AdweekMedia's Agency of the Year 2010



Creative filmmaking gives a Swedish shop its edge

By Noreen O'Leary

When Stockholm shop Great Works decided to open a U.S. outpost three years ago it went big, recruiting Swedish wunderkind Fredrik Carlström to run it. The film producer laid the groundwork for a new kind of agency—one that would combine the firm’s digital advertising acumen with Carlström’s facility with filmmaking and art. In 2010, the ingenuity of that relationship was on full display.

A highlight was “I’m Here,” a beautifully executed 30-minute film from indie darling Spike Jonze for Absolut Vodka, for which Great Works created what Carlström calls its “online experience.” (TBWA\Chiat\Day created the film.) The branding device, about two robots in love in contemporary Los Angeles, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The agency also produced a series of online short films for Malibu rum, directed by Eric Fensler (a writer on cult favorite online show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), which were featured on the popular comedy Web site Funny or Die. Also for Malibu, Great Works launched a DJ Music Mixer app this summer featuring some of the hottest names in the DJ community, which has garnered over 50,000 downloads.

“A lot of production companies talk about how [getting marketers involved] is a great way to get brands to pay for films, but we’re coming at it from a different angle,” says Carlström, who holds the titles of Great Works America CEO and ecd. “We want to develop content around consumer insights. It might be a feature film or a comedy with very natural [marketer] integration. We know how to create things that delight consumers, but drive sales as well.”

The 34-year-old Carlström—whose wife, Christina Wayne, found and developed AMC’s Mad Men—has conferred upon Great Works a hipster sensibility that’s helped attract attention from the media and eyeballs for clients. Since arriving in New York in 2000, he’s been involved with the arthouse film scene, co-producing a series of short films that premiered at Sundance. The erotic series, Destricted, was from filmmaker Larry Clark and art stars such as Richard Prince, Sam Taylor-Wood and Marina Abramovic. He also became a partner at TV and film production firm Third Factory in New York, with which Great Works has an exclusive first-look deal.

Carlström also has an ad background. In Sweden, while only 21, he started Stockholm agency Graceland Sthlm, selling it when he was 24.

Because Swedish shops tend to stay close to home, Great Works is notable for the breadth of its expansion: This year it opened in Shanghai, and it has a presence in Barcelona and Tokyo.

Carlström says his guiding thoughts about the U.S. office go back to a 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review that tracked the evolution of economic models from an agrarian focus to industrial production and then services. “It really spoke to me,” says Carlström. “As media shifts from distribution to content, brands need to be engaging rather than interruptive to reach an audience, and digital is unbeatable when it comes to delivering relevant experiences over a period of time and in many forms.”

While these days he’s focused on marketing—in the last year, Great Works also created a new digital and social media strategy for Kahlua, launched a new perfume for L’Oreal and produced a study about the nature of play for Ikea—Carlström still does film on the side. He’s in post-production on My Favorite Neoconservative, a documentary by filmmaker Yael Luttwak about her military strategist father, to whom she is ideologically opposed.

Just as Carlström seeks to find greater engagement between brands and consumers in his marketing projects at Great Works, the outside film projects, he feels, encourage conversation among Americans. “One of the biggest challenges facing America,” he says, “is that it’s becoming increasingly polarized. The idea of civil discourse is lacking in this country.”

Photo credits: Great Works (Nathaniel Welch); OutCast (Jonathan Sprague); Wieden + Kennedy (Chris Mueller); Electus (Mitchell Haaseth/NBC Photo)