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Nigerian agency’s ‘From Crap Scripts to Crazy Films’ workshop shines at Cannes

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The 66th edition of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity may have come and gone but the ripples from the ‘World Cup’ of advertising will remain a talking point for many years to come. Though Nigeria did not break the jinx of not winning at the event, it had a very strong outing in Cannes, France.

This year, Nigeria’s glory at the creative festival rested on the shoulders of a young creative start-up agency that has consistently impressed the international community with the kind of work that comes from its stable. Up In The Sky Ltd, relatively small and nimble has consistently won at different global showcases since it commenced operations in 2016, winning accolades and recognitions for its cinematic work. The agency became the very first Nigerian creative shop to host a full workshop at Cannes, which ran for 90 minutes.

Titled, “From Crap Script to Crazy Film”, the workshop focused on the development of stronger craftsmanship in the copywriter and film director communities. These two disciplines are integral to advancing how the creative advertising industry interprets stories and are many times in conflict.

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Industry analysts believe that with this feat, the country is inching closer to joining other African countries like South Africa, Egypt and Zimbabwe in registering its name among winners of the much-touted global creative event.

Over the course of the last few years, giant strides have been made in this direction. This includes what could be described as a historic feat when the Managing Director & Chief Creative Officer of Noah’s Ark, Mr. Lanre Adisa, became the first Nigerian to make the list of Jurors at Cannes after he was announced a member of the Brand Experience and Activation shortlist jury of the festival, last year.

Two years prior, Insight Publicis, (then Insight Communications) became the first Nigerian agency to join the global conversation on creativity by hosting a 45 minutes presentation focused on explaining the nuances of marketing to the African consumer from the sub-Saharan African perspective. The session was themed ‘Let My Enemy Live Long: How Africans Consume Diverse Experiences.’

The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity has since its debut in 1954, remained the most globally recognised creative advertising platform for celebrating excellence. Brands, agencies and individuals jostle every year for glory not just for themselves but also to give a good account of the country at the ‘World Cup’ of creative advertising

Interestingly, workshops have been a part of Cannes since its first outing. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has been bringing the creative communications industry together every year at its one-of-a-kind event in Cannes to learn, network and celebrate creativity. It explores the value of creativity in branded communication; from product and service development to the creative strategy, execution and impact. Hence, it gathers seasoned experts from across the world to share their experiences and insights through panel sessions and workshops. The time allotted to a workshop as opposed to a panel is the first fundamental difference between the two types of sessions at Cannes.

On the panel sessions, speakers come to the table with their unique perspective on issues, leveraging on their experience, markets and background. Workshops on the other hand are hands-on practical sessions with emphasis on actionable learning. It is a teaching session. Attendees are given the opportunity to put what they have learnt into practice – just as it happened at the one organised by Up In The Sky.

The implication of Up In The Sky’s hosting a workshop at Cannes, therefore, is significant as only the best gets to the stage at Cannes to speak — much less organise a workshop. Indeed, at this year’s edition, only six workshops were held. As organisers of the festivals noted on their official website, “We interrogate the methodologies, approaches and achievements of all types of companies: from tiny start-ups to huge multi-nationals. Anyone with original ideas can enter speaking submissions or awards entries, but only the bravest – and most effective – will make it on to the stage,” and Nigeria’s Up In The Sky did just that in 90 minutes.

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Recall that asides from its consistent local and global wins, the agency is today one of the Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festivals (LAIF) top five agencies in Nigeria. It has achieved these and more in less than five years of operations, and it is not out of place to anticipate more successes as it seeks to redefine advertising locally and globally in the coming years.

The workshop, which held in June, was a major highpoint for Up In The Sky, which has since carved a solid niche for itself as an agency with reputation in making globally acclaimed short films and running visually stimulating cinematic cause-related campaigns like ‘Special Day,’ a short film focusing on the plight of street children it executed for the Royal Diamond Orphanage. That campaign delivered their first win at LAIF in 2016 as well as international recognitions, including the Platinum Award for the Best of Category at the 2016 Summit Marketing Effectiveness Award competition.

Following their return from France, The Guardian caught up with the duo of Oje Ojeaga, Chief Executive Officer and Idiare Atimomo, Chief Operating Officer of Up In The Sky (who were facilitators of the workshop along with frequent collaborator veteran Director Tolu Ajayi of Saga City Media) to get their reaction on being the only creative advertising agency chosen to organise a workshop. “The idea of the Cannes workshop began when we received communications from organisers of Cannes,” said Idiare.

“they asked us to pitch a proposal idea for a workshop. We looked at our body of work at Up In The Sky in the past three years and realized we have actually come up with a very unique process for creating films. This process of creating films was borne out of creative collaborations – how we believe copy writing and film direction can be harnessed. It was why Tolu Ajayi, a highly decorated film director was our first draft pick to join us in delivering a workshop such as we proposed to the Cannes teaching,” he explained.

“We proposed to share our unique workflow template at Cannes on how creative collaboration should happen between copy writers and film directors, how they work together, collaborate, all from the unique African and Nigerian perspective, with our body of work to support. The Cannes content team got back to us earlier in the year to say they were pleased with the idea. They thought that it was something that could enrich the quality of the festival this year, because of the content. They observed our body of work and our speakers and felt that we could make a positive contribution. Basically, the workshop idea was approved for us to come and run, based on the strength of the proposal itself and the supporting documents and the speakers we were bringing. They actually went through a vetting process before approving the workshop for us to run at Cannes,” he said.

Oje gave more insight: “Up In The Sky is an agency that has built its core from cinematic story-telling, it is something we do very well. Two, in today’s world, the prevalence of video is global. Video is currently without a doubt, the most powerful medium for communication on any platform. You will find brands are making more videos; people are consuming more videos whether they are skits, memes or vlogs. If a brand really wants to speak to people, creating a video is a no brainer. The cost of the video is relative. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it has to be impactful.

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Asked about the significance of the workshop to him and his team, Oje answered: “I find that when you are a start-up agency, it seems like you are always in a struggle for survival. Living to see the next day becomes top priority. Sometimes, when you have huge achievements, they can just go under the radar. But this was different. There is literally, nothing bigger than Cannes for an Ad Agency. We are talking about the World Cup of Advertising.

“The first time we attended the Cannes Lions and experienced workshops, our minds were blown. The learnings you bring back actually impact your business. You can implement for your clients and bill based on that new skill set. To be given the opportunity to be on that platform, to speak on work made by Nigerians and shared with the world; that was huge for us. I remember we worked so hard on the flow and content of our presentation, finessing it to decide what we should put in and what we should take out.

“It is one thing to be given an opportunity to make impact and it is another thing to witness first-hand how people respond to that knowledge. Just the sheer amount of enthusiasm for the subject material by a truly global audience was overwhelming. The audience at the workshop comprised of people from such countries as the US, Sri Lanka, Denmark, India, etc, cutting across the diverse portfolio of departments — Directors, Brand Managers, Copywriters – even Clients.”

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