Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Liberated Syndicate

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Hi, I’m David Landa, Executive Producer and co-founder of FreeAssociation (or FA for short). We are a digital agency operating out of DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
I have always dabbled in the arts since as early as I can remember – but I think it was my early fascination with the inner workings of everyday objects that defined my career. As a child, I was always deconstructing things -- taking apart clocks, electronics or even smashing rocks.

Later, as my art studies became more formalized, I found myself as interested in the act of creation as I had been in destruction. Starting with painting, then writing, music and finally film, I began to use my earlier experiments in decomposition to inform my new journeys into composition. Film was the culmination of this evolution where the decomposition/composition dichotomy would result in true multi-media experiences, and that really amped me up!

I did not get into digital production until after college when myself and my two roommates (FA co-founder Michael Piliero and rockstar illustrator Cassady Benson) were hired to create animated spots for Pepsi. This opportunity snowballed into a full blown career and before we knew it we were producing websites and later consulting on brands.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?

Staying on top of the trends is a collaborative exercise for the team at FA. Nobody can know everything, especially in today’s explosive media environment. Since we all have our own interests and a healthy curiosity, everyone at FA brings something to the table. Checking in with twitter and blogs are all in the daily routine. A lot of provocative and/or ridiculous links are shared through IM. People take on research work if their schedule opens up or a project demands it. In addition we host weekly innovation sessions’ here at the office, concise lectures on emerging subjects– be it technology, advertising or even an artist we appreciate.

There is no one answer to keeping team members motivated. However listening to their ideas and having a truly collaborative environment is certainly a motivator. People stay motivated when they are vested in the outcome. Otherwise, one’s own excitement is contagious, so I stay motivated myself and am vocal about it!

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?

One of the things we have always enjoyed about this business is the variety of project types that come through our door, including what disciplines we might have to bring to the table for a given challenge.

I especially enjoy projects that blend narrative, interactive, broadcast design and content management systems.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
Always be honest and forthright. We learned some lessons early on doing hybrid cell/flash cartoon animations. One time in particular we thought it wise to not show the client the animation till near the end with a big reveal-- bad idea. The client loved it, but they wanted the main character to have a wardrobe change. Ouch, that’s a lot drawing!

After that experience we immediately worked to keep clients closely informed at every stage of a project. From discovery and planning phases through production and deployment, everything is tracked in an online client viewing area where we can retrace our steps, remember why we made important decisions and collectively decide the best course of action for the future.

We also use many tools to inform a client as to what the final product will be like. Anything that helps communicate the reality of the project is useful - wireframes, flowcharts, written scenarios, rendered boards and functional prototypes are all part of our toolkit for communicating the experience before it actually goes into build.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?

The next one. (LOL) Well, honestly, we like to keep it fresh and don’t really look back too much. I loved the Microsoft Idea Wins campaign (http://www.msofficeaccounting.co.uk) we developed with StrawberryFrog and Thornberg & Forester because it was a great idea, a great script and all the pieces were there for an awesome collaboration. Other than that, I am continuously excited by the work we put out and if I ever lost that passion for new work I think that would be the end of my career.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
Depends on the scope and demands. I have produced up to nine at a time, but I’d prefer one large engagement. The bigger projects often have more time for strategy, discovery and planning- the most important stages to position for success.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
We believe in the small, agile agency model. That is why we created FA, and that’s how we structure our business. Every project is different, but for a rocking campaign site, I would want: a strategist, a CD, an IA, a designer, a flash animator, a 3D animator, a sound designer, an AS developer and a backend developer.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?

Knowing what their best interests are is key. I educate myself about the industry at large and a client’s specific business model. I work to understand the brand and its positioning strategy and then, finally, how the current initiative falls under that strategy.

We- along with many of our clients- are very focused on metrics, which are an excellent indicator of traffic and content access. These tools are very powerful for marketers, and an advantage for people working in digital. There’s also the buzz factor, a more esoteric barometer of what the community is saying and the energy around it.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?

Small agencies making big noise! Lots of collaboration between awesome specialists of every assortment. Expansive, web-based lifestyles. The Rise of India and China in the digital space. But what I’m really looking forward to is when the boundary between biology and technology will be blurred, which will really change the game. And I think this will happen sooner than we expect.

Despite all this innovation and excitement, it’s always good for people to take a step back, breath some fresh air, and get their hands dirty with some paint, scissors, and cardboard, kindergarten style.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.

If you’re looking around wondering what your next step will be, then I say take a leap of faith in a direction and through action you will learn what you truly want and how to get it. Besides, any movement is better than no movement.

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