Baz Milas is a film producer. But that’s not what his business card says. A long time ago he decided it was prudent to define himself, in an industry already cluttered with meaningless titles, by what he does rather than by what he is.
It’s a bold statement but it rings true. Action is what clients want so that’s what they get. No fuss, no drama. Just next level great results produced on time and on budget.
Teachers Federation. Writer: Jane Caro, Art Director: John Greig, Director: Ray Lawrence
Baz has worked on the agency side for Burnett’s London, Colenso Auckland, Saatchi & Saatchi&Saatchi, BWM Dentsu, Jack Watts Currie, Jane Caro Consulting (Teachers Fed:), M&C Saatchi Sydney, MJW Hakahodo, MercerBell Allianz and many others. He has produced on the production co side running his own company for several years, including a learning curve inducing directors stint!
Allianz – Dancing Hose. MercerBell. ECD: David Bell. Creative Group Head: Liz Kain, Senior Art Director: Mike Nikotin, Director: Graeme Burfoot.
He has produced commercials for Qantas, NRMA, Allianz Insurance, NRL, Unilever, Coca Cola, Teachers Federation and Toyota amongst many others.
crossingtheline caught up with Baz in a coffee shop in Northbridge, Sydney, just around the corner from where he lives.
CROSSINGTHELINE: “The Milas touch, is it all about turning scripts into gold (or silver or bronze) without the fuss and drama?”
MILAS: (Laughs) “I don’t think there was ever a conscious effort do produce to any particular format, it just so happens that’s the way I work…… I like to approach things in an ordered manner so I can best predict how a particular job is going to play out ….. look for the risks and potential problems up front and find solutions early on so they’re solved before they happen. I care about the end result because that’s what everyone remembers and I honestly think experience plays it’s part here. It’s also so the director and the production team have all the things they need to produce the kind of result everybody is looking for. I’ve always believed that if you do great work that sells, the awards will come. In the book ‘Movies and Money,’ by Lord David Putnam there’s a bit about why so many films run off the rails during production and no one is happy with the end result. One of Lord Putnam’s observations is that in the very beginning of the process all stakeholders must have a shared vision of what kind of film is being made. Pretty fundamental really but so often it doesn’t happen. It’s the same with television commercials. As long as you take everyone on the journey with you, there’s a big chance that everyone’s happy when you reach the end of it.
CROSSINGTHELINE: “Every commercial is different even if it’s an established campaign with the same agency, director and crew. Things do happen that you can never predict?”
MILAS: “There are occasionally unforeseen circumstances. (Laughs.) I was working in London on a commercial for a very famous brand of lager. Every year we made them a new one. You could set the clock by it. They were animated spots so there was even more consistency than usual. And always the same voice over per character who was a well know actor. This particular year however, when we needed to record him he was in Poland. This was before Poland was in the EU and the communists were still in charge. I arrived in Warsaw accompanied by the sound guy on a particularly bleak and miserable day, which as it turned out, matched the mood of the country, especially the authorities. Trying to explain to them why I was there and what we were doing was a trial. But we got through that. The talent was delightful and professional as always. We got the takes we needed and headed for home only to be bailed up by UK Customs who wanted to know why we had been in Poland and what was on the tapes. (Laughs) There’s nothing in the producer’s handbook about being mistaken for spies. But we talked our way out of that one without having to subject the tapes to destructive scrutiny and made it to the post session on time.”
CROSSINGTHELINE: “Digital has put equipment into people’s hands that once upon a time would not have been available to them, like when everything was shot on film. How has this affected the production process?”
MILAS: “On the plus side a lot of very passionate people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to shoot have been able to establish fabulous careers for themselves and produce some very fine creative and effective work. On the negative side I think the speed digital enables things to be done is sometimes taken for granted and the details of what constitutes a successful shoot sometimes get overlooked. Music copyright is a case in point. Music is often the last thing to be discussed and the intricate nature of contracts and the time needed to negotiate are not appreciated.
There are several kinds of copyright to be cleared: publishing and performing. You have to make sure the copyright you secure matches the way you want to use the track. Even when you have done all the right things you can still get a surprise call it’s tricky. Recently we wanted to use a very old traditional piece of music that all my investigations indicated was in the public domain. No sooner had we gone to air that someone called out of the blue claiming they owned the publishing rights. We came to a happy arrangement rather than go into protracted discussions so that one worked out fine. And you have to watch talent contracts very carefully to ensure the usages are covered and often at quote stage the final media isn’t locked down.
No one thinks about this but eagle eyed agents get on the phone demanding money = problem….and it can happen…experience tells me to cover off as much usage as I can up front so these kind of problems can be avoided.”
CROSSINGTHELINE: “What do you think is the one element, above all others that can make a shoot and therefore the resulting commercial something special?”
MILAS: “Without a doubt, (pause) … trust. I call it the Circle of Trust! You can have the best gear, the best and most suitable director, perfect weather, an Oscar winning actor, you can have 4 weeks, 10 weeks in post ….. you can have all of that but if you don’t have trust I think you take out a big part of what makes truly great work. I mean, trust between the client, the agency and the production company, it’s everything. The client is spending large amounts of money on production and usually a lot more on media. You have to have a lot of faith to employ a bunch of relative strangers to convert a few pieces of paper, (scripts, storyboards etc) into successful spots that people love and that sell! Once you have that trust you appreciate it, you nurture it all along the way and never abuse it. The massive upside is that everyone also works just that little bit harder on the project, which is a winner for everyone especially the client.
CROSSINGTHE LINE: “Some of the fun things you’re working on now?”
MILAS: “I’ve shot heaps of spots as the agency producer for MercerBell and their client Allianz Insurance. It’s a really successful campaign with the emphasis on campaign and I love the MercerBell people they’re excellent and brilliant to work with as is the client!
However, it does seem to me that Australia doesn’t have too many solid campaign ideas running these days.”
CROSSINGTHELINE: “Why do you think that is?”
MILAS: “Can I get to that in a minute?”
MILAS: “To keep the Allianz campaign going, the challenge is now to continually come up with clever scenarios that will stand out and entertain that are also relevant to our market and the client’s products. Great commercials always go to the next level and they sell, that’s what I’m trying to say.”
CROSSINGTHELINE: “We particularly like the scene where the guy accidently knocks over his fish tank.”
MILAS: “You’ll be especially pleased to know that no fishes were injured or killed during filming. Seriously, we had to have the paperwork in case people complained! So the creative teams come up with all these ideas on paper and we have to work out which ones we can produce on time for the money with maximum effect. It’s challenging but that’s what makes it interesting.”
CROSSINGTHELINE: “A lack of real campaigns?”
MILAS: “When you look back on the greats, Heineken, Hovis, Hamlet, in the UK, Nike in the US and Louie The Fly for Mortein, Drink & Drive And You’re A Bloody Idiot and Come On Aussie Come On Come for example here in Australia, we just don’t seem to make them like that anymore or at least not as frequently ….. though Louie is still going strong which is remarkable seeing as he gets killed in every commercial. I think clients and their agencies have such a wide range of media options to choose from now in a time when budgets are always under scrutiny anyway ……. sometimes there just isn’t enough money to do all the things you might want to do for your brand.Choices have to be made.”
MILAS: “I think the most important thing here is that picking a delivery platform isn’t an idea. Whether you decide free to air fulfils a brief or six short films on youtube does – you still have to create a great piece of film. Some things never change and that includes people won’t watch junk no matter where you put it. You have to start with a good idea enclosed in a well-written script which is then brought to life by a director who understands what’s needed and can provide it with panache and passion. I’m talking about all kinds of films here …. retail, high end, content, whatever you are shooting you have the opportunity to make it the very best it can be which brings me to another point …… writing to a budget. A writer or an art director or a producer will say this is a great idea just ask the client for another $100,000 so we can shoot it. I fully get how hard it is to create original ideas, I guess we’re supposed to be professionals and part of that professionalism is writing a great idea to a budget. I find we are often crushing the production process right down to crew fees just to get work made….I think the bean counters need to be heavily reined in!
CROSSINGTHELINE: “Not everybody …. but some lament the ‘good old days in advertising. Do you think they have a case?”
MILAS: ‘Not really. Things were certainly different in the eighties and nineties. And there’s no denying a very good time was had by a lot of very talented people. But it was a different structured business then… shit it was a different world then. But you can still have fun, make a decent living and achieve an enormous amount of satisfaction producing the very best work you can. The only thing I regret is not ever getting to play as striker for Spurs!
CROSSINGTHELINE: “Baz thanks for your time. As always it’s been great talking with you.”