Putting Story First: Q&A with Kaaren Whitney-Vernon & Shaftesbury Team
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, Brandstorytelling.tv
Shaftesbury, the Canadian award-winning producer of original content, is no stranger to success when it comes to creating branded entertainment that taps into the pulse of its audience. Their series Carmilla garnered massive results (80M views) and stoked a huge fanbase, leading to 3 seasons and a major motion picture. This time, Shaftesbury has partnered with Dove on a new series “The D Cut” which follows characters fighting to keep an iconic queer salon open in a gentrifying neighborhood. Brand Storytelling sat down with Kaaren Whitney-Vernon and the team at Shaftesbury to discuss their latest series with the Unilever brand and their recipe for success.
When and why were you approached by Dove for this project? What did the RFP look like?
Unilever Entertainment has been behind producing premium content around the world (with titles including Dads and Girls Room) and was once again looking for creative new ideas for their brands to connect with an audience. They saw our success of Carmilla and wanted to explore what that would look like for the Dove Hair brand in Canada.
What is Shaftesbury’s internal ethos when it comes to tackling a project like this?
At Shaftesbury, we have a strong belief in collaboration. We start at the very beginning with a development deal that we put together with a brand. In development, we capture their values and what they are trying to accomplish and then come back with a few ideas that could work for story. It is about the brand, but also about great storytelling. The brand is truly involved from the beginning and so they understand how it will benefit their strategy.
What tentpoles do you stand by to ensure that you do right by both the brand and the target audience?
Story first. This is one of the most important parts of the process for the brand to understand. If we don’t connect and engage an audience with a great story, it may as well just be an ad! We worked collaboratively with Dove Hair to ensure that the audience would find the content of The D Cut relatable and entertaining.
What was the creative process like on this project in relationship to something like Carmilla?
It was very similar. The brand is involved from the beginning, from development, reading scripts to cast selects. We work closely to create an authentic team of TV/Digital professionals who understand and are from the community that we are creating the content for.
How hands-on was Dove Hair during that process?
Dove Hair, and their agencies, were involved from the beginning. We started with weekly meetings in the development phase, which carried right through the release of the series and beyond. Branded entertainment is new to many agencies, so guiding them through the process is an important role for our team at Shaftesbury.
What did the conversations around distribution of the series look like?
The D Cut is a premium series written by an Emmy award winning writer and deserved to be on a premium platform. Bell Media is the largest media outlet in Canada and Crave is their OTT platform. We spent a lot of time discussing the launch and how to utilize all the various tools that the largest broadcaster can bring to the table. It was a win having this powerful partner at the table.
What has been the audience response?
The D Cut was launched this June when many people could not attend Pride events and were isolated in their homes. The series was based on a true story about people coming together to create community and a safe space - the viewer response has been amazing!
What’s next for “The D Cut”?
The D Cut continues to run on YouTube’s KindaTV Channel and we’re looking to extend the series to other countries. Fans are already looking for Season 2.
“Oh my God. This is the finale!? I feel robbed of my iconic Quinn and Max moment!!! Even in the final moments, Liam is the BEST!!! I will miss this show and will be binge watching it again!!! D and Viva's relationship is soo pure!!! We STAN!! I need a season 2! Also the idea that Viva finally accepted herself as part of the LGBTQ community was soo beautiful!! This series is EVERYTHING!!! Much love to the cast, crew, directors, and writers for bringing a heartwarming story in these strange and uncertain times!!!!”
Shaftesbury is an award-winning creator and producer of original content for television, film, and digital. Shaftesbury's current slate includes 13 seasons of Murdoch Mysteries for CBC and UKTV, three seasons of detective drama Frankie Drake Mysteries for CBC and UKTV, three seasons of critically acclaimed horror series Slasher for Netflix, two seasons of Hudson & Rex for Citytv/Rogers Media, and several new primetime series including Departure for Global/Corus Entertainment and Peacock/Universal, Dead Still for RTÉ, Acorn TV, and Citytv/Rogers, and The Sounds for CBC, Acorn TV, and Sky NZ. Building on a rich slate of award-winning children’s programs, Shaftesbury’s growing roster of kids and family co-viewing programming brings fresh content to a new generation of tween and young adult viewers across all platforms. Current shows include The Solutioneers, Miikshi, Stinky Science, Life with Luca, based on the Disney hit series Life with Derek and Mary and Flo on the Go! based on the characters from Frankie Drake Mysteries. Shaftesbury's branded division produces original entertainment projects for brands, including the global phenomenon Carmilla for U by Kotex/Kimberly-Clark, Turning the Tables for göt2b®/Henkel, and Futurithmic for Nokia. Shaftesbury’s technology division works with leading healthcare institutions and researchers to explore and develop clinical applications for immersive media experiences including augmented and virtual reality, including a recent focus on children’s therapeutic support tools. www.shaftesbury.ca