’t have the correct knowledge and expertise for the role, the job is jeopardised, both artistically, and as a product to the client.

2. Expenses

A production company’s performance doesn’t just rest on artistic skill either. It’s also determined by its capability to manage finances effectually. And that means having exceptional knowledge of what things really cost in the industry.

Seasoned producers know where to source the right supplies, what to save funds on when the budget demands it, and how to acquire the best deals. This comes from years of involvement in the industry and reputable, loyal alliances with enduring suppliers.

Because of the high costs involved, producing commercials also comes with exposure to considerable risk. Accomplished producers make sure that everything and everyone affected is protected if something goes wrong. This means having the insight to know when and how to take out specialised insurances for the crew, stunts, and important equipment.

Amateur producers, however, often don’t effectively manage a production budget. This can lead to budgeting shortfalls, overspending, sourcing of the incorrect equipment, critical resources not being insured, etc. When you’re working on major-league assignments, the effects are compounding.

3. Post-production

Post-production has its share of intricacies; editors are specialists too. A music video editor, for example, may not be proficient in cutting an automotive ad. When IHPCs pick their generalist in-house editor to cut a niche, top-calibre commercial, the difference can be marked.

Without knowledgeable directors and producers who know what post-production costs (like transcoding, digitising, editing, grading, etc.), the expenditure can add up quickly too; a process that production companies have procedures in place to govern.

4. And beyond...

Production companies don’t just take up a portion of the industry. As authorities in the field, they routinely stay up to date with trends and technologies, they’re pricelessly affiliated, and they’re reputable for good reason. They also abide to a set of strict set of CPA guidelines to ensure that working conditions are always safe and fair.

On the other hand, IHPCs perpetually belittle the ethos of the industry. There are no rules of engagement, experienced pros are considered novice, specialists are replaced with generalists, vital components are overlooked, and production quality – something many of us have worked lifetimes to master – is what suffers most. The costs are high. And the whole industry is paying for it.

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About Bobby Amm

Executive Officer at Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA)

    CPA's press office

    CPA
    The CPA is the South African trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market.
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