Federated Media and TheCoolist on Creating ‘City Rising’ Docu-Film for Smartwater

/ Oct 20, 2014


Not long ago, Federated Media collaborated with Smartwater and TheCoolist, a lifestyle magazine that focuses on style, design, and technology, on a documentary video project that just won two W3 Awards from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts. Called “City Rising,” the approximately half-hour documentary, which lives on TheCoolist.com and TheCoolist’s YouTube channel, explores Oklahoma City.

Why Oklahoma City? Jordan Hoffner, the CEO of Federated Media, explained that they wanted to focus on the “next Portland, Austin, and Brooklyn” in a documentary inspired by Smarterwater’s “Look Up” campaign concept. Most of the documentary’s creative stylings can be chalked up to the hard work of Seamus Payne, a publisher at TheCoolist.

We got to catch up with both Hoffner and Payne to figure out how they collaborated on “City Rising,” why it lives on the web, and what else we can expect from their creative partnership.

What appealed to you about Smartwater’s “look up” notion that made you decide to get involved with them on this collaborative project?

Jordan Hoffner: “Look Up” is distilled into three content pillars: style, wellness, and technology. At Federated Media, we intentionally curate our roster with a diversity-first mindset, which affords us the opportunity to pitch Fortune 100 marketers with very different goals. This aided our 2014 partnership with Smartwater — which involved 80 brand-agnostic stories rolled out over four and a half months — in that we had no issue finding authors to authoritatively cover fashion, fitness, and futurism. “Look Up” demanded a wide range of voices, and we were uniquely positioned to execute at the highest level.

How did you choose which talent to turn to when it came to actually creating videos for the campaign?

Jordan Hoffner: We’re developing newsroom-style relations between our strategists and partners. Our Smartwater content strategy team has worked to establish editor-writer relations with our authors, notably Seamus Payne at TheCoolist, who wrote a compelling story about the future of automotive design for Smartwater earlier this summer. Seamus filed an idea concerning Detroit’s renaissance, and we worked with him on a pivot towards Oklahoma City, which he identified as a new incubator of the creative class — the exact target (millennial, educated, outgoing) that Smartwater is trying to reach.

How did collaborating with TheCoolist work re: balance of labor? Where did Federated Media really step in and where did creators over at TheCoolist, like Seamus Payne, take charge?

Jordan Hoffner: The balance of labor fell heavily on Seamus. His original proposal about Detroit’s rebirth received a strategic pivot from our content strategy team, who identified Oklahoma City as the next Portland, Austin, and Brooklyn. We challenged Seamus to investigate further, and together we put together a proposal for Smartwater’s approval. Thereafter, with an assist from our in-house executive producer, Seamus hired a director and crew and went to work. FM previewed a rough cut and filed notes, but Seamus and his director — Ben Bradley of RightHandFilms.com — made this come to life.

What about this documentary made it seem right for the web?

Seamus Payne: I feel that “City Rising”’s content is best suited to a direct, on-demand connection with its audience. It’s not just about how the audience views this documentary, it’s about how they engage with it. I want viewers of “City Rising” to discover something exciting in this show, and have the ability to immediately share it with people they care about. So far, that’s played out like I had hoped. One in three viewers of “City Rising” shares it with their friends. For a new video endeavor, that’s been essential to its growth. That’s a kind of growth I don’t think I could expect through traditional documentary avenues.

Why did you choose the format of a single, (roughly) half-hour documentary as opposed to multiple episodes showcasing Oklahoma City?

Seamus Payne: The half-hour format for “City Rising” allowed me as a writer to communicate a complete message on a variety of subjects. With individual videos, the story becomes less about the city and more about each subject.

We hear TheCoolist plans to make “City Rising” into a whole video series. What might that look like?

Seamus Payne: When I first conceived this documentary, it was my intention to build a full series of episodes about cities around the United States. I had developed a pitch for a pilot to share with my partners at FM, and from that pitch came “City Rising OKC.” Going forward, I aim to produce many more episodes of this show, covering cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, and Boulder. Like Oklahoma City, these cities are either misunderstood or under-appreciated.

The next episodes of “City Rising” will feature the same format as the original, but each segment will be given an in-depth video and accompanying article on TheCoolist. If you take “City Rising OKC” as an example, the first segment covered Rocktown Climbing Gym, the facility that was built into an abandoned grain elevator. In future episodes, segments like this will have more than just 2-3 minutes in the show, they’ll have 5-6 minutes of standalone content exploring the subject further. They’ll also include written articles, original photography, and more for those that are most interested.

That’s a great advantage of publishing this video series on the web. In-depth content can be linked to directly from the video, and an even deeper experience can be had on TheCoolist.com. In these instances, the web is way ahead of television.


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