In Orbit With... Karim Bartoletti

TMU: You often said that ideas are born when you execute them. What’s your approach to media production?

KB: Ideas are abstract, and as such, they need a skin to allow them to be visible: Production is that skin. This is one of my core beliefs. People love to talk about 'ideas in the drawer,' dream projects that you hope to accomplish sometime in the future. Some directors will watch a film and say: “I had that idea five years ago.” That doesn’t matter. The skin is what brings ideas to life.

As producers, we want the skin of ideas to fit the medium and the audience. Creating great content and using awesome talent is not enough. I tell clients that they shouldn’t look for the best director in the world, because they may not be the best for their job. This is particularly important today. Because content lasts as long, or little, as the entertainment it gives you. Sometimes people think that we are just executing the creative vision of our directors. That’s not how we do it. We are managing production packages around them, making sure that they bring forth the look and feel of the campaign.

TMU: Does that mean that production companies are becoming more and more creative?

KB: We are – and have always been – creative. I believe that more than ever today, because our business has become schizophrenic.

On one hand, you still have the traditional workflow, but it’s getting more and more competitive in the media outputs that are required, in the shrinking budgets that we have to deal with, and in the global market that we work in. Today, A-level directors look at B-list scripts, B-level directors look at C-level scripts and so on. The traditional workflow is not based on traditional fundaments anymore.

On the other hand, with the democratization of technology and the socialization of the world, there is no limit to what cannot be produced: quality is high and distribution is immediate and direct. And this has created another level of budgets, parameters and production typologies. We are talking about new types of crews; one-person companies and directors that can do anything with different budgets. Low budgets will stay and people that are going to do them will grow even more – especially with the new generations, and that will give fuel this non-traditional side of things, which is definitely here to stay, and production companies will not be able to fight it, but will need to embrace it.

TMU: What does the production company of the future look like?

KB: I think the traditional workflow will always be around. Our core competency will stay the same: we aim to execute ideas as well as possible and improve them. When we look at a script, what we’re doing is taking it and stretching each sheet of paper to the breaking point. It shouldn’t break – that’s not the goal – but if we aren’t stretching it, we’re not expanding it, and that’s what producers should do.

They often ask me if production companies want to become agencies. I don’t think we want to be agencies, because today even agencies don’t know what they want to become. We are all figuring out our business models and finding ways to work together in the best ways possible: in old ways and the new ones that are being created as we speak.

We live in a world in which supermarkets are also restaurants and bookstores are also coffee shops, there is no reason why agencies should not produce and production companies should not create without ever stepping on each other’s toes.

In the world where 'content is king,' being able to produce your own ideas has become an amazing creative value, because it not only makes the chain shorter - and therefore more efficient - but it also creates an economic efficiency within the project itself, which in a world of shrinking budgets always helps.

Right now, predicting the future of our industry is just like throwing a deck of cards up in the air and predicting which ones will land on top. We’re all testing, experimenting, all the time.

Let’s be honest, in a world in which there are more places where people see things and in which inter-company relationships become, ever more so, on a project-to-project basis, it would be easier for producers to become creatives than the other way around.

In a one-shot world, you have one-shot jobs. Nowadays, very few clients have only one agency: because they usually have two or three. When rival agencies are competing for the same business, they are bound to try to one-up each other, and by doing so, they dilute the communication of the brand and continuously pull it towards their direction as opposed to the same direction.

Right now, predicting the future of our industry is just like throwing a deck of cards up in the air and predicting which ones will land on top. We’re all testing, experimenting, all the time.

TMU: Is the way directors work changing as well?

KB: Directors increasingly have multiple skills. Filmmakers didn’t exist decades ago. Nowadays, many directors know how to film and edit. Sometimes, they work on special effects and audio or music too. Young directors and small agencies are creating a different way of doing things. People are both multitasking and becoming increasingly specialized.

In addition to that, globalization has made the market bigger: directors come from everywhere, they can go everywhere, we can find them everywhere, and they work on a variety of different jobs all over the world. What’s amazing is that today there are so many opportunities to create content, that directors and filmmakers are proliferating and more than ever. Not all of them are talented, but more of them are available.

Amateur and Professional used to be very far away from each other. Today, the concept of amateur and professional completely overlap. Quality is incredibly available, we have it in our pockets, in our computers, we can create easily and share what we create even more easily.

Ten years ago, if you told people that you worked only with freelance directors, you were people’s laughing stock. Today, this strange way of working and finding talent is paradoxically ahead of the game.

In this world, we can match the directors for a job to the expectations around a job.

It all boils down to what type of campaign you are creating, to the type of screen you are producing for. For some jobs, a lo-fi video that channels user-generated content can be more appropriate than working with Pixar. This availability and variety can be challenging for some clients and agencies.

Managing their expectations has become a core part of our job.

TMU: What’s working in Italy like?

KB: I often say that the English-speaking world doesn’t understand the way we work. Abroad, clients go to agencies, agencies select directors, and directors have exclusivity deals with production companies. In Italy, agencies come to us. Instead of having a roster of directors, we do the research and find the right directors for the job.

Ten years ago, if you told people that you worked only with freelance directors, you were people’s laughing stock. Today, this strange way of working and finding talent is paradoxically ahead of the game. Our business model has become cutting edge. An increasing number of directors are going freelance, just because work and projects are so diverse. It’s hard for one production company to bring all types of content to a director, but increasingly directors want to do everything: Ads, TV series, branded content, cinema. At Indiana, we produce very different types of content in the same office, using the same teams.

Politics is also an essential part of the game. Agencies call us for the directors we are able to reach. So it’s about the people you know, the people you have dinner with, the people you go on holiday with. It’s been the same for my whole career. Before the web, the key was being the first one to write. Now our rhythm is even faster. When an agency is briefing me, I am already telling my assistant whom to text. Ultimately, you don’t win on research or the quality of your intuition, just speed. I find it a little sad.

But it can be a good thing. When we produced Magnum’s “7 senses” campaign, I was looking for a director who knew how to work with female lead actors. One day, when I was lining up for a film, I saw a DVD of Elizabeth by Shekhar Kapur. I bought it on the spur of the moment, sent it to the agency, and won the job just like that. This way of having to find the right talent at the spur of the moment makes us special.

TMU: Given a chance, what's one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

KB: Learn from your losses, learn from your bosses, and become the boss that you always wanted to have. I was lucky enough to have great bosses who taught me how to be a leader. And when you do become a leader, teach the people who work with you, be mindful of them and the work they do so, and help them reach their fullest potential.

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