Dictionary definition aside, to the guys who started Studio City, Calif.-based Denizen just six months ago, a denizen is “something that flourishes in its chosen environment,” says David Gold, one of the new agency’s principals. “It’s something that’s the apex predator wherever it is.”
Hence that little monster right there in the middle of Denizen’s bold, imposing purple logo.
From a realistic business perspective, what that means to Gold, Robert Mape and Chris McKenna is that Denizen starts off right at the top of what it does and stays there.
“People ask us what our logo means quite a bit,” says McKenna, who, together with his partner Monica Hinden, handles the business side of Denizen. Together, McKenna and Hinden also run New York-based Wee Beastie, a creative agency that focuses on live action. “The logo and the name symbolize our desire to get aggressive with the creative.”
“Something that sets Denizen apart from the rest of the marketplace is that idea of offering quality quickly,” says Mape, who serves both as principal and as the agency’s chief editor. “It’s not about getting through a project and getting it out of the way. After talking to our clients and understanding their desires and needs, we put a structure and story in place and produce pieces that they could air the day they see them.”
“The client often has a relatively broad marketing strategy and we are quickly able to show them a variety of different directions they can go with footage,” says Gold. “A lot of times they are used to seeing just scripts, words on the page. We quickly provide them something really polished. It jumpstarts the creative process faster than they are used to.”
Denizen’s particular area of expertise is “about editing and creating great montage work,” says McKenna. Creating great that work is much more than throwing together a bunch of clips. It requires thorough preparation, a close eye and a light touch.
“One of the things I have found in normal TV marketing is that it becomes a formula where it’s scrite-bite-script-bite-promo-done-moving-on,” says Gold. “Robert doesn’t see that formula. He hasn’t put in years and years grinding out that same formula that we are all so familiar with. He sculpts with footage in ways I have never seen another editor do. It feels like promo jazz.”
Mape came to Denizen from Trailer Park, where he cut everything from Dora the Explorer trailers to theatrical trailers. “I had the ability to jump from one thing to another and understand what each thing was on its own. That became a valuable asset for me,” he says.
Denizen exploits that talent by working to make sure that every TV promo feels like an event.
Meanwhile, Gold uses that same footage to craft story and narrative.
“We joke that Robert is the SVP of images and I’m the SVP of words,” says Gold. “Everything from launch spots to sizzles to entire stories and narratives are done with just footage and bites from the show.”
The denizens of Denizen took that knowledge to create one of their first big campaigns: the launch of AMC’s Better Call Saul.
The initial brief from AMC wasn’t super specific, but Gold and Mape knew a few things: they were presenting Bob Odenkirk’s character as Jimmy McGill, not Breaking Bad‘s criminal attorney Saul Goodman; they needed to appeal to Breaking Bad fans without promising them Breaking Bad; and they wanted the show to feel a little dark and dangerous but still funny. After that, it was almost a blank slate.
“From a creative standpoint for David and I, that’s like candy to a baby,” Mape says.
Part of the Better Call Saul campaign that Gold and Mape are proud of is that while the network asked for some changes — particularly highlighting some of the show’s other characters — it never asked for changes in structure, story, tone or music.
“This first-look buy, the rough-cut buy, that’s this mythical thing that people talk about and I thought that as well when we were launching Denizen,” says Gold. “But I’ve never seen the amount of first-look buys that we’ve so far experienced as a company. It’s the level of quality that we offer.”
“We understand the client and we give them back what they are hoping to achieve,” says Mape. “If you do the preparation up front, the back end is easy.”
Always a Story to Tell
Another good example of how Denizen uses existing footage to build an exciting promo is its returning series sizzle for Discovery Science (shown above).
“The bottom line with everything we are talking about is that no matter the subject, you always need to tell a story,” says Gold. “Part of the artistry is making sure that all of the client’s key players are getting airtime while you are telling that story.”
Denizen also likes to cut footage in time with compelling music, which is particularly highlighted in the below spot for Nat Geo’s Life Below Zero, with classic Christmas carol “Let it Snow” adapted by Jingle Punks into something that sounds much more sinister.
“We knew we are going to use that song all the way throughout the process,” says Gold. “And all of graphics are very snow-filled, which informed all of our creative decisions.”
“What we have going for us at Denizen is that we are experts at creating engaging work,” says McKenna. “Clients call us up and say ‘we know you are going to create something engaging so here’s some loose parameters, surprise us.’ That kind of trust is the best possible client-vendor relationship you can have.”