It was 2012; the Arab Spring was underway and Islamic militants had just attacked the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi-Libya. Julien Jourdes, then the World News Photo Editor at The Wall Street Journal, and his colleague Matthew Craig, Page 1 Photo Editor, decided something had to change in the industry. So began the monumental shift towards sourcing local narratives and talent. This led to the conception of Blink, the pioneering content studio and global platform.
“Since that day,” Julien recalls, “ over six years ago, we have built an impressive platform dedicated to connecting 25,000 content creators active across more than 180 countries worldwide. We are the premier network for top tier content teams, brands, and publishers.”
Over the course of that time, Blink has used this foundation to expand its efforts into global content production. “As a result of the changes in the photo industry, many former colleagues switched their jobs from the media industry to heads of visual departments at tech companies like Airbnb, Google, Instagram, Open Table, Breather, etc. Basically, their appetite for global content was massive, but their budgets meant that they needed not just our network of storytellers, but also our expertise to manage production from start to finish, from onboarding to payment.”
This resulted in a natural pivot for Blink. “We adapted to an existing problem faced by these tech companies. It was the beginning of the production team and the content studio at Blink,” Julien recalls. “Today our team of EPs are engaging and scouting accomplished talent in Indonesia, Japan, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, India.”
“Our content studio has expanded to include in-house pre and post-production technology. Along with our savoir-faire inherited from documentary filmmaking tradition, we are currently developing creative concepts to compete with the Agency Model.” Julien adds: “We want to continue our role as an inclusive incubator for storytellers and we will keep producing events that provide an exciting opportunity to connect with editors, brands, and agencies in the ever-evolving content market.”
Julien, like many in the industry, transitioned from photo editor to a more encompassing production role (as well as CCO and entrepreneur). “A question I ask myself each year is what does it mean to produce today compared to last year or two years ago? How can we adapt to a faster pace with a smaller team, without sacrificing the quality and creativity of the shoot? Shooting in 30 countries, 44 languages with 36 hours to onboard the teams can be challenging. But in the end, our main skill is our ability to problem solve and help the creative team to perform to its full potential.”
“A great example of this adaptation is our work with the Google Visual Lab team. In the last two years, we produced more than 200 short movies internationally, and we learned a lot from that experience — both client-facing and on the backend with local teams.”
“HP (featured above) was a project that saw the team push the limits of what we thought was possible,” Julien states. “They asked us to film the first day of school at Al Azraq refugee camp on the Syrian/Jordan border — in short, a hybrid of branding and breaking news content. They needed the film shot, edited and delivered within 48 hours to air at a high profile event at their conference in California. We were able to deploy a film unit from Amman to race against the clock to the camp where equipment was arriving just days before the first day of class.” Julien smiles, “We didn’t sleep for 48 hours. The last time this happened was when I covered 9/11 for Newsweek — I stayed awake for 72 hours.”
The pivot to the content studio had another testing moment in production; one that had the challenge of distance. “Instagram asked us to create an original film during their worldwide InstaMeet in 2016, recalls Julien. “Instagrammers gathered to share, explore, and celebrate messages of kindness and positivity on a global scale. It took place in six different island locations in Indonesia across a 72-hour period of time. We had three different teams consisting of DPs, drone operators and PAs, all traveling non-stop for a few days via plane and speedboat. It was an intense couple of days for the team on the ground, and for the producers in our HQ in NYC because there were so many working components — the end result was electric, and the movie was seen by 3 million people.”
Regardless of the challenges faced in production, team spirit and communication are the foundations that elevate these. “We are, in a very humble way, a collective of storytellers on which the sun never sets. Our team needs to know how to share responsibilities and communicate effectively so as to avoid burning out; there’s a lot of extra work and long hours.”
Thought of the day: Storytelling is the world’s ability to investigate and have a meaningful relationship with itself. As storytellers and documentary filmmakers it is our quest to find and discover authenticity.