Interview: Laurence Shanet, Cannes winning director, on how to get high-end production without the h
I sat down with Laurence Shanet, one of the founders of Tent Content, a production company based in New York City. Laurence has been behind many of the ads you’ve loved, but never known who did them. He has been a writer, producer and a director, and he is able to craft emotional stories, make us laugh, and turn seemingly impossible creative feats into on-screen realities. That’s why he won CFP’s Young Director Award at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, was listed among the industry’s Top 10 “Directors to Watch”, and has had his work placed in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.
I wanted to find out what he’s been up to lately and get his take on how production has changed over the years.
Larry, tell us a little about Tent.
Tent was the result of a conversation I had with Wayne Best a few years ago. We knew the production world was evolving quickly, and clients would want a new model that served the changing needs of both commercial and content creation. The business needed top industry talent, working quickly and collaboratively, to deliver the highest level of production on smaller (digital, social) budgets. No small feat, but I think we found a way to accomplish it.
How is it different than a traditional production company?
Tent is different from traditional production companies in a few ways. The most significant is that we are structured specifically to maximize the production value of any size budget by keeping a low overhead, and scaling our team to suit each project. Another important difference is that our most senior creative/director team oversees and participates in every project, which means that you’re always getting a level of creative usually reserved only for high end projects. And finally, we seamlessly integrate creative development early in the process, so we know it can be executed well for the original budget. Too often agencies sell work they can’t afford to produce well.
What has gotten easier in the production field?
Getting great-looking film has gotten easier, in the sense that there are so many high quality equipment options available now. There is a professional-level gear package at almost every price point, and it gives us a lot of freedom and creative options, both in production and post-production. Technology may not make the work more engaging, but it certainly makes it easier to get beautiful finished pieces and move more quickly on set and in post-production.
What has gotten harder?
It’s the old “good, fast, cheap: pick two” equation. With an increased need for content, it seems like timelines and budgets are quicker and leaner than ever. And we are unwilling to sacrifice “good”. So we built Tent in a way where we can work quickly without huge budgets.
How does “content” differ from “advertising”?
I think people who treat them as binary are missing the point. If a brand or sponsor benefits from something that they helped create, it’s advertising, regardless of format. And a great ad can also be considered content. With fewer truly captive audiences available, it is an advertiser’s obligation to create both ads and content that provide value to the viewer, whether it’s entertainment or information. It’s always a strategic error to create ads or content that the consumer doesn’t want.
What have you seen happen with production budgets?
Although some complain about shrinking budgets, my impression is that annual budgets are similar to the past. It’s just that people are being asked to create way more content for the same price. So we have to find a way to put every dollar on the screen, rather than into other aspects of production. As the value of “better” content becomes more proven, clients will devote more time and money to it. It shouldn’t be thought of as a cost, but as an investment, and an opportunity to truly build the brand and sell more product.
Anything new happening that you are excited about?
I’m really excited about the potential of VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), and other types of interactivity in production. I’ve worked on a number of projects in those areas in the last few years, and it’s going to be really exciting to see all the things they can offer for both entertainment and business.
What are you working on at the moment?
I recently wrapped the pilot episode of a new episodic series called “Cuff”. It was a fun departure for me stylistically, and it’s a real New York story, which is special to me because I was born and raised here. It’s got hip hop music, S&M, and murder; so you know, all the stuff everyone loves.
What does the future hold?
If I tell everyone that, then I have to kill them. That’s more killing than I’m willing to take on.