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Beyond bids and budgets to winning a Bafta: Black Sheep Studios

Executive producer Sophie Fitzgerald on finding solutions for clients wanting fast-turnaround, long-form and smaller-budget content

By Sophie Fitzgerald

In-house production of commercials – for TV, Online and other media – has become a growing trend. But when it comes to what’s driving it, how it works best, the challenges and the benefits, there are many misconceptions.

For a start, there is the belief that in-house production companies get handed projects on a silver platter. But this is not something that happens at Black Sheep Studios – BBH’s production-first offering, which works with both BBH clients and direct-to-brand.

Often, we will be given the opportunity to pitch on quick turnaround projects. But to have an opportunity to produce the larger commercials, we have to fight twice as hard to win the trust of the agency creatives.

Then there’s the assumption that big name director is always best. Again, not necessarily so.

With client budgets getting smaller and creative ambition getting bigger it’s important to be flexible and have a creative approach with costs. And our role is all about being able to suggest alternative solutions that still pack a punch with creativity instead of saying no.

For creatives, the name and reputation of the production company is often as important as the director. This means we have a lot of convincing on our hands to ensure creatives look past this and prioritise talent – further proof in-house product is not handed-on-a-silver-platter easy.

Aside from being flexible and creative with costs, in-house production has a number of other benefits.

Turnarounds are getting tighter – the average turnaround time we have for pre-production is now under two weeks – and as we don’t pitch against external production companies, we save on time that would otherwise have been lost to the bidding process.

We have learned to be agile, turning around bids and schedules in 24 hours when needed.

With access to a large, global pool of amazing freelance directors – directors who we can put forward who are equally as talented as rostered directors – we also offer variety, diversity and choice.

And, also, access to plenty of emerging and independent talent with the advantages of freshness, enthusiasm and commitment, and being more likely to bring cost effective ideas to fit with client’s ever-shrinking budgets.

As it gets increasingly common for creatives to proactively pitch ideas to clients – and proactive ideas require ballpark costs and timings – an in-house production unit is also well-positioned to swiftly deal with this.

We can get involved with projects much further upstream, too – proactively pitching independent directors while the creative is still being shaped – and by being in the same building as the agency, we are easy to access with plenty of opportunity to build relationships.

Black Sheep Studios began life in 2015 and was one of the first in-house studios of its kind, providing agile solutions for clients requiring fast-turnaround, long-form or smaller budget content, often for social.

Since then, it has established a reputation for creating some of the most impactful work, including the 20-minute film 'Home' for the United Nations Development Programme in Kosovo – winner of the BAFTA Award for Best British Short Film and a Gold Lion at Cannes.

For all of these reasons and more, I don’t see the tide turning away from in-house ad production generally – any time soon.

Sophie Fitzgerald is the Executive Producer at Black Sheep Studios


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