Black Label Content’s brand has been about putting top-tier talent and filmmakers in front of and behind the camera since the Los Angeles-based agency launched in 2010.
Joseph Uliano, BLC founder and executive producer, got his start in entertainment producing music videos and content for many top musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl, Michael Jackson, Gwen Stefani, Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Rhianna, Beck, Lil Wayne, Lana Del Rey, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, The Black Keys, Justin Timberlake and many more. Having a front row seat for the music-video boom and working with platinum-level artists is where the team earned its stripes; it’s also where it became an award-winning company garnering two Grammys and many MTV Video Music Awards along the way.
So when BLC’s business evolved to include television, it only made sense for Uliano to bring that same team with its vast expertise along with him.
“I’ve always gravitated to entertainment marketing—culturally, it’s a good fit for us,” said Uliano. “I never wanted to use the best filmmakers to try and sell commercial products that don’t fit Black Label’s values. We love filmmaking and storytelling, so what better job than being able to help promote great entertainment and work with like-minded people with shared values.”
Throughout the pandemic, Black Label has continued to work with such talent as American Idol’s Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Ryan Seacrest; Dancing with the Stars’ Tyra Banks; Fox’s Ken Jeong, Taraji P. Henson, Mayim Balik and Craig Robinson; ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel and the cast of ABC’s new drama, Big Sky, on promotional shoots. BLC also partnered with Disney to shoot in three countries with 21 creators and talent for its Investors Day in November. One of the many pandemic shoots BLC took on was for Fox’s Fall Preview starring Jeong.
Prior to the pandemic, BLC produced an award-winning digital series “Dinner With Don” (Rickles), including a star-studded cast featuring Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Snoop Dog, Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Marissa Tomei, Billy Crystal, Paul Rudd, Zack Galifianakis, Vince Vaughn and Judd Apatow, as well as a Super Bowl activation/livestream with Timberlake sponsored by American Express that won a Clio in 2018 for best live stream.
Partners not Projects
One of the agency’s strengths, Uliano said, is its long-held partnerships with clients.
“We hand-pick our teams based on the project,” he said. “The majority of our team come from film and television. Our job is to make production days a great experience for talent from beginning to end so that they walk in and out on time.
“Seasoned talent know what they want and don’t want,” Uliano continued. “This can be a minefield, so our job is to sweep all of those potential problems out of the way in pre-production and planning.”
Now more than ever in creative and physical production, BLC has become the “connective partner” between different teams that may be involved in a campaign, including entertainment marketers, talent coordinators, logistics, digital, photo, design and last but not least, the talent’s own team. In any successful creative endeavor, it all works in concert.
“Our value proposition is service in the big picture: service to our clients, service to the creative and service to the entire production,” Uliano said.
“Celebrities have their personal and professional brand to protect, so they have a bit of fear about how they are being used in marketing,” Uliano continued. “So communication is key—it all starts by partnering with the internal network creatives and production team, then we begin coordinating with their talent team right from the start, from creative to scheduling to logistics.”
The Asks Are Bigger, the Days Are Not
In an ever-evolving landscape,“the needs have gotten bigger but the day has not,” said Uliano. “For every shoot day, there is a necessity to gather even more assets than ever before. So on a day when Black Label is producing a campaign’s main conceptual spot, it’s also shooting marketing lines for future promos and teases, electronic press kits, interviews, still photography and assets for upcoming digital and social campaigns.”
BLC successfully makes its way through these busy days with a scheduling matrix it’s come to call “the Mondo Matrix.” Typically, the matrix has to be continually revised down to the last minute as final scripts and talent times come in.
“There are a lot of approvals before you can lock a schedule like this. So pre-production time is key,” Uliano said.
BLC’s work on the 2021 launch campaign for American Idol is a good example of how the agency worked with multiple talent, deliverables and sound stages. In just one ten-hour shoot day, the agency needed to coordinate five major stars and their 18 personal staffers as well as a 102-person crew on three sound stages to gather assets for on-air promos, a marketing toolkit, still photos and three-camera electronic press kit interviews—all during COVID.
The initial step was creating American Idol’s new gilded set design. To do that, the BLC team, led by production designer Patrick Lumb, collaborated closely with BLC director Shane Ryan Valdez and ABC’s creative team, headed by Jill Gershman, Melissa King, Jessica Gaitan and Lucas Aragon, and the talent team, led by Kristen Graham and Sandy Christmas.
The team then concurrently utilized three separate sound stages at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, Calif. One stage was for the on-air conceptual shoots, another for the photo shoot with three sets, and a third was used to shoot assets for the green-screen marketing lines and tool kit, as well as assets for ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” while Seacrest was there.
Each stage was pre-built and pre-lit so that everything was ready to go from the moment talent stepped on the scene and worked their way through the gauntlet of required COVID protocols. The BLC team also storyboard and pre-visualize everything ahead of time, so everyone involved is on the same page as soon as the shoot begins.
“In the past, which is not that long ago, maybe four years, we were doing either a marketing shoot or a conceptual shoot. No one ever believed you could do all of this in a day,” Uliano said.
Not to mention accomplishing all of it in such a way that the talent always goes home happy.
“When you are working with the highest-level clients and talent, everything you present is going to be questioned. If you ask yourselves all of those questions before you present anything, that solves a lot of problems,” Uliano continued. “Our job is to make that a great experience for the client and talent from beginning to end so that they walk out on time and like what they saw. That way, the next time the marketing entertainment puts out the call to show talent, they are ready and willing to participate.”