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Kate Morrison: “We Need to Change our Understanding of Craft”


72andSunny LA’s director of production explains why great craft doesn’t always mean ‘expensive’, and how all producers can learn lessons from hit shows like Squid Game

Kate Morrison: “We Need to Change our Understanding of Craft”

The growth of film and episodic content over recent years has resulted in a rise of cinematic quality across advertising. As craft in filmmaking continues to push the boundaries of commercial content, Dublin-based post production powerhouse Screen Scene partners with LBB on the Meet Your Makers channel for a new series exploring the ever blurring line between entertainment and commercial film.

Speaking with heads of production, agency producers, production company owners and executive producers, ‘Craft Where Worlds Collide’ will discuss how entertainment and commercial trends are reshaping the quality of content that consumers expect from advertising, and what this means for production.

As the director of production for 72andSunny LA, Kate Morrison knows a thing or two about craft. The agency’s work for Adobe - including the multi award-winning ‘Fantastic Voyage’ - is some of the most immaculately-produced in the industry. Meanwhile, innovative campaigns such as Swipe Night for Tinder have pushed boundaries in the production world. 

Here, Kate reflects on what producers can learn from the explosion of premium streaming content, why ‘the idea must always have primacy’, and precisely how we should define craft itself… 

LBB> What does craft mean to you, and how important is it to the effectiveness of advertising? 

Kate> I think craft is the entire making process. It’s the sum total of every single decision you take. So ‘craft’ is not necessarily one thing, it’s the result of about three million choices that get made. And the goal of craft is to bring an idea to life in a way which resonates with its intended audience - which is of course where effectiveness comes in. So, yes, it’s incredibly important to effectiveness. 

For us, craft is the answer to the question we ask at the beginning of every project: “what will it take to make this story exceptional?”. So if we look at a couple of things we’ve done recently, Tinder was very much about creating a sense of immersion as well as fluidity in the product to spark connections. So our craft process was driven but that desire to create immersion in that case. 

With Adobe’s Fantastic Voyage, on the other hand - which is something that you might generally call a ‘highly crafted’ piece of work - the reason it was crafted that way is because it needed to transport you to a place where you let your imagination run wild. That ended up being a subway because, well, who hasn’t daydreamed on the subway? 

LBB> Those are two immaculately produced campaigns - but the last time we spoke to you, you mentioned how impressive you found the Ocean Spray TikTok which went viral in 2020. So how can a brand know when to focus on ‘craft’, and when to try and strike gold with something low-fi like that?

Kate> So here’s the thing: I think what is in our lexicon as the definition of ‘craft’ can be quite unhelpful at times. We tend to equate it, essentially, with being expensive, sometimes over-thought, and frankly requiring a whole bunch of equipment. But I don’t think that’s what ‘craft’ means - in fact, I don’t even think that’s what ‘quality’ should mean. 

As I mentioned, craft is the answer to the question of what you need to make something exceptional. That Ocean Spray thing - that was perfectly crafted for what it was. You could give me a million dollars and an amazing director, and I don’t know that we could make it like that. 

To use another example, there was an NFL campaign we did called ‘We Ready’ which used a clip from inside a locker room which we obtained. If we’d have gone in and set up a whole shoot, I don’t think we could have recaptured the raw energy you see in that clip. So the question to go with that clip, which was undoubtedly the right one, is a question of craft. 

Above: The decision to use found footage, rather than organise a shoot, for the NFL’s ‘We Ready’ spot is an example of craft in action.

I don’t know if you’ve been watching Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary, but for me that’s another example of great craft. It’s amazing, the visual language is unbelievable and you totally feel like you’re a fly on the wall. But that’s not because of lighting rigs, or multiple cameras, or because it’s been endlessly storyboarded. So the fact that we always equate ‘craft’ and ‘quality’ with those sorts of things invariably does both those words a disservice, in my opinion. 

LBB> So in that case, what’s the secret to finding the right answer to that fundamental question about how to bring an idea to life in the best way? 

Kate> A lot of it is about having strong agency relationships. Understanding what a brand is, and who its audience is, will get you most of the way there. So in the case of Fantastic Voyage, that was always intended to be a sort of tentpole moment for Adobe as a brand which secured big media placements. So we understood that to mean a big, polished film - which, by the way, only works because it has that emotional heft of being something to which so many of us can relate. I think everyone’s been on that subway carriage at some point in their lives. So that ad takes our imagination and pours a bit of gasoline onto it, so that we believe we can do more with our imaginations. It’s a human story at the end of the day. 

Above: Great craft allowed Adobe’s ‘Fantastic Voyage’ spot to ‘pour gasoline’ on the human imagination… 

It just so happened that the best way to bring that human story to life was to create this polished asset which makes people sit up and take notice. But there’s another campaign we’re working on now with Adobe, which is aimed at a younger audience that will intentionally feel less ‘perfect’ than Fantastic Voyage. Again, that’s because it’s the right approach for that particular idea. 

To really answer your question, I always encourage producers to get as close as possible to the strategy of any particular campaign. That way, you know that you’re making all of those micro decisions which add up to ‘craft’ with the best possible holistic sense of what’s needed to deliver the right end product. 

LBB> Has the fact that there’s been such an explosion in premium entertainment content, particularly on streaming platforms, added another challenge in your opinion? 

Kate> Only insofar as it’s giving us more lessons to learn. We often think about the challenge of hitting the cultural zeitgeist as a kind of math equation - but, so often, the math doesn't add up. The Beatles documentary is one example, in that it’s not obviously clear why that’s struck such a chord right now in the way that it has. 

Another, potentially better, example I’d use is Squid Game. There was no TV logic which would have pointed towards that being such a massive hit, but in raw numbers it’s probably the biggest entertainment event of 2021. What gives? Those are questions that a producer should be asking themselves. 

Above: Producers, says Kate, should ask themselves what drove the phenomenal success of Netflix’s Squid Game in 2021.

LBB> Could it be because those shows were quite clip-abble, and people found it easy to make and share memes of them? With Squid Game, for example, I think many people’s first interaction with the show would have been images of that giant robot girl they saw online… 

Kate> Sure, that could be it. Let’s be fair, though, the art direction of Squid Game was absolutely impeccable across the board. Personally I didn’t enjoy the show’s content that much, because it asked some pretty uncomfortable questions about the nature of humanity. But despite that I wanted to carry on watching because I wanted to see more of the scenes and the iconography. Even down to stuff like the matching pink jumpsuits, and the way they created their own visual language with the shapes which we ended up seeing everywhere across culture for a little while. 

So, again, I think the best lesson to take is that craft is the sum of many, many decisions which get made over the course of a production. And if you’re approaching those questions with honesty about what it takes to make an idea great, then you’ll be successful whether you’re making an ad or a show on a streaming platform. 

LBB> So as the line between art, ads, and entertainment blurs, do creatives increasingly need to adopt a multidisciplinary approach? 

Kate> The idea always has to have primacy. In terms of creative talent, I think it’s less about being ‘multi-disciplinary’ in that you’re just dipping in and out of different silos, and more about being consumers of culture. 

That’s what we look for in people - being engaged and leaning into what you love through cultural experiences. If you’re pulling references only from ads in order to make other ads, that’s the wrong space to be in. 

LBB> And finally, does that sheer amount of creative diversity ever leave you feeling overwhelmed? 

Kate> Ha, well I think you’re asking the wrong person - I’d much rather learn how to do something new than repeat something I’ve done before. I think we should be welcoming the potential that digitisation has afforded us as producers. It wasn’t so long ago that an ad had to be precisely 60 seconds or 30 seconds, and a TV show had to be exactly an hour or thirty minutes. Today, you have so much more room to manoeuvre and, no, I don’t find that overwhelming. I find it invigorating. 

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Screen Scene, Fri, 14 Jan 2022 15:07:10 GMT