People Over Pixels: Q&A with Evolve Studios
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Uncertainty provides opportunities to do things differently. Prioritizing the most elite creative at all costs has left us broken and divided. There’s a huge opportunity for disruption that drives success, but it requires a special kind of person, one with a different set of wiring who will see things differently. A person who is not afraid of the hard and embraces the challenges. Luanne Dietz is one of those people.
Luanne Dietz is a photojournalist, turned film director, turned executive producer, who is now using her big-picture thinking to bring creative solutions to brands as the new VP of Branded Content at Evolve Studios. Previously, she was the head of content strategy at Amazon for The Climate Pledge and has spent years in-house telling stories from coffee farms for Starbucks. She was the first director hired at CNN’s brand studio, Courageous, and has led content teams in the video game and entertainment industry. Not to mention she’s won three Emmys, a Cannes Lion, and an Edward R. Murrow Award.
Brand Storytelling caught up with Luanne Dietz and Evolve’s founder, Joel Edwards, to learn more about their people-first approach, and how they’re uniting culture through storytelling:
How did Evolve studios come to be what it is today, and why are you doubling down on Branded Content in 2023?
Joel: Evolve is a studio of like-minded storytellers with different gifts and talents but one collective purpose: to unite culture through storytelling. We’re bold and passionate makers who, for the last decade, have pursued telling powerful human stories in film. We believe in the power of craft, and the ability of story, pictures, and sound to work in harmony creating a meaningful impact. As a company we’ve worked to bring energy and emotion into all forms of our storytelling and believe that creativity is constantly evolving.
Luanne: We live in a society fueled by the phrase “knowledge is power”. Consumers with the greatest buying potential are a generation that grew up with the internet and have always had information at their fingertips. As a buyer, it’s easy to google, for example, a brand's sustainability mission to make sure it’s a brand I align with, but it’s a different power to be able to watch someone like me, who has had a personal experience that I can empathize with, and be able to relate to. So, over this next year, instead of retreating in the face of adversity, we’re running toward it, letting empathy be our guide in the branded stories we tell. The world needs hope right now, and the best way to give hope is to show that it exists.
Evolve has set out to unite culture through storytelling. So how exactly do you do that?
JE: Storytelling has been the fabric of society and culture since the beginning of time. The ideas that shape, inspire, and define us are communicated and lived out in stories. It’s no secret the world right now is profoundly polarized and divided. We believe that positive change in culture starts with seeking UNITY through RADICAL EMPATHY, and very few things have the power to do that like storytelling. ‘People over pixels’ is way more than just a catchy, feel-good slogan. It's a counter cultural choice, and a difficult choice at that. It’s a choice to constantly seek unification, to continually practice empathy, love, and compassion. Starting with oneself, and flowing into our team, our story characters, our collaborators, our clients, their customers, and audiences at large.
LD: We’ve been given a gift to tell stories for a living, an opportunity to pursue our passion and calling, to create art that has the power to break down barriers. Leading with empathy creates common ground. It levels the playing field for all involved and meets audiences where they’re at. It validates vulnerability, encourages unity, and empowers individuals at every level to share their stories. Now more than ever, we need to lean into the human spirit, and learn from one another.
With the state of the industry and the world at the moment, how is Evolve preparing to meet Brands where they're at, and help lead them where they’re heading?
JE: We’ve been preparing, and are ready to meet the challenges of this moment. We are joyfully embracing doing more with less. Budgets might shrink. Ad dollars might shift. But stories aren’t going anywhere. Quite the opposite. Their power to influence is getting stronger, and that makes it our job as storytellers in the brand space to create content with purpose, to find the thread that ties awareness to profitability.
LD: Our approach to branded content is rooted in creative problem solving. We’re not replying to RFPs, or, in lay terms, throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. We’re being super intentional with the brands we partner alongside, to ensure that we can truly take on their initiatives as if they’re our own. We’re excited to team up with brands who aren’t afraid of the risk it takes to disrupt. We believe that each brand has a unique story, a story no other brand can tell, and it’s our job to find it.
JE: For us, partnership equals relationship, which equals stewardship. When we partner together, it's way more than just a job. We adopt our clients' projects. It's the knitting together of two different families to care for and raise the other’s child. At launch, we lovingly release it and send it back out into the world together, crying from the bleachers at graduation.
At Evolve, you really do it all. In this last year you’ve produced three feature films, produced and developed episodic television, produced hundreds of trailers, promos, and branded content pieces. How does the experience across mediums lend itself to brand filmmaking?
LD: When we sit down to conceptualize for a brand, we take into account the uniqueness of its audience, influence, and approach. Having the diversity of form in our back pocket allows us to design cohesive campaigns for our partners that touch all points of interest, and deliver the message holistically. It allows us to dream bigger than a single type, and let the ideas dictate the form. It’s kind of like cooking. Sure, there are recipes, but some of the best meals come from a trusted chef who has an intimate understanding of their ingredients and has the experience and instincts to let risks give way to rewards.
JE: We’ve built Evolve Studios as a storytelling ecosystem. We intentionally work in and tell stories in all formats of film – short, long, unscripted, scripted, web, social, theater, streaming, commercial, and experimental. Our ability to tell stories in multiple forms empowers us to reach any audience, anywhere. This diversity in genre is extremely important to us and very powerful as a partner for brands who also want to unite culture around their stories, passions, and products.
What’s the most important thing we can do this year in brand storytelling?
JE: This year is going to bring all new challenges to our industry. We’re going to be stress tested. In that stress… the most disruptive thing we can do is practice radical empathy. We need to prioritize people over pixels, in our stories but equally in the production process. Filmmaking is the ultimate creative team sport, and there is no room for ego and pride. We create the world we want with our everyday actions. Every input has an outcome. So, what if we strive to eliminate division from our lives, from our work? What if during conflict we just listen, instead of screaming louder? The process of film production would be healing – not destructive. If we practice this, we believe the work will be better, and the impact of that work will move the needle for both society and a brands influence in it.
LD: There has never been a more important time to find the people who inspire you, and hold them close. From coworkers, to story subjects, to brand partners, it's time to sync up. Making the decision to leave a brand and join a production studio was not one I made lightly. Joining Evolve feels like I’m back in college, sneaking off to the dark room with friends to make something cool. Only now, we have the experience, and our talent has been honed. I have to believe if we prioritize people, we’ll see an increase in audience eyeballs, higher KPI goals reached for brands, and a better experience for everyone all around, from the creators, to the executives, to the audiences, and ultimately to the world.
Learn More About Evolve Studios here.
About Luanne Dietz
Three-time Emmy Award Winner and Cannes Lion recipient, Luanne is an award-winning brand storytelling executive with 15 years of experience developing and producing premium film, experiential, and custom content for globally-renowned networks, corporations and foundations. Having worked at all stages of production from Cam Op to Editor to Director to EP, Luanne Specializes in building cohesive content studios and leading a wide variety of creatives.
About Joel Edwards
An independent full-service production studio, Evolve Studios produces a vast range of original feature films, episodic series, documentaries, brand storytelling, trailers, promos, digital films and immersive & experiential content.