As originally published in Synergyzer Annual 2018
In my 15 odd years of professional life, I have been associated with advertising in Pakistan and UAE, where I worked with Saatchi & Saatchi on P&G. After I moved back to Pakistan in 2016, I have been involved with producing TV commercials for brands like Jazz, Zong, Kenwood, with international teams.
Following is a commentary that I decided to pen down based on my experiences working with Pakistani and international crews and how I feel things can improve. This will be a prelude to the scenario that we have currently and I will be defining in much more detail how better to upscale our production industry. Read on:
What is the general scenario like in Pakistan’s ad production industry at the moment?
Technology has played a primary role in the ad production scenario, especially in recent years. We used to shoot on films till 2010. This changed dramatically with digital formats becoming the norm, especially once media houses converted to digital technology. Now that films have been replaced by digital data, everything has become easier, quicker and more efficient. Costs have come down considerably as with films, the entire process was manual, from the purchase of the films to its telecine, editing, post-production all the way up to the release; where final tapes had to be dispatched to different media. Even with digital cameras, we still had to deliver tapes to the media houses. Now, the turnover is much quicker. If the director’s take is not good, you can do another take. It also took a lot of the guessing away from photography.
Cost has also come down considerably compared to shooting earlier. Shooting on film would cost much more than today. With a film camera, you have to pay for the roll of film, for developing the negative etc. Every time you press the button you spend money. With digital, storage is a cinch. Film is the preferred medium of old-school filmmakers, but it’s usually too costly now for a production house to work on, especially for a commercial project. Aside from the expense, film is impossible to reuse. That means a day of shooting must have footage the crew can use, or else every resource consumed that day was a waste. The costs of film don’t end the day of shooting either. Cinematographers who use film had to develop it, and then there is the costly process of editing the film. Going digital largely means foregoing the large canisters of film that used to be synonymous with filmmaking. It also means production companies complete their shoot schedules with less waste, keeping the entire project under or close to budget.
What have the developments been in technology and expertise?
As I wrote above, the ecosystem as a whole has changed with the introduction of digital formats. From shooting till post-production, the process is much quicker and efficient. Along with that, we can now experiment with the edited versions in post-production, thus resulting in better quality film videos.
Another factor that has led to better quality and a bit more structure is the interaction and collaboration with teams in Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, Poland, and Turkey. Travel means education. Cinematographers that were hired by production houses as cameramen are now officially recognized as Director of Photography and are paid much more than, say 10 or 12 years back. Same with Gaffers and Focus Pullers who are now recognized for their expertise and hence grow in their respective fields because they understand that they can demand better money based on their skill set.
What are Pakistan’s limitations as a market?
The limitations that we face are more related to education and exposure in cinematography, production, and post-production than anything else. Teams in Pakistan learn from practical experience or from a trial and error method. They understand the basics of production, but now the demand for technical expertise is growing globally. And although the awareness is there, but we lack technical skills where movie magic really comes into play. This includes tracking equipment for cameras, rigs for shooting in different styles, especially motion rigs for cameras etc. We can purchase the equipment, but the technical expertise and the right teams for operating such equipment is lacking.
To give a very minor example, we were recently shooting in Turkey and had to take a shot of ice falling into a glass on the Bolt High-Speed Motion Control Rig. The ice cubes were placed in a special timed compartment and were locked in position so that we would get nearly the same speed and height every time. This brings preciseness to the shot and it becomes easier for the post-production team to work on it when they have to composite multiple shots, so the result is almost magical and tempting. Or we take a shot of a mountain and then take a shot of popcorns popping and when we merge them together, it looks like the popcorn is coming out of the volcano. It looks very real.
These shots are not possible in Pakistan at the moment.
How have digital influencers and social media platforms changed ad production dynamics?
Today, unlike a decade ago, if you walk down any street in any city in the world, nearly everyone is looking down at their phones. This is the center of the conversation: Anything and everything now has to do with that experience; that relationship between human beings and their coveted device. And this is where brands need to tap in with engaging content that is appreciated, without focusing too much on the cost.
Digital hotshops and production is not necessarily cheap. They are considered cheap because they are smaller units being run by creative people who want to make a mark and get their work out. A lot of the content that we see does not use professional film equipment, rather regular cameras, and lights etc. and has a minimal crew on the shoot due to budget constraints. One needs to be more of an expert to shoot well on low-cost equipment if shooting for a brand where quality is a given. It is a nightmare in post-production where the beauty of the film shines through.
For digital, a simple strategy is to use the might of influencers in getting the message across as influencers these days’ carry massive followings, with more than a million followers on social media. And they promote the content on their channels, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, their YouTube page etc. to get the message across and they get paid a fee for that. Hence they spend the bulk of the budget on influencer fees and minimal budgets are left for production, which should not be the case as every project needs to have a balance that should be mutually agreed upon.
It all boils down to the content on social platforms. If the content is bad or not worthwhile, then even the influencer risks losing their followers and takes a direct hit and can sometimes even be ridiculed as they have a certain flavor and attitude based on which they garner followers. If the content is insightful, quirky, entertaining than no matter the cost, it will be shared and viewed by millions.
Digital is a primary medium where an intelligent concept will go a long way in spreading the message as people like to share and recommend content that they like.
Content creation dynamics are the same, be it for digital or mainstream. Once digital is considered mainstream by the client, due attention is given to it and the budget is allocated accordingly.
How can we do away with our limitations?
- Teams involved in production need to learn and educate themselves by taking courses – whether online or practical – and use those learnings on film shoots so that they can add better value to the process, thus bringing in better quality to the productions that they are a part of. Once the teams are ready, getting expensive technical equipment will become a viable business option and will also help drive the cost down compared to shooting abroad. It is a win-win for all, but it needs initiative by the industry in general.
- We also need more foreign crews and creative teams coming to Pakistan and working alongside us. Earlier, security concerns stopped them from coming, but the situation has improved drastically in the past five years. Working with international production teams will bring awareness and expertise and also help reduce the cost while producing quality. This will help the creative deliverables and the production in the long run.
- Lastly and most importantly, there is a lack of a leadership governance body for the production industry. Trade unions are there everywhere in the world which safeguard the interests of the members of the unions, but the concept has still not picked up in Pakistan. Alongside that, there needs to be a central recognized body for production like the APNS is there for the media industry. This is essential to safeguard the interests of the client, the producers, and the production teams.
The money spent in production is a significant amount and with digital media playing a primary role in low-cost production, more and more local clients are now advancing towards making commercials as they can push their content on digital at a fraction of the cost that they would have had to pay for mainstream media. This makes it all the more important for a central governing body that can ensure that payments are made as per commitment so that no one suffers.
Generally, the ingredients required for any industry to work are needed in production and direction as well. It is a creative process and there are very few benchmarks or set rules. Every job brings with it new challenges that need to be sorted out in a creative and collaborative manner.
Hence, education, exposure, a proper governing structure and a fair approach to work are the basic ingredients based on which everything else falls into place like a satisfying puzzle.