Jungleboys has emerged from the wilderness to become one of most prolific comedy producers in the country, as CREATIVE reports.
This Jungle book story begins in the bedroom of executive producer, Jason Burrows, in 2003.
Burrows had never worked in the film industry as such. He had no clients, no directors, and no office – just a couple of computers, an apartment in Bondi, and a vague hunch that there was a gap in the market for a more nimble kind of production company.
“In the first year of launching I made one half-hour documentary that made $15,000, which is about $300 per week,” Burrows says.” I lived off my savings, but basically I wasn’t living that well.”
In year two, Burrows knew he needed to earn some money. “At that stage, all the agencies were taking their work to the big post houses and paying $800 for an hour’s editing. I approached agencies by saying, ‘You could create a lot of inexpensive work by doing your post and direction with us’.”
Meanwhile, Burrows met director Trent O’Donnell and a beautiful bromance was born when they realised they shared a love for making comedy.
“I remember going down to Jason’s apartment in Bondi to work on a corporate job using a couple of computers in his bedroom,” O’Donnell says. “It certainly wasn’t the most polished office environment – there was lots of going for swims at lunchtime.”
Like Burrows, O’Donnell was learning on his feet. “I’d directed my own shorts before, but at Jungleboys I got to work with crews and paid actors for the first time. I was very much learning on the job.”
O’Donnell began directing a series of comedy pilots that put the company on the radar of television executives and creative directors alike. By offering direction, post and editing in-house, Jungleboys also offered a cost-efficient alternative to its competitors.
“I think we’ve been successful because we have a very fixed idea of what we think is good comedy,” O’Donnell says. “Comedy is often dismissed as personal taste, but I think there is good and bad comedy. Some of it is far too familiar, far too overdone, or far too obvious, whereas we have a very strong idea of what we think works.
“We like our comedy to be grounded in reality, with truthful acting, and I guess we often err to a darker side.”
By creating low-budget comedy pilots and short films early on, Jungleboys found itself ideally positioned for the industry’s transition away from 30-second TVCs towards long-format and branded entertainment.
Ironically, more established production companies have found it difficult to make this transition in reverse (from TVCs to long-format), perhaps not appreciating how different the two formats are. It’s one thing to fill a 30-second ad break, but writing a viral that’s worth sharing is a different can of worms.
“Short format is often a set-up and a moment,” O’Donnell says. “If you approach long-format the same way, you just create a series of moments that feel incongruous and disjointed. They really are totally different beasts, you can’t micro-manage long-format in the same way as a commercial.”
Burrows highlights three reasons why he believes the Jungleboys have made their way successfully. “We’re known for value on screen because we do all our post in-house. We’re known for our comedy, although it’s not all we do. And all our directors are also writers, which means they can work collaboratively with agencies when they’re writing outside of a 30-second script.”
Jungleboys’ first break in the commercial world came in 2007, when BMF invited O’Donnell to direct a campaign for Tooheys Extra Dry Platinum, which won at Cannes and D&AD.
A year later he shot the ‘Right Music Wrongs’ campaign for Virgin Mobile and Droga5 Sydney, in which Robert van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) apologies for recording ‘Ice Ice Baby’.
O’Donnell persuaded van Winkle to walk down a freeway screaming ‘Sorry’ through a megaphone, and the campaign received more than a million hits on YouTube. Not only did it cement Jungleboys’ reputation for creating very funny virals, it very nearly resurrected van Winkle’s career.
Next, O’Donnell wrote and directed the comedy series Review for the ABC, in which critic Myles Barlow rates all facets of life from stealing, murder, and starting bushfires. It’s dark and cleverly written; won Best Comedy at the AFIs last year, and has been picked up in the US, the UK and the Netherlands.
He also directed The Chaser last year, gaining huge exposure and a great deal credibility with agencies.
Directors Luke Eve and Scott Pickett have also added to the company’s portfolio of short and long-format work. Eve’s ‘Mini but Mighty’ viral for Nokia (JWT) and his campaigns for Sony (Euro RSCG) are both hilariously executed, while Pickett has been busy working for major brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Ricoh.
Jungleboys’ reputation for creating funny virals and low-budget TV series is both an asset and a challenge, Burrows says.
“To me, our brand is still a bit limited by where we’ve come from. I’m biased because I think we’ve got some of the best directors in Australia, yet when you’ve done jobs for $30,000 it can be hard to be considered for the $500,000 scripts.”
Still, Jungleboys is beginning to pitch against Australia’s top commercial comedy directors, and while the industry’s budgets are in decline, Jungleboys’ budgets are climbing.
This year alone, O’Donnell and Pickett directed three spots for Nestle Chokito (JWT); Pickett shot six spots for Coca-Cola (Ogilvy); Eve’s ‘Mini-but-Mighty’ Nokia viral cracked 70,000 views online; while O’Donnell and Pickett’s Meat and Livestock Australia TVC with Sam Kekovich (BMF) kicked off in January.
It’s also a year since Burrows acquired digital production and design company Emerald City, which he now co-owns with creative director Caterina Vicaretti and VFX supervisor/head of 2D, David Mosqueda.
“It’s very hard as a production company to attract top line editors, designers and VFX artists because agencies tend to feed their biggest jobs to the major post houses,” he says. “Buying Emerald City was the perfect opportunity for us because Jungleboys could never attract that level of talent alone.”
Now, with Emerald City as its sister company, Jungleboys has the ability to offer a full suite of production services from direction to post, design and VFX.
Vicaretti says Emerald City worked very hard to establish its reputation for creating magical, hyper-real worlds that are so lavish and flawless they make the real world look bland. It’s an entirely different proposition from Jungleboys’, so she is adamant the two brands will remain distinctly separate.
“It’s very important for us to stay true to both brands and keep them living and breathing as their own entities,” she says.
“Our partnership is more about having creative people share the same space, but at the same time we do work differently and have different processes, and we’ll stay true to our processes at Emerald City because they are completely different to Jungleboys’.”
For Burrows, sharing a space with Emerald City gives both companies a creative advantage when seeking out new business, and it suits their collaborative cultures.
As for the future, both companies are upbeat.
“The nice thing about the demise of the commercial is that we’re getting to create more interesting work,” Burrows says.
“This touches back to the culture we’re trying to create. Everyone wants to do a mix of television, commercials, film and branded entertainment. Emerald City is one of the best image makers in the southern hemisphere, and our goal for Jungleboys is to be the best comedy producers in Australia.”