Profiles of Innovation
Creative collaboration as a business model: Arts + Labor film, video and more
Creating art has never been easy business. The creative process takes time, it takes risk and it becomes personal. None of those attributes suit the building of a profitable business. But one thing these two endeavors share is hard work.
Finding a way to blend two disparate but equally important skills, however, could result in some business success. Put that into a mathematical equation and you might come up with something that looks like: Arts + Labor = Success.
And that's exactly what Alan Berg created. Berg is a former broadcast news reporter, working at KVUE for several years before becoming the Austin bureau chief for Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV. In 2004 he saw an opportunity to do longer form documentary journalism, and he took the leap.
Arts+Labor is based upon a unique vision: Create a collaborative, creative community that will attract talented people, working together, to create something bigger than the sum of their parts.
It was a big risk, but he leaned on the experience he gleaned from journalism. Investigative reporters learn early on that there are a few keys to success: Take risks, don't take "no" for an answer and collaborate with smart partners.
That knowledge informed Berg's business sense. "An entrepreneur is someone who’s willing to roll the dice and who doesn’t stop the first time somebody says 'no.'"
His company, Arts+Labor, is based upon a unique vision: Create a collaborative, creative community that will attract talented people, working together, to create something bigger than the sum of their parts. That combination has brought unique business success.
"We’re a creative community, we’re involved in TV production and film production, in motion graphics and in commercial and marketing videos," says Berg as he describes what Arts+Labor does.
It's a simple concept, but when you ask Berg how he does it, rather then what he does, you see why Arts+Labor is more than just another media production company.
"All these folks working together are highly accomplished in their own areas, but they are working to build an environment that allows creative people to flourish and to make a living. It starts attracting other people that help you build the company even more."
Collaboration breeds success, there's no secret about that. Rarely, however, does any business manage collaboration to the extent that allows true community-building. Berg and A+L partner Craig Parks focus on building community first.
"We don’t always focus on the dollar," explains Berg. "We run a company, we need to be profitable, but we take projects for a variety of reasons. Some are simply service projects to help the community, others we’re attracted to for creative reasons, others help pay the bills.
"It helps that you’ve got people like Alan and myself that are a little bit older and have run businesses; that [we] have taken things and built them and moved them forward," says Parks, a former marketing and PR man. "And I think it helps them be better at what they do because we don’t give them structure, you can't really structure creative people, but we give them some guidance and they get better."
The most unique part of the Arts+Labor model may be the way this collaboration happens. Walking through the Arts+Labor offices, you realize most of these people are not Arts+Labor employees. The offices are filled with highly accomplished creatives, working independently, but together. Writers, editors, designers, musicians and PR professionals lease office space alongside the 15 or so full-time A+L staff. So, independents like Eric Friend (sound editor and composer) and Kat Candler (screen writer and director) work down the hall from Erik Horn and Yuta Yamaguchi, the creative leaders and partners in Arts+Labor.
Sometimes the collaboration may be technical, but mostly the benefit of collaboration is simply found in the creative environment that's enhanced by all these people working in the same spaces — and talking.
And the results are impressive. For Berg, perhaps the defining moment for A+L was his documentary film, Outside Industry: The story of SXSW. The film premiered at last year's SXSW Film Festival to loud acclaim.
"What [Outside Industry] did more than anything else, was it legitimized us within the artistic community to where we started attracting some key collaborators and that in turn made us more attractive to corporations that needed marketing material."
On the day we interviewed Berg and Parks, Creative director and Partner Erik Horn was in New York for the premier of Reinventing the Meal, a new Cooking Channel series they hope will lead to more.
Yuta Yamaguchi, an award-winning Director of Photography has been screened at Cannes.
Besides film and television entertainment and documentaries, the company has produced marketing videos and motion graphics for big corporations like Dell, Polycom and Freescale.
At Arts+Labor, the business of creativity is really the business of creative collaboration, born from a desire to do great, ground-breaking work and make a profit.
"If you have dream and a goal, you go chase it," says Parks. "Now you’ve got to be willing to take some risk, I’ve taken some risks along the way, but they’ve paid off, I’ve also found that it works better when you partner with other people that have skill sets that you do not have, and I think that’s why this model works."