For this month’s In Focus interview, we spoke with Ben Middlekauff, Post Production Producer at West Elm. Ben is an award-winning video director and editor based in New York City.
After attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ben become an Assistant Editor at AMC Networks where he honed his knowledge in post-production management while supporting the on-air promo team for shows like Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead. At AMC Networks, Ben refined his editing skills and began focusing on commercial and branded content. From there, Ben became a Post-Production Producer at West Elm where he developed the post-production workflow for West Elm’s wide range of content. Along with supervising the post-production process, he has assisted the West Elm video team in editing all media content, from branded content to broadcast commercials. These videos have sold thousands of products, have received millions of views, and have been recognized by professionals in the field. Ben’s recent promotion to Post-Production Manager has allowed him to direct, produce and edit West Elm’s new video series “Meet the Maker,” a collection of stylized short documentaries that feature the personal stories of local artisans. You can find his work at benmiddlekauff.com.
As a multi Telly Award winner, we are proud to feature West Elm’s groundbreaking work and creative process in this month’s In Focus!
How would you describe West Elm’s creative process? Could you provide details?
Words cannot express how amazing the video team is at west elm! Overall, I would describe our team’s creative process as collaborative and organized.
West Elm runs like an agency in the sense that we create all of our products and marketing content internally. Within the video department of West Elm, we work with many different internal teams to concept and produce all of the video content for the brand. Our creative process usually starts with a brief that has been provided to us by one of the other internal teams. From there, our Art Director will develop amazing ideas that accomplish the goal of the brief. Our collaborative spirit really begins in this development phase as our team often bounces ideas off of each other. After conception, these ideas really come to life due to the collaboration we have with our freelance talent. We have worked with some of the same freelancers for years and this kind of long-term collaboration saves us time and money because our partners know exactly what we are looking for.
Additionally, our creative process is made effective by our incredible organization. Each member of the team has a deep understanding of the role they play as well as their workload. It is this understanding which allows us to trust each other and focus on the tasks at hand. Our project manager does an amazing job tracking our dates and navigating the logistical hurdles of requests, paperwork, and feedback. Organization is key to our creative process because it allows us to focus on telling these important stories without distraction.
How does the West Elm team define creative success?
Our goal as creatives at West Elm is to understand the needs of the business and then translate that into engaging content. So, our creative success is really defined by how our content impacts the business. We can measure the impact of our work through marketing metrics, but we also look at audience engagement on our social platforms. People are bombarded with marketing and messaging each day. When a consumer not only views our content, but really interacts with that content, it means that we have created content that has established an emotional connection with said consumer. This is how we define creative success.
Have you had to/willingly make any changes following the reemergence of the industry after the height of the pandemic?
During the height of the pandemic, all projects were put on hold. Initially it was a bit scary because most of our jobs required in person contact, but we pivoted, relying heavily on post production techniques and archive footage that we had from previous shoots to create new content. We also started to think outside the box and got creative with animation and graphic videos to continue producing new content. As restrictions were loosened, we resumed local (Tri-State Area) productions and for our productions outside of the local area, we relied on local talent that was directed virtually over zoom by our art director and producers. We are currently in this stage until cases decrease, but this has not hindered the amount of content we produce.
What are some of the challenges that you face moving ahead into a content heavy landscape for 2022?
The biggest hurdle is grabbing the world’s attention. As filmmakers, it is up to us to create visually enticing content with rich stories. We have received a lot of great feedback from West Elm’s social media team. One of the biggest pieces of feedback we have received is about the first four seconds of our videos. People’s attention spans are extremely short, and consumers have to know in seconds why they should care enough to keep watching. Conception and planning those first four seconds of our video content has been an exciting challenge for us! Additionally, we are continuing to improve our storytelling. If consumers do decide to stay after those first four seconds, what will keep them watching? What will they leave with? These are important questions for us to answer before we even start filming. So, hooking our audience and giving them an amazing story is our goal for overcoming the challenge of increased content in the years to come.
What are some of West Elm’s creative goals for the upcoming year? How do you plan on achieving them?
Our team has several creative goals this year. One of our goals is to start producing CGI content in-house. The pandemic pushed us to explore new ways of making content, one of which was CGI and animation. As we learned new skills in this area, we have been able to produce content that cost little to nothing to make – since we were producing it in-house. Our hope is that we can start to use this technology to create unique content that might otherwise be outside of our budget.
Our other goal is to start filming season two of our “Design Series”, which we kicked off this year. Each episode features a different designer as they take an empty room at West Elm’s studio and turn it into whatever they can dream up. The marketing goal of this series is to spread brand awareness and to provide design inspiration for our consumers. For the first season we featured three designers: Sarah Sherman Samuel, Delia Kenza, and Taylor Fimbrez. Each one of them brought a totally different look and we are excited about the next season of this series!
What does being part of the Telly community mean to you?
For us, winning several Telly awards showed us that our content resonates with audience members. This means the world to our team because, as filmmakers, we love to create content that has a purpose. Whether it is to inspire someone to design a room or tell a powerful story from a local maker, we are moved by these things and we love to share them with the world. Our hope is that we can continue to not only be recognized for our work, but really make content that has an impact on more and more people.