EXCLUSIVE | Azazul Haque, Mullen Lintas: Ad-films production and COVID

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Azazul Haque, Chief Creative Officer – Mullen Lintas, is a highly respected creative director who brings rich and diverse experience to his CCO role at Mullen Lintas, before which he worked with Bates, Publicis, Lowe, Mudra, McCann, and Contract on brands like Nescafe, Coke, Nestle Maggi, Domino’s Pizza, Dabur, Maruti Suzuki, Havells ICICI Bank, Bajaj automobiles, Star Plus, Milton, MP Tourism and Rajasthan Tourism.

Haque’s best work includes campaigns like ‘khushiyon ki home delivery’ and ‘yeh hai rishto ka time’ for Dominos, Madhya Pradesh Tourism, which won accolades at Cannes, Titan Raga #FlauntYourFlaw, Rajasthan Tourism, Satyamev Jayate campaign with Aamir Khan, Amazon- Chonkpur Cheetahs, Milton, etcetera.

In 2016, he was elevated to Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy South and was the youngest CCO in India then. In 2018 he was chosen the South Asia Creative Person of the year (Runners Up) by Campaign magazine. His creative supervision has won many awards including Cannes Lions, D&AD, Kyoorious, Effies, APAC Effies and WARC.

When Haque — whose heart obviously beats for impeccable and flawless production environments and top creative quality of ad films and every other kind of creative element — looks back at 2020 in this exclusive piece, once can sense the angst and determination to achieve perfection in and inspite of social distancing. He recalls how the advertising industry adapted to the new ‘way to work’, the pandemic’s impact on the production side of advertising, the challenges the industry has faced during COVID, and about how the situation seems to be returning to normality. Read on.

Post-COVID, the world changed and so did the working methods of various industries. Work-from-home became the norm. In Advertising as well it became a way to work. As travel too wasn’t happening. Campaign presentations, pitches, creative workshops, advertising award functions, and even parties were happening on Video Conferencing. And actually, it turned out to be quite effective.

Even in India, travel time was saved, and meetings were happening dot on time. So, unlike many other industries, we did manage to operate in a post-COVID world a lot better.

Advertising film production, however, needs a physical presence and it took a hit in the early months of 2020 when the world, including India, was figuring out a way to work around social distancing norms.

Campaign presentations, pitches, creative workshops, advertising award functions, and even parties were happening on Video Conferencing. And actually, it turned out to be quite effective. Even in India, travel time was saved, and meetings were happening dot on time. So, unlike many other industries, we did manage to operate in a post-COVID world a lot better: Azazul Haque

PPE kits, sanitization, number of people at the set, and no intercity travel made advertising film production a mammoth task. Especially because Mumbai, the city where a majority of film production happens, was worst hit by the pandemic.

But, slowly, it all got figured out. An online feed of shoot really helped in making multi-location, multi-city collaboration a possibility. Multiple new departments were born in advertising film production like sanitization which became one of the most important and integral parts of most advertising film shoots.

There was a time when a shoot set looked like a COVID Hospital Ward as everyone, excluding the actors, were in PPE suits. It was unimaginable and extremely tough to shoot with those suits on. But advertising film Production managed to figure out ways to operate. The communication between the agency and the production house happened through calls and WhatsApp groups. Again, a very tough thing to manage, but it all got figured out as everyone got used to working like that after a few months: Azazul Haque

The important people of the production team started travelling to various shoot locations. But the agency preferred staying at home and supervising the shoots over Zoom links. There was a time when a shoot set looked like a COVID Hospital Ward as everyone, excluding the actors, were in PPE suits. It was unimaginable and extremely tough to shoot with those suits on. But advertising film Production managed to figure out ways to operate. The communication between the agency and the production house happened through calls and WhatsApp groups. Again, a very tough thing to manage, but it all got figured out as everyone got used to working like that after a few months.

But, overall the initial few months post-COVID were extremely tough for advertising film production with clients cutting down costs because the economy was hit badly and the cost of production going up because of COVID Safety Guidelines to meet sanitization requirements. Also, lesser films were getting made. And most films were either like homemade videos or shot on Zoom kind of films. Very few full-fledged productions happened in the initial few months after the outbreak.

But now when cases are slowly reducing in India, advertising film production is seeing a rise. Almost all the brands that were dormant during the initial COVID phase got active later and wanted television commercials to be made. Also, advertising film production in certain cities is seeing a spike because of very few COVID cases being reported. Cities like Bhopal and states like Goa have become a favourite spot to shoot ad films.

Also, Mumbai is getting back to normal and now bigger scale film productions are taking place. Post-production studios are also now getting into an active mode while practicing all the precautions. Few agency creatives have also started to travel for shoots and post-production. And now writers aren’t just writing scripts keeping the COVID restrictions in mind. Now stories that have the scale and outdoor settings are also getting executed. Shoots at foreign locations are still a challenge, though. So most of the shoots are happening in India. Foreign travel for shoots have dropped drastically and could continue to be less at least in 2021. Hopefully, by the end of 2021 foreign travel and shoots will begin again.

In time to come, if the cases keep reducing as they are in India, more people will get the courage to travel. As even now most agency creatives prefer staying at home and supervising the shoots. Film production units on the other hand are now in full swing. A few shoots that I have attended physically look well planned with COVID precautions and yet not letting that affect the shoot. So perhaps it’s a matter of a few more months when the advertising film production should get back to normal. As it was before COVID. Perhaps with a mask on.

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