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Why A-list director Peter Berg started a new branded content company

The Friday Night Lights director has added Film 47, a new commercial division, to his production company.

Why A-list director Peter Berg started a new branded content company
Director Peter Berg [Photo: courtesy of Film 47]

Peter Berg is nothing if not prolific. The director of such films as Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, and most recently Mile 22, Berg also executive produces TV shows like HBO’s Ballers and directs and produces documentaries like Amazon’s recent All or Nothing: Manchester City series. In addition, he’s working on projects with Rihanna and tennis star Novak Djokovic.

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Berg has also had a hand in advertising. Although he’s directed spots for years, he made a splash during the Super Bowl last week when he had two major ads air during the telecast and both finished in the Top 5 of USA Today‘s Ad Meter: The NFL’s “100-Year Game” was the most popular spot of the night, and Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” clocked in at No.5.

Berg’s Super Bowl blitz was the unspoken debut for what he’s now ready to officially launch: Film 47, the latest division of his Film Forties production company, will be dedicated to branded content.

Film 47 is led by Berg, partner and cofounder Matthew Goldberg, and president Vic Palumbo, who is an ad agency vet that joined from Deutsch in September 2018. This is the fourth division of Berg’s production company, joining Film 44 which does scripted TV and films; Film 45 (unscripted, including documentaries); and Film 46, which is a film fund they’re putting together.

Why now? “We were experiencing a lot of cross-pollination throughout our content,” Berg tells me. “Meaning, I’d make a movie like Friday Night Lights. That would lead to a TV series, which would lead to an unscripted series about high school quarterbacks called QB1. Then that led to some commercials with the NFL.

“It just occurred to us that we like the idea of trying to be a small, multifaceted media company that could make the film about an oil rig in Texas that blew up [Deepwater Horizon], and then make a documentary on the environmental cleanup, and everything in between,” Berg continues. “That aimed us at having our own production company/creative agency where we talk directly with clients or work directly with ad agencies, and help take on a more thorough or comprehensive role than a traditional production company.”

Verizon’s Super Bowl campaign is a case study for Berg’s goal for the new division. Not only did they work with the brand and its agencies McCann and DDCD on the big-game commercial about players who were saved by first responders at some point in their lives, they also created several separate spots of the individual stories, and a 30-minute documentary that aired in prime time on CBS the day after the game. “What we’ve found is that when the agencies or CMOs have come to us, rather than telling us exactly what to do, they’re interested in figuring out how we can work together to make something that’s consistent with what we like to do, and the quality of work we hold ourselves to, but that also works for them,” says Berg. “Verizon’s a great example of that.” Adds Berg’s partner Goldberg, “We love to be able to house within [our] collective that ability to work fluidly in all these different arenas.”

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McCann’s global chief creative chairman Rob Reilly says that ability to collectively produce high-quality work makes Film 47 an incredibly attractive partner. “I couldn’t tell who did what. It all felt like it was from the same voice,” says Reilly, who notes that it’s common on global campaigns for agencies and brands to be working with different directors within a production company. “This is a collective that works together to create content under a single vision. That’s the difference and where their niche is. Obviously it’s helmed by Pete, but I’d be confident in going with future projects, knowing Pete’s at the top, whether he directed it or not.”

Berg worked with ad agency 72andSunny on the NFL work, and agency cofounder and creative cochair Glenn Cole says all content isn’t created equal, and knowing the difference is another thing that sets Berg and Film 47 apart. “These things look the same–you prepare for a shoot, you film things, there’s craft services for lunch, you edit–to the outside world it’s just the difference between 30-second stories, 30-minutes, or two hours,” says Cole, who first worked with Berg on a 2011 Call of Duty ad starring Jonah Hill. “But the making is radically different in terms of the voices and money involved, and how they interrelate. These guys with their Film Forties model have found a way to navigate those differences and customize a way of working for each of them.”

Ultimately, Berg sees an opportunity in a commercial environment where brands are increasingly trying to break through the cultural clutter with content that people actually want to watch. “We have a small, multifaceted, effective media company that’s capable of making a documentary one day, a feature film the next, I have a long history of making commercials, Vic is deeply familiar with the business from all sides,” he says. “This hybrid of a company makes us appealing to agencies and brands looking for different ways of making new noise. There are other ways, our style is unique to us. Hopefully that’s as attractive to brands as it is to companies like Netflix, who want us to do TV shows, and Warner Bros., who want us to do movies.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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