Written by Roger McCredie | Photos by Anthony Harden
Bclip Productions owners Bubba & Mike Berlin have seen it all.
Whenever Hollywood or TVland wants to give us a character who’s driven and edgy, and yet still functions within the parameters of a high-paying, vaguely glamorous job, they put him or her in the advertising business.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s early as the 1930s, Dorothy Sayers gave us a look inside the arcane world of persuading-people-to-buy-or-do-things when she had Lord Peter Wimsey go undercover as a copywriter for a “publicity agency” in her short story “Murder Must Advertise.” The 1950s gave us The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, with Gregory Peck as a straight-arrow account executive with a complex past. The 1960s, when all hell broke loose and ad agencies strove to outdo each other in creative craziness, formed the background for the ballistically successful Mad Men. The 1990s ‘Thirty-something’ offered the ad business-as-soap-opera and presently Showtime’s angst-ridden Happyish, with the three-martini lunch replaced by weed and Xanax.
Along the way, observers such as Catch-22 author Joseph Heller opined that: “The most creative people in the world today are in advertising.” And Jerry Della Femina, an agency founder himself and author of From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor, summed up the formula for effective advertising creativity in a chapter titled “Give Me Your Drunks, Your Weirdos …”
But on a sunny summer morning, there doesn’t seem to be a single dilated pupil among Bclip Productions’ crew assembled to shoot some interior footage at a local Ingles. They’re dressed alike in dark gray polo shirts decorated with the company logo, and they radiate cheerful competence. It’s a perfectly routine shoot that, in and of itself, has the potential to be boring — wide angle views of occasional customers wandering through a supermarket— but the members of the Bclip team are actually enjoying themselves.
Part of this is due to the fact that Bclip isn’t an ad agency. It works for ad agencies, as well as directly for individual clients, on specific projects, mostly video-oriented. There’s a lot of autonomy involved — Bclip pretty much gets turned loose to do what it does and return with a finished product — and therefore it avoids being caught up in the stressful, highly competitive world of interagency competition and intra-agency politics. It plans its work, works its plan, and moves on to another assignment.
“From here, we’re on our way down to Hickory Nut Gap Farm,” says Chris Bainbridge, Bclip’s creative director, waving a sheaf of scripts. “They are one of Ingles’ beef suppliers and they’re just down the road. It’s all part of Ingles’ ‘My Story’ campaign — the one where we show different local vendors telling about supplying Ingles. Fresh and local. That’s the idea.”
“You know the neat thing about working like this?” Bubba Berlin asks rhetorically. “It’s like being in school; you get to go on a field trip somewhere different every day. “You get to know the client’s business — or at least enough of it to be able to tell a target audience about it — and you get to know the company itself and what makes its people tick. It’s always fascinating.” Bubba is the CEO. In CEO-land and on documents, he’s Alfred. He shoots skeet (and pretty much anything else that moves), rides ATVs, and worships at the shrine of LSU football. He’s much more Bubba than Alfred. And since he’s a native of Baton Rouge and his blood runneth purple and gold, the question arises, how did he, and, for that matter, the rest of the group, end up in Asheville? “I got here through a complicated set of circumstances,” says Bubba, “but suffice to say that 15 years ago I was running Chammies Car Wash right down the street” — he indicates Hendersonville Road — “and, long story short, I ended up selling out to some national guys and didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next. Well, Mike — ”
Mike Berlin, Bubba’s brother and Bclip’s co-founder and COO: “I was down in Florida, working for Disney World. I had a degree from MTSU [Middle Tennessee State University] in mass communications, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I ended up at Disney, and that’s where I got hooked on the idea of making videos — of putting people’s corporate messages out there where you can see them and not just read about them.
“That was about the time that putting videos on CD-roms was just taking off.” Mike recalls. “I was seriously thinking about trying to master the technology and get into it on a franchise basis, but meanwhile, Bubba was footloose — ”
“ — so,” says Bubba, “I persuaded him to pick up, bag and baggage, and come up to Asheville, and go into the video production business on our own. “At first,” Bubba recalls, “we worked out of my house. Then, stroke of luck, we met Glenn Wilcox, who owned the [Asheville’s landmark] BB&T Building, and in exchange for a video for one of Glenn Wilcox’s passion projects we got a great deal on rent for a small office.”
“He felt sorry for us,” says Mike.
“Whatever,” says Bubba. “It worked out real well because when we started making a little money and needed more room, they just let us knock out a wall. After that, as the need arose, we’d knock out another one. We kept knocking out walls till there wasn’t any more room left in the basement for us to expand.” (The company with 16 employees, now occupies roomier digs in an office building on Asheville’s Old Charlotte Highway.)
Along the way, they attracted Chris, who, as the Bclip website puts it: “Captains the rollicking ship that is the production department. The peripatetic Chris was born in Chicago, grew up in North Carolina, Memphis, and Atlanta, then went to college at Furman, where he met his future wife and also founded the college’s first TV station. He did internships at both CNN and NBC, then got a journalism degree – with a concentration in broadcasting – from the University of Nebraska, producing three documentaries for the university while he was still in grad school.”
But Chris’ route to Bclip was pure serendipity. “I was back in Greenville working for a car dealer,” he says, “and wondering how long I could do this and stay sane. Well, I sold one car the whole time I was there. To Mike. He’d come to Greenville car shopping. We ended up talking. The rest is history.”
“We had some early successes doing corporate videos for people like Volvo, and then for a couple of steel mills,” Bubba says. “That gave us some traction, but all this time we were having to learn how to become jacks-of-all-trades in the production department, how to do more and more stuff ourselves and become our own problem solvers.”
“We’re really a logistics company in some respects,” Chris puts in.
“Right!” says Bubba. “Tell about the sumo wrestler.”
“Ah!” says Chris, with the air of a performer who’s been waiting for his cue. “Well, see, we had come up with this idea for a client that had to do with ‘big protection’ ” —
“The operative word being ‘big,’ “ says Mike, grinning.
“ — and so we thought, ‘sumo wrestler.’ But we also thought, ‘We’ll never be able to find the real thing; maybe we should try another approach entirely.’ Trouble was, we’d already told the client, and the client loved the concept. So we started looking through files and checking sports agencies. We thought, ‘Maybe we could get just, like, a really big guy, or even a professional wrestler.’ But the more we looked the more we realized that nothing on earth looks like a sumo wrestler — ”
“Except a sumo wrestler.” (Mike and Bubba say in unison.)
“We sat around looking glum,” says Chris, “until finally we did the obvious. We hit Google. There were three pages devoted to nothing but sumo wrestlers!”
[quote float=”left”]“So we got hold of a real sumo wrestler and brought him to Asheville,” Bubba says. “And everything went great. And it turned out all he wanted to do was visit breweries. In fact, he said he’d heard about the beer scene in Asheville and that really was the only reason he took the gig.”[/quote]
“Logistics-R-Us,” says Mike. “Do you have any idea the kind of respect you get if you walk into a bar accompanied by a sumo wrestler?”
“The first job we did together — the very first job — was a little training film for Arby’s,” Bubba says. “Naturally it was a great team-builder. Nothing actually cements a team together like working on a project and having it actually turn out like it was supposed to.
“But you know what I really remember? How much fun it was. I mean, it was a training film for a fast food corporation, so it wasn’t super-glamorous or anything. But the whole time we were doing it, we all realized it was important to the company and they had entrusted us, out of all the studios on the planet, with making it. So you feel called upon to do your best and you do it, and that’s a huge natural high.” He pauses. “It still is,” he says.
“Our strong suit, really, is integrating with creative departments, whether it’s an agency representing a client or with the client’s own in-house agency.” This from lanky, youthful Jake Dewey, who has wandered away from looking over the shoulders of the in-store camera crew to join the conversation. “Take Ingles. They have an in-house agency and we’re like an extension of it. We do all their TV, plus their in-store radio, food photography, and their public radio spots. They’ve taught us so much; working with them has been like going to multimedia school, tuition-free.”
Another LSU man, Jake has been at Bclip coming up on seven years, having worked first in Bclip’s outpost office in Baton Rouge for three years. As head of sales and new business development, he inhabits the twilight zone between the creative and business worlds, which stands to reason since his LSU major was fine arts but his minor was business. This combination, the others say, “Gives him that creative edge we need in the business department.” In other words, he has the happy faculty of being able to put a creative concept across to a client without prefacing it with: “Here’s what we came up with, but we can change it.”
“Most of our actual work is done out of town,” Bubba says. “As in waaaay out of town. I was on a shoot in Vegas when my daughter was born. Around that same time we were doing a project that required us to go to Colombia to film fresh flowers being shipped from there to the States. We wanted to get some footage of flowers actually being shipped out. Turns out Colombia is very sensitive about photographing agricultural products leaving the country” (arches one eyebrow) “and it practically took an act of Congress, or whatever they have down there, to allow it, but we actually managed to get onto the tarmac at the Bogota airport and film the flowers being shipped.”
“Logistics-R-Us,” Mike repeats.
What’s the worst shoot you were ever on?
Chris doesn’t hesitate. “The Miami landfill. In the middle of summer. In hundred-degree heat. Don’t ask. Meanwhile, these guys were on St. Lucia, doing glamorous stuff for their tourist bureau — ”
Bubba: “It was rough, but somebody had to do it. St. Lucia, that is.”
“But anyway,” says Chris, “we’re generally all over the place. Here at home we’ve done a feature for Biltmore Estate Winery and TV spots for Grove Park Inn, but during any given month we may be scattered from Milwaukee to New Orleans.” The company maintains a production space in Baton Rouge (“It’s really just part of a big building down there that the company who owns it lets us use,” Mike says.) and a pied à terre office in Clearwater, Florida. With a client roster ranging from Simoniz to GE to the Louisiana Department of Transportation, the additional locations come in handy.
In fifteen years it has been a long and kaleidoscopic journey from Bubba’s basement. In fact, this past year’s toast at the company’s Christmas party was a concise summary by Chris of what Bclip had done in a single twelve month period. Chris said:
“In 2014 we sold groceries, illuminated flower pots, birdhouses, human powered bicycle generators, doggy products, Tupperware, legal services, Grout-Aide, delicious egg crystals, lots and lots and lots of air conditioners, giant shipping containers, surgical equipment, various and sundry automotive products, electronic screen cleaner, hotel accommodations, therapeutic swimming pools, grill-cleaning robots, sand mining services, construction equipment, ironing boards, shot blasting equipment, and a spray-on adhesive that sticks to everything… including cameras and tripods.
“We trained marketers, university employees, car wash employees, folks fighting child abuse, quitting smoking, making milk cartons, using health websites, cooking chicken, cleaning motorcycles, spraying on the adhesive that sticks to everything, and identifying personality traits.
“We traveled to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, New Mexico, St. Lucia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Austin, Alabama, Miami, Connecticut, New Jersey, Chattanooga, Dallas, Savannah, Houston, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Indiana, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Virginia, Chicago, and the sketchiest ‘animal sanctuary’ on the East Coast. There was not a week in 2014 when we were not shooting multiple jobs… shooting from boats, moving cars, airplanes, hot air balloons, and zip lines.
“We worked for National Geographic, Omni, Zagat, Cisco, GE, and 94 other companies.
“We competed for Emmys and vodka.
“And we raised awareness for abuse victims, people battling eating disorders, folks trying to start small businesses, people trying to make Asheville a greener and better place to live, and kids.
“I give you 2014.”
So what’s next?
“We’re on the brink of something really exciting: our first TV show,” says Mike. “It’s called Shoot to Grill, and it’s all about a fantastic project that’s been hammered out between hunters and landowners to provide fresh meat to local food banks.”
“The joint venture is called Backyard Bow Pro,” Bubba explains. “It’s a group of qualified hunters who team up with woodland landowners. The landowners allow the hunters to come on the property and harvest deer.[quote float=”right”]Then the venison gets processed and delivered to local food banks; it’s all coordinated by an online nonprofit called nohungrypeople.org.[/quote] It will be shown on the Sportsman Channel, which is a natural because a lot of what we shoot will be actual hunting trips with these guys, but we’ll also be tracking the process itself, from meat preparation to ways to prepare venison – we’ve got a renowned chef supervising and giving recipes – to the end result: feeding people. It’s following an activity that’s as old as mankind: hunting to put food on the table.”
And how did BClip manage to become the taleteller for this novel and extremely worthwhile endeavor by bringing it to television? Bubba Berlin smiles. “Went huntin’ with ’em.”
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