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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  Michael Canning & Kieran Antill
Michael Canning & Kieran Antill

mkart2 Michael Canning & Kieran AntillExecutive Creative Directors
Leo Burnett New York

It’s like “Flight of the Conchords.” Except these two guys are Australians, not Kiwis. And they aren’t starving musicians, even if they have dipped their toe in the music video-making waters. Okay, it’s not like Flight of the Conchords at all. But Michael Canning and Kieran Antill are a creative couple of guys living in NYC. They just happen to be Executive Creative Directors at Leo Burnett New York, a new start-up-style branch of the network that was launched in the Big Apple in 2011. Natives of Sydney, Australia, Canning and Antill were ranked the #1 awarded creative team in the world at the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity in 2010, and were most recently awarded for their first piece out of Leo Burnett New York for The Village Voice, “NewYorkWritesItself.com,” which won a Gold Lion for Branded Content at Cannes 2012.

Canning and Antill’s work is diverse though, from advertising to fine arts, writing, documentary films, music videos, product innovation, photography and now, theatre. As their play “8 Million Protagonists” opens on November 1, this LBNY duo took a few minutes to talk to IHAVEANIDEA about how their worlds collided with each other, with millions of voices in NYC and now, with the world of theatre.

IHAVEANIDEA: How did you the two of you meet?

Michael: I was working at BMF Advertising in Sydney. Andy DiLallo and Jay Benjamin had just joined Leo Burnett Sydney as Co-Chief Creative Officers, and they asked me to join the agency. Kieran was already at Leo Burnett Sydney, and we started working together there. We had a lot of fun and were lucky enough to do a lot of great work at Leo Burnett in Sydney, and in 2010 we were asked to help launch a new start-up office for Leo Burnett in New York, which began in 2011.

IHAVEANIDEA: Kieran, how does your fine art background affect your approach to the work, and how does that fit into your collaboration with Michael?

Kieran: Having a fine art background has worked in my favor with the way the commercial industry is turning toward creativity as a way to attract and engage people, rather than relying on a media saturation approach. It’s not about ‘make my logo bigger’ anymore, it’s about spending time with people, and the only way to achieve that is to have people want to spend time with you.

It’s not about ‘make my logo bigger’ anymore, it’s about spending time with people, and the only way to achieve that is to have people want to spend time with you.

Michael approaches the work from a point of view of creating ideas that people will actually value and share. So all the projects we create for brands or for ourselves begin with us thinking of humanity, how people would experience it, interact with it and what it communicates to them. All the sales figures, research groups and pie charts take care of themselves from there. I guess if I didn’t walk that line between the commercial world and the arts, I could find myself too concerned with the graphs to realize the most effective approach is to focus on being human. That’s something fine art never concerns itself with – it’s all human expression. Michael and I talk a lot about “What is the human insight?”

IHAVEANIDEA: What or who are your biggest creative influences and why?

Michael: I have a lot of creative influences in entertainment, art and writing, but a big creative influence for me was actually spending my teenage years as an obsessed skateboarder. Skateboarding attracts a lot of creative people, and when I was immersed in that culture as a teenager in the 90ʼs, the brands weren’t quite as big business as they are today, because skateboarding wasn’t as mainstream a sport. So without big budgets, skateboard brands (often owned by pro skateboarders at the time) always focused on creating content ideas, events and entertainment that the community wanted, which would then take on a life of their own. All I cared about at the time was if I liked the particular content or not, but looking back it was a very grassroots approach to building community around brands that influenced me a lot by being part of it.

Kieran: My biggest influences have come from the photographers, directors, illustrators, animators, and builders we get to work with from job to job. The commercial budgets (regardless of which brand or which job) allow for the world’s best to work together and it’s in these moments that I learn the most. I am currently working on a letterpress series myself after being influenced by some of the letterpress houses we collaborated with in the last New York Writes Itself exhibition.

IHAVEANIDEA: What made you want to produce a play? What are the challenges and surprises in that for you?

Michael: We started NewYorkWritesItself.com with the purpose being that the best stories would be turned into content inspired by New Yorkers that could be enjoyed by everyone. After creating the exhibition at the Art Directors Club in 2011 as the first piece of content from NYWI, an off-Broadway play (called ʻ8 Million Protagonistsʼ) felt like the perfect way to bring new stories to life, as a reflection on the theatre of the New York street – which is basically a source of reality entertainment all on its own. Creating a play was also something very different on both a creative and production level, where we’ve been able to collaborate with a lot of talented people, which was a good reason in itself.

Kieran: When you create an idea that brings others together it always tends to take on a life of its own and that’s usually the sign of a great idea. The idea of doing a play was influenced by those around us (with theatre experience) and we hadn’t done a play before so that was as good as any reason to do one. The challenge of doing a play is simply the number of moving parts – from the script, the cast, the music, to the choreography and unlike our experience in film, for example, there is no ‘cut’ and ‘edit,’ so we’ve learned a lot from the experience of others as this play has come together. Projects like these involve a lot of people, which makes having a single vision all the more important.

When you create an idea that brings others together it always tends to take on a life of its own and that’s usually the sign of a great idea.

IHAVEANIDEA: Have you noticed any similarities between the theater world and the agency world? Or by contrast, any big differences?

Michael: The theatre world and agency world are definitely different. The main difference is that in marketing we begin with a goal to solve a business problem for a brand. In theatre, shows generally begin from wanting to create entertainment and an artistic vision, for the purpose of entertainment. But what’s interesting is that while these are different starting motivations, the best brands today are ones that can embrace the world of entertainment and engage people to ultimately solve their business problem. So ultimately what we’re trying to do is create great stories, content and entertainment for our brands, because that’s what people actually want to see and engage with. So while industries like marketing and theatre start differently, the end product can be the same.

 The best brands today are ones that can embrace the world of entertainment and engage people to ultimately solve their business problem.

IHAVEANIDEA: Through the lens of advertising, could it be said that 8 Million Protagonists is like a campaign evolution of New York Writes Itself?

Michael and Kieran: New York Writes Itself is playing out the way it was designed to. We created the platform to continually re-create the stories that people submit as pieces of content and entertainment (in partnership with the Village Voice). The first piece of content we created was called “New York Types” in 2011, which was an exhibition of posters at the

Art Directors Club, where different quotes, or things people heard New Yorkers say on the street and wrote down, were brought to life by NY letterpress artists – and as a piece of content bringing the real, uncensored voice of New York to life as content from the Village Voice.

IHAVEANIDEA: What is your own personal favorite weird New York story?

Michael: When I arrived in New York it was winter 2010, and the city was hit by the biggest blizzard in 50 years. After being out that day I was walking home when the street quickly became deserted, and was completely covered by a few feet of snow. It was hard to see through the blizzard, but in the distance I saw a figure standing in the middle of an intersection on Broadway. The person was just standing in the middle of the road, not moving, at a red light. My first thought was that it was a crazy person impersonating a car or something. The light turned green, and after a couple of seconds, the figure pushed off on skis, and proceeded to ski off along Broadway. I thought that was the perfect reflection of New York – worst blizzard in 50 years? Let’s go skiing.

Kieran: It’s the textures and colors of New York that I love, it proves impossible to take a bad photograph on the streets – and with that as the backdrop even the most basic daily events seem theatric. When you add the eclectic mix of characters I find something of interest every day – and apparently so do a lot of other people.

IHAVEANIDEA: What’s your favorite play?

Michael: I like Sleep No More because of how it’s pushed the theatre experience. I’m still trying to get tickets to Book of Mormon.

Kieran: There are so many amazing performances on and off-Broadway all of which capture my imagination but a play from my childhood, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead was the first performance that I saw that made me love theatre.

IHAVEANIDEA: What is the “next scene” for both of you?

Michael: My favorite thing about what we do is being able to create ideas like an off- Broadway play that is also solving a business problem and building a brand. There’s no boundary to what we can create today, and I feel lucky to keep going after work that is, above all, interesting and fun. I was inspired by the recent Red Bull Stratos “Space Jump” as great entertainment coming from a brand. Maybe it’s time to go to the center of the Earth next.

I was inspired by the recent Red Bull Stratos “Space Jump” as great entertainment coming from a brand. Maybe it’s time to go to the center of the Earth next.

Kieran: To steal from a great 80′s film, where we’re going, we don’t need roads. Where ever that is, it won’t be predictable. We like having more than one project on the boil at any one time and we hope to release some of these before the year’s end.

 

brianna Michael Canning & Kieran Antill
Brianna Graves
Director of IHAVEANIDEA
IHAVEANIDEA

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