Taking risks could be key to unlocking diversity in branded film production

It's not all about checking boxes, panelists said at the Brand Film Festival New York.

L to R: Ollie McAteer, Adam Hirsch, Chelsea Phillips, Kanyessa McMahon
L to R: Ollie McAteer, Adam Hirsch, Chelsea Phillips, Kanyessa McMahon

NEW YORK: Taking a risk could be one way to develop the much needed diversity in the production of branded films, according to a group of panelists at the PRWeek U.S. and Campaign U.S. Brand Film Festival New York on Thursday. 

Panelist Adam Hirsch, SVP and head of content in North America for Craft Worldwide, said while some parts of the creative process are becoming more diverse, the production side of things definitely still needs work.

"Other areas, especially creative and strategy, have been changing faster," he said. "We're getting more diversity, more women especially, but I think there's kind of a bro culture when you're on the set that's been a little bit harder to check."

Panelist Chelsea Phillips, VP of Beyond Beer Brands for Anheuser-Busch, said many times the speed of the business gets blamed, though it’s really not much of an excuse. 

"As brands, we have to agree to be patient to find [these people]," she said. "They are out there, usually locked up in good work, which is great," she said. "But we’re bringing content and movies out so much faster. A lot of times it's like, ‘Well, this is the only person available’ and the answer to that has to be, ‘No, that's not good enough.’" 

Phillips said brands should wait to find the right people instead of rushing out a final product with people they have worked with in the past.

In the end, finding diverse production staff may just come down to taking risks and hiring someone who does not seem, at first, to be a good candidate, said panelist Kanyessa McMahon, founder and creative director of production company Suddenly There.

"If you’re a white male and you are surrounded by white males, you tend to choose the people you know and sometimes they aren’t the best people," she said. 

McMahon said that one of the best lessons she learned was from the person who first hired her. At the time, she did not have a company and had little experience.

"She said, ‘Well, I had two choices. One was, I don’t hire you and everything stayed the same. The second was, I hire you. If it turned out you were one big disaster I would be like, whoops, okay. But if I give you a chance and you are amazing, then I look like the genius,’" said McMahon.

The lesson she learned is that risks must be taken in order to get rewards.

"People are so risk averse," McMahon added.

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