Q&A: The-Artery EP and MD Deborah Sullivan on VR Production, Indie Film and More

Award-winning producer Deborah Sullivan has enjoyed a wide-ranging career — leading advertising production departments for DDB NY, FCB and others, holding EP Positions at @Radical.media, Red Dog Films and The Bomb Factory, and serving as founding partner of the independent agency Berlin Cameron and Partners. Her brand work has included collaborations on projects for Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Samsung, FedEx, the NBC, Nike and Reebok among many others. Her recent experience includes tenure as MD and EP at NO6 and Peepshow Post before landing in her current position as MD and EP at New York’s The-Artery.

Watch The-Artery’s wild visual homage to the 2019 Eurovision competition, below, then read our Q&A with Sullivan about the New York market, the efficiencies inherent in VR production, the evolution of The-Artery, and more.

StudioDaily: What’s the client mix like at The-Artery, and how is it changing over time?

Deborah Sullivan: We are very proud to have partnered with a diverse array of collaborators ranging from industry powerhouses such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon to independent film producers, major film studios, and television producers to advertising agencies, brands, museums, and universities among many others.

Over the years, our work has evolved significantly from its VFX beginnings to encompass a broad spectrum of visual arts across graphic design, branding, architecture, experiential installations, creative development, and video production. What we have found in our studio is that opportunities continue to open up for us when clients are involved in the creative process. This led us to work closely with our partners on not only the conception, but also the execution of ideas. We find this is really where the doors begin to open for us.

What kinds of business dynamics are at work in the New York market?

New York City is a mecca for creative talent and work. Obviously, the film, television, and advertising industries contribute heavily to the business dynamics of this scene, but with the influx of tech disruptors like Google and Facebook, the intensity of the creative tech market has really started to heat up. This presence has become a creative influencer on the work coming out of the market. Add that to the arrival of Netflix and similar streaming giants. NYC’s creative hub is experiencing a boom.

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The Farewell

What are your clients looking for these days — and what’s clicking with audiences?

Clients are generally looking for uber-collaborative, cost-effective, and creative partnerships. Based on the incredibly well-received and highly-praised independent features we’ve been involved with — The Farewell, The Lighthouse, Midsommar, and Vox Lux, to name a few — I would say that today’s audiences are clicking with smart, emotional, intriguing, and beautifully told narratives.

How do you find the best approach to a given job, and how can you measure the success of a project?

We have five aspects for every project that we measure: Creative, Technical, Budget, Schedule, and Client Interface. Our approach going into the job and our measurements of success at the end of it are scored from these principles.

How do you cultivate the creative environment at The-Artery and make it possible for your artists to do the most effective work for clients?

As a general principle, we don’t hire artists to fill in a mere job description. Instead, we build our talent search around every artist’s unique strengths, needs, and desires. This is not a conventional process and requires more managerial attention to set up and maintain, but it also creates a unique internal drive for each member of the team.

How do you address — and increase — diversity on your team?

For us, diversity is neither a buzzword nor exclusive to gender identity and race. Diversity also encompasses creative approach, education, age, and personality.

What recent technological or creative innovations have positively influenced the quality of your work?

The ability to work more fluidly within VR production to create projects. VR offers the possibility of integrating everything from camera bodies to the anamorphic lenses, answering creative requests in real-time. Additionally, lighting, production design, and performance can be set up well ahead of time by individual designers as opposed to a specific shoot day. VR can also help to avoid costly reshoots, as they are a much more affordable option within a VR environment. The list goes on for how VR production can cut costs and improve better use of time. In our own work, we’ve found it to be incredibly valuable.

Still from Mercedes Benz:

The Mercedes Benz: “First” spot is entirely CGI, created using VR technology and virtual camera techniques.

Tell us about a recent project that shows The-Artery at its best.

A recent campaign for Mercedes-Benz really pushed us in a new direction, which forced us to experiment with VR production for the first time. When we were tasked with it, we treated the campaign as a film rather than the usual CG job, bringing in a seasoned team of filmmakers with backgrounds in cinematography, editorial, VFX, and technology to tell stories instead of building a team of digital artists. Then, together with Nurulize, a real-time collaborative VR software startup, and our VFX supervisor, Rob Moggach, we leveraged their deep knowledge of the software to shoot the commercial as a traditional film crew, but within a virtual environment.

In the end, it was a risk that paid off and continues to open up new pathways of creative thinking at The-Artery. Virtual productions seem to encourage a flexible, but focused process which leads to faster and more efficient results.

What has inspired you recently?

Very recently, we launched The-Lab, our hub for creatives, startups and visual storytellers to not only develop their own operations but also have a greater opportunity to collaborate. The opportunity to help evolve this creative ecosystem and be around so many driven people, all on their own paths, has been super inspiring.

The space’s sense of community and dedication to pushing creative boundaries is perfect for incubating new business and client relationships while embodying the values, character, and style we work hard to encourage at our company. That spirit and energy leads to almost instant and frequent collaborations between directors and producers to designers and technologists – organic partnerships that happen all the time. Given more time, our hope is for The-Lab to evolve into a robust creative community providing mutually beneficial relationships across the system.

The-Artery: the-artery.com

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