Creatives Offscript: Davey Spens, Stept Studios


By Assemble

September 28, 2022

Davey Spens is the Creative Director of Entertainment at Stept Studios, where he leads a team to create category defining branded entertainment for their clients. In this interview, we discuss his background as a magazine entrepreneur, art director for Glass Animals, producer on Vice and much more, along with his vision for the future of branded entertainment.

Find this episode on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Also available at Creatives Offscript.

Nate Watkin: Davey Spens is the creative director of entertainment at Stept Studios, a title that draws on his experience as a producer and writer for projects from Viceland to YouTube Originals, to Converse and more. Davy spearheads a television style development process mixed with a traditional digital production model to create branded entertainment that leaves, as he describes, fingerprints on culture. Welcome to our show, Davey.

Davey Spens: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Nate Watkin: Absolutely. Tell me your backstory first of all. Where you're from and what did you want to be when you grew up?

Davey Spens: I grew up in Winchester, which is a city an hour outside London, and I never really fit anywhere. I think the trajectory of my life has always been about never quite fitting in kind of any space or environment. I have a print in my house which said, "The things that made you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow." And I think everything about my life has been about being a misfit. So my journey in the creative industry has followed suit. I don't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a pirate when I was 10 year old, and I guess that spirit kind of lived on. I didn't know what I wanted to study, so I ended up studying Egyptian theology and sociology and psychology at university in this kind of weird combined degree and fell into radio.

I had a radio show at university and it won the show of the year. It was a sport show. And so I ended up chasing radio for a couple years before I fell into advertising. And so I suppose the first kind of chapter of my career was spent as a strategist and then as a creative at BBDO in London and the Brooklyn Brothers. And so I kind of started out in advertising, I veered off and explored kind of screenwriting. I wrote a book of short stories for a big coffee chain called Cost of Coffee in the UK, sold a million copies, was strange.

And then launched a design studio with Indie Mag. We're still on a travel magazine that we launched as a little gang of six designers. And then met Pulse Films, and I think it was in an era where a lot of my friends were working in music and I was kind of creative directing musicians and artists. And in that era, Pulse was creating some amazing music films and they kind of asked me to come along as a creative director. So that was my arrival in the world of television and film and it's kind of gone from there.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And I think that's interesting that you say you never really felt like you fit into a box because I think looking into your career, you have touched so many different areas. You were an art director, a strategist, creative director, producer, writer. How would you describe yourself in terms of your unique set?

Davey Spens: I kind of describe myself as an originator. This is full disclosure. I'm not especially good at detail. I'm more kind of a big picture person. And so I've always found, people said to me, "Why weren't you a director?" And I was like, "Well, there's always people who can execute things better than I can." I always feel like my strength is coming up with ideas, originating new thoughts and doing a million things at once. And so I kind of love the ability to work over a portfolio of projects at one time and find space between things and come up with new stuff. So I've always struggled with a job title even before we had this call when we were talking about my job title. Is it a show run or was it a exec producer? I think it's all of these things. I'd just love to bring this kind of instinctive energy to projects.

Nate Watkin: And so as you mentioned, you early in your career bounced around between agency, freelance, creative work, and then eventually founded your own design studio, Boat Studio. Reflecting on that, what would you say were some highs and lows of running your own company?

Davey Spens: I'd left the kind of biggest advertising agency in London, and so I wanted to do something small and it was called Boat because I never wanted it to be bigger than a rowing boat. The number of people you could fit in a rowing boat, and so it was six of us. And the idea was we could just pick projects we liked and work on them. I loved the independence we had. I loved the fact that we could split our time between commercial projects and then this very pure thing, which was this magazine called Boat Magazine, which took everybody in the studio every six months. We picked ourselves up and plopped ourself down in a new city to make a kind of culture publication about a different space. And so we picked complicated cities, Sariova was our first issue. So six of us moved to Sariova. We worked with local writers and creatives there to make this magazine and they've just published it almost as a portfolio piece for the company. But it sold out in a week, and so we just kept going.

The stupidity of it was called Boat Magazine, and you would find it in Bonds and Noble in the boating section. It was a misnomer. But yeah, so I enjoyed the versatility of having my own thing and I still, I guess, try to approach every role I have with a degree of entrepreneurialism and try and carve new space in the roles I have in companies for us to do things that we haven't done before as a company or as a department. And so our approach at Stept to branded entertainment is actually driven by that energy of, well, what do we want to make? And let's go and find some brands who also want to tell those stories. And that's one way that we keep that wide-eyed approach to making things that I think is what creatives are all about. They get most excited about telling stories that have meaning or doing things that are new. And so I try and bring that boat energy to every role I have, really.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And that's a crazy concept. So you say the entire team would move to a new city for six months?

Davey Spens: Every six months for two weeks. We'd move for two weeks and then come back.

Nate Watkin: Got it.

Davey Spens: So it was one of the perks of being small enough was that we could do things like that. So we went to Sariova, and we sent some cheeky emails and made some cheeky phone calls and ended up having amazing conversations with people and then publishing a magazine. And then six months later we went to Detroit and did the second issue. And it was always about kind of complicated cities that normally a journalist would fly into to get one story they had researched and then fly back out of. But it was like, let's just spend long enough in a place that we actually get to understand what it's about and we let the city tell us what to tell. The idea being that if you read our magazine on an airplane on the way to that city, you'd have a totally different perspective on the place you visited. So it was kind of like a deep reading of a place that was incredibly human.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. It's a really cool concept. Seems really ahead of its time too, is almost a little bit like digital nomading before digital nomading became a thing. So really interesting. And so from that company, you then got connected with Glass Animals and were an art director for them. Tell me how that happened and how you originally got connected with the band.

Davey Spens: I had a daughter and I was in the park and pushing her in a swing and there was somebody next to me also pushing their kid in a swing. And we got talking and it turned out that was Paul Epworth, Adele's producer who had just signed this band, Glass Animals when they were playing pubs in Oxford. And so he asked if I would help with the art direction. And so it was one of those very organic things. I had already created album artwork for this Australian band, The Temper Trap. It was the kind of first project I did, pure art project at the Boat Studio, and it won Artwork of the Year. And that was kind of an amazing experience because it led me into doing stage work and live shows and stuff. So when I met Paul he just asked if I would come and help, and so I ended up kind of creative directing their artwork and stage shows for the Zaba album, which was their kind of breakout album, which was a great experience.

I mean it was overseeing an incredible illustrator, Micah Lidberg, who did all the artwork. But the concept was that it was a very conceptual album based on the lead singer, Dave's love for this book that he grew up with that lived in this dream jungle space. So the whole idea, the whole approach to the album cycle was just to create these really immersive jungle experiences and to push that through all the artwork. It came from there and I really played a similar role. I kind of originated and oversaw illustrators and directors and filmmakers and kind of bringing a very visceral world to life.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. That sounds like a really amazing project to work on. Did you tour with them throughout that?

Davey Spens: I did a couple of installations before I left London and then I moved to LA. So actually, I moved to LA over the launch of the record so I didn't get to explore too much with the band then because I was kind of starting out Vice and Pulse in LA.

Nate Watkin: Got it.

Davey Spens: But they've gone on to become the biggest thing. I mean I think the heat wave song they recently had, sat on the top 40. Sat number one in the US billboard for four weeks a year after it was released, which is crazy. So yeah.

I was working at Pulse Films in the London office freelance for about a year and a half before I moved. It was a really interesting time because Pulse had just started a very close relationship with Vice. It was before Vice invested in them, and Vice had a huge office on Abbott, Kinney in LA. So as Pulse looked to push into television and film and branded commercials out in the States, they took a space in the Vice office, which is where the office began. So I joined when Pulse was just starting out stateside, which again was a really interesting time because there was a lot of big high profile projects that Pulse was running through the LA office, including Beyonce Lemonade and things like that. So it was an exciting time for sure.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And was this your first foray into branded entertainment with Pulse?

Davey Spens: I think so, yeah. So having started in advertising, I knew the brand world really well. And the first few years at Pulse, I was kind of thrown into TV and film in a way that I maybe perhaps didn't have that much experience in before. And what was really interesting was being able to talk the language of both and sitting in a space where these two worlds of marketing and branding and entertainment were coming together and finding that in most cases, that they didn't always make such a happy marriage. It felt like sometimes from the marketing side there were creators that didn't understand entertainment and on the entertainment side, producers who maybe didn't quite grasp the nuances of marketing and what's necessary and what's needed. And so it felt like there was this great opportunity to sit in the middle and cast different people around the table.

And the piece I felt was missing specifically was development. A brief would come and then we would jump to a director's treatment, but there wasn't this space actually to develop thoughtful entertainment that happened in the middle. And so my years at Pulse was spent kind of exploring that and feeling that out. We had an amazing director, a roster of directors and so often brief jumped straight to them, and I sat in the middle just wanting to do more development. And I think that's what led me to this push to Stept is, let's try a slightly different model. How can we couple an entertainment development model with digital production? And I think that's where our success is coming from at the moment.

Nate Watkin: And how is that model different?

Davey Spens: Well I mean, so five, 10 years ago, you'd sit at a production company and a brief would come from a major sports brand and it would be, we want 12 films about courage. And then four of our directors would come back with, "Oh, why don't we tell her why don't we make a short film about a female boxer?" And there were only so many films about female boxes that you can watch. And so I felt like, okay, how can I help get to more interesting start points? The television development model for me is how can we get to more interesting start points for branded entertainment? And so that's the process. At Stept, there's kind of two roots in. One is brands come to us asking for us to treat on ideas they already have with RFPs, but the majority of the work we do is coming up with concepts and collections of ideas of things we want to see in the world and then going out with our sales team, and with our relationships with existing brands, to find companies and brands that want to sponsor those films or tell them themselves.

And so I suppose the thing that excites me the most, honestly, are developing those sorts of ideas that we want to make, going out and finding people to tell them. Which was a story actually of this recent project we launched. It was moored off just last week. I was sitting at home in the pandemic and just felt like it would be interesting to tell stories of different corners of America, different subcultures that were finding ways to play. That were grappling with issues of community and belonging. So why don't we find some communities that were creating safe spaces for people to play? And we had a great relationship also, so we talked to the people at Smirnoff, and they told us their platform that they were coming out with was called Vodka for the People, and this was a perfect match. And so we ended up kind of co-developing this series, it's called Come on in, and it's these portraits of America, different communities of America at play.

And it's this super inclusive series of films that are just beautiful portraits of subcultures. So there's a roller skating group in Atlanta, there's the drag community of Chicago, and there's sound system culture in Bed-Stuy, and there are three different directors, three films. And honestly, I think it turned out to be that kind of perfect project for me, which started from a really pure idea of let's create this infectious film that gives people permission to play or just relax a bit and celebrate those safe spaces in America that allow people to live their truth and be a hundred percent themselves. And just randomly it seems a totally align with what Smirnoff were looking for. And so that's a real success for us. It just got the Vimeo Staff Pick. Yeah, it is one of those moments where I wish we could make 10 more of those honestly, of just these collections of pure documentary films that really work against what a brand is trying to communicate too.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. I watched the roller skating one. That one was great. I love that. And it's interesting talking to you. I'm seeing a bit of a through line, it feels almost like Boat Magazine now coming to life in films, exploring the culture that you may not see at first glance.

Davey Spens: There was this amazing series Nokia made with some such called, New American Noise, it must be 12 years old now. And I cite it as maybe one of my favorite ever examples of branded entertainment, and it's very gentle in some ways. It's just six episodes, six different musical subcultures in America and six different directors, and it's amazing. And I spent my whole time at Pulse wanting to try and make something like that. And Smirnoff has some of the same kind of body language. There's something pure about filmmaking. And Stept is an interesting company because it was founded by professional skiers and they were just shooting films because they loved it. They were innovating and finding different ways to shoot themselves in their sport and the company grew out of there. And so at the heart of Step is this love for, and I call it human capacity, the things that we as humans can do and believe and achieve.

They framed it in the world of sport, but I think that spirit is something we're trying to explore in the entertainment department of let's find pure human stories that explore our capacity as people and what we can do, and let's couple it with filmmakers that are visionary and that like to innovate. And that's the formula really, except it's very story driven, very human centric and it's chasing this idea. And when you said earlier that I talked about films and projects that leave their fingerprints and culture, I think there's an appetite in all of us to make things that are worthwhile and are meaningful and they can be meaningful with a small M or meaningful with a big M. They can change things and they can change minds or they can just make someone feel less alone for a second or plan a new thought or idea that inspires them to do something. And I suppose that kind of heartbeat lies behind everything we try and do at Stept, whether it's a commercial or a piece of branded entertainment or whether it's one of the TV series we're taking out at the moment.

Nate Watkin: And to dig into that process a little more, just interested to learn more about the model. So correct me if I'm wrong and actually I'd just love to hear from you as well, but it sounds like you are ideating original content, original series, original everything, between you and the directors on your roster. And then once you have a piece of content that you want to see created and put out into the world, you'll approach brands that you feel like are a good fit and sell them on it to see if they want to sponsor and help create it.

Davey Spens: That's how it's begun. And as a result of that, now we have relationships with three brands that we are development partners of. And so out of sharing ideas that they love and having conversations about the kind of ideas they want to make, we have kind of formalized relationships with three brands now where we work as their development wing of their brand in some ways. And so it's this collaborative idea where I will do a workshop with them and will come away and we'll develop eight log lines up, and we'll go and explore them. One might be a TV thing, one might be a digital thing. And it's this beautiful collaborative process where we can work as partners of brands where we're not just shooting in the dark, but we're using all our origination and power just to come up with thoughtful ideas that can really work, move the needle for our brand in some ways.

So it's almost like the third way we work now is having these, and I think it's a new thing, I don't know many other companies that work like this, but formalized development relationships with three brands and then we have speculative ideas that I'll just develop and then we'll go and take out and have conversations with brands and then we respond to RFPs that come in. And so that kind of mix of things is what kind of swirls around the day to day.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, that's a really interesting model and it reminds me honestly of the studio model where you have a production company and they have a first look deal and you're basically developing in the similar method as you would with the studio, which brings up even more interesting concepts because as they say these days, brands are becoming media companies. And it's not so much anymore about advertising, it's about creating an actual media platform. So that's really interesting that you talk about that, how you fit into that model as a development partner really fueling their content that is that media platform that they're trying to create.

Davey Spens: And I think what's interesting about it is we try to structure it in a really easy way because it's a whole new world for a lot of brands. So the three brands that we are working with in that way, they've all created branded entertainment and content before and maybe felt little dissatisfied with what had been created in the past. And so we just try to create a gentle forum where we can be collaborative and trust each other and start to explore things without working with necessarily their above the line agencies, just working with them to develop entertainment ideas. One's a big financial company, one's a sports company and one's a media brand. And so they're all completely different. And for me, the piece I love most about brand and entertainment is a brand gives you a whole different start point for an idea you otherwise wouldn't have.

So for example, if I was working with a brand like Sephora, it would open up a whole world of thought about entertainment ideas that I wouldn't sit down and come up with for a pure entertainment play, but I'll be starting to explore ideas in the realms of beauty that maybe I wouldn't have thought about if I was just coming up with TV shows in pure entertainment world. And so the pieces that excite me is about coming to more interesting start points for ideas. And every brand is loaded with different springboards, whether it's from the brand, whether it's from product, whether it's from their audience, whether it's from their category, these workshops are amazing because we spend time thinking about each of them. And what ends up falling out are these amazing springboards for entertainment ideas that you'd otherwise never get to.

I think that's the kind of nuts thing about entertainment. It used to be such a dirty word, it was branded content. I saw a guy walking down the street yesterday with a T-shirt and said, I love branded content, and it was an ironic T-shirt. But it was a picture of what the world used to look like and actually what excites me about branded entertainment are all these different start points that could lead to anything. So yeah, we try and create a space that dreams a bit for brands rather it feels like it has to fit into these tram lines.

Nate Watkin: And do you always have a brand in mind when you're concepting or some that's just pure from blank piece of paper?

Davey Spens: Not necessarily. It could come from a story or something that someone sends me or something we see. But I try every month try and think of a different category and develop ideas around a category. So if we're talking about Gen Z finance, you can come up with a lot of interesting things. So for example, it's more about thinking in kind of a category way, developing maybe four or five different ideas and I'll develop them up as almost serious treatments and then go share them with brands.

Nate Watkin: Got it.

Davey Spens: And sometimes, you know what? Within that the collection of films thing is one thing I love the most because we can create a collection of films with this big promise, which can tie into what a brand's looking for. In the end they may just go, "You know what? I really love this story. Let's go make this as a short film." And we'll go do that too. So they're almost like springboards to bigger conversations and sometimes whether someone bites on a series idea we want to make or whether it just leads to an amazing conversation about how we could work together or what we could develop. It's all part of having better conversations and starting them earlier rather than receiving these RFPs that we just need to execute on. I just love the development piece.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Have you ever gone out and won a brand new client with a branded entertainment pitch? Not that you had a previous relationship with shooting commercials or just you don't know me, we don't know you, but we have this incredible idea for your brand, let's go make it. Does that happen or is it usually through an existing relationship?

Davey Spens: It does happen. It has happened in their past that stuck with individual films where a director's found an amazing story they want to tell and then they go find a brand who wants to tell it. And so that has happened. Honestly, I don't know how it happens at Stept, but it happens more often than not. There's a sales team that has great relationships with brands and these conversations are happening all the time. And when I joined the company this was a dream I always had to do at Pulse. I always wanted to do this, a proactive approach and we never pulled it off. And I moved to a company where for whatever reason these conversations are happening all the time. And so there are two or three examples of short films not series that are happening right now that are born from those conversations.

Nate Watkin: Nice.

Davey Spens: So it does happen. The interesting thing is the industry is more open than ever now to these kind of conversations. I think what will create a step change honestly is a little more strategic thinking entertainment strategy for brands where we could almost quantify the why and then we can measure the effectiveness of it. And I think that's one piece at the moment that branded entertainment is missing. I was talking to my friend of mine who works in entertainment strategy and he had a really smart approach. Brands know their audiences way better than streaming platforms know their audiences. It's nice to think if you begin to think of brands as media brands, they have granular data about who their audience is and what they do, who their consumer base is. They know their consumers way better than a television platform where everyone understands its audience. And yet we don't use that information to create entertainment products, we use them in other ways.

And I think there'll be a shift in branded entertainment when we start to employ some proper entertainment strategy around some of the consumer insights that we have, that can show just why it works. And I think there's some logical leaps that happen often as these types of people probably like to watch these kind of shows. And actually we can tell you what shows they watch. We can tell you that actually they skew a little bit more to nonfiction or I don't know what it is, but I think that's really, that's going to be a really interesting phase in the next round of the development of branded entertainment world is actually how we can use insights and data in a more interesting way. And on the flip side, there's a whole effectiveness piece that I think is missing that I think sometimes can be quite hard to score the impact of brand entertainment. And I think that's a piece I'd love to spend a little bit more time figuring out too.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. That's a really interesting point, just brings up a lot of thoughts. I mean you're absolutely right, these brands understand their customers better than anybody and could tailor entertainment around that. And even just to think of the community that would come out of that, building a community of fans around that entertainment that's created specifically for them, I mean for a brand, the value in that is it would be incredible.

Davey Spens: Yeah, I think it's crazy.

Nate Watkin: And so tell me about when you're pitching a piece of branded entertainment, I'm curious how far you go the pitch. I mean I'm sure you're putting together treatments and decks and mood boards and these types of things, but is there ever a situation where you're just like, "We love this idea, we know it's amazing, we're just going to go shoot it and sell it to them after or we're going to put together a proof of concept or something like that?"

Davey Spens: Yes. The answer to that is yes. I think Stept is a company that makes entertainment not just develops entertainment. And I think there's lots of production companies out there that trade in ideas, but Stept has a huge project production team under its roof. Huge VFX team under its roof. We have sound stages, we have kit rental, everything within this company is kind of end to end. And so it enables us to create materials that are brilliant, and so I love to make a sizzle. I'm a writer so I love to write a deck and I was an art director. I love the way decks can look and sometimes you can spend two weeks polishing a 60 page beautiful presentation to know that someone on the receiving end clicks through it minorly and sees 10 slides out of the 60, and yet you can craft a two minute piece of film that blows people away.

And so we increasingly doing a lot more work on the latter side. I would say not so with early pitches for brand entertainment projects, more for the pure TV and film projects we're developing at the moment. They all tend to have a really beautiful crafted sizzle. There's one I would love to show and talk about that's amazing. It's kind of a subcultural series we've just been shooting in Appalachian Mountains and the sizzle's breathtaking. And it's kind of these we are filmmakers, and you can talk about it and you can talk about how important the delivery of a piece, the execution of a piece is, but then you can show it. And I was having a conversation just before this one with the people that we transform, we present about how important it is for branded entertainment pieces to have a creative integrity. And it's something that is really important to their audience, but it's something that's really important to our audience too.

And so when we say we're filmmaker first and story first, being able to talk to a brand, and this is an interesting thing about brand entertainment, how creatively intricate the piece is. I always say we try and brand the frame and not the film. We don't need to see product shots every 32 frames. To work well as a piece of brand and entertainment, I just want to be able to articulate something around the frame of it that lets the story in the middle be pure and work. And I think that's where the idea of developing a thought behind the film that works for the brand is more important than trying to fit the product through it. And developing a platform for the collection of film that really speaks to their audience and what that brand is wanting to do that just allows the films to be films.

And I suppose my approach to things has always been kind of top down and high concepts and developing these kind of powerful collection of film concepts that works through a brand thing so we can be kind of pure in the molecular lining. Which I know wasn't your question because you were asking me about sizzles and making things, but.

Nate Watkin: No, that was great. I mean so much good insights in that. Just has my gears turning honestly. And first of all, as a creative like yourself, it must be amazing to have this production machine with Stept Studios from pre to post where you can execute these ideas. Sounds like a dream. But my next question was, this always comes into the equation whenever you're talking about commerce at the end of the day, but how do you measure the results of branded entertainment?

Davey Spens: I mean this is a big question, I think. Traditionally branded entertainment was seen as a nice to have. It was seen as an extension of a campaign. It was never seen as the campaign itself. And so the hard data tracking of brand entertainment is almost nonexistent. I think often people chase kind of softer metrics and we look at clicks and engagement in a very soft way. I like to think of it as the point of entertainment is to engage, the point of entertainment is to reward someone for paying attention. That was a line Matt Groening said about The Simpsons. He said everyone's going to watch The Simpsons, but I want to reward people for paying attention. And I guess when we make entertainment, I think that philosophy is really smart. It's like, if I'm going to spend time with you, I want you to receive something and feel something.

And so if we are doing our job properly, the films we create will leave a residue and they'll leave fingerprints. Effectiveness for me is about that. Effectiveness for me is creating, is leaving something behind and leaving fingerprints and rewarding someone for spending time with you. So I look at entertainment in that way. If you do it perfectly or people will want to talk about it and they'll share it. If you do it brilliantly, it will reach a big audience. And so I see the virtue of brand entertainment as being a way of brands engaging their audience in a way that is meaningful and purposeful that they maybe aren't doing in other areas. But I think there's lots of work to do about quantifying that effectiveness. And I also think there's a lot more work that should be done about making sure the right audiences and the biggest audiences see it.

Because far too often we're creating these films as almost like a cherry on top of a campaign, but there's not much intention behind how people are reached and how many people see it. And I guess everybody has a slightly different objective as in the marketing department about what they want to do and maybe it's a festival play, and that can work, and a lot of the pieces, we do have a festival strategy behind them, but they don't necessarily have an audience strategy behind them bigger than that. And that's okay if that's the objective. My goal is just to make entertaining films that leave something behind. But I would love collectively as an industry for us to take seriously the effectiveness side of it, to begin to prove the power of these things that we innately feel so that we can do them better and we can do more of them.

Nate Watkin: I mean it is so difficult to measure, and at the end of the day it's about mind share and positioning, I think, in the consumer mind. An example that comes to mind is Musicbed, are you familiar with Musicbed?

Davey Spens: Yeah.

Nate Watkin: We had Daniel McCarthy, the founder, on this podcast and we were talking a bit about. I think they were one of the early pioneers with branded entertainment, honestly, in terms of a tech platform at least. Because they would put out these beautiful films of these behind the scenes or just films about filmmaking. And he told me when I chatted with him that people would come up to give him compliments and he'd be like, "Yeah, but did you like it? Did you leave a comment? Did you share it?" He was always looking for the return. But I mean now there's so many music licensing platforms out there, but I think that Musicbed still stands above the rest. And I think a big piece of that is this branded entertainment that they're doing and the way it's positioned themselves as they connect with their audience.

Davey Spens: Yeah, I think you're right. I think the thing that heartens me the most is how the conversation has moved from kind of branded content to branded entertainment, and how big the industry is becoming and how seriously it's being taken. Because as if the whole thought and spirit behind it is audience first. And I love that, the whole point of entertainment is audience first. And in that beautiful space where what the audience wants to watch and what the brand wants to talk about kind of overlap is where we can create really dynamic ideas that do stick in the memory that there are shared, that do move the needle. Like that Musicbed example, there's a reason why someone will consider one brand over another, and one product over another. And it's about the space that ticks up in their brain and about the experiences they've had and touch points they've had with that brand.

And saying all that, honestly, I decided at the beginning, my favorite example of brand entertainment came from Nokia. And so I don't know where they are now, but that's the conversation, isn't it? Kind of like it's a space in the industry that feels like not the Wild West, it used to feel like the Wild West and now it feels like this kind of very fluid space where new ideas are happening in, there's an appetite for more, and for how things can be shaped in different ways. Someone once told me about the thermodynamics of creativity and how ideas come out of chaos and you call them down into a liquid. And the industry and corporate culture will always try and make it rigid so they know what to do with it, they'll try and make it into a solid. And the trick with creativity is to keep everything as fluid as possible but not be too chaotic.

And I think branded entertainment is in that fluid space at the moment and I think that's why it's an exciting place to be because there aren't too many rules but there are some. And the trick I think is not to try and put too many rigid guardrails around it and make it into a solid that we can do something with. I think the exciting space is where it is right now in that kind of fluid middle where we can experiment with time lengths and platforms, where we have the space to actually just push for a pure festival play. How beautiful as a brief is it when a brand come and says, I just want to do something for the festival circuit in entertainment space. I mean it's perfect for us. And so existing in that fluid middle is nice.

Nate Watkin: And what do you think the future of branded entertainment looks like, and can you think of any recent examples of just really innovative branded entertainment or concepts that are giving you insight into where this is all heading?

Davey Spens: I think the future of branded entertainment is that more and more brands are creating entertainment and that's it. I think the interesting thing is, I was talking to the Apple team yesterday from Apple TV. And what's really interesting is the Apple brand is still the prism within which everything is made. Everything that guides the editorial voice is Apple, and yet it's a streaming platform. And it was kind of a moment where I kind of sat back and thought about how impressive it was that a brand like Apple that could take in the idea of brands as media platforms, and here it is as a streaming platform. And their prism as a brand is the editorial prism with which things are commissioned and created. I thought that was really interesting. So I would say I think they're probably the best example of branded entertainment. And it seems strange because they're the biggest company in the world, but what they've done is actually the purest translation of the idea of a brand operating as a media platform that there is.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, that's an interesting way to look at it and that's very Meta, but it's so true. When I started watching shows on Apple TV, I actually realized a difference in the production and quality. I was watching various series on Apple and I was like, "Wow, these feel Apple." The production feels higher quality, it's crispier, the VFX are incredible. And I wondered at that time if that's something that's actually a part of their strategy. Every show we produce will be of the highest possible production quality.

Davey Spens: There is, and also there's certain subjects they wouldn't touch. They don't touch religion. Everything about it is through the Apple prism. And I think that's just really interesting. I had a conversation with the head of content over there a long time ago and he told me the number of shows they just killed, they shot and killed because they didn't hit that bar of standard. It's the opposite the Netflix approach where everything's thrown into the abyss. It's like there's a bar there, that's interesting. And so I thought that was fascinating because there is a quality threshold there. There's also an editorial tone that goes through the Apple prism about creativity and the kind of a wide-eyed approach. It's very human. You could sit and watch the shows and you could list out the themes and it would all feel like a celebration of everything. Apple is from a very soft space. And so I found that fascinating because I hadn't thought about that before yesterday but there was this moment where I was like, I think actually the purest brand entertainment in the world is the Apple TV platform.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, that's so true. And speaking of streaming platforms, what are you watching these days?

Davey Spens: I watch so much TV. I think it's just one of the things. Until the pandemic, I don't think I watch so much TV. I watch TV and I pick at things. Now, through the whole pandemic era, I've watched so many interesting things. I've been watching The Bear on Hulu because everyone's watching The Bear and then I quite like it. There's a series on Hulu, which is only two episodes, but it's called The School That Tried to Eradicate Racism, and it's a kind of social experiment in British public school that just came up on Hulu. That's really fascinating. I've been watching The Home series on Apple actually, which I think is great. Actually what's an interesting thing in TV at the moment is I get very easily sucked into these four or six hour part, six hour long stories on documentary, true crime things on Netflix and HBO.

And I kind of really love them in the pandemic and now I really questioning the length of things, and I think trying to hit the perfect length for entertainment is going to be an interesting. Someone told me, "Oh you should watch this thing on Netflix." At the moment, I can't remember the title of it now. It was The Girl in the Picture. It's groundbreaking and it was groundbreaking because it's feature length rather than, it's four hour long episodes. And it's not groundbreaking, it's more that finally we're in a space where we can have conversations about length and it's not just about stretching material to the point where it's like Bad Vegan, a show which was kind of stretched the point where I've lost interest. And so I think looking at how things are cut and presented and served up is an interesting space at the moment.

And thinking about format, I used to love anthologies, I still love anthologies, and that we are in an area in TV where anthology is a dirty word, but hopefully it comes back again because I just love. That's my kind of TV. I love kind of setting a framework for things and then exploring it through different lenses. So yeah, I'm a sucker for anthologies. What are you watching TV?

Nate Watkin: I don't get it as much time as I'd like for TV unfortunately, but my favorite show right now is Succession, just finish up the third season of that, huge fan. But I need some new shows, so I'm going to take those recommendations from you.

Davey Spens: Yeah.

Nate Watkin: And so final question, what advice would you give to a 20 year old?

Davey Spens: Well, that's a good question. I sometimes look back at 20 year old me and wish I had a little bit more of 20 year old me about me now. I didn't really sleep, I was had a relentless energy to go do everything and to explore things. I wanted to be a singing songwriter, and I would go off and buy a medium format camera and shoot pictures over here. And there was an energy of exploration, which I loved. I think looking back at my generation now, we were constantly told, we were in that kind of... I'm 41 but I feel like a millennial, I'm not sure if I count as a name. I was of that generation where I was told to make your passion, your paycheck. And as a creative, the thing that makes you feel most alive, make that your job.

And I don't think I'd say that anymore. I love working in the industries that I work in. I sometimes think back to if I stayed in advertising, I would be hell of a lot richer, but I would be so much more unhappy because I love learning and I love new and I love innovation and things like that. But I think as a generation I look at the idea of make your passion your paycheck and then you've won. And I'm not sure that's the case. I think it's okay to have passions everywhere that aren't your job. I think it's great to have pure spaces where you make art and you do things that make you feel alive, but they don't have to pay. And the worst thing sometimes we can do, I think the feeling of stuckness that a lot of people I know feel is because they've sat in that uncomfortable middle ground where the stuff they're making doesn't fulfill them, but they're too tired when they get home from work to do anything else.

And so they've let the joy of their creativity, they've let some things go so that they can continue to have a creative and inverted comments job or role, but they're not making things that make them feel alive. They're not leaving marks in the world that feel meaningful, and they're not fulfilled by the work that they do because their work has to pay them. And I think if there could be just something that would be it, almost make your passion your paycheck feels a generational curse for creatives where I would say you go up, go earn money and do something, but then have that thing that's yours and that is pure, and that doesn't have to pay the bills.

Where you are not scoring engaging the value of your art by the money it brings in. Because I think that's where something breaks in the middle. The irony being branded entertainment used to be that. Branded entertainment used to be that bit where we sacrificed art for money. But yeah, my piece of advice to 20 year old me would be to keep your art pure and to find something you love to work in, but the two don't have to meet in the middle.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, great advice, and a way I've never looked at it because I'm part of that same generational curse as you say, but I love that advice. But really great conversation, really enjoyed talking to you and thank you for joining.

Davey Spens: Thank you, Nate.

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