Branded Entertainment Forum preview: Scott Free Productions/RSA Films

In advance of realscreen's Branded Entertainment Forum, taking place in New York City on October 20, we're spotlighting several production companies that are making waves in the field. Here, Mary Lisio of Scott Free Productions and Tom Dunlap of sister company RSA Films discuss their approach to creating captivating branded content, and why brands are especially interested in the non-fiction space.
October 13, 2011

Scott Free Productions, the film and television shingle from filmmaking brothers Tony and Ridley Scott, has been actively ramping up its non-fiction branded content. In mid-2010 Scott Free launched an online reality show for Budweiser based around the World Cup in South Africa, The Bud House, and also produced a short film series, The Character Project, for USA Network, which featured three docs, including one from RJ Cutler (The September Issue).

Scott Free, which works closely with Ridley Scott’s commercial company RSA Films, is currently developing a project for an as-yet-unnamed car brand, with director Amir Bar-Lev. The director of the acclaimed doc The Tillman Story will helm a feature film, while Scott Free will also produce music videos and online content. While other elements of the project, like interstitials, will directly link the auto maker to the content, RSA Films’ exec producer Tom Dunlap says the doc will be “pure.”

“That is one of the keys to the work that we do in the branded entertainment space, especially the documentary space,” he says. “We want to really give the brand a home and weave their marketing message into the fabric of the storytelling. The content that we explore has to be appropriate for the brand, not shilling the brand. It will resonate well, be well-produced and we’re bringing on an acclaimed documentary filmmaker.”

This methodology will also be applied to a new project with Activision, the makers of the massively popular video game Call of Duty. Online portal Call of Duty Elite TV will feature Scott Free’s series Friday Night Fights, executive produced by Cutler. The eight-part short series will pit teams, including celebrities, of Call of Duty gamers against one another, in a studio environment with host and former professional wrestler Stacy Keibler.

“We’re finding that brands are really interested especially in the non-fiction space,” says Dunlap. “It’s quick to market, fairly inexpensive to produce and they can put their product messaging in the hands of real people and that resonates.”

It is crucial to handle that brand messaging properly, however. “If the brand is intent on being heavy handed with their integration, then consumers cry foul,” he adds.

“We have to be very strategic when a brand comes to us,” says Scott Free’s SVP of non-fiction television and branded entertainment Mary Lisio. “We make sure we’re all on the same page about the upside of how we integrate those products into our content. Sometimes it’s almost invisible. Sometimes it’s very prevalent, like in Bud House [because] it made sense and was organic for the content of the show.”

Both agree that the major challenge facing branded content today is distribution.

“One thing we tell brands is you have to act like a network or a distributor,” explains Dunlap. “You have to treat it like Fox handles Glee or American Idol. You have to promote it properly and treat it like an entertainment property all the way through. Years ago the idea of ‘viral’ was the key word. If things went online people saw it because it was new and fresh. Now the online world is so cluttered with content, you have to break through. It’s important that brands be active around their content.”

Looking ahead, Lisio and Dunlap predict bigger things for the medium.

“We’re all seeing the change in how a 60-second commercial lives, and more and more we’re going to see this branded content messaging infiltrating,” says Lisio. “I think it’s going to be wholly integrated in a few years. The model is changing so quickly as consumers change the way they consume media.”

Scott Free Productions’ Mary Lisio and RSA Films’ Tom Dunlap will present a case study at realscreen‘s Branded Entertainment Forum on October 20 at the Sentry Centers in New York City. For more information on the event and how to register, click here.

This article originally appeared in an edited form in realscreen‘s September/October 2011 issue. For more from that issue, click here

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