Vladimir Jones + Ambient Skies Collaborate In The Mile High City To Launch Team Ready
Who the heck is Team Ready, and what are they ready for exactly?
Sit down, friends, and let me tell you a story.
It’s a huge ego boost when an outstanding creative and strategic agency like Vladimir Jones gives us a ring to collaborate on a fun project for a longtime client (Black Hills Energy). We were eager to chat with them, and they presented an impressive deck with fleshed-out strategy, messaging, and copywriting.
Introduce Team Ready to the national customer base of Black Hills Energy, a large utility company.
Wait, we can help folks save money, be prepared for emergencies, and boost energy efficiency in their homes? Who wouldn’t be into that?
The kicker was figuring out how Ambient Skies could add our creative spice and production chops to the mix. The quality needed to be commercial but with the organic feeling of an HGTV show, the talent needed to be like-able but a bit authoritative, and we needed to capture a sizable number of deliverables on a tight schedule. Not to mention in an out-of-state location. Not to mention within a few weeks. Were we game? Of course we were!
Read on to find out how it all went down…
FROM THE BIZ TO THE DEV
From a business development perspective, it can be both exciting and challenging to figure out an outbound strategy. Should our prospects be local, regional, or beyond? How much of our efforts should go towards “direct-to-client” partnerships versus creative marketing and advertising agencies? What verticals and industries should we target?
With our team being mostly local to the Phoenix area, many of the agencies we work with hire us for production execution in the valley or wider Arizona area. As we considered our outbound strategy, we considered looking at agencies in the wider Southwestern region that could benefit from our expertise.
One state we zeroed in on was Colorado. With vibrant metropolitan areas surrounded by natural beauty, there are more than a few parallels between Colorado and Arizona. We were lucky that our rockstar sales consultant Kelly Sells (yes, her last name is “Sells!”) connected us to the awesome folks at Vladimir Jones, an innovative branding agency with offices in both Denver and Colorado Springs. (Here’s a little secret: we are now SMITTEN with the folks over there…it’s not weird, we promise).
WHEN AMBIENT MET VLADIMIR
We had the pleasure of first meeting with Rachel Arther, an Integrated Producer over at VJ. At the time, she was new to the agency, but it was obvious that this lady was a true gem with a TON to bring to the table. Our initial capabilities are more of an intro, where we share a bit about Ambient Skies and explore whether we’d be a good resource for a given prospect. We have the privilege of meeting brilliant business leaders and creatives on a regular basis. Occasionally we cross paths with a team that we really *vibe* with on a high level. Was Vladimir Jones that kind of team? Spoiler alert: YES.
Several months later, Rachel introduced us to the creative team at VJ. Leading this merry team of artists is none other than Jim Morrissey. If having pretty much the same name as the Doors guy isn’t next-level cool, we don’t know what is. We were excited to be able to meet more of the Vladimir Jones team, and it was a sign of good things to come.
GETTIN’ READY FOR TEAM READY
Let’s back it up a little bit. So as we mentioned, Jim, Rachel, and the team came to us with an amazing concept for Team Ready. They had previously done some outstanding work for Black Hills Energy, but that content was a lot more cinematic and elevated, requiring a pretty beefed up production approach. The client wanted a more grassroots, accessible approach for Team Ready. Team Ready was envisioned as “Mike and Maria” – somewhat inspired by Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper/Magnolia fame. Like-able, relatable, but a little authoritative and aspirational.
One key point of the campaign that Vladimir Jones put together was the content was “Less How-To, and More Why-To”. Team Ready was tasked with breaking down specific tips around the home (keep a generator on hand, adjust water heater temperatures, caulk your windows). But the aim was that the audience would be motivated and empowered to implement these simple changes with ease.
LET’S GET CREATIVE…AND FIND OUR TALENT DANGIT!
Vladimir Jones was eager to get some of the Ambient magic in on this project. It’s okay, we’re totally used to it. Our Director John Schaus and DP Trenton Massey had a meeting of the minds to conceive of how we could build on the agency deck and bring it to life. We started assembling a detailed Director’s Treatment. A big part of this was translating the messaging into visual language – camera moves, lighting setups, location attributes, all the good stuff. Not to mention: Wardrobe, Art Direction, Editorial, Sound, etc. This is where we shine, so we were happy to add our two cents. Well, maybe more like fifty cents.
After we turned to our highly esteemed storyboard artist Erik De Jong, we had our hearts set on creating an animatic for this spot. This is a rough version of the piece, and a way to start putting the pieces together before any real-life stuff happens. It helps with working out locations, camera angles, script, pacing, music, and all that. Ultimately, the animatic was a crowd-pleaser, but not only that. Roughing out these details during creative development ultimately helps with the budget and schedule down the road.
But wait…who was the team that we would put infront of the camera? This was crucial to the campaign as they would be the “face” of Team Ready – and really needed to embody the spirit of the concept. Also, these actors would need the stamina and skills to work with us and bust out all those deliverables within a couple days. Oof, we knew our Mike and Maria were out there, we just had to find them.
The client had some guidelines for searching for our talent, and Rachel + her resourceful production team started tapping into the local Denver improv scene to explore casting up-and-comers. Usually a commercial project involves Casting Directors, Talent Agents, several rounds of formal auditions, etc. This was a unique approach, and honestly helped Ambient Skies broaden our own strategies for casting talent in general.
Enter Geoff and Missy, thank goodness. Geoff Tice is a co-founder of the studio Smash + Grab in Denver, so he spend his days running his boutique creative studio and his nights moonlighting in the local acting scene. Ambient Skies was proud to suggest Missy Schwartz for the project – a very talented up-and-coming actress who we had the pleasure of working with previously. It was clear that these two had the charisma and chemistry to embody Mike and Maria, and we couldn’t wait to make it happen.
A fortunate byproduct of the age of Zoom is being able to do things like a virtual table read. In the olden days, this would be done in person at an actual table. Seriously? John + Jim got to work directly with our talent to run through some of the spots and start dialing in their performances.
LOCATIONS – WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
So we needed a home for Mike and Maria to putz around and talk about thermostats and what not. Who cares, it would just take a little Googling and AirBNB messages and whatever, right?
WRONG! We had the silly notion that we could skip working with a location manager on this project. (Note to self: much easier said than done). But we soon found ourselves facing one challenge after another. Not only were we tasked with finding an available home that fit the client’s aesthetic requrements. This place had to be an ideal shooting spot to accommodate our crew, cast, and client- with many setups on a jam-packed schedule. And most crucial of all: it needed all the features that Mike and Maria would be talking about specifically: a gas stove, an accessible water heater, a digital thermostat, a window for caulking…Mamma Mia!
We frantically messaged different property owners for pictures, details, any info that could help. Did we mention that it was the busy tourist season in Denver, and these spots were booking up by the minute? Nothing more motivating than a ticking clock, but hey, we live for these challenges.
So what’s the solution when you’re looking for a needle-in-a-haystack location and time is running out? Finding TWO locations, duh! It wasn’t the original plan, but we managed to book two locations for our two shooting days, on opposite sides of the Denver Metropolitan area. No sweat, really we swear.
So one of the big factors when filming outside of Arizona is how we’re going to find an awesome crew in a different locale. Vladimir Jones kindly gave us some referrals, but all of those folks were (unsurprisingly) booked up. However, we were lucky to then tap into THEIR recommendations, which led to a chain reaction of amazing crew coming on our radar. And you KNOW we saved all those contacts for the future.
This was an important phenomenon that we’ve since observed in other areas. If you have an “in” with one person, that will open the door to so many other fantastic freelancers. There tends to be a tight-knit ecosystem of crew in each metro area, many of them are on social media. Once you tap into the resource, those connections start flowing like sweet sweet wine.
A couple of noteworthy superstars that we hired were Gaffer Tyler Katscke and Art director Jessie Capstick among many others. They all lent their expertise, experience and perspective to this project. Honestly we could not have done it without this Denver Dream Team.
After several final creative and pre-pro meetings, the shoot dates were upon us! To get there, we really had to dial in a ton of details. Not only with the normal production stuff (crew, locations, talent) but also with the actual content. We had to get super meticulous about what we were showing and saying on camera since this content was to be widely distributed, informational, and highly scrutinized by a ton of customers.
For me, I work as Head of Production almost fully remotely these days (usually with a baby or two in my arms). It can be a little disorienting when the shoot actually begins (I’m also usually suffering from a strong case of FOMO). Sometimes, it’s eerily quiet. Does that mean everything is going great or the entire production is in flames? Well, usually I’m secretly texting a PA to give me the lowdown throughout the day.
This production had its curveballs for sure! Sometimes that can be the funniest and most fun part (albeit very stressful). I will never forget what came up for this shoot: the NEED to WEED (No, not the kind you’re thinking!). Once our team showed up in Denver, John checked out our Day 2 location, and the property was sadly overrun with an abundance of scraggly nasty weeds. No way we were going to let that fly.
So my task became to find a last-minute landscaping company that could run over and help us out. Hmmm, well you know how this was prime time for Denver filming? Apparently, it’s also the high season for any Denver yard workers. YIKES! Our backup plan was to task our PAs with the weeding, but that would have been a huge resource shift. After a morning of desperate phone calls, the wonderful Rachel producer mentioned a lovely app that she uses to book folks to help out on this kind of task. Miraculously, I found a guy who headed right over, did a tremendous job beautifying the landscape, and it was as simple as that!
The 2 days of production went off without a hitch. The Black Hills team was on set with the good people at Vladimir Jones approving every shot from video village as it was captured. The crew dealt with a few moments of sound interference and some shifting weather, but besides that it was a relatively easy shoot. Why, might you ask!? That’s because of the tremendous amount of prep and pre-visualization that went into this campaign.
So there were two things about this project that we knew were going to be important in post: a huge amount of deliverables (20+) on a very ambitious timeline. Not to mention, creative leadership had time off scheduled right in the middle of all this. Luckily, Ambient Skies had a strategy as per usual. Our talented Editor Logan Fetters was primed to jump in immediately on the deliverables (Like, literally while the team was still in Denver). Not only that, but the animatic we produced beforehand helped our Post Supe Trent dial in the hero deliverable right away. We called in our buddy Pat Birks for some key graphics, and to be honest…it all went much smoother than anticipated.
WHAT WE LEARNED
My biggest takeaway here is that when we are lucky enough to work with a team we really vibe with, like Vladimir Jones, the process transforms into something really stellar. Obstacles (like the weeds) and challenges (like the schedule + finding remote crew) became negligible because we truly had the team mindset and the camaraderie to handle anything.
In production, everything is a learning experience. There will always be things that you can control and address head-on.There will also likely be curveballs…but sometimes those can lead to the biggest home runs.
Grateful for the opportunity to produce this fantastic project. And did we mention that we won an Addy for it? Check it out here.
Vladimir Jones / BHE Team:
Executive Creative Director – Jim Morrissey
Account Supervisor – Seth Rankin
ACD Copywriter – Zack Shockley
Junior Copywriter – Blair Freeman
President – Debbie Frickey
Director of Brand Management & Communications – Dave Smetter
Communications Program Manager – Sarah Fosland
Senior Graphic Designer – Amanda Bainbridge
Director – John Schaus
Producer – Deanna Beghtol
DP – Trenton Massey
Set Photographer – Brandon Sullivan
Gaffer – Tyler Kaschke
Grip – Mary Jeanes
Audio – Lincoln Terhark
HMU – Lillian Marsh
Wardrobe – Katie Saunders
AC – Chris Roe
Art Director – Jessie Capstick
Art Assist – Mariel Corbitt
DIT/2nd AC – Logan Fetters
Photo Assist – Cassidy Letson
PA – Ani Miller-Yahzid
Catering – Steve Kiner