Blair Stribley, President/partner – Backyard/Mighty Film Co. • Venice, California • (www.backyard.com)
By Christine Bunish
Markee: Backyard opened in Chicago in the early 1990s and signed directors Kevin Smith and Rob Pritts, who are still part of the company today in California. How has commercial production changed over the years you’ve been in business?
Mr. Stribley: There are a lot more people doing it – it’s a very competitive field. And the industry has gone global. I think the SAG strike in 2001 pushed the business to be global, which wasn’t necessarily bad news for us since we’ve done a fair amount of work in China, Prague and South America.
We’re shooting for multiple platforms: longer pieces for the Internet, banner ads pulled from parts of a campaign, footage for a client toolbox, even spots for different markets with different casts. On the tech side, the ARRI ALEXA seems to be the camera of choice at this point. It can save you some money, but it’s also very valuable for performance-based commercials. Directors don’t have to worry about letting the film roll to get a certain rhythm going – they can get more interesting performances without being interrupted for mag changes.
Markee: Who is on Backyard’s directors’ roster?
Mr. Stribley: At the beginning of the year, we decided to refocus efforts more on our roots in performance and comedy. Our directors are Kevin, Rob, Chace Strickland and Mac Carter; we don’t necessarily want to keep the company at four directors, but we don’t want to be a 25-director shop either. Under 10 is where our heads are at.
Mac joined us last spring from Anonymous. He captures a kind of subtle amusement and the quiet moment; we all like his filmic style, natural art direction and very natural performances, and [we] felt he’d be a good mix with us.
Chace’s work is very slice-of-America. He’s great at capturing magic moments in a natural way that looks beautiful. His recent work includes campaigns for Crayola and Kohl’s.
Rob’s real skills are in casting and getting performances from the talent; he’s also good at mocking a genre. He did the LG “Instant Expert” campaign that airs all over the world except in the U.S.
Kevin’s strength is observing human behavior. He stays very busy and gets a lot of return business. He’s also very good with VFX, as you can see in a recent Cobra golf spot. Other work has been for CCM Hockey, Comcast and V8.
Markee: Earlier this year you launched Mighty Film Co. in Venice with Tom Duff, president of Optimus. How is Mighty different from Backyard?
Mr. Stribley: We had been thinking for the past few years about starting a new brand that would attract different types of directors who would enable us to work with a broader range of the market. Phil Brown moved over from Backyard and has directed a spot for First National Bank out of Omaha. Rob Sanders did one of the first Mighty projects: a Porsche campaign. Jesper Ericstam, Kim Nguyen and Alexander Paul also joined Mighty. Alexander just directed a short film, The 10th Floor, and is very adept with automotive spots; he’s embarking on a high-end car campaign. Kim was formerly with MTV, and she has a very strong visual sense and great connection with a younger audience. Jesper directed the Cannes Bronze Lion-winning Nettbuss spot through his company in Stockholm and did a Honda commercial through Backyard.
Markee: Sounds like you have your hands full.
Mr. Stribley: Yes, running two companies does keep us busy. There are also projects and opportunities that we are involved in that represent diversification of our core business, while still working with brands. Brands are looking for new ways to reach consumers: They’re still using commercials to reach a broad audience, but they’re also exploring opportunities outside traditional commercials. So we are looking at creative ideas in different arenas.
While we have always been creatively strong, one of our biggest strengths over the years has been the experience of working with us. We’re not necessarily the most hip and trendy, but the word we keep hearing from agencies and even crews is “solid,” which is a great compliment.