Sean Broughton Talks Collaboration
Sean Broughton, co-founder of the VFX house Smoke and Mirrors has collaborated with almost everyone – from Stanley Kubrick and Jonathan Glazer to Spike Jonze and Spike Lee. He has worked with some of the best directors and ad agencies in the world. In this article written for LBBO, Broughton examines how collaboration has changed over the years, and which type of working relationships makes the most groundbreaking work:
Firstly, please forgive me if I name names. I do so only to get the point across.
It’s been seventeen years since I started Smoke and Mirrors and almost everything has changed since I did - the technology, the people and the creative - but the creative and collaborative process behind innovation remains the same. Start with an idea, find like-minded people to work with and for God’s sake, don’t look down.
What do I mean by ‘don’t look down’? It seems so easy these days for great ideas to become diluted, but it was probably always easy for that to happen, we just fought harder to make sure it didn’t. ‘Don’t look down’ means don’t let the proles clawing at you and the idea, get a grip and drag you and the creative down with them. Jon Glazer and the AMV team Tom Carty and Walter Campbell taught me that… If I remember rightly, they had just told the client that they would resign the account if they changed one frame of the edit.
That piece of work won countless awards that year and raised the profile of the product to unprecedented levels. It was 1998 and the product was Guinness “Swim Black.”
Would that happen today? Would it have actually have happened back then? I don’t know, but the passion and intensity of commitment struck a chord with me that still rings true. We had all, in some way, contributed to something wonderful. We had all worked tirelessly as a team and we wanted to protect and nurture the work… no matter what.
That happy team was one (of many that we all belong to or have belonged to) where the flow of ideas and the raising of the bar became everyone’s priority. I had calls from everyone from Kubrick to Spike Jones, Kleinman, Ledwidge, Cunningham and Stern. We helped them figure out how the hell to make something work. That’s our contribution and how we earned our place. Collaborating with directors and creatives remains my favorite part of this industry.
Up until the recession, we saw teams emerge that pooled from agency, editorial, post and clients. They worked with each other on multiple campaigns, over long periods of time and it showed in the work. These teams ate, slept and drank together until every detail was detailed and every nuance was nuanced. Then they shot, edited, and posted, but only after absolutely everything had been considered well in advance.
Well, we all know how the financial climate changed that. But does no money mean no creative? Of course not. Does lack of budget mean lack of collaboration?
Short answer; it did for a while, but now it doesn’t.
Long Answer; from a creative viewpoint, the industry reacted to the financial climate in possibly the worst way it could have. The teams were split up.