A Letter From Reid Bangert

I often get asked the question: How did you get into filmmaking? Often the answer is short and sweet: because I fell in love with it … but it’s deeper than that. Sure, there is romance in composing a frame or blocking the action or getting that last shot, the martini, on a 17 hour day. But as I’ve grown in this industry the one thing outside of the work that keeps me going is the relationships. Relationships with our crew and freelancers, agencies, and clients. It’s the key to building a mutually beneficial creative environment. Without dedication to fostering these relationships, our work becomes just another job instead of something we are passionate about.

In this issue we reflect on some of the most critical relationships we’ve formed over the years. You’ll get to know our Senior Producer Melissa Willis, and what she loves about Northpass. Our EP, Kurt Bangert, tells us a fun winter-related story from his youth. And you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at our job with VML and NAPA Auto Parts that was named Adweek Ad of the Day.

A Winter Story

By Kurt Bangert

Winter, it’s here, and in these parts we don’t have a choice in the matter. But instead of a few paragraphs lamenting it, I’ll embrace it, enjoy it, and savor it while I can. Some of my favorite memories have happened during the winter months. For instance, Prague in winter is beautiful: no crowds, warm pubs, hearty foods; there’s nothing quite like walking those ancient streets in the evening during a light snowfall. It’s an experience that I recommend, and personally, will make happen again.

Winter can also inspire mischief, and in the very snowy winter of 1978, there was a lot to be had. Back then my friends and I spent a lot of time outside in the winter: snowmobiles, pond hockey, cutting school to go hunt rabbit, and whatever else we could think of. One night is particularly memorable. Twas the night two of us convinced one of our friends to sell us his 1962 Mercury Capri for $50. We then proceeded to cut the doors, windshield, and top off the car and 30 minutes later it became our snow wagon. And that’s how the partnership of “up to no good” came to be.

Since this was a partnership, we agreed to a shared custody arrangement. Part of the time my friend would keep the car at his house, part of the time I would have it at mine. Our parents were not amused. We lived on opposite sides of town. In that winter of record snowfall and record cold temperatures, we came to regret the decision to cut the windshield off, but it was too much fun to leave alone. On one of my crosstown transfers, I noticed a group of my friends playing pond hockey and in a moment of teenage brilliance, I decided that cutting cookies on the ice would be an impressive display. So off I went onto the ice with the snow wagon, merrily spinning and sliding. However, there was one problem, maybe two. 

Neither problem is what you might be thinking as the ice was, at least, two feet thick by then. No, problem one was that the pond was right on the fairway of hole three at the local golf club in direct view of the clubhouse. Problem two was that I ran out of gas.

My original plan (if it can be called that) was to get on the ice, have a little fun and get out of there before the groundskeeper or the cops had time to arrive via the snowy streets. Running out of gas was an unplanned complication, though quite amusing to my friends. I sprang to action, my house, and the gas was only a half-mile away. I ran. Hard. Friends scattered as none of them wanted to explain the situation. Fortunately, there was gas in the can but the run back seemed as if it were an eternity. Gas in, snow wagon started, groundskeeper jogging toward the pond yelling something that I didn’t want to hear, I floored the little snow wagon, rocketed it off the ice and into the street, a place where its operation was equally illegal. Slide around corner one, four blocks, slide around corner two, home three more blocks: a little light at the end of this self-created panic tunnel. Now, where to hide this thing!

In the end, I was able to hide the snow wagon sufficiently with no one in any kind of authority the wiser, allowing the snow wagon to entertain us for the rest of that winter and into the next summer. Eventually, the abuse was too much and the little Capri died an ignoble death in a fence row of a nearby farm field. 

My only regret: That ‘62 Capri was a pretty neat little car, and I have never seen another one in the United States despite looking for a number of years. I’ve always hoped we didn’t youthfully murder the automotive equivalent of a unicorn. 

But you know, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Introducing Melissa Willis

By Reid Bangert

When I first met Melissa she had just returned to Kansas City after living and working in Los Angeles. She was the production manager on one of my first commercial gigs, and I was her production assistant - fresh out of a little school in mid-coast Maine. Her exuberance and energy was overwhelming, something that was and still is ever-present. I took note and she quickly became an important mentor for me and my career. Even though I was the lowest person in the ranks - taking out trash, grabbing coffees, driving people around - those early days with Melissa were the best of my formative years. I learned the ins and outs of making commercial advertising and how to treat people right. Without her, Northpass would not be what it is today.

Her work ethic and dedication to the job inspired and influenced me. I vowed that no matter where life and work took us, that somehow we would always work together. Our offer to her, like those of the rest of our team, was a long time coming. We first started talking job with Melissa about two years ago. Her response always came from a place of honesty and respect, and Melissa would say “you’re not ready for me yet”. After working closely with our entire team for the past few years, that moment has finally come.

I am more than thrilled to introduce Melissa Willis as Northpass’ Senior Producer. She brings with her a bounty of experience and an uncompromised vision, much like the work we produce. Her focus on the smallest of details is key to each production running smoothly and efficiently, without compromising the original creative intent. They say you should surround yourself with people who inspire you. For me and all of us at Northpass, Melissa is one of those people.

Every Introduction Is Important

By Melissa Willis

Ok….sometimes it’s wayyyy after hours or a Saturday or Sunday. It’s the “911” new client call. I’ve done them on vacation, in the grocery store, at the g ym and at home in bed. Is it inconvenient? Yep, but remember it’s inconvenient for everyone including your potential new client. No one wants to work during “off” hours. But you have to remember the reason for an after hours call ... your potential new client is in a tough spot.

Sometimes the new client is referred by a trusted source and sometimes it’s a cold call. Regardless of how the client reached out what’s important is they reached out to you and your team! Now the ball is in your team’s “court”, wherever that “court” happens to be. So, if I have to do a call somewhere “unusual” I always try to take notes on a writeable surface and access my email. It goes without saying that conversing intelligently is numero uno. But I have ended with notes on my hands or on the roll of paper towels I was buying.

In the midst of my car which is where I usually end up for the “911” call – unless I’m at home – I’m simultaneously making an assessment of their needs and our team’s abilities to deliver the big 3 or small 3-the creative, the budget and the timeframe (which in these situations means ASAP). 

From there lots of questions, clarifications, a recap of everything discussed verbally and a group email keeps ever yone on the sa me pa ge since a decision to commit is usually expected and needed by the end of the call. Let’s be honest….sometimes it’s not a good fit. What I’ve learned is if you don’t waste the client’s time they will appreciate your honesty. Either way it’s an opportunity to nurture a relationship. What I’ve learned from nature shows is if a relationship is nurtured the odds of it growing are 100% (unless a grizzly bear decides to eat you). The one in our bathroom won’t eat you, I promise.

NAPA Old Car Commercials

By Reid Bangert

I’ve never bought a new car. Maybe it’s the practical side of me or the economical side, probably both. I’ve only dreamed of walking into a dealership and leaving cocooned in that new car smell. Used cars are just my thing, it’s how I was brought up - no sense in overspending. That’s why our recent work with VML and NAPA Auto Parts was so relatable to me. At the end of the day, the goal was to create “new” car commercials for beat up used cars, and we accomplished exactly that. Of course, it helps to start with creative that is dynamic, entertaining, and right on point - and the creative team at VML handed us a golden egg.

To execute a vision that starts in your head and needs to be a real thing in about a month’s time takes more than just an explanation, trust, and a handshake. The process involves a detailed approach of drawing out that vision from your mind in a way for the creatives and client to see how it’s all going to play out. This is one of my favorite parts of the process. I get to hide out in a cozy chair in the corner of the office absorbing the pitch deck, researching, writing, and getting down to the nitty gritty in my own world; not being afraid to take long strolls through my mind. 

The result is a concise, knowledgeable treatment that incorporates every detail encompassed in a thorough plan to produce a quality final product. Much like industrial design or construction projects, I go through several phases or prototypes before the final treatment is produced. We work tirelessly to make sure our materials incorporate every aspect of our process. We don’t want to leave anything to guess while being as prepared as possible for those inevitable curveballs.

This thought process carries into Production and Post-Production as well. From camera work, to capturing stills sequentially, to the edit and color. Everything is efficiently and thoughtfully created under one roof. The result is an uncompromised vision carried out by a knowledgeable team in every department, without the hassle of sourcing multiple vendors.

The ads were released in late January and have since racked up a huge positive response - both with consumers and the advertising industry. The spots were named Adweek’s Ad of the Day on January 22. The energy and communication that went into creating these were what made the difference. From the team at VML to our team at Northpass, everyone was in sync and it shows in the final work.

Click here to watch the campaign.

Filming Bill Shapiro

By Matt Blume

I’ve always liked simple things that are expertly crafted. To me, you judge a pizza place by the way they prepare pepperoni or a narrative told through only a few detailed characters. In this way I became a fan of Cyprus Avenue, a weekly rock n’ roll radio show created and curated by Bill Shapiro. A show that has only improved over the last three and half decades (although admittedly, I have only been an avid listener since the late 90’s).

Bill has always kept is simple. He states the name of the program, he tells you why he has chosen what he spins and then he lets listeners enjoy the music. And it is easy to enjoy the music because although the types vary it is all great music. We started creating a small biographical piece about Bill in 2015. It was important to us to find time to visit with him, watch him create his program, and document his research. Along the way we have been introduced to magnificent speaker stacks in his midtown living room and learned about Bill from his production partner in the KCUR studios. We have seen first hand the impact he has had on music in Kansas City. It extends beyond an hour of good music on Saturday afternoons. The Folly Theatre in Downtown KC is thriving in large part due to Bill’s concert series. The room sounds great and always has and Bill knew that. It was his love for music that motivated him to donate his time to honor it. 

We have been following the story in earnest albeit sporadically. Like any labor of love, it is impossible to capture it in one fell swoop. Taking time to listen and then think and respond with how that story will sync is a question without an answer, for now. We know the completion is near but much like his program, crafting it in the light it deserves is anything but simple.

Tom's Town Distillery

By Matt Blume & Kurt Bangert

When you meet people you like you know it immediately. If you can connect right away the rest of the process is a piece of cake. And so it was with Tom’s Town.

We met with Steve, Kirsten and David last summer. Their sleeves were up, their offices in the throes of construction and their smiles wide and bright. Before we met we researched the content from several distilleries. Too often, it was a mythical connection to whisky runners or native oak trees. Businessmen propped up to talk about the distilling process in a monosyllabic drone. When we peeled back the layers of the onion we realized there was not much substance. We all agreed this was problematic and would not be our approach because with distilleries, the substance is everything.

When we toured their location last summer it was obvious we needed to be creative in where we shot and how we told the story. We found tradesman busily rehabbing the space; running lines for boilers, installing countertops and bars, rehabbing tin ceilings, etc. Getting a distillery off the ground is dirty work.

It was looking questionable where we could make a scene come to life to match the excitement of their burgeoning brand. Then, we found it. Down in the cellar room they had 20 barrels of the good stuff aging. It was there we found our set.

They knew their narrative would be based in truth. Not only in their personal connections to Tom Pendergast and prohibition era Kansas City, but also the fact that they are simply men who enjoy a good drink.

These men were happy to shine the light on their distiller, Rob Vossmeyer, and what he brings to their new brand. They were proud to be working with Kirsten McGannon, Nancy Fraley and the rest of their team. They were, most importantly, thrilled to be back in business together.

Ultimately, we were able to work with their startup budget to create 12 pieces of video content and a library of stills. Videos for the website, social media push, and tours at the distillery. Work that we are proud of. Work that will introduce Kansas City to Tom’s Town. Afterall, in the words of Tom Pendergast, 

The people are thirsty.