LBB – in association with Remote Filming- asks Amazon’s worldwide head of creative production about the role producers should play in making great work, why the right production partners are essential, and the need to take creative risks.

The nature of production as the industry knows it is changing at lightning speed, ushered in by challenges around sustainability, diversity, budgets, and the drive for more content at scale. To discuss all this and more, Remote Filming – the leading remote streaming service technology – is asking the industry’s top production experts about their best practices and the way they’re utilising technology to help overcome the challenges at hand in a brand new series for LBB. 

Anthony Barry, co-founder of Remote Filming says: “We’re all seeing the industry change and evolve before our very eyes. I believe that when it comes to tackling the myriad of production issues, especially sustainability, technology is key. Bringing together the right people and the right technology is how we can make a real difference to production.”

Today, we’re speaking with David Connell, the worldwide head of creative production at Amazon. David’s first foray into producing began at the 2002 Winter Olympics. The role entailed not much more than following a cameraman around as he filmed, keeping the cable tangle-free. Still, even without the glamour that the job title seemed to bestow, David liked what he saw, making it his career. 

Over at Amazon, David is excited about the role that production plays in work and in craft, saying that producers are the ‘third’ creatives in the room, meaning that they’re a collaborative voice of authority and expertise on every aspect of productions. As a leader, David ensures that sustainability and diversity are at the forefront of his team’s thinking, with David encouraging everyone to “live their values.” 

One of David’s ambitions since joining Amazon, was to produce a Super Bowl spot – this year, he made it a reality ‘Saving Sawyer’. To him, the achievement is demonstrative of how inhouse teams are more than capable of creating work “at the level of our agency partners.”

Below, David tells LBB all about how the right technology and partners are essential to overcoming production’s challenges, why risk taking is key to storytelling that connects emotionally, and how an erupting volcano nearly derailed one of his productions. 

LBB> David, what attracted you to production? How did you get your start in the industry? 

David> I have been making movies since I was a kid. My first paying production gig was for the 2002 Winter Olympics to ‘produce’. The interview consisted of whether or not you could coil a coaxial cable and throw it, without it tangling. What I thought was ‘producing’ was actually following a cameraman in the freezing cold during the biathlon competition: coiling and uncoiling cable. I learned quickly that ‘producing’ isn’t as glamorous as it sounds and that in the production world, the path to success is playing the roles that we are handed and not necessarily the roles we would have chosen.

LBB> And how did you land your role with Amazon specifically?

David> I’ve been at Amazon for almost 12 years but a couple years ago, I moved into my current role as the HoP, a role I never really interviewed for. I had about a dozen conversations with my boss, Jo Shoesmith, the now CCO, about what a production department would look like. One day she called and offered me the job. I love the culture here and I love what we’re making.

LBB> What’s your, and Amazon’s, approach to production?

David> I think the production philosophy changes depending on where you work. On our team at Amazon we consider producers the ‘third’ creative in the room and that notion is supported by our creative leaders and creative directors. Producers have a seat at the table, are listened to and valued here and, candidly, it’s expected of them. I am not sure that is the case at other places. I believe empowering producers to influence the ideas between the conceptual and executional spaces results in better work.

LBB> How do you approach the idea of craft in production?

David> You would expect most successful producers would have a preternatural creative problem-solving skill that is mysteriously bestowed upon a few who create everything perfectly, with little thought. In my experience, that’s not the case. The reality is that high-level production is probably 5% talent and 95% craft, and craft is equal parts: taste, trial and error, risk taking, experience and intuition.

LBB> Which industry trends do you find affect production most, i.e. sustainability, diversity, demand for high volume of content, etc. How are you addressing these? 

David> Sustainability and diversity are both priorities for my production team. I think we have a responsibility to create opportunities for and to champion underrepresented voices from the director down to the crew. Production often can influence who gets to be part of that conversation and my team and I take it very seriously. I think sustainability is also a priority for some of the same reasons. How are we being good stewards for the planet? What are mechanisms that are climate-friendly that we can implement that we can push towards becoming the standard practice. I encourage my team to ‘live their values’ in their work.

LBB> What role does technology play, like remote streaming for example, in helping to address the trends shaping production?

David> Remote streaming is a great unlock for production especially in the era of having distributed teams. I think we’ll see a lot more innovation in the space with headset type products that are coming to market and I am excited to see the horizon in that space. We’re seeing new tools developed every day and getting comfortable with new tech allows you to have the concept dictate the technology being used, rather than the opposite.

LBB> What kind of role do production partners play for you in addressing production’s challenges? 

David> Your work is only as good as the partners you choose. Partners who can elevate creative and are collaborative are rarer than you think. I’d wager every producer has a few production partners who they have an incredible amount of trust and are on speed-dial when they need something done quickly and perfectly.

LBB> Which of the productions that you’ve worked on are you most proud of and why?

David> Our latest Super Bowl spot was a signpost for our team. When I took this role, it was my ambition to produce a Super Bowl spot with our internal production team. Some may consider internal brand-side teams are seen as executors of below-the-line work and other lower budget projects but we were given the opportunity to produce work at the level of our agency partners. I wanted to prove our team to be amongst the best brand-side production departments in advertising. Executing and getting industry recognition for a great Super Bowl spot definitely creates momentum for us towards that goal.

LBB> What is one example of a recent project that required the production department to solve a particularly tricky / interesting problem(s)? How did production step up to find and execute the solution?

David>  It was my first (and I hope ONLY) act of God/force majeure in my career. We had a volcano erupt and ground all flights out of Mexico City, and we realised that our onscreen talent for a shoot the next day wasn’t going to be able to make it to LA for our production. We did overnight casting and brought all of our extras in to have them audition, that’s how we were able to keep the production on track.

LBB> Broadly speaking, where should companies be investing in the production process in order to drive the best value and output? 

David> Artificial intelligence and virtual production are the obvious answers. But only as good as the human behind the tech. I think if you approach using these methodologies as a way to enhance the output of your creative work it is better served than using it to cut corners or save money.

LBB> What’s the key to crafting content that really connects with people?

David> The easy answer is emotional storytelling, but more fundamentally: It is risk taking. You have to be unafraid to try new things, get comfortable with failure and be curious about new perspectives to really make ideas that connect with people at an emotional level.