State of Content: Bao Nguyen speaks w/ Joe Sabia – Pt 1

(Sponsored by Digipost, RICE & Partners and The Lab Saigon. Hosted at the AIA Nest by Bao Nguyen with treats from W Bakes.)

Bao Nguyen is a Saigon-based filmmaker whose past work has been seen in the New York Times, HBO, NBC, Vice, ARTE, PBS, among many others. In addition, he has directed commercial projects for clients such as Google, Coca-Cola, the United Nations, McDonald’s, the US Department of State, and Hugo Boss.

Joe Sabia is the VP & Head of Development at Condé Nast, as well as a director, digital artist, musician, concept cobbler and International Pun Champion.

(Check back next week for part 2 of their chat where Joe and Bao get into the backstories of some of Joe’s most well-known independent projects and his advice for young creatives.)

A taste of some of the most recent work Joe Sabia has directed at Condé Nast:

(This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)

Bao Nguyen:
Working with iconic print media like Vogue, GQ, Wired, Glamour, etc. how do you approach the stories…because a lot of times these brands and these portfolios don’t have video content and they don’t know where to start. How do you, kind of, start the process?

Joe Sabia: 

Yea these brands are really iconic brands and, you know, before I got involved in Condé Nast–I joined it about two years ago–I never really was one that followed the brands. I didn’t subscribe to the magazines, and I didn’t tell anyone that when I joined–I’m like, yes! I love these magazines! I was very familiar with them but…I’m just an internet video guy. Like my whole career has just been making things and putting them on Youtube.

And for these brands, video is relatively a new thing. You know, when you think about some magazines that have been there, like Vogue, for 125 years, and the websites have been there for about…what? Ten to fifteen years? The idea of taking words and photos and doing moving images and sound effects is very, very new.

So for me, my sensibility as a creator was, just make stuff that’s cool. Make stuff that has an impact, it’s compelling, it’s emotionally driven. And when you come up with ideas it kind of falls beautifully in line with women, for Glamour, or hollywood for Vanity Fair, or you know, these big verticals of brands that Condé Nast has. There are something like 21 publications, it’s really convenient to find a home for a lot of ideas. So that’s kind of why I took the job, because all of the ideas that I can dream up that work on the internet kind of fall somewhere with these brands so it’s just an incredible opportunity.

Bao Nguyen:

And for you as a storyteller, you’re working with a big brand obviously, they’re more about getting attention, getting eyes on these videos. You’re trying to express something in a way that the audience can learn or can get a certain amount of information. How do you kind of walk the line between those two things?

Joe Sabia:

Yea, “viral,” we hear that word a lot…I mean we definitely have entered an “attention world.” It really has come down to which brands are better at capturing your attention. Where will you spend 7 more seconds watching something instead of your friend on snapchat? There’s a lot of competition, there’s a lot of distraction.

So it’s very important to take what’s important to the core brands but also find a way to elevate. Period in two minutes is a great example. That’s information that you can find on wikipedia, that’s information that a blogger can write–facts, like did you know this about your cycle? But to construct something that’s whimsical, that’s fun, that’s artistic, that is 8 people in a room with hands choreographing…this really artistic expression is an example of elevation, it’s an example of hard work. It’s an example of how concept meets execution.

And that is what’s needed to kind of elevate it enough so that it gets shared. And then if it gets shared enough, sure, it’s viral, but at the end of the day it’s just artistic elevation, that’s kind of like the two words I say a lot for these types of things.

Bao Nguyen:

Yea and I would imagine that most of the brands, most of the people that you work for, they would think that the Emma Watson thing or the Samuel L. Jackson videos, that those would get the most hits but actually Glamour (the period video) got 97 million hits just on FB…

Joe Sabia: 

Yea, approaching 100 million views. You know for a lot of the brands, one of the coolest things about them is that it has a lot of access to celebrities and they’re basically coming in like crazy. Photo shoots are a big thing. Traditionally, Conde Nast has always had one day for photos for the covers and when video came along it was like the request at the end of the shoot: can you give us five minutes at the end? And what ended up happening was the publicists and the bookers were getting requests to have more time for video. Because they realized that people kind of care more about video.

They want to see an experience, they don’t want to see a Q & A. So I think that one of the coolest things we’re doing now, like Samuel L. Jackson is a great example, is that when you only have 15 minutes with a celebrity, the last thing you want to do is say “so, what was it like working on that film?” You kind of want to create an experience. That’s a lot of the motivation for what we’ve been doing…is it an experience? If yes, great. If no, it’s probably too boring and you shouldn’t just rest on the fact that he’s famous to assume that it’s going to be watched.

Bao Nguyen:

Obviously you’re integrating technology in the way stories are being told. But what’s the difference between a cave man drawing on walls with the way the you’re telling or integrating technology into, say, an interview. Like, where’s the connect between those two worlds?

Joe Sabia: 

Ah, cave drawing. I actually started out as a cave artist, that’s where I got my start. (I’m kidding). Um, you know, I always say that good stories always have a really strong concept. There’s an idea about it and then there’s an execution. There the publishing of that idea, there’s an expression of that idea. And I think that as technology has evolved it’s become one of those things where the ideas…and this is kind of like my central thesis–the ideas always seem borrowed.

There’s always going to be a love story. A Romeo and Juliet love story with someone out of town falling in love with someone else but the medium–the way that radio turned to film and that turned to the internet, there are just so many different ways to bring new life to that, to all these different stories that have just kind of been recycled. So I think that in today’s world, where we tend to forget things five minutes after they happen, there’s kind of a new opportunity to recycle. But also to just kind of be more inventive and be more creative because the tools are there for us to kind of do whatever we want and it’s really exciting right now.

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