Breaking barriers with branded content

Chris Uettwiller, executive producer and partner of Oscar-nominated production company Dirty Robber, discusses the importance of fluidity in creating compelling content

As the different lanes in entertainment collapse, how is that impacting branded films?

These days, production companies are required to understand how to work with the advertising, television, and film worlds. Sometimes we call this collapsing the lanes. Traditionally, production companies would be in one of those different lanes. Rarely were companies in all three at the same time.

The reason for the shift is that both content creators and brands need to reach audiences in different ways as technology has changed the way content is consumed. Content creators, for studios and networks and talent and brands, need to create deliverables to reach all of those different audiences however they are consuming content.

No matter what the deliverable, they all need to feel like they organically came from the same source.

Your biggest branded content piece is Breaking2, created for Nike. Can you describe how it evolved? How it breaks with more traditional campaigns?

Nike has a reputation of breaking barriers, pushing things as far as they possibly can, and being extremely successful at that. The idea to break the two-hour marathon is massive. It’s a massive idea in scale, and a massive idea to comprehend. To think that you can push the human body to run 13.1 miles per hour for 26.2 miles is just simply extraordinary. It’s a moonshot.

In approaching how to film a moonshot, you need to be fluid. Things aren’t necessarily going to be planned to a "t."

So Nike started with an idea to have athletes break the two-hour marathon, and we were going to partner with them to film some content. We started filming, and a few months into the project it became clear there was a real chance these athletes could break the barrier, and something monumental or historical in terms of content creation should be made around it. We changed gears at that point and made sure we had enough content to complete a compelling long-form narrative, as well as all the different deliverables to support that campaign.

And so Breaking2 is almost as unprecedented as the actual physical running within it – having a production company working with a brand to create a film, commercials, and a live event.

Usually you start out with a pretty clear road map of what it is you are actually out to capture and deliver, and there’s a budget and schedule that is developed around all of that. This project needed to be more fluid because the team behind it was discovering the project in real time, and we were there as a partner to that.

Did we have to change things up along the way? Absolutely. We weren’t working within the traditional paradigm we were used to.

For everyone involved, the project was extremely satisfying. Breaking2 as a whole, as a complete thing unto itself, exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Your AT&T series Religion of Sports is now in its second series. Beside the star power behind it – Tom Brady, Michael Strahan, and Gotham Chopra, the son of Derek Chopra – what is the show’s raison d’être?  Can you give us some insight into content development?

The general premise behind Religion of Sports is that the same tenets that exist in religion exist in sports. You have tribalism, holy wars, curses – they exist in religion and sports.

Each episode we pick a sport or sporting event to explore one of those tenets. That is the root that everything comes from.

We don’t see the show as being about the sporting event; it’s really about who the characters are in each episode. I think people invest in characters, stories, and people.

That’s what Tom, Michael, and Gotham want as well. The juice in the episode is how deep did we get with someone, what did we learn about that character that probably relates to all of us in some way.

Religion of Sports is a brand itself, and that is growing at the moment. To date, we haven’t worked with any brands for the series, but we are starting to work with brand partners, and future seasons of Religion of Sports will have more brand integration and support.

During the first seasons, not having to support a brand narrative gave us a tremendous amount of freedom to choose characters, sports, and events that just made the most sense to us.

And while we look forward to having that brand integration, it also adds a level of complication, when you’ve got other voices at the table that need to be heard and there is a financial arrangement in place that you have to support.

Chris Uettwiller is an executive producer and partner at Dirty Robber, an Oscar-nominated production company located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Brand Film Festival jurist.

Make sure your best work gets recognized by entering a film into the Brand Film Festival at The deadline for entries is January 22, 2018.

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