Interviews

Dave Armstrong of Blaze on video production in transition

Dave Armstrong, Creative Director at Blaze DXB

A radio pedigree has helped Blaze carve a name for itself in the unforgiving world of video production, where clients demand stellar visuals and a viral social media presence. Creative Director Dave Armstrong reviews the first year in conversation with BroadcastPro ME.

With the UAE’s biggest radio brand, ARN, as the parent company, doors opened readily for its video production team at Blaze when it made its foray into commercial films in August 2016, admits Creative Director Dave Armstrong. Speaking to BroadcastPro ME in his Dubai Studio City office after a year in business, Armstrong recalls the early days.

“Our first job in August 2016 was filming Will Smith for the premiere of his movie Suicide Squad. We did not have a team or equipment, but just a lead to be the official film crew for Will Smith’s trip to Dubai. And the first rule in the industry is you should always say yes, it can be done. We quickly put together a team and delivered. And a couple of jobs came out of that and we have not looked back.”

While the ARN name provided the foot in the door with organisations such as Emirates, Dubai Holdings, Jumeirah, Global Village and du, the challenge was high expectations from the outset, Armstrong says: “The radio network is built on more than 15 years of fantastic reputation. We had the challenge of having to deliver incredibly high quality from day one.”

The need for a video production house, Armstrong explains, emerged in early 2016 when there was a constant demand from the radio stations for video content, mostly for the social media platforms.

“Over time, we saw an opportunity to build a business that we believed would be sustainable. So while we service our radio channels, we bring in a lot of additional clients as well.”

Armstrong cites hiring the right people and keeping ahead in the ideas game as his biggest challenges in his year at Blaze.

“The way we have approached recruitment in the last six months is to look for experienced TV talent, because they have a much better understanding of the workflows and also have the ability to turn things around quickly.”

Keeping ahead in the ideas game is a new-age challenge as skills and technologies become more accessible, he says.

“More and more people are learning to edit video, which can even be done well on the latest smartphones. And if it is a strong enough video, it will be seen by over two million people. At the same time, we have clients coming to us and saying we want our video to be seen by the same number. So you need to have strong ideas and original concepts to stay ahead and make an impact.”

Producing content in a city that puts great expectations on everything has not been easy, he admits.

“We are not interested in just pulling in clients, but also helping to build brands. Social media analytics have helped us enormously. Just observing when a person stops watching our video has helped us hone our content creation and delivery skills.

“We have done some interesting 360-degree filming projects and clickable video content. The premise of the latter is while you are watching video and you see an item of interest, you click on the screen and another video plays, giving purchase details. This is a very interesting tool, still in its infancy, and it’s great to be leading the way with these innovations.”

An ex-Avid and Sky Sports manager, Armstrong is a self-confessed technology geek; now that he is an end user of equipment, he believes technology is ahead of the appliances.

“One of the biggest challenges we face with technology is the gap between the person that makes the product and the person that presses the button. Before you design and manufacture the next product, you should go to your top 50 customers and learn exactly what it is they love and hate. Ultimately, no matter how good the technology is, the person who presses the button will influence the buying decision. Similarly, the challenges with VR, 360, clickable video and other cutting-edge technologies, are that the appliances and platforms for the end user are not user-friendly enough.”

The days of spending half a million dollars or more on largescale productions with dozens of people sitting in meetings are over, he says. Social media production houses are no longer “quick and nasty” production places, with technology now enabling high-quality content with fewer resources.

“It is an exciting time in the industry. Quality productions can be delivered faster. We were filming artists such as Demi Lovato and Sean Paul at RedfestDxb for Virgin Radio, and we were getting high quality, fully produced content online faster than people filming with their mobile phones could.”

Despite the strength of the parent company, the route to acquiring equipment was cautious and need-based with an eye on the bottom line, Armstrong emphasises.

“We keep it simple. We have time-lapse cameras especially for shooting construction sites, as we do in the UAE. For clients who want cinematic quality, there is a plan to move to RED shortly. We use DGI equipment for stabilisation. For everything from motion graphics to editing, we find the Adobe platforms versatile and reliable. Cinema 4D is also becoming very popular on our animation projects. Over the months, we have had to come up with ingenious ways of keeping our equipment working in hot conditions.

“‘Express’ is a word you will see on the Blaze website and in the Armstrong universe – it makes complete sense with creativity and quality.

“Clients do not want shaky mobile phone footage of their wonderful event to get the million hits. What we can do is set up a video production unit on-site, take the content from cameras, have graphics ready beforehand and post it immediately on social media.

“RedFestDXB was a good example. We would record the first couple of minutes of every artist and post it straight to social media, and the whole point is, with the power of our radio network and social media, we were able to sell tickets for the next day.

“One of the cool innovations at Blaze is we are moving into the live sphere. We will go live to Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, but with TV-quality production. The content will go straight from our cameras to a mixing desk, to an encoder and straight to the internet, with live graphics, animation, VTs and other relevant content – exactly what TV does, but in this case live with an event.

“We are not saving lives. We are just making videos and having fun,” Armstrong insists, even as his team works to engage your fleeting attention on an inflight entertainment system, on the metro, or with any of the 100 videos to be produced this season for Global Village.