COMMISSIONS & FEES

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There was a great scene in season 5 of MAD MEN. Actually there were countless great scenes but I’m referring to a specific one. It's from the episode 11, the one where Lane kills himself. Was I suppose to give a spoiler alert for those of you still catching up on the past season? Ooops. Sorry. Truthfully I'm not that sorry. It's the price of admission for having a DVR or streaming online. 

Here's the scene.

The principals of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce gathered for their weekly partners meeting. They are fresh off winning Jaguar, the coveted car account they so desperately needed. Pete Campbell, the ethically challenged account guy, informs the other partners that Jaguar has requested a fee based rather than a commission based structure for agency compensation. Pete smugly explains the difference to Don who immediately rejects the notion. It’s obviously an inferior financial proposition. They agree to couch the conversation until after they speak further with the client.

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We never did see what happened when SCDP began negotiating the contract with Jaguar. I guess it wasn’t relevant to the season storyline. But I will tell you what would’ve happened had they shot that scene. The agency caved. They needed this account badly so they gave the client pretty much what they wanted without much of a fight. Congrats, SCDP secured the new business while pulling the double whammy of simultaneously lowering both their creative value and their margins. Great job, Pete. 

So, welcome to the post about compensation models I alluded to in "What's The Difference". Nothing better than creating a thematic thread between two posts except creating a thematic thread between two post and using MAD MEN as reference. Let's get to it.   

Does anyone find it weird that a production companies fee is based on marking-up what we spend? It seems kind of silly but I’ve never really questioned it. It’s how it’s been done since I started in this business and the practice continues today. But if you really think about it, it’s not particularly smart. The more we spend the greater the compensation. Hardly a positive incentive for either side.

I guess when jobs were bigger, budgets weren’t as vetted, and agencies took a cut on production dollars, it worked. Obviously the current state of the industry has led to shrinking fees. It's a problem but it’s not THE problem. The biggest concern is the ability to shoot high quality producitons for less. 

As I've mentioned in the aformentioned earlier posts, thanks to technology it is becoming increasingly possible to deliver acceptable production value at a cheaper cost. This is a great evolution for breaking young talent. It’s great for the increased demand for web content. It’s great for long form brand based narratives. If we tried we could make a list of the many advantages to the lowering production barriers of entry. 

However, needing less production to make a high definition broadcast quality film can really suck when your value is determined by what you spend. It doesn’t mean we take on less of a workload or less liability. It doesn't mean the expectations have been lowered or our operational costs have been reduced. It only means our fees are less for no other reason than we need less (i.e. gear and crew) to produce specific projects. 

Is this pay structure sustainable as technology continues to erode production needs? 

There are jobs being produced for 300k where a production company had greater input and responsibility then on a 2 million dollar job. How is that possible. The lower budget job may have had lesser of an idea, higher expectations, and worse client/agency relationship than the big budget production. This equates to more reliance upon the supplier yet the production company will get paid one fifth less of a fee. The compensation to contribution ratio doesn’t add up due to the current formual for determining fees. 

I wish I could come up with some kind of metrics that could determine our true value to a project. Something like... 

DIRECTOR'S REEL (creative standing)

+

TIME COMMITTMENT (unavailable for other projects) 

+

PROBLEMS TO SOLVE (not fully flushed out creative/agency-client conflict)

+

RISK & LIABILITY (severity of contractual/payment/insurance terms)

+ or -

CLIENT TASTE /CREATIVE DIRECTOR INFLUENCE (use your imaingation) 

÷

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (A scale factoring in all of the above)

=

VALUE FEE PRICING 

I know the creative process may be too subjective to determine fees via a mathematical calculation. But this subjectivity hasn’t prevented the industry from trying to commoditize us. Commoditzation of production. Look at that, another future post idea. 

It would be nice if I could say something like, “I've carefully consider every contributing factor of this production and my assesment based on years of experience and past history of this brand is...it'll be a real pain in my ass. My fee is 250k”. Not happening unless I can eliminate all my competitors one by one like Michael Corleone did at the end of" The Godfather".

Just imagine if there was an agreed upon equation, one that makes measurable sense by taking into account all the risk, creative input and problem solving we bring to a project. I'm certainly not smart enough to create that formula but I am wise enough to know that there has got to be a better way than marking up what we spend. 

Can someone check on the availability of Stephen Hawking? Or Will Hunting? Or that guy from a "Beautiful Mind"? Maybe they'll work on a flat. 

Goodwillhunt1    Russell_crowe_a_beautiful_mind   Stephen-hawking_1387959c  

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE

Xlarge_4f340b81fede56d457b42ebcfc61f9f5About five years ago we received a call from an agency interested in producing a series of what was then called“ Viral Videos”. The budget was, of course, small being this wasn’t for broadcast TV. The project didn’t seem to have much of a marketing initiative. I don’t believe there was even a seeding strategy. The main purpose appeared to be for the agency to build a web portfolio while impressing their client with their newly found mastery of marketing for the worldwide web.

Our reasons for considering the project were equally as inspiring. The creative although not fully realized had potential. We also wanted to add “web” work to our portfolio. And, the director needed a job. Each of these motivations was deeply flawed but we engaged anyway and took a call. 

Along with the director’s ideas, we pitched a production approach counter to our usual commercial procedures, the biggest of which was to shoot on video. Remember this was circa 2007, the Cro-Magnon age when film labs existed in NY, Kodak was solvent and video looked like video.

As luck would have it, we got the job. At the time I was fearful of this project and not because we may potentially make an investment that wouldn’t payoff. My bigger concern was that the 5 two minute web films with a production budget one tenth the size of my usual thirty second TV spot would be better. Would the agency want to adopt our “viral video” methodology to all future broadcast projects? As a result, would the cost of production begin to sink like the California real estate market? This is a genuine concern for a business whose pricing model is based not on the value we bring but rather on marking up what we spend. 

In the end, the “viral” films exceeded our expectations. It wasn’t a great investment but thankfully we didn’t lose our shirts. More importantly, my fears weren't realized. Our project didn’t revolutionize the industry production process dooming our pricing structure forever. At least not yet.

As a live action production company we generally receive two kinds of projects, broadcast and “digital”. Often times they are packaged together. Back in 2007 I understood the difference but today the lines have become unrecognizably blurred.

We light both.

We cast both.

We scout both.

We style both.

We art direct both.

We need to gain approvals on both.

We pre-pro both.

We edit both.

The client and agency are on set for both.

The expectations are high for both.

So, what are the big differentiators? It used to be film format. No longer. If we use Alexa or Red or even Canon 5D, to name a few, we are shooting broadcast quality high definition video. All these cameras are used regularly if not predominantly on commercial shoots. We could argue the esthetic merits of the video look versus a film look but its quality, workflow and costs has rendered this discussion moot.

Distribution is the true great divider. Broadcast airs on TV while Digital is seeded throughout the web. Where it airs doesn’t impact production, so what’s the difference to us? Oh, Jesus, now I remember. None, except the budget. The films for the web are significantly less funded than broadcast spots. Why is that?

The process is the same. The format is the same. The politics are the same. It’s the eyeballs. It’s gotta be the eyeballs. Less guaranteed viewers, the lesser the budget. Makes sense if you’re the advertiser. But, if you're the producer being asked to provide the same service at lesser costs and usually with greater amount of deliverables, it isn’t a very enticing proposition.

Unfortunately, as an industry, our behavior patterns haven’t advanced as quickly as digital photographic technology. We accept when a project is labeled digital the budget is less. Or, when they want to tag on some digital assets on the back of a broadcast production, it will be at lesser rates then we were awarded for broadcast. Rather than fight the issue we do what producers do, solve the problem by finding a financially viable option to give our clients what they want, or as close as we can get.

We haven’t reached the danger point except for the occasional bait and switch, producing the cheap digital film that we were told was for the net but ends up on broadcast TV. At the moment this isn’t a frequent practice.  And, it won’t be, as long as the advertisers still accept the budgets are based on eyeballs not on level of execution. Thankfully they’ve been as slow to adapt as we have but we can’t rely upon this in for long. 

The way to address this concern is obviously to adjust our pricing away from the markup model to a value based model. Hmmmm. Pricing models. Mark-up vs. Value. Note to self. Good future post.  

Until we engage in this discussion, we must brace ourselves for the inevitable when we are told the client wants the same level of production and cost per film they received on the "digital" project we produced a month ago, only this time its for broadcast.

Of course, we will always bid the job based on the creative but we can’t rely on an argument that broadcast is more expensive than digital since inevitably the unanswerable response will be “What’s the difference?”

WELCOME BACK RANT

The Rant....

It was a regular feature in my first foray into blogging. The idea was inspired by the old Larry King USA Today columns. For those of you that never read them, his pieces were an oddly entertaining burst of nonsequitars. It was the perfect format to ripoff to cater to the A.D.D generation. As I discovered, parodying Larry King was hardly an original idea or even a current one. Check out this one from The Onion written 15 years ago. The title says it all....

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Now it's my turn...

I saw a promo for a new fall show on NBC called "The New Normal". Ellen Barkin is playing the Grandmother. Shrivey's wife from "Diner" is cast as a Nana? Man, that makes me feel old.... 

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I've been watching "The News Room", the latest HBO series created by Aaron Sorkin. I could write a dissertation on the many ways I hate it. Of course, this doesn't prevent me from watching it. Rather than rip it apart, I'll just share this amusing video of Aaron Sorkin prose. 

 

Did you watch the video? I don't know about you but it sure as hell made feel much better about revisiting the same themes and my repetitive writing style.

I love the NY Times online. Its been my homepage since I can remember. There is no other website I spend more time on. After countless years of loyal viewing and even more years of home subscription, I recieved this email....

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The fuckin' NY Times just "Freemiumed" me. I have to pay for my daily crossword? Really. Did I miss something or did Marc Pincus become the new Managing Editor of NY Times Digital?...A little Zynga reference for the tech crowd...

1 out of 4 edit houses and 2 out of 3 ad agency creative departments have ping pong tables in their offices. It's a fact. Look it up. An inspirational clip for advertisings favorite indoor sport....

 

Check out the latest exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, called WHO SHOT ROCK N ROLL. It's not so much an homage to rock music as it is to the photographers who documented it's history. Lynn Goldsmith. Norman Seeff. Bob Gruen. To name a few. A fun way to kill an hour. And who says LA is void of culture? I think that was me....

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Speaking of Rock N Rock. This month a biography of Yo La Tengo is being realed called, BIG DAY COMING. Indie rock has come a long way...

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Business Insider posted a list of the 22 most influential Ad Bloggers. I wasn't on it. I guess my year off drop me down to 23. Lots of work to get back to be a top influencer. Until next week...

I LOVE MY DVR AND HATE MYSELF FOR IT

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My New Yorker Magazines used stack up on my nightstand staring wantingly at me to be read. On a lazy weekend, a long plane ride or the occassional bout with insomnia I would catch up. My DVR is my new New Yorkers. It's the endless cue of entertainment that I can never seem clear. It made me realize if it isn't a sporting event or some dramatic breaking news like the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce, I'm not watching live TV. 

I know I've written a lot about business practices but changing media habits is the biggest threat to our industry. What's worse is I feed into my own demise and I can't help myself. The DVR, streaming video, VOD, Hulu, any model that negates or lessens ad sponsored programming is what awakens me at 2am. At least I have the endless digital to cue to keep me company in my sleeplessness. 

The oncoming media tidal wave is much like the High Def revolution. For a decade there was endless discussion about HD taking over every TV set and every film shoot. We read the articles, heard the stories and waited for it to happen but it never seemed to fully arrive. Then, seemingly over night, all the predictions came true. The same has been happening with media consumption, a lot of conversation and prognostication as we’ve anxiously waited for the tipping point. Don’t blink because it may be arriving if it hasn’t already.

Here’s some fun stats:

  • The live ratings for network programs (that is, the ratings for people who watch shows when they are first broadcast) have declined for 14 straight quarters.
  • In the March 2012 sweeps, cable network live viewership dropped by 2 percent or 409,000 viewers. This number is closer to 8% for Networks.
  • Despite being cheaper and of better quality, TV sales declined in 2011 by 3%. The first time inm 30 years.
  • In 2012 4 in 10 US households TV sets are equipped with DVR’s and 25% are wired to the web. By 2014 these numbers are expected to more than double.
  • Last year 1.5 million people cut the cord of cable opting for streaming from their computers, mobile devices or their TV's. 

These numbers are increasing exponentially. The popularity of HBO GO, Amazon on Demand, Netflix, iTunes and various other forms of online and mobile content distribution spells doom for the traditional advertising model. 

The one divergent piece of data is the ad sales at the Upfronts sell out annually at a record pace. The guess is that despite the TV model appearing to edge toward extinction it currently remains the best option for mass marketing opportunities. Here’s some interesting quotes from a NY Times about that very subject:

By losing audience, networks and cable stations have been able to force advertisers to buy more commercials to reach the number of viewers that they want.

 “They have an interesting business model predicated on losing viewers,” observed Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media. “It can’t last forever.”

"It can’t last forever". Ouch. That hurts. Does that mean that one day in the not too distant future the advertisers are going to tell the media companies, we’re not buying commercial time this year? Too much expense for not a big enough return.

A more anecdotal story on this topic that piqued my interest related to Jeff Gaspin former head of NBC Entertainment, and a man who spent his entire career relying upon the commercial model. Gaspin and his son wanted to get into AMC’s “Walking Dead” series before the new season started. They committed to one episode per night until they caught up. They downloaded the show from iTunes or Netflix. When the premiere episode of season two aired, they watched it live.  Both Gaspin and his son found the live broadcast experience annoying and interruptive. They decided in the future to view the latest episode after the original broadcast had aired, i.e. watch commercial free.

When I read this story it made me think of my own habits. Like Jeff Gaspin, my career relies upon the traditional broadcast model yet in the privacy of my own home I’m a viewer like everyone else. And, I love TV especially these days. There is so much great stuff it’s hard to keep up. See New Yorker analogy above. Also, these days time is a precious commodity. If I can get the same amount of entertainment in 40 minutes as I can in 60, I'll take it. Obviously I'm not alone. It's a matter of avoiding the interruption. 

The good news is advertising communication isn’t going away. There will always be a need for companies to reach their consumers, to sell their wares and to promote their brands. The social contract of entertaining an audience for 8 minutes and selling them for two will eventually be dead exclusive of must see live events . The question is what is the new social contract? Will it be able to achieve mass? And, how are our films a part of this contract? For broadcasters there remains the small problem of who is going to subsidize the content. 

Advertising agencies and marketers should be the leaders in writing this new contract.  Kodak should’ve been the leader in digital photography. Sony the leader in digital electronics. AOL the leader in digital content. All these companies had a huge head start on the competition but failed not because they didn’t see it coming but because they were too tied financially to their old model. The same my apply with ad agencies.

I’m hoping that someone within our sphere of advertising develops the new contract. I don't know what it will be but when they figure it out, sign me up. 

NOT TO EXCEED

Screen Shot 2012-07-05 at 3.05.13 PMSince the standardization of the bid form we’ve operated under two options, Firm Bid or Cost-Plus Fixed Fee.  

Firm Bid is the most accepted industry practice and the simplest. Once the job is awarded the supplier assumes all responsibility for production costs. The only varaible is a spec change that may alter the production costs otherwise any loss or gain is assumed by the supplier.

Cost-Plus Fixed Fee are slightly more complex terms. If the awarded estimate actualizes under budget the production company refunds the difference but if the job actualizes over budget the client pays the difference. The production fee remains fixed regardless of the outcome, thus the name. This eliminates any incentive for the production company to spend irresponsibly as their profit doesn't flucuate based on the amount of production dollars being spent. 

There is obviously a variance in accounting procedures between these two practices but it is not the major factor. The defining difference is risk. 

It's simple. In a Firm Bid all the financial risk is assumed by the production company. In Cost-Plus the risk is shared equally between the production company and the client. As any betting man will you tell you with risk comes reward but also the possibilty, or rather the inevitability of loss. 

Years ago, rather than take on unknown risk along with the expenses of job auditing, the industry moved away from Cost Plus and almost universally adopted Firm Bid as the standard. I can only assume this decision was made by the clients and agency departments who set contractual terms. Corporations aren't big gamblers.

Over the last decade, we've seen the rise of the hybrid model. It's a Firm Bid job with specific items requested to be handled Cost Plus such as crew payroll tax, pension & welfare, travel expenses, and casting. Personally, I'm more of a purist, an all in guy. I prefer the job be completely Firm or Cost Plus not a mixture of the two. However, there are cases where I'm willing to breakout certain items as Cost Plus if I'm unsure of the financial security of that particular line. In other words, I'm willing to make the bet and share the risk. 

Thanks to some devilish soul in procurement, the hybrid model has evolved into a term dubbed Cost-Plus Not To Exceed or as others like to call it Cost-Minus. It is like Cost Plus except for the “little” detail of the risk thing. If the job goes under, the production company refunds the difference but if the job goes over budget the production company eats it.  The client owns the reward without any of the risk. We own the risk without any of the reward. Win win for the client. Lose lose for the production company. That's known in gambling circles as a bad bet. 

Let's stick with the casino analogies. Cost Plus Not To Exceed is like putting down 100 bucks at the roulette wheel. If the number hits you just made $3600. But, if it didn't hit you turn to the croupier and he gives you back your money. Man, if only it really worked that way in Vegas.

The problem isn’t only that it’s obviously a one sided bet but that we are not treating the job holistically. We are parsing out different items incentizing production companies to not make decision in the best creative interest of the project. 

The bigger concern is anyone among us considering these terms nonetheless accepting them? I can’t imagine a situation where even a small minority of the production community would agree to this deal. Come to think of it, I’m not that imaginative so anything is possible.

At present I haven’t heard of anyone agreeing to a Cost Plus Not to Exceed line item or certainly not anyone admitting to it. But, it certainly hasn’t prevented the agencies and cost consultants from continuing to ask. I can only assume they keep throwing in this term to test our intellgence or they are getting some of us to bite. 

If you're looking for a sign we’re reaching the end in our race to the bottom, any compliance to Cost-Plus Not To Exceed would be a good indicator we are pretty darn close to the finish line.  

INDEPENDENCE

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Tomorrow is the 4th of July. As I'm vying to get my audience back and it's the day before the holiday, I was thinking of posting something really controversial. Something that would not only offend ad agencies, clients and cost consultants but potentially alienate me from my peers, my company and possibly the entire nation.

My thinking was everyone is leaving early, or blowing off work completely, so no one will read this solacious post thus saving me from myself. And if they do read it they'll forgive me as I'm exercising my first amendment rights on this, the holiest of all Patriotic days.

I decided against it. I'm not that brave. But, in all seriousness, I do feel fortunate to live in a country where people can write blogs. Where the freedom to express an opinion is respected and can be done so without fear of institutional retribution. This right is a concept Americans too often take for granted. So, be thankful for your freedoms. Exercise your rights. Celebrate your independance. Do it while we still have them. November is just around the corner. 

So, in the spririt of the holiday, I've posted some of my favorite Independance Day themed tracks...

This is from Ween's 1994 LP "Chocolate and Cheese", a classic album cover.

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03 Freedom Of '76

For 1980's LA punk rockers no Independance Day is complete without this titular song by X

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03 4th of July

I needed to throw in something from a Brit. If it wasn't for them being imperialist we wouldn't exist. I was debating between Billy Bragg and George Michael's "Freedom". It was a dogfight. I chose the socialist.

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07 Help Save The Youth Of America

A classic American anthem sung by a Canadian. An obvious choice but the obvious is obvious for a reason. It works. 

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12 Rockin' In the Free World

We'll end on a theatrical note from my daughter Ruby's favorite musical. Rita Moreno, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. What's more American than this?

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07 America

HAPPY 4TH of JULY

 

FOUND MONEY$

I was thinking of ranting today but thought I needed to build up some more substantive posts before having fun. On the other hand what's more fun than...

Tax credits
In case you missed it, a few weeks back there was an entertaining public letter writing volley between AICP President/CEO Matt Miller and ANA President/CEO Bob Liodice.

Their jousting revolved around a White Paper released by the ANA called, “The Found Money of State Commercial Production Incentives”. Click on the title if you want to go to the link. For those of you who don’t find advertiser related trade association documents thrilling reading material, I’ll kindly give you the Cliff Notes.

The White Paper discusses incentive bills passed by US State legislatures intended to lure the production dollars of TV, features and most notably, commercials. The financial incentives have become popular in States such as North Carolina, Illinois and Louisiana. They are mostly in the form of tax credits. The paper outlines the process, the advantages, and the competitive nature in obtaining these credits.

On the surface it looks like a win all around. The States attract industry, the American worker stays competitive, and Brands can stake claim to keeping jobs at home. It hardly seems controversial especially for the AICP or ANA whose members would benefit the most from these laws. But, alas there is always something to argue over. The bone of contention is best summarized by the final topic heading in the ANA report, “Whose Money Is It”.

The ANA makes the case that all production incentives belong to the client. The reason being that “in the advertising world marketers give the final approval on production recommendations as it’s their money being spent.” It also states “it is the advertiser who funds the production and gives final approval on the shoot location, not the production company.”

In an open letter to the AICP membership, Matt Miller responded passionately in disagreement picking a part the ANA case for controlling the incentive dollars. In brief, he surmized that production companies are contractually responsible for the production dollars spent therefore the credits belong to them, if not in whole at least partially.

Of course I agree with Matt as it benefits me, but this issue shouldn’t be about who is entitled to taxpayer funded production subsidies. The debate should be about responsibility and liability of the business arrangements the industry enters into daily. I don't believe the issue of tax incentives are mutually exclusive to the issue of best practices but rather they are intrinsically linked. At least they are now thanks to the white paper.

The ANA claims they have final approval off all production decisions. I could dispute this point but I’m going to concede it for sake of argument. Almost every contract the commercial production receives has an Indemnity clause that is non-negotiable. It reads something like this:

“The Contractor (production company) agrees to indemnify and hold harmless agency and client against all claims, actions, damages, liabilities, expenses, and attorney fees that arise out of or in connection with the production of this commercial.”

This is where I get confused. How can a production company hold everyone harmless for money and decisions that aren’t their own? With risk comes rewards and with incentives comes responsibilities. If the ANA membership believes the credits belong solely to themselves than logically they should not only remove the indemnification clause but also hold harmless and indemnify all production companies. Head scratcher. 

Another perplexing statement, “it’s their (the client) money being spent”. I have to ask, when does it stop becoming the client’s money and start becoming the production companies? If it’s their cash when there are incentives, is it still theirs when a union files a grievance or NY State believes there was a violation of a State Wage Theft Law? My brain is hurting.

What about sequential liability? Since it’s the client’s money why do we float the cost of production? Shouldn’t the client give us 100% of their money up front so we don’t have to spend any of our money for their marketing? I always believed it was our company money once the job was contracted. I assumed this not only because it was wired into our bank account but also because we signed a contract accepting liability and responsibility for the production. Have I been mistaken for all these year? Someone catch me, I'm spinning here.

Sarcasm aside, tax incentives are gray areas. The one thing the ANA unquestionably had right is State Incentive Programs are found money. The problem is there is no clear policy on ownership defined by either our industry or the State Legislatures (except NY because the AICP spent money lobbying for it).

This public letter writing debate between ANA and AICP only illustrates the ambiguity. It should lead to something more substantiave such as a formal discussion on the creation of standardized guidelines for tax incentives that applies uniformly to the entire industry. If we successfully created a joint policy all produciton motivated States, including California, would have no choice but to offer tax incentives otherwise lose out on jobs and revenue. Here’s how.

Production companies recommend shooting in States where there are incentives outlining any potential creative drawbacks. If the client believes the financial gain offsets the possible creative shortcomings than the production company can adhere to the agreed upon parameters or withdraw from the project. 

Once the production is completed, the production company is responsible for filing the tax incentives. The production company will be compensated for the additional accounting work based on a negotiated service fee. The fee is fixed and included as part of the production budget since despite no guarantee the incentive will be granted, there is a guarantee that the accounting work must to be done to qualify.

The incentive, if granted, will be divided by ANA/AICP negotiated split. If State law allows for only one party to receive the incentive it will go to the party that files the claim and navigates the bureaucracy. The non-filing party will be reimbursed the cash equivalent due upon receipt of tax credit.

This contractual agreement would be between the client who funds it and the production company who is responsible for it. No agency. No cost consultants. No need. The rules have been negotiated so there is no rationale for third party interference.

I’m sure some clever lawyers and accountants could write up a policy including enforcement and oversight measures. From there a joint committee could meet annually to evaluate the effectiveness of this policy. A tremendous amount of time, effort, money and angst would be saved.

An ANA and AICP joint agreement in the age of distrust and industry uncertainty. A stepping stone for future initiatives that could benefit our entire community. I know it's crazy talk for our efforts to be focused on protecting our interdependent businesses as opposed to fighting over government funded scraps while paving a new path of cooperation.

One week of posting and I'm already sounding nutty.

CYCLE OF ABUSE

I consider today my first official post on the comeback trail. Monday's didn't really count. It was more of announcement than a post. Before diving in I want to thank everyone for their show of support. I recieved emails, Facebook messages, and direct Tweets from many familiar friends, even one from as far away as Peru. It meant a lot. Hopefully I won't disappoint.

Enough with the sentimentality. Let's get to it...

Stop-child-abuse7

In many psychological studies it has been reported that the children of abuse become abusers themselves. If a son witnesses his father physically or verbally abusing his mother he will most likely abuse his own wife. Or, if a child was beaten as a kid they are more prone to beating their own kids. Transitioning seamlessly from victim to aggressor, once obtaining a position of power, is all too common. It’s a cycle that many repeat and few are able to overcome. Helluva of a family legacy.

This behavioral pattern isn’t limited to domestic situations. It occurs in subtler forms in all human relationships.  To illustrate my point let’s take a random example. Hmmmmm. Let me think…how about the advertising production community? That’s a good one.

When Executive Producers, Heads of Production and Company Owners get together it’s a little like group therapy. We share our stories of our perceived abuse at the hands of cost consultant and ad agencies and even our own talent. The one sided bid specs. The late payment schedules. Unpaid overages. Indemnification clauses. Shrinking margins. Should I go on?

We love to commiserate with our fellow victims. We exaggerate both our tales of abuse and our success stories of fighting back. We share our battle scars like a badge of honor while secretly hiding our insecurites from the forces that we rely upon for our livelihood.

What is never discussed is how we identify with the abuser while we ourselves are being abused. We ask a production designer to waive a 6th or 7th day. Pay a supplier late to aid our own cash flow. Negotiate crew rates below our previous paid rate. Expect Producers and PM’s to give free days. Place the problems of under funded creative and near impossible schedules in the hands of freelancers. It is now theirs to solve while expecting them to protect our profit. 

We have all engaged in this practice in one form or another. Some of us are worse than others but I can only assume its become more commonplace as our margins shrink, the economy weakens, and competition increases at a pace only surpassed by market uncertainty. But, we rationalize our behavior.

We aren't mandating anyone to take these deals. The freelancers, suppliers and crews can always say NO.

We try to repay favors.

We’re forced to back into numbers.

We’re doing what is necessary to best service the project and our clients.

We’re job creators.

We’re only acting in the best interest of our business.

These are but a few of the countless ways we excuse our own behavior. But if we change the definition of the pronoun “we” from production company to agency or from agency to client, it’s the same. The oppressor becomes the victim and the victim the oppressor. And it’s justified in the name of "it's business". 

So, abuse begets abuse. The legacy will continue to flow downward from whoever holds the power of the purse strings to those that remain reliant upon what is inside.

I hold out no hope we will ever stop the vicious cycle. It is the byproduct of a capitalist culture. But I do wish, if only for a moment, we could acknowledge the hypocrisy. Maybe even hold ourselves to a higher standard by standing up for those who have limited power in the fight. I doubt the Union leaders will appreciate it but maybe the production teams and even some suppliers would.  It wouldn't change the world but maybe make it our corner somewhat more pleasant, a little less whiny and a whole lot fairer. 

MISS ME?

12 months and a day without so much as a peep or a post. Long time no write. Wow, that’s some bad grammar. See what happens when you stop blogging.

I’ve decided to reboot. Back in Pixels. ProducerPosts the sequel. It’s like the halcyon days of 2010 all over again. I even got a new look. So, why am I back? Or maybe more relevant, why did I leave? Let’s table those questions for now.

Think of my time away as a little sabbatical, a spiritual departure to find myself. They’re very prevalent with Mormons. Between the South Park Boys and Mitt Romney I hear LDS is gaining in popularity, or at least possibly acceptance.

Or maybe my leave of absence was an attempt to emulate Redskin great John Riggins who quit football in 1980 after having what was then the best season of his career. Like Riggins I couldn’t stay away too long. He came back after a one season layoff only to declare famously, “I’m bored. I’m broke. I’m back.”

I’m not bored. I’m not broke although not doing as well as I used to. But I am back. To note, two years after Riggins returned the ‘Skins won their first Superbowl and he was named the game MVP. I don’t know how this corresponds to my comeback but I figure it can’t be a bad omen.

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The more specific reasons behind my sudden departure and illustrious return are many. I won’t bore you with the details. I may want to save it. It could have the makings for a future post when I’m scrambling for material. Also, explaining all the reasons would require a lot of words. I need to ease myself back in. 

Let’s just say I'm back because I have some things on my mind. So, I unearthed the file of un-posted blogs even wrote a few new ones, and this week they'll begin to go public. Some of them may be as my wife likes to say an “inside thought”. But, if there is one thing I’ve learned in the year away, life is too short and the world too complicated to keep quiet. Or maybe I've resigned myself to being a loud mouth or a narcissist or a frustrated writer or a glutton for punishment. Probably all of the above.

I hope you log back in. Good to be back.  

bon voyage

I spent all of Friday in the villa mostly sleeping and popping Advil. My goal was to rally for the Bacon party. Laying alone illing in a villa in the South of France I began to consider the Cannes experience. Before sharing those initial thoughts, I want to finish out my travelogue...

The Epoch crew returned from their day. As the time to leave for the Bacon party grew near no one had eaten. The Danes are renown for their culinary expertise but it was a good bet they weren't serving any pass around hor dourves. John and I took it upon ourselves to find food. We came across a pizza place not to far from the villa. The pizza was unmemorable but the boxes they came in were not. On top of the pizza box was a picture of man cooking pizza who is a dead ringer for George Clooney. Strange. Maybe the owner is a big fan of "Good Night and Good Luck". 

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After eating our mediocre pizza we hopped in our pre-ordered and on time taxis and headed to the Bacon Party. The Bacon Party at Cannes is legendary. It's rumored to be excessive even by Cannes standards. When we arrived I snapped this picture of Christian's t-shirt. It set the tone for the evening.

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The first person I saw was Bacon co-Founder Martin Werner. I told him I was a little ill. He told me the best thing to do was to drink even more heavily. Remember to never seek out Martin for medical advice. I won't go into the details of the Bacon party. I try to keep this a family blog. I'll only share a couple of highlights.

When I entered the Villa I walked into the kitchen. Strewn across the counter were pizza boxes with half eaten pies. On the cover of the boxes were the same pictures of Clooney making pizzas. I guess in the French Riviera these pizza boxes are standard like in the ones in the US that say "Oven Fresh". I began to wonder if Clooney knows about this. Call CAA on Monday.

My other highlight is that I was offered MDMA...twice. I left early to ensure I'd get a cab down the hill. A car was picking me up in 10 hours to take me to the airport. I didn't want to be late. 

In the morning, I awoke again with a fever. Packed, showered, took more Advil, chatted with Brent all the while praying my car would show. It did. Off to the airport. Patti McConnell was on my plane from Nice to London. I didn't find out until the end of the flight. We got to spend a few moments in Heathrow Terminal 5. It was a treat albeit way too short. My flight back took off late and a mere 15 hours later I was home with my wife, kids and dog swearing never to return.

Now some Cannes randomness.

I went to the official Cannes Lion hash tag on Twitter. For all the hoopla around social media and it's impact on the advertising industry it's remarkable how few are active. During my entire four days here, I never saw Cannes Lions trend once. Maybe as an industry we are more voyeurs than participants but if we want to understand it better maybe we should be more of both....

Believe it or not, there is some cool and meaningful stuff going on at Cannes. Being a vendor whose sole purpose it is to entertain the people we service in exchange for access and hope of a future project, I didn't experience any of the value with the exception of Fisher's panel I sneaked into. Thanks to the world wide web and Twitter, I was able to witness it virtually....

Patti Smith performed. I got it on Youtube. To date, 92 views.

 

At the show, they recognized the best slides. One thing advertising does arguably better than any other business in the world is create presentations. You don't have to get far to in this slide show to see why. Slide 5 says simply, "ROI is NOT Purpose. Best Brands weren't born to be the most profitable, but to make life better". Worth the scroll through.

If you go the Cannes Lions website you can see the videos. For some reason they won't let me embed. Not very social of them. No wonder there are no comments. Well, after all, they are French. There is some good stuff though. Martha Stewart. Ken Robinson. And, many captains of industry. 

I won't spend time reviewing the award winners. I've never been a big fan of any awards. Recognition is nice but generally I find awards pretty silly. Case and point. When I turned on the British Airways in flight video system, it asked me to participate in a customer award voting for top airline entertainment system. They gave me the web address to cast my ballot for BA. Two negatives and one positive with this.

There is no wi-fi on the plane so I couldn't vote in the moment even if I wanted to. My system broke down in the middle of my movie. It took 15 minutes to reboot and I had to fast forward to where I left off. Then it broke again. Hardly a compelling case to go home, log on and cast my ballot. Those are the negatives. The positive. It only confirms my feelings about awards....

I bid Cannes adieu, au revoir and adios. I'm not sure I've ever missed LA this much.  

SNAPSHOTS

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