Creativity in Corporate Film: 7 Lessons in 7 Minutes

08 Feb 23 Rachel Pearson


'Corporate films' suck. They don't affect positive outcomes, retained messages, & changed behaviours. So, how can we inject creativity into corporate film? Paul speaks at EVcom 2023 about the lessons Tilt took from creating the multi-award-winning, Smashed Online films.

This month our effervescent Director of Creative Strategy and Content, Paul Mallaghan, gave a talk at EVCom. During a breakout session called ‘Corporate Film as a Creative Solution’, Paul broke down 7 lessons we learned from making the Smashed Online films.

We’re not big fans of the term ‘corporate film’ and all it evokes. It sounds like an obligation. Something forced on unenthusiastic employees as a checkbox exercise. Not something that’s going to be remembered for its positive impact.

Creativity is the antidote to what we know as a ‘corporate film’. Changing our attitudes to what they can be is also key to enjoying what we do as creatives! It means we create film experiences that are more likely to transform behaviour and beliefs. It gives us a deeper sense of artistry and satisfaction in what we do. It means something. Why not reach for more from our internal communications?

Paul spoke on this, and 6 other important lessons for creating multi-award-winning work with Smashed Online. So without further ado, here are 7 Lessons in 7 Minutes at EVCom…


Learn more about Smashed Online by taking a gander at our case study and seeing the films we created.

If you want to tackle change in your organisation, then film is a powerful way to do it. Get in touch for a chat about how to go about it.

Video Transcript

PAUL: Diageo came to us and they asked us how can we reach 10 million young people all around the world and help educate them and help to well really shift attitudes and understanding of young people around alcohol. The project is called Smashed. I’ll give you a flavor then I’ll explain what we did and why we did it.

PAUL: So we created an hour-long interactive drama and it’s live in 25 countries and in every country there’s a new version. So we’ve made 25 different films in different countries from Peru to Indonesia to North America to Belize. It’s been a really interesting experience and we’ve learned a lot of along the way. So what I thought I’d do is I would share with you seven lessons in seven minutes.

I think I have bang on seven minutes left.

So seven lessons from Smashed.

First of all, should it even be a film? A weird question. This is a session about using film creatively for clients, but we had this discussion right at the start and I think a lot of people don’t even think about this right at the start of a brief and a project for us. We were trying to make something that could adapt all around the world. So a lot of it was maybe we could use animation?

I found this in an old proposal. It’s almost ridiculous. A mood board for what Smashed could have been at one point because with animation you could use VOs and you could adapt it to different countries, would be cheaper. It’d be quicker, but would it be as effective? So we made the case for film because film is real and film was a beautiful way to tell a story and we wanted to have young people see themselves reflected in the stories that they’re watching. So we made the case for film.

The next part is know thy audience. I mean everybody says this, I contend that few people actually do it go to the trouble of understanding who it is you’re trying to reach so you don’t have to spend like months doing intensive research. You can do some gorilla user research and find out a little bit about the audience you’re trying to reach. We we had done quite a lot with Smashed but as an example, this was during Covid.

And what we thought we’d do is we got a 360 camera and we did a remote focus group out in the wild in the park so we could do it without breaking laws and we just got some insights into the sorts of pressures that are facing young people around alcohol. We did that several times and it gave us loads of useful insight.

Okay, it’s not a corporate film. Just take that phrase out of your head. This is something we never say even though we do all kinds of films, particularly for this one. We were thinking let’s make something that is as good as a Netflix drama.

It’s a chilling effect. When you say to yourself that you’re making a corporate film. I know that’s strange given the nature of this event, but I would say try and aim as high as you possibly can and tell yourself you’re going for the Palme D’or.

Something similar, bad script equals bad film. I don’t know, probably a bunch of you’ve had this fairly regularly. Clients monkeying with your words changing the flow, the pace, the tone whatever it is. You’ve got to fight for it and we were really lucky with Diageo. They were an incredibly trusting client and we earned that trust and we made sure we used that trust wisely because if you get the script wrong everything flows from that and it flows, you know, you need to make sure it’s right. So whack away any hands that want to dabble or put it through ChatGPT or whatever they want to do. Don’t let them near it.

This was a really slightly surprising thing to us because we had assumed that every country in which it was launched would want to make a lot of changes to the content.

Actually working with production companies all around the world, amazingly, I would say, that the Dynamics of the relationships of the story stays the same nearly in every case.

In England, we filmed the initial version of Smashed and we filmed Parvin Skate Park. In Indonesia they don’t have skate parks so commonly so they filmed theirs in a basketball court. That’s, like, about being specific and culturally relevant.

But the relationships with the characters, the underlying drama, always stayed pretty much the same. So it was really nice for us to see that script and that film kind of take shape all across the world. This one’s from Peru. It was an absolutely beautiful film really artfully shot and it was fun to see just how different countries, Mexico, they all had different color schemes and different ways, was great to see it come to life.

Avoid gimmicks. Okay, so I mentioned earlier about interactivity and you might have seen Netflix show called Bandersnatch Black Mirror episodes that sort of thing.

Is so tempting to do those kind of things because it’s different. It’s innovative. It’s a bit alternative. We love that sort of stuff, but we have to sort of tell ourselves off now and again because innovation has to serve the story. And so we originally had a really detailed tree diagram of how this story might play out. You make a choice here and you go there and this happens. We had to pair it right back because we thought what purpose is it serving?

So what we actually included, in the end, was things like the ability to have these little FaceTime conversations with the characters. So the young people when they’re watching this they have these moments where they have, like, interactive conversations because we’re trying to help them understand what’s going on in the minds of the characters and what it means for them and how it’s affecting their lives. It gives them a completely different slant on the narrative. So it has a purpose. I just say, I love a gimmick, but make sure it’s there to serve the story.

Choose your weapons wisely.

Some of this reminds me a little bit actually of the talk earlier. I thought there’s a few really good points about restrictions breeding creativity because actually, we try to use our restrictions to our advantage. We don’t have the budgets of a Netflix film, like we might aspire to that, but we don’t have those budgets but this was a five day shoot and within that, we had to make a 30-minute narrative piece and we had to do about 20 minutes of the confessional films, the interactive conversations.

So what we did was we just picked equipment and kit that really served what we wanted to do. So we had a really lightweight crew that we could just get that sense of like being part of the gang. So it was a story about three friends you want to feel like you’re in there. So we just, we didn’t want ten cameras or anything like that. We just kept it really light and tight. We filmed those conversations on an iPhone. So we didn’t we just get away with all the fluff and this for example, here is something called a Snorri cam rig. It clamps onto the front of an actor and it just does enough to make you it gives you this really weird effect because it looks like you’re right up close in the face of the actor and it feels like you’re a little bit disorientated and inebriated if we don’t go nuts, but it just gave enough. So pick your weapons. Dan, by the way, at the back of the room who’s a colleague of mine, he will happily go and hire 50 helicopters if he’s allowed! But just pick what you can with the budget you’ve got.

That was my seventh but my bonus lesson is, just very quickly, is that s**t will go wrong. We know this because we make films and actually the same thing that I think is Richard earlier with his brilliant talk about creativity and the idea of divine accidents. I think if you get all those other things right, then it’s happy s**t  because you’ll be prepared. You’ll know what’s going to happen. And the divine accidents will be a lovely thing and you’ll get through it because, after all, anything worth doing is always a little bit difficult. So those are my seven lessons from a project called Smashed.

Thank you very much.

End transcript.

Photo credits: EVCOM 2023 Conference, London, UK. Photo©Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos