Treading New Ground with Camp4: Q&A with Partner/Director Alexandra Fuller
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
Camp4 Collective is a creative content studio and production company that connects audiences to the awe of the wild world and the unconventional people who thrive there. Camp4’s subjects aren’t the only ones defying convention - this nimble collective employs their creativity when it comes to creating bold work for their clients as well as when it comes to thinking about the evolution of their own brand and its place in the greater content ecosystem.
Brand Storytelling caught up with Camp4 Partner / Creative Director / Director Alexandra Fuller to learn more about how a shifting content landscape encouraged Camp4 to adopt a content studio mindset and what accommodating that mindset looks like:
Thanks for taking the time to chat Alex. Let's start with the basics - What is Camp4 Collective?
Camp4 Collective is the most legitimate creative content studio for brands seeking to tell stories far beyond the conventions of Hollywood. We specialize in character-driven, multimedia brand storytelling that connects audiences to the awe of the natural world and the people who thrive there. We work as a true collective, owned and operated by creators, not sales people, so that the story always comes first.
How do you delineate between a production company and a content studio? What does the difference mean to you?
A conventional production company is essentially a general contractor for building visual brand work. In that model, an ad agency (or sometimes internal brand team) will architect the creative and hand the production company a set of plans to execute. Just as we've seen brands change how they engage with ad agencies, moving away from single, long-term AOR relationships to project-based flings with many different agencies, we think there's a need for production companies to evolve, too. For us at Camp4 Collective, the shift to becoming a content studio means moving to a design-build model, where we often work closely with a brand to create the actual idea, develop the story, bring that story to life through production, then help to launch that story within the right ecosystem of supporting content.
How is adopting the content studio mindset better serving your ability to work with clients and/or brand partners?
Mindset is a great word, because this shift does mean that we’ve changed the way we think about brand partnerships. It means that we now often embed earlier and more directly with internal brand teams, supporting the strengths of their own team members and filling in skill gaps. It also means a seamless transition from creative development to production, so that ideas get translated more faithfully and more efficiently. Instead of simply executing a requested deliverable, we’re able to think strategically with our brand partners about their goals, co-create the right stories to pay off on those goals, and generate the best content strategies to set those stories in motion. And lastly, it means that we can be more agile throughout the creation, production and editorial process. When Apple called us to help celebrate Earth Day, Camp4 partnered with their internal team to go from concept development to complex, remote shoots all over the world, to launch within four weeks.
Can you provide another example?
Last year we worked with New Belgium Brewing on a storytelling initiative that I directed that centered around their impact mission of protecting public lands. The brand’s amazing internal marketing team initially had the idea to create a single 30-minute film profiling a nonprofit worker, but after really talking through the brand mission and voice, as well as the goals for the initiative, I proposed shifting to a series of three 5-7 minute films that each brought together two strangers who found common ground over their love for a particular swath of America’s public lands. In this way, public lands were positioned as the great democratizer… just like beer. As part of the project, we created an entire campaign of supporting content, and facilitated the donation of $250,000 from New Belgium to public lands organizations chosen by the people featured in the films. Or, another one of our creators, Anson Fogel, recently worked with Loctite on a broadcast spot with a complex and real stunt. But rather than simply directing it, Anson actually came up with the stunt idea itself and prototyped it in his barn multiple times to get it right, even after the client’s engineers said it couldn’t be done.
Do you think that the content studio designation affords greater opportunity for a more hands-on ideating and production process?
Absolutely. And more opportunities to optimize the entire customer journey across different internal brand departments. What we are seeing is that many of the brands we work with are selling a lifestyle as much as they are a product, so go-to-market product content needs to feel of-a-piece with the bigger brand story content. One of our creators, Tim Kemple, was challenged by Merrell to leverage the brand’s history in the outdoors with a devout, endemic audience and combine that with seasonal product offerings. To bring that to life we leaned into the idea of local communities that use the same hiking trails for different reasons — and celebrated the unlikely heroes that defined those landscapes. The campaign Tim directed was a way to showcase running, hiking, work, play all taking place in the same environment (feeding the product needs) and then local characters to celebrate as part of the brand needs. Once we were given the permission to own the whole ecosystem from product to brand for the season, we could get really creative on how to best bring that to life from short films with festival runs, to social content, to editorial print pieces.
In what ways have you changed as a business to reflect this ideology? How have your capabilities and structure changed?
The most visible way Camp4 has embraced this mindset shift is to change the people at the helm. We’ve always been and continue to be owned by creators. In the past, those creators were all directors with camera backgrounds. Today, our four partners come from very different backgrounds, giving us a richer palette of perspectives and skillsets. We all direct, but some are also photographers and cinematographers, some are creative directors and writers, some are also editors and immersive artists. One of our creators, Faith E. Briggs, moves seamlessly from behind the lens to in front of it, and fluidly between mediums. For example, after the success of the documentary about belonging and access on America’s public lands called This Land, which Faith produced and was featured in (and which won a Staff Pick and was nominated for Vimeo’s Best of the Year), she’s gone on to develop and host a related podcast series with Patagonia and Merrell.
Do you think that other production houses will follow suit? Why or why not?
People keep predicting linear TV is going away and it keeps continuing to perform, so I don’t imagine conventional production houses will go away anytime soon, either. However, we do think that as brands further integrate how they communicate about their products and how they communicate about their values, there will be others that offer a design-build model to creative development. The very existence of Brand Storytelling as an organization demonstrates that this shift is taking place.
As a group of primarily creatives, do you think it is more or less difficult to adjust to this new model of ideation, collaboration, and production? Why?
The four of us— Faith, Anson, Tim and I— own the business, but we’re also all creators. Being owned by creatives is critical for us because it means that we fundamentally make decisions that we think best serve the work we’re creating. And even though we often helm our own individual jobs, by nature we love bouncing ideas off one another. It’s easy for us to get past the limits of typically defined roles and just start collaborating; at some level every one of us ends up impacting and giving ideas to all of each other’s projects. So, embedding with client teams and co-creating with them just feels like an extension of that. All of us are also active outdoors-people. And whether it’s backcountry skiing, climbing, trail running, kayaking, whatever— you have to be able to trust and rely on your partners. You need each other to make the adventure better … and often to stay alive. So, collaborative ideation is in our nature.
To learn more about Camp4 Collective, their work, and their story, visit their website: www.camp4collective.com
About Jordan Kelley
Jordan Kelley is the Content Director at BrandStorytelling.tv. He's an essayist, editor, and observer intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content. Jordan is a lover of stories and an avid consumer of new media.