The expression “you can’t go home again” gained popularity as the title of Thomas Wolfe’s famous 1940 novel. The profound gist that resonated with so many was that if you try to return to a place you remember from the past, it won’t be the same as you remember it.
That may be true even for relatively recent recollections as the pandemic in just a matter of months has made an indelible impact on ways of life–on livelihoods and life itself. This also applies to our industry as a near-complete production shutdown has put employment on hold for many, leaving us to grapple with how we will recover, and how to smartly and safely bring production and post business back to life.
And there’s the further matter of dealing with social injustice as the entertainment and advertising communities look to take a stand against another plague–racism–with brands determining if and how to best address the Black Lives Matter movement and the issue of police brutality.
On the COVID-19 front, so much is up in the air as reflected in the recent announcement of network fall 2020 primetime schedules. The future of original comedy and drama fare being heralded for the new season and beyond is no longer about whether content will register with an audience–but instead will it get made to begin with?
“The new new”
Brett Henenberg, SVP, global head of production at UM Studios (the content creation arm of marketing and media agency UM Worldwide), is no stranger to breakthrough work. He served as a producer on 5B, named after the San Francisco General ward which opened in 1983 as the first full-fledged hospital unit dedicated to treating people with AIDS. Produced for UM Worldwide’s client Johnson & Johnson, the documentary showed the positive power of nursing, continuing a theme which the brand has championed over the years. Directed by Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss via Saville Productions, 5B debuted at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival as part of its Special Screenings lineup in May only a month later to win the Entertainment Lions Grand Prix, among other honors, at the Festival of Creativity.
Henenberg observed that the virus pandemic hasn’t altered his long-term thinking. He remains optimistic that UM’s producers will continue to look for and uncover the best solutions for its clients. While there will be changes in the industry, he firmly believes UM will come back stronger. The approach, he continued, will be to “think philosophically about the long term and practically about the short term.” The short term, he conjectured will for example likely see an uptick in post-produced work. But in the big picture philosophically, in line with the momentum generated by 5B, UM’s priority is coming up with “the best ways to connect clients with audiences in moments that matter to them.” Thus Henenberg finds himself less interested in the new normal and more driven by finding what’s new to “build on what we currently have.” He stressed that the major push is not for a return to normal but finding “the new new,” namely new ways for clients to get their messages in front of audiences.
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