March 23, 2011

Q&A with Mathew Cullen, co-founder of new studio Mirada

Posted by: in North America

We reached out to commercial and music video director Mathew Cullen while researching “Transmedia Rising,” our March trend report that looks at an increasingly popular approach to content: creating borderless story worlds that provide fans with multiple entry points. Cullen is one of four founders of Mirada, a new transmedia-focused studio based in L.A. that’s tackling both entertainment and advertising projects. The idea is to build “a different model that looks beyond what the market is doing right now to where it will be in ten years,” says co-founder Guillermo del Toro, the director of films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, on the Mirada site.

Cullen got an early start in the business, founding production house Motion Theory at age 23. With Motion Theory, Cullen has directed and produced more than 100 commercials—for clients including IBM, Nike, HP, Honda and Tanqueray—and music videos, winning Grammys for Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” and Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.” He talked to us about the impetus behind Mirada, the age-old importance of storytelling and some of his thoughts on transmedia (and his favorite transmedia marketing).

Mathew Cullen (far left) with his Mirada co-founders Guillermo Navarro, Guillermo del Toro and Javier Jimenez.

How would you describe Mirada?

We wanted to create a different type of studio and company that was relevant to how our industry has evolved. The thinking behind it was, there was a real opportunity to take all the things we had individually explored across the media landscape in creating cross-platform storytelling experiences. And there was a real synergy in being able to bring those [entertainment and advertising] worlds together and, with our experiences, covering the whole gamut of what kind of media possibilities were out there.

There’s valuable experiences to learn from both sides of the business. From the advertising industry, what I love is this ability to be at the edge of popular culture. And to be putting out media into the marketplace that has a real sense of immediacy, where we’re constantly able to experiment and innovate, and respond to the cultural vernacular. The entertainment business is a much slower-moving entity but [expert at creating] the narrative, the core aspects of why we like to get lost in entertainment experiences.

There was an idea of creating a company that was able to bridge those two languages. And that’s how we see Mirada—as a malleable entity. We see it as an evolving company that’s part concept design company, part animation studio, part visual effects studio, part production company, part development company, part interactive and technology company.

The buzz word is “transmedia,” but the idea of looking at how you take a storytelling experience and extend it across as many distribution models as possible is one that’s thousands of years old. And because of the bridging between technology and narrative, and the possibilities of what we can do now, [transmedia has] become a bit more part of our everyday language. But for us, in building Mirada, we look at it as an ever-changing model that’s about centralizing the creative and production process so that all the different aspects of the business talk to each other in a much clearer manner so we can develop the opportunities that present themselves.

What would be an example of a kind of project you would take on?

Basically, we define the company as a studio designed for storytellers. No matter what our discipline, whether you’re a concept artist, a writer, a designer, we’re all at the service of story. Each and every project has different possibilities for opening up the distribution platforms for whatever the area of content may be.

You know, sometimes a book doesn’t need to be developed into a feature film, and it’s better just living in that singular format because it doesn’t get better than that. But there are other projects that really open themselves up to extend a storytelling experience in everything from interactive—like apps—gaming, books, television, a movie or whatever it may be, and essentially we’re creating the space to be able to do just that here.

From the advertising perspective, what has been valuable for us in partnering with agencies, and directly with clients, is that we’re able to help benefit our clients to look beyond what the initial brief and assignment may be. And we’re working with multiple agencies in that regard. We even have somebody that’s a specialist here at exactly that. He’s developing more transmedia-like opportunities with the jobs we have. There are so many avenues to be able to take the creative process. It’s really looking at the core concept and presenting other possibilities to extend the life of whatever that experience may be.

At the same time, from the entertainment perspective, it’s both being a partner to studios and doing development ourselves to take these same principles into the entertainment space.

Do you think, down the road, that this kind of model will become more of the norm?

Story is at the heart and the central idea of what we do at the studio. That will never change. However, it’s absolutely necessary, especially with the creative challenges that are continually being presented in the business, that we create a model that is an evolving one, that’s able to embrace the best of developing technology—and that includes developing technology ourselves—and potential ways to extend what a narrative experience can be.

Google is a perfect example. Who would have ever thought a search engine would be everything else that it’s become? It’s because they built creative and technical innovation off a core business model. The same with Facebook. I think in creating a company in evolving businesses, you have to create a model that is a malleable one. You have to create a model that [allows you] to plug in the right people to figure out how a project’s going to work—the essential thing is creating a space and a culture where we’re able to attract and bring in those types of people.

Why do you think transmedia is coming into the spotlight right now?

If we look at it historically, Disney was a great innovator of transmedia. He took characters that people loved and stories that people loved, and extended it across television, amusement parks and merchandising—look at how many different creative and financial possibilities he was able to build. But the core thing that everything hinged on was strong characters and stories that people love. Everybody can’t be a Disney, obviously. But now what we’re finding, and what’s exciting, is a complete renaissance in the business of creativity and the business of technology, and where those two meet.

The distribution model has completely shifted, where somebody with great ideas has the possibility to extend those ideas and reach millions of people around the world with a click of a button. There’s an equalization of power in the marketplace, and it opens up more possibilities for people. And also, there’s more ways to connect with people.

I don’t think transmedia is a complex concept. All it is, it’s taking a narrative experience and extending it in multiple platforms. But it’s all about the central idea. If you create a memorable character, you can create an app that allows you to dig into the character a little bit more, or a television show based on the character’s life, or a poster that reminds you what you love about that character, et cetera. A story that emotionally engages us has the opportunity to have a life that extends into more media possibilities.

Do you think audiences and consumers today expect different things from their entertainment or advertising, or the way they want to engage in it?

Yes and no. There are different levels of entertainment. There’s entertainment you want to watch very quickly. Maybe when you’re at work, you want to see something that makes you laugh or smile or think about something. There are narrative experiences where you sit down and get lost in what’s in front of you. Then there’s entertainment where you want to have much more of an active participation in how it evolves.

New opportunities are expanding, are evolving, to provide an audience or a consumer with a way to engage a little bit deeper into the content. In a perfect example, we start to see television shows where there’s a core show, but you can go online and see back stories and scenes you didn’t see on a show. Maybe there are peripheral characters you dig into, where also the production companies and the studios can test which characters people like more and inadvertently have a dialogue [that helps determine] the direction a show goes in. It’s so simple.

What do you think are some of the more interesting examples of transmedia we’ve seen so far?

There’s that great Dexter campaign [an alternate reality game that kicked off at last year's Comic-Con] where they create an experience where the audience got to be part of the show in this interesting way. Those types of things are really fascinating to me.

From what I see on the entertainment industry side, the studios are embracing this idea of promoting a film a year or two years before it comes out and creating a buzz about it, a mystery, a fan base. And that is an extension of the storytelling experience, because it lays the groundwork for it to stand out in a cluttered marketplace. So it’s almost a “necessary” now to be extending the narrative experiences past what the traditional models were.

Are there any marketing campaigns you’ve especially liked besides the “Dexter” work?

The Arcade Fire video [“The Wilderness Downtown”] that got a lot of publicity was a remarkable one, because it created an experience that made it much more personal to its audience. That was so interesting, because it both was a linear story and a non-linear story. And it embraced narrative tradition and technological innovation to create something that was quite new.

These types of things are where I think we’ve just started to see the growth. You have to have a technological aspect now, because today’s youth culture exists as a technological pop culture. To not be developing IP that helps reach an audience in a new way is ignoring one of the most important innovations in the business of creativity.

Do you think a lot of content creators have been slow to see the potential here?

I don’t think people know how; it’s intimidating. But if we look at the business, especially content creators, it’s a business that’s based on a lot of old thinking. It’s hard to move a big ship. What is most exciting for me is looking at the people on the periphery of defining the entertainment business—the young, hungry minds, the ones that understand how to merge entertainment and technology, that are versed in pop technology culture—and trying to bring them to the center.

How do you see the world of advertising and marketing adapting to this new model?

I feel that what we find is that creatives—copywriters and art directors—have really amazing things to say. A lot of them are directors in their own right. A lot are writing screenplays and developing different types of entertainment projects. It’s just that they maybe didn’t have an avenue to explore it. As brands are realizing that there’s much more potential beyond a 30-second commercial, in terms of engaging their audiences, what it does is create a lot more opportunities for creatives to be able to spread their wings a little bit.

I’m seeing more exceptional writers, both film and television, starting to move into the advertising space, into the video game space, so that there’s much more of a dialogue between the businesses. At the end of the day, there’s so much commonality between them; there are so many linkages between the entertainment business, the music business, the advertising business and the technology business, we can’t ignore them. And there’s so much overlap—there’s no black-and-white approach anymore. Every approach is grey, or as I like to think about it, full color.

It seems that you see transmedia as the modern incarnation of a very old-fashioned concept?

I think that’s the most beautiful thing about this. It’s tradition. It’s merging classical lyricism with technological innovation. We have more platforms than we ever had because distribution models have become much more equalized. We have more ways to reach an audience and more ways to expand upon what the very meaning of story can be. But the essence, traditional storytelling, it’s an essential foundation of human relationships—being able to share our experiences with each other.

So whether I share that experience by drawing somebody a picture or shooting them a short film or writing them an e-mail or a handwritten letter about something that happened to me, isn’t that what “transmedia” is? It’s so basic, and it’s nothing new. A picture communicates on a different emotional level than a piece of writing does. You couldn’t argue that one is greater than the other; they tap into different parts of you.

Do you think transmedia will become the status quo?

The most important thing is just to figure out ways we can give our audiences richer experiences. If it’s just in one media form, and that’s effective, then great. If it’s in more, and you’re able to expand on it because it makes sense—not because you’re forcing it—it’s what you’ll see. There are so many untapped opportunities to be able to bring the tradition and the innovation together to do different things.

What’s on your personal Things to Watch list—what do you have your eye on?

One really exciting company we [at Motion Theory] have a relationship with is Synn Labs—in terms of looking at business differently, there is truly no one like them. It’s a group of artists, engineers, rocket scientists—a like-minded community of people who are doing projects that are completely outside the box. We’re working with them and developing projects for advertising clients that are a cross-pollination of installation and artistic innovation and engineering.

They’re technologists. The marketplace is now finding them, and they created themselves before there was a market for them. They were known for creating the Rube Goldberg machine in the OK Go music video [“This Too Shall Pass”]. The remarkable thing about them is that’s the simplest thing for them. But everybody talks about it because it was like a little piece of magical realism. It really happened, but people couldn’t believe it happened. It worked on so many levels, because people talked about it, blogged about it.

Before, a commercial would live and die within the span of its air date. Now there’s an opportunity to create real fan bases, to provide experiences for our audiences and consumers that have a much more long-lasting effect and the potential to inspire people or get people to talk about things. In that regard, Synn Labs is on the pulse.

Photo credit: Zen Sekizawa

1 Response to "Q&A with Mathew Cullen, co-founder of new studio Mirada"

1 | Marc Lougee

March 29th, 2011 at 4:51 am

Avatar

Great article, interesting insights. Definitely keeping an eye on this brain trust; brilliant developments sure to follow.

Comment Form

New: 2014 iPad App

The Brazil Opportunity

Updates

Sign up for Email Updates

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Chinese mega-cities
    July 24, 2014 | 1:15 pm

    Tianjin

    China, home to the world’s second largest rural population, is expected to add close to 300 million more urbanites by 2030, when Shanghai and Beijing will likely account for two of the world’s Top 5 mega-cities, according to new UN research. “We are observing one of the most significant economic transformations the world has seen: 21st-century China is urbanizing on a scale 100 times that seen in 19th-century Britain and at 10 times the speed,” notes a new McKinsey paper on cities and luxury markets. China’s wealth will be concentrated in these urban areas: Over the next decade, McKinsey expects Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen, in addition to Hong Kong, to join the list of “top luxury cities.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Jakob Montrasio

  • Brands + Google Glass
    July 15, 2014 | 6:09 pm

    SPG

    As Google Glass makes its way into the hands of more people (last month it became available in the U.K.), brands are experimenting with the new possibilities that the platform affords. In March, Kenneth Cole became the first to launch a marketing campaign—the “Man Up for Mankind Challenge”—through a Glass app. Users were challenged to perform and document good deeds for the chance to win a prize.

    Starwood’s new Glass app, billed as the first such app from the hospitality sector, lets people voice-search its properties, view photos and amenities, get directions and book rooms. An array of other marketers have turned out apps for early adopters, from Sherman Williams’ ColorSnap Glass (easily create a paint chip that mirrors anything in view) to Fidelity (delivers daily market quotes for Glass wearers). —Tony Oblen

    Image credit: SPG

  • Ugly produce
    July 10, 2014 | 2:45 pm

    Intermarche

    Ugly Produce, on our list of 100 Things to Watch in 2014, is proliferating in Europe, thanks in part to government efforts to reduce the 89 million tons of food wasted in Europe each year. In France, Intermarché has been getting buzz for creating a produce section dedicated to “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”; a whimsical ad campaign reportedly drove a 24 percent rise in store traffic.

    U.K. supermarket Waitrose recently began selling packs of tomatoes that are misshapen or have fallen off the vine naturally. And in Portugal, Fruta Feia (“Ugly Fruit”) is a cooperative launched in late 2013 that sells unsightly produce that would have gone to waste. Per The New York Times, the group already has a waiting list of 1,000 customers. In line with one of our 10 Trends for 2014, Proudly Imperfect, watch for ugly produce to catch on with both retailers and shoppers. —Jessica Vaughn

    Image credit: Intermarché

  • The $1.25 Cube
    July 3, 2014 | 12:30 pm

    As we outline in Immersive Experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond, entertainment and narratives are becoming more enveloping in a bid to capture consumers’ imagination and attention. An immersive project from JWT Israel, a winner of the Cannes Chimera challenge, aims to help people experience what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Once it’s created, the cube will create a multisensory experience that uses tools like augmented reality to simulate sights, sounds and smells and elicit certain feelings. Participants can exit only when the person in line behind them inserts $1.25, a metaphor for the collaborative efforts needed to fight poverty. The aim is for the cube to travel to international events like the Davos conference in order to influence global leaders. —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: JWT Israel

  • Google’s Android Auto
    June 26, 2014 | 3:00 pm

     

    Android

    The connected car is rapidly becoming a reality. Fast 4G LTE connections are turning vehicles into hot spots that come with a data plan, while Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are making their way onto dashboards. This week Google introduced Android Auto, with the first compatible cars expected by year-end. Apple’s similar CarPlay, which turns the car into a platform for an iPhone’s content, was announced in March and is included in new Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo models.

    Car-based app ecosystems will provide relevant info (traffic, maps, vehicle diagnostics, restaurant suggestions) and entertainment, combined with safety precautions like voice control. As we outline in our mobile trends report, connected cars—complete with Internet hot spots, a suite of apps and sensors that communicate—will eventually link up with drivers’ homes, mobile devices and other gadgets to form a seamless system. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Android

  • American Eagle Outfitters’ recycling boxes
    June 19, 2014 | 3:45 pm

    American Eagle

    In a bid to create a more closed-loop production cycle, retailers including Puma and H&M are partnering with I:CO, a Swiss reuse and recycling firm that sets up collection points in stores for used clothing and shoes. The latest retailer to link up with I:CO is American Eagle Outfitters, which has added collection boxes in all its North American stores. Customers who participate in the “Live Your Life. Save Your Planet” initiative get a $5 credit toward AEO jeans. Any proceeds gleaned from the program will be donated to the Student Conservation Association.

    “The vision is for all products to be designed with future uses in mind, so materials can be 100% reused in a truly endless cycle,” explains a post from I:CO on American Eagle’s blog. An array of brands are taking steps toward a similar vision, as detailed in our upcoming report on the circular economy. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: American Eagle Outfitters

  • Marriott’s #LoveTravels
    June 11, 2014 | 1:45 pm

    Americans are now largely open to seeing LGBT characters or couples in ads, as recent JWT research confirmed, and thus “advertising is coming out of the closet, with visible and innovative LGBT Pride campaigns from a diverse range of brands,” writes GLAAD’s Rich Ferraro in Brandchannel. One of the more notable campaigns this Pride month is Marriott’s #LoveTravels, featuring portraits of people including gay NBA player Jason Collins, transgender model Geena Rocera and two dads with their kids. The campaign includes print and display ads and building wraps at five Washington, DC, hotels; a microsite details the individual stories.

    “This is one of the most diverse and inclusive campaigns to have ever run in mainstream advertising,” writes Ferraro. Meanwhile, rival Hilton has revamped its LGBT-focused site and is hosting a wedding reception at the Beverly Hilton for the co-plaintiffs in California’s Proposition 8 gay-marriage court case. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Vogue’s shoppable Instagram
    June 4, 2014 | 2:36 pm

    As we outline in Everything Is Retail, one of our 10 Trends for 2013 and Beyond, shopping is shifting from an activity that takes place in physical stores or online to a value exchange that can play out in multiple new and novel ways. Instagram, a platform ripe with potential, is among those new ways. Vogue’s Instagram feed is now shoppable for consumers who have signed up with rewardStyle’s Like to Know service; liking certain images triggers an email with instructions on how to buy featured items.

    RewardStyle tells DigiDay that more magazines will be signing up shortly. Other firms helping brands monetize Instagram include Soldsie and Hashbag. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Ethically sourced electronics
    May 29, 2014 | 10:45 am

    Last year’s launch of Fairphone, an ethically sourced and produced mobile phone, put a spotlight on the raw materials in our digital devices. Currently taking orders for a second batch of 35,000 phones, the Dutch company ensures that minerals come from conflict-free areas so they’re not helping to fund armed groups. Now a two-minute spot from Intel showcases the company’s commitment to using conflict-free minerals in its microprocessors. Intel’s website delves into the issue, and CEO Brian Krzanich also spoke on the topic at this year’s CES.

    Alongside sourcing sits labor issues, another ethical consideration that Fairphone addresses. Expect more tech companies to start improving their track record when it comes to how their products are made. —Will Palley

  • ‘Look Up’ and the ‘Heads-Up Movement’
    May 20, 2014 | 3:45 pm

    As noted in our new mobile trends report, people are developing a love-hate relationship with our phones. We’ll see a “heads-up movement”—something we forecast in our 100 Things to Watch for 2014—as people try to become better attuned to their real-life environment. The video “Look Up” from Gary Turk, a British writer-director, dovetails perfectly with this idea, with lines like “Look up from your phone, shut down the display, take in your surroundings and make the most of your day.”

    After its release in late April, “Look Up” quickly went viral; it’s now accumulated some 38 million views, approaching the numbers racked up by last year’s similarly themed “I Forgot My Phone,” and inspired a few parodies. —Marian Berelowitz

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »