Dispatches from Dreamland: Pushing RESET
In his latest blog from the West Coast, Simon Wakelin talks to Dave Morrison about his career and latest venture.
After over two decades in the business Dave Morrison has collected a bevy of awards in advertising and film that include prestigious Palme d’Or medals while co-heading Propaganda/Satellite Films back in the 90s. Anonymous Content saw Morrison pump up the volume on campaigns including its BMW Films escapade, while newly-hatched RESET, his latest venture with David Fincher, promises to deliver more. shots’ acting US editor, Simon Wakelin, talks to Morrison in his latest blog post below.
Dave Morrison is buzzing after wrapping a football commercial for Nike in Brazil under the RESET banner. One of the most awarded executive producers in the last decade at the AICP Show, Morrison has seen it all – describing a producer’s role as hitherto kindergarten teacher/assassin/ psychiatrist all wrapped into one:
“Our business is all about human interaction,” Morrison says. “We have always worked with high-end talent but learned the hard way not to work with guys who are problematic. All they do is leave you behind to clean up the mess.”
Morrison opened RESET with David Fincher and others 11 months ago following his departure from Anonymous Content, working on a feature at the time while he pondered his next move.
“I took time off and was exec producing Oblivion with Joseph Kosinski,” he explains. “After a few months we came up with the company moniker and signed on some stellar names to gain altitude. We know the business inside out, so hopefully are taking lessons learned as a guide to building RESET as a 21st century talent-driven company. Once we had lift-off we added more talent because the board flow quickly became killer for guys like Fincher, Ritchie and Glazer. When you have magnet talent like that it becomes rocket fuel for everyone else on the roster.”
Since opening RESET, Morrison has shaped content for clients including Nike, adidas, Activision, Microsoft, Apple, Lexus, Under Armor, Verizon, Sony, Gatorade, Verizon, GE and more.
With such a diverse client list I wonder if new media – most notably mobile broadband – is changing big brands’ approach to the sell?
“At the end of the day it’s down to imagery and narrative,” Morrison answers. “That’s how humans react. If they want to experience something in stereo they can always move on to a bigger screen. If you engage a person in a story, if the characters are alive, then it doesn’t matter what device they are using.
“Companies like Nike still look at big ads as their main event before focusing on work for other media options – like Write the Future. Big brands still throw their money into the big event. I have yet to see compelling brand content on the Internet that matches.”
When asked of commercial directors he respects in the field Morrison ponders. I suggest that advertising is a tricky medium; that the best directors are tasked with creating commercials that resonate with all – work that is both poetry and ordinary, that spans the exalted and the common place.
“Frank Budgen, Fincher, Ivan Zacharias, Jonathan Glazer always managed to achieve that for 20 years,” he answers. “They consistently deliver work with a lot of heart.”
Our discussion moves on to film and Hollywood’s insistence on replicating successful pictures through second-tier mechanics – a business model that guarantees revenue while crushing originality: “It’s the corporatisation of the studios,” Morrison offers. “Being owned by conglomerates does nothing for creativity. Companies like Viacom, Sony and Disney make shareholder-dependent choices, so franchises and remakes that are already in the zeitgeist receive the winning share.”
He tempers those views with the growing excitement many share over the future of entertainment through avenues including Amazon, AppleTV, Netflix and cable TV.
“Study Behind the Candelabra as case evidence,” notes Morrison. “Every studio passed on that picture, and witness Fincher’s House of Cards and what that did for Netflix. I think both directors would agree that the best writing is now on TV.”
Meanwhile, Morrison feels that advertising has a responsibility to push the envelope and fulfill audience expectations. “I say give people a reason to watch ads,” he says. “Either spend a lot of money like BMW did on BMW Films, so it’s as good as a film, or do something controversial. Anything in between and people don’t care.”
We go on to discuss how the ad production business has effectively consolidated since the recent recession:
“Since then we’ve seen a handful of companies with huge rosters take the lead,” he expresses. “They survive while the middle companies get killed – companies with a big overhead and no stock of magnet talent to create the income. They may have one or two big directors on the top of the pile keeping them alive but if they go away then so does the company. It’s no surprise to see such directors paid outrageous sums of money just to stay with a company to maintain stability.”
When discussing the future of RESET Morrison explains that there is more than traditional advertising when it comes to the dynamics of the company. “Production is a service-based industry,” he asserts. “Your assets walk out the door every day. We will diversify our IP but first need to maintain a laser-like focus on our core business of advertising and see where it leads us over the next few years.”
When asked what it is that gets his ass out of bed every day, Morrison is quick to respond. “It’s the creativity and competition that I love, to win on both levels. It’s a roller coaster ride, but that also makes the job interesting.”
While discussing previous work in Morrison’s career we stumble upon the much-vaunted BMW film series starring Clive Owen. Having spearheaded and developed the work with Fallon and Fincher, he discloses some interesting details, including the fact that David Fincher was initially lined up to direct the series.
Unfortunately Panic Room became green-lit, effectively yanking the director away from the project in its first evolution. “Then Luc Besson turned it down after being briefed – but amusingly came out with The Transporter a year later,” he quips.
As for running RESET from his HQ in LA, Morrison is content; the eldest of five children hailing from New York City, Morrison went on to live in London before returning to New York to co-head Propaganda and Satellite Films, and found himself regularly visiting La La Land before settling down here:
“If you are in the business in New York you’re most likely an ad executive, but here in LA you’re a producer,” he outlines. “After all, if you want to slay the dragon you have to go to where the dragon lives.”