Brand Aid: Goldie Chan
Producer Goldie Chan talks branded content, edutainment, and creating on the company dime.
Where publishers, music promoters, and production studios once stood, brands are stepping in to take their place. Whether it’s an extreme sports site powered by Degree antiperspirant or a Chipotle-funded comedy series, branded entertainment blurs the lines between content and commercial, leaving viewers unsure of if they’re just watching for fun or the target of a sales pitch. Branded entertainment produced by corporate sponsors presents a new media landscape, one that imposes creatives with a new boss, a new set of rules, and a new way to finance their projects, provided it aligns with the brand’s intended audience, of course.
Here’s the problem: a lot of branded entertainment is bad, as producer Goldie Chan readily admits. Chan is the showrunner behind Cost of Capital, a scripted Web series that seeks to give viewers an insider’s look into the world of big finance, and to prove that branded entertainment can be high quality in the process. Funded by Mergers & Inquisitions, an investment banking education site founded by Cost of Capital creator Brian DeChesare, the series follows a young private equity pro as he navigates finding worthwhile investments, negotiating deals, and coping with the high-stakes lifestyle that comes with it. Designed to further pull the investment community into Mergers & Inquisitions and to educate the general public on how big banking works, the series toes a fine line between entertainment, education, and promotion.
Chan is currently the Diversity Chair and the Women’s Chair for the Producers Guild of America’s Northwest Region. Through both roles, she works to educate young creators on the role of a producer and on outreach initiatives targeted at women and minorities in the film and television industries. Chan gives us the skinny on creating brand content and on her diversity work for the Producers Guild of America.
Goldie Chan: We had to really balance that line. We started out with something that was actually very educational, as opposed to other scripts that start out, I think, very entertainment based, and we kind of moved it more toward the entertainment side. What I love about this script is that this is a show basically run by two women and a man, which is fantastic because a lot of financial shows are run by men and you get this view of women that, honestly, may be true, but is deeply unflattering. I personally like it better that we have the view that women in the industry are very strong. I think that’s a view that needs to be perpetuated, so that’s also part of what we try to build into this term that’s being tossed around right now: edutainment. Education and entertainment.
GC: Very, very closely. For us, it’s imperative that [the series] actually speaks to the audience that it’s meant for; that it’s not just a piece of fluff. I would love that luxury. I would love it if it could be just entertainment, but for me at least, as a showrunner, it’s really, really crucial to me that it actually speaks to my audience.
GC: It’s very, very different. When you’re working in a traditional film studio, a couple of things can happen. You can work with a studio that just happens to have that cash on hand. [It’s] a little bit rare, but maybe they’ll hire you and you’ll be part of a team and they’ll have cash on hand or it’s a series of investors and then they buy into either the production company or that specific project and then you can create.
With a Web series, I see a lot of really scrappy Web series. Literally, one of my friend’s series was shot in his garage. A lot of them are self-funded or friends-and-family-funded, whether that’s Kickstarter or Indiegogo, crowdfunding, or just sending out emails to your friends and being like, “Who wants a producer credit?” It’s migrating toward how can we get brands and sponsors on board with shows? How can we get investor money that typically went into film into Web series? Even investors can be a little gun-shy when it comes to Web series because the revenue that they’re getting back isn’t necessarily proven. I always like to say it’s a wild, Wild West world and we as Web series creators, as executive producers, as show runners, are definitely the cowboys, because it’s not really a proven model yet.
GC: Actually, I also work in social media and the word “metric” has been the bane of my existence. I’m supposed to say I love metrics and I love numbers and things like that, but I think, especially with Web series, look, I just watched a video that my friend sent me of a man wearing yoga pants twerking in front of this car and that has so many views. Say it’s for a brand of yoga pants. That doesn’t mean that those views are significant for that specific brand of yoga pants, because those people who are watching that video might not end up purchasing.
What I care about in terms of metrics is who actually is significant, especially if I’m making branded entertainment. I care a lot more about those people than just a general audience, honestly. I know that for our financial Web series, we actually wanted it to be watched by people who are in the finance world. We wanted it to be acceptable definitely to the outside world, but we wanted it to be this thing where investors watch it and they’re aren’t like, “This would never happen” or “These terms? Who would say these things?” We wanted something that was actually really realistic that would add to the traffic on [the Mergers & Inquisitions] site. In terms of hard numbers, we honestly didn’t necessarily set those in the beginning because this was an experiment between the site and the narrative Web series. I’m thankful that it turned out to be an award-winning experiment, which is why we’re pursuing Season 2 right now.
GC: If you’re a producer you have to be willing to not necessarily have an ego and you have to be willing to chase people down. Because if you need a script revision and you need it for the director by Tuesday at 2 p.m., you need to hunt down that writer and you need to make sure that that writer is actually writing. Or you’re in post and you need sound corrected by the next day. You need to make sure that the sound person is actively doing their job. A lot of it is watching over people and making sure that they’re just keeping with the schedule. The most difficult part of my job is the amount of emails and phone calls that I do in order to make sure that everything is running smoothly and keeping track of all the pieces that go along with any production.
GC: I am an Asian female. I should throw that out there [laughs]. I have definitely been in rooms where I am the only ethnic person and I am the only female. Producing is definitely becoming much more of a woman’s profession in terms of having a lot more females in it, but I feel like the majority of successful producers, the kind you see on TV and at the award shows, are still primarily male. That is actually, definitely, starting to change and you’re seeing a lot more female producers who are doing a lot more projects. It’s becoming a lot more equal in terms of male to female. In terms of ethnic diversity, that is a lot tougher. It’s just a lot more rare to have ethnic diversity at all, especially in the upper echelons.
GC: I also think that it’s self-perpetuating. As an Asian female, I might want to hire another ethnic person on my team who I’ll groom if they’re great, if they’re smart, to kind of learn my job so that they can eventually do my job. Sometimes when you have certain types of people, they’ll want to basically groom and find people more like them to get into positions. That’s unfortunately what happens, and I’m going to say something kind of salacious. What happens, unfortunately, is when you get into certain, especially ethnic, enclaves, and I’ll speak specifically about Asian creators, is that sometimes Asian creators will create projects that are great and focused on Asian issues, but then it only really touches the Asian film community. It only really touches the Asian community in general and those filmmakers and those creators sometimes can never break out of that box. They’re only creating with other Asian people and only creating projects for Asians and it kind of never translates to a broader audience even if those projects are really great. That can also be kind of a self-perpetuating cycle that I have personally seen.
GC: I think it is. I think that certain roles in Hollywood are becoming more friendly to having ethnic diversity, but, and this is honestly the more unspoken thing, you’ll hire who you like, so it sometimes turns out that who you like is somebody very similar to yourself or somebody who shares some of your characteristics, whether that’s they’re female or from the same ethnic background or they’re male, etc. I think that for some positions, yes, it’s definitely changing. It’s become a lot easier, especially in this time where you can be a YouTube creator and you can create a show and nobody can tell you not to. But I think that in traditional film and traditional Hollywood, there’s still definitely a glass ceiling that, certainly if you’re just intensely creative, intensely talented, very connected and sometimes very wealthy, you can break through those glass ceilings, but sometimes you can’t.
GC: Find a production company and [work as a] PA. Offer to assist. Offer to be an intern. Do unpaid labor. That’s the easiest way to kind of get your foot in the door and start learning. The other thing I always recommend, especially when I’m speaking to talented young people, is to create your own projects. It doesn’t have to be amazing. It doesn’t have to be ground-shaking, but the more you’re creating on your own, the more a potential employer might see this and I think, “This person is motivated. This person really wants to be in film, because they are actively creating their own film project.”
The first season of Cost of Capital is available on their Youtube channel at youtube.com/user/CostOfCapitalTV.
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