Creative Conversations: Bradonio + Craig Allen
The Young Guns 11 call for entries opens May 1; until then, you can check out discussions between YG’s and their role models in the Creative Conversations column.
Today, snuggie-clad Bradonio (YGX) and an allegedly naked Craig Allen talk about how to convince clients (and actors) to buy into the bizarre. Their interview initially appeared between the cement covers of the YGX Annual.
Craig Allen: Hey Brad how are you doing? Sorry I am a little late. I had to drive somewhere and then couldn’t find service, blah, blah, blah. Now I’m totally nude and ready to go.
Brandonio: Good, I’ve got my Snuggie on. Our ideas are quite similar in that they’re usually pretty absurd and awkward and a lot of the times a bit magical. Such as beards that move around and eat. A lot of the Old Spice ones obviously are over the top. So when it comes to pitching these, do you find it difficult when you’re kind of like, “And then all of a sudden the guy has a beard and it feeds him Skittles. Trust me it’s really funny and awkward”. And they kind of go, “Yeah sure. We trusted you on the last ten spots, but we just don’t see the point.” Or they are pretty game at this point?
Craig: It was funny, with Skittles, it was a slow growing sense of trust. So the beard is a great example where they kind of said, “I don’t get this and I am pretty sure it’s really weird, but you guys have been successful so I guess we will go with it and hope for the best”. But yes, you just present it and explain it. I find it’s always better to ground it in some kind of truth as much as you can, or at least if you’re selling something, check off all of their boxes like, “I thought you wanted it to say that it’s long lasting. This says that right?” And then you just convince them that they came to you for this kind of comedy. Go with me, hold my hand and let’s go on this magical journey together. (...) But as much as I can I try not to be weird for weird sake and ground it in something so even though it is really weird, it still makes sense and it’s always got a reason.
Bradonio: And that’s more now that you guys have that established. But what about when you first got these clients?
Craig: Our creative directors had done some great stuff before them, kind of setting it up a little bit, so it was a little easier but they were still really uneasy. So what we did for Skittles was make a reel of what kids are watching because they thought kids were watching these happy cartoons. We showed them Sponge Bob, Tim and Eric Awesome Show and all these things that are radically crazier than anything we are doing. And when you show them that here is what kids are watching, like Family Guy and that kind of stuff, all of a sudden it doesn’t feel that crazy. It feels slightly normal.
As a director I think you obviously have a very funny sense of humor and a very unique weirdness, which I think is great. So I think you just kind of keep pushing it out there and then as people start latching on and you do more stuff I think you will get the people that want that kind of stuff. It might be tough at first but once you get the attention, people will come to you for that weird stuff because you are not like every other director.
Bradonio: There’s also the catch twenty-two and I’d be interested to get your perspective on it from the agency side. So as the director you can’t get the big one until you’ve already done a big one but…
Craig: Yes of course.
Bradonio: Is there any room for internal pitches? I know that in front of the client and for a big budget and proper thing you’re not just going to jump for the new person, but is there a situation when a project might allow you to be like, yeah go ahead and submit it on a spec. Is there any sort of room for that?
Craig: We get approached by a lot of directors asking, “do you have any spec scripts?” Which a lot of times, at least for us we’ve had to write back and say no because they are always owned by whatever company we write them for. So it’s kind of awkward. We have very few scripts that are not tied to any products. Have you ever thought about like getting representation through a production company?
Bradonio: Yeah, I’m signed with a company called East Pleasant.
Craig: Yeah, cool. That’s how you get a lot of spots right away. It’s like, “You know Tom Kuntz is busy, but we have this great new young guy, can he just throw his hat into the ring?” I feel like that’s how we tend to find the new directors.
Bradonio: Yes, always inside the system and always right next to the person who is booked up?
Craig: Right, it’s not the best way. It is hard like you said to come out. I think that those music videos seem to be a great way because that’s a cool way for you to do pretty much whatever you want and show your style in the easy way.
Bradonio: I’ve done some spec commercials that get really good reactions, but then in the end they are not really attached to something. Even the music videos done on a whim for a group are at least official, so the blogs will pick them up.
Craig: Yes, that’s an interesting thing because I can see them saying, “Oh, it’s spec.” But the music video is the music video.
Bradonio: What about when it comes to looking at reels? This guy has a couple of commercials and some good music videos and a couple short films. Then there are those other things around the peripheral, away from the 30’s or the 60’s? Do you look at him and say, man did you see what he did on that music video? Did you see that short film? Let’s use him for our commercial.
“A new great place for a young director to play is in the interactive space, because usually you don’t have a big enough budget to go with a giant director.”
Craig: I think that happens a lot actually. There have been many times we’ve gone with a director based on some longer form stuff or some interactive stuff. A new great place for a young director to play is in the interactive space because usually you don’t have a big enough budget to go with a giant director. We’re doing a lot more interactive projects and I think it’s a lot easier for creatives to take a chance on this director with an interactive thing. And it usually comes up better than if you had gone with sort of a big director where you couldn’t afford to do as much.
I remember when we did the first response campaign. We had done a bunch of really small interactive stuff before that. When we did that, it was again done on a shoestring budget and it blew up. Of course the second one was probably double as expensive and double as many eyes looking at it. So it’s kind of fun to be out of the gate with that first thing because I am sure whenever we do something again with Terry Crews, everybody will be looking at it and there will be a lot more approvals and probably bigger budget and that’s not always necessarily the best thing.
Bradonio: Yeah. It’s like that pressure to replicate versus having the room to innovate.
Craig: Exactly. We reached that place with the Isaiah campaign where it’s hard to top yourself.
Bradonio: Getting back to Skittles, how did it work with the other characters where you’re casting and it might be some unknown actor? Are they usually like, “yeah let’s go on this is a lot of fun,” or are they ever looking at you like, “what are we doing?”
Craig: The beard guy actually saw the script and said he wanted to read for it. But most of the time I am not sure, especially on Skittles, if the actors knew what they were getting into. I remember the piñata guy, he came in and performed and we thought he was hilarious. We cast him, and cut to two weeks later we were gluing 800,000 pieces of paper on his skin and I could tell in his eyes he was kind of like, “What is happening?”
Bradonio: I always wonder during casting if I should like give the disclaimer then or later on the crazier parts like that.
“You say that it’s going to be so easy and fun. And then at the shoot say, sorry you’re a piñata.”
Craig: Oh, I think you give it later on. You say that it’s going to be so easy and fun. And then at the shoot say, sorry you’re a piñata.
Bradonio: When you were named Young Guns you were an art director, right? And now you’re a creative director so that’s totally different. Do you miss being an art director?
Craig: Oh yes for sure. I think probably every creative director struggles with that because now all of a sudden you go from something where you’re writing scripts and you are the creative process to being paid to not do the process. You’re kind of paid to steer people down the right route. So it’s a different job and I definitely miss writing. I’m trying to take some separate writing assignments just to keep myself from getting rusty. I definitely enjoy being hands on. I remember my old partner and I would fight over individual words on scripts. So to go from that to not getting to write half much is a bit of a bummer. But it’s a fun new challenge.