Ali Azarmi started his career in Advertising in 1987 in Publcis Graphics London Office and came to Dubai in 1993. He was the executive creative director at BBDO until he left in 2004 to work as an advertising consultant. In 2008, he established the Middle East branches of Joy Films UK ([email protected]) with his partner Mehdi Norowzian.
His recent work includes the TVC for Dubai Properties’ 1/JBR campaign.
1. Having been in the industry for so long, what are the changes – good and bad – that you have seen?
In the UAE, one cannot consider changes in any industry independently from the epic transformations in the UAE itself. When I arrived to Dubai in 1993, there were a couple of production companies and a handful of audio-visual studios. The film production industry was dependent on the advertising industry, which in turn was – and is –dependent on competitive brands.
The creative standards in the region have drastically improved across all media, agencies and production companies. The region is on par with other international hubs of creative excellence. The UAE is the inspiration and reference. We have seen this new confidence and desire to shine throughout the region.
But, the establishment of the UAE Production Forum is the most significant single event to impact our industry and the sooner people realize its potential, the faster our industry will progress and prosper. Because after several attempts over the past 15 years, the few dedicated and committed production professionals have made the time to make it happen. It is understandable that it is more difficult for small companies to devote the time and energy necessary to propel the Production Forum forward for the benefit of all but there are individual freelancers and well-established companies working closely as a team. As a group, we have a stronger voice to negotiate and influence; to set industry standards and best practices; to propose strategies to relevant authorities, and to bring more business and talent to the UAE. We have already initiated plans and studies for freelance talent and economic evaluation of our industry.
We hope that our achievements so far will encourage and inspire more members and greater participation.
2. What are the biggest challenges facing production houses?
Everything considered to be ‘mainstream’ is being challenged and that has always been the case. It is part of the process called progress. The only certainty is that standing still will make you irrelevant. So, I would rather see challenges as opportunities. The digital revolution has made an impact on every aspect of our lives. It has facilitated an easier way of living and working and therefore opened the possibilities for many more players that are better positioned to be more cost efficient. The old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ no longer applies. ‘You get a lot more than you pay for,’ is more like it.
Another opportunity is to increase transparency and trust; hence the necessity for standard best practices. Agencies need to become and be seen as consultants and respected experts in their field. They need to be paid their dues and on time. As clients, agencies need to regard their production companies with equal respect and trust. Whenever this happens great things become possible.
There are perhaps too many fish in this pond an far too many ‘production companies’ and creative agencies etc. and more are coming from Europe.
3. What aspects of production need improving the most?
Many great productions have taken place in the UAE and the better production houses are defined by their consistency. However, the biggest opportunities lie in the growth of the talent pool locally. We need more actors and better tools to seek them out from within the UAE and abroad. We need a greater diversity of stylists, art directors, directors, etc.
The importance of Sound and Audio production is severely underestimated. The power of great visuals and stories will be dramatically reduced with a poor voice-over delivery. Currently far too much emphasis is put on the tone of voice rather than the delivery style. Music and sound design, and the general audio production are neglected.
4. Moving forward, what do you see as the biggest growth areas for production companies?
In my opinion, we have to move into Entertainment. Even communication has to become entertainment to be effective.
Production houses should become more international in their mindset and not limit their expertise to the local market. The best of the London-based production houses, for example, don’t shoot in London or even the UK. They shoot wherever they need to be for best locations, weather, light etc.
5. Have production companies been thwarted by the rise of content creators, influencers, and cheaper, more accessible methods of production, and how they are dealing with that?
You either absorb change and become a driver of it or you become a passenger. The truth is that low cost does not necessarily mean cheap or low quality. Nor are these production practices threatening the industry. Only the lazy and negative minds think that way. Because, in fact, budget productions with decent quality or even sometimes with amazing quality, work with a completely different formula – small units, in-house talent, different equipment, improvisation, etc.
They are, in effect, raising the standards of lower scales to a much higher level thus reducing the gap with the top layer of high-end productions. They challenge the mainstream and the high-end to raise their bar to maintain the gap. This pushes many out of their comfort zone who react by blaming challengers.
6. Are independent content creators and social influencers taking away from what used to be the production house’s budget and how are you dealing with that? And in this social-media-driven age, what is the value (if any) and role of big productions?
Social influencers represent a new channel of communication previously held by mainstream celebrities. That is the territory they have created. In production terms, their cost, as in the fees of celebrities, is negotiated with the advertiser or the brand directly and that fee is not considered as part of the production budget.
The importance is on Engaging Content. Sometimes that can be achieved with a very small budget and sometimes it is necessary to be big, epic and lavish, which means big production. Social media is just one platform; it is not everything. Feature films and TV series are increasingly building on their lure of big brands.
7. How have clients’ needs and demands changed?
They require more cut downs as in 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 seconds. Some clients expect the entire communication to jump out in the first three seconds before the viewer swipes past it.
Of course, although client budgets have dropped, their expectations have not.
Poor budget and lack of preparation time are two of the biggest obstacles we all face especially when combined, but of the two, lack of preparation time is much more damaging usually. The digital age has built the perception in clients that the process is now much faster and it usually is, but not at the pre-production stage.