There’s a single-mindedness about Contra. You might not notice it at first as they don’t shout from the rooftops. But listen and you’ll find an agency that has clear ideas – and gets results by sticking to them.
They apply a consistency that can generate big audiences and awards wins. Even if the brief is a simple one, they aim to elevate it beyond a client’s expectations.
An obsession with emotion
John Ford, Head of Film and Director of Photography, explains. ‘What drives us is an obsession with creating feeling in film. It’s having a story to tell, because stories drive a campaign.’ There is a Contra type of film which underpins their strategy and attracts both clients and recruits.
They like to make films for campaigns that make a difference. ‘The Wait’ for WWF is a good example. Taking the theme of the reintroduction of wild bison in Europe, the film tells the story through wildlife photographer Michel d’Oultremont. His patient pursuit of these elusive animals in the Carpathian Mountains yields amazing imagery. It is visually stunning and immersive with deeply layered sound design.
This intensity, attention to detail and commitment to excellence applies to Contra’s work for brands like Honda, Red Bull, the European Commission, Jaguar and QPR F.C. It grew from the company’s roots when three university friends started making films with camcorders and computers in 2000. From the start they built websites and digital tools.
They benefitted from the growth in the education sector with a client roster including Cambridge University and Imperial College London. They still love educational work, but it’s a smaller proportion of the business than it was. Expansion has been steady, weathering storms such as the abolition of the COI just after they were appointed to the roster. The film team of 10 permanent staff includes four producers.
Production company or agency?
The film team functions both independently and within the digital agency. ‘You can no longer be just a video production company’, says Ford. ‘Very few projects don’t have some form of crossover between film and digital.’ This broad in-house skill base is combined with investment in production hardware like a RED camera. It means they can make everything to the same standard and create space for experimenting.
Contra’s focus on their house style frees them to work for partners such as other agencies, as well as directly for brands.
‘We study a lot the kind of filmmakers we want to be,’ says Ford. ‘Our challenge is to get ourselves into that space: good quality brand content. Too much brand content is too obviously trying to sell a product, but we never want to turn out template work at minimum cost. We’re always looking up, up to the next level.’