Innovative Creator Jay Brooker talks BUCK and industry opportunities
Jay Brooker has served as Head of Content Development at BUCK since February 2019. In this role, Brooker leads the strategy and execution for expanding the business into the creation of longform entertainment and original IP (focus on animated TV, animated Film, Games), partnering closely with business leads and creative teams to build a comprehensive, integrated development and production strategy that amplifies the company’s powerful narrative of creating world-class design, animation, and storytelling.
Cutting-edge animation studio BUCK has taken the office party into the Metaverse. While everyone was remote, BUCK built a virtual holiday party for staff called DREAM STREAM. Dream Stream takes guests down an immersive lazy river complete with beach balls, a refillable squirt gun and a scavenger hunt. This is just the beginning of BUCK’s work within the metaverse as they’re partnering with some of the biggest players in the virtual space.
Prior to joining BUCK, Jay was the Head of Content Creation at CAA Marketing, a division of Creative Artists Agency. In this role, Brooker lead a practice that developed and created award-winning original content to leverage the power of entertainment on behalf of blue-chip corporate clients.
Prior to joining CAA, Jay worked at Young & Rubicam where he produced integrated advertising content for brands like Hilton Hotels, Miller Brewing Co, and Sears. Before his tenure at Y&R, he worked in physical production on film sets for the industry’s most acclaimed directors. Jay began his career in physical production at The Shooting Gallery in NYC.
Jay’s multi-disciplinary work has received numerous awards including Daytime Emmy Awards, Cannes Grand Prix Lions, Annie Awards, D&AD, TED Ads Worth Spreading, The Webby Awards, Clio Awards, AICP Awards, Art Director’s Club, One Show Entertainment, Communication Arts, and TIME Magazine’s Best Ads of the Decade. Brooker’s work is also featured in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Jay’s work includes his partnership with Netflix and Chris Nee on Obama’s NAACP award-winning and Annie-nominated series “We the People”.
Jay holds a BA degree in Communications and a Certificate in Film from Emerson College. He lives in Venice, CA.
FILM DAILY INTERVIEW
with Jay Brooker, Head of Content Development at BUCK
1. Tell us about your history with content development. How did you start your journey?
After graduating film school, I moved to NYC and began working on commercial sets while simultaneously building a short reel of spec commercials to hone my craft. Ultimately I realized I was a bad director, but because I was producing and editing my own shoots, I was learning about all the different variables necessary to create great content.
I watched prolific directors and studied how they worked with not just their cast and crew, but how they handled the relationships with the ad agency personnel and clients who were on set. This ultimately got me interested in what the advertising agencies do. I was offered a job at a great agency in Chicago, so I moved there and started my next professional chapter producing ad campaigns.
One of the really exciting parts was that I learned the importance of sound design through the radio work I did early on. I got to dabble in animation, VFX, documentary, and reality. It was a very holistic education in production. I stayed in Chicago for just over two years and then was recruited to come work at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in LA.
CAA was building this super exciting team of marketing experts and creating branded entertainment for Fortune 100 clients, all from inside the most powerful entertainment and sports agency in the world. I moved to LA and ultimately stayed for just under a decade.
I basically got my informal MBA in Entertainment there and was fortunate to work on a wide variety of different content with some of the most celebrated talent in the world. Working alongside an incredible collection of people, I learned so much about how great content comes together – both the business and the artistry of it all.
2. You earned a BA in Communications and a Certificate in film at Emerson College. What skills did you learn from these degrees that you still apply today?
The soft skills that I honed at film school have proved to be the most useful skills that I still apply today. That includes learning to work with teams, how to communicate thoughtfully, and how to listen. I carry these skills with me on a day-to-day basis.
3. You worked as the Head of Content Creation at CAA Marketing. What led you to leaving CAA to work with BUCK?
My experience at CAA was incredible, and I will always be grateful for my time there. CAA’s Marketing group went through a transition at the same time I had my first child, and the timing was serendipitous as it allowed for me to drop into fatherhood and left me open to new opportunities.
One day while on Dad Sabbatical, I called Kevin Walker, a close friend from childhood, and met him for lunch, simply to reconnect. He agreed to meet but didn’t have much time as his days were super busy, so I met him where he was working.
This happened to be BUCK (where he works as the Executive Creative Director). I always admired BUCK’s work and was happy to check out their studio. During that lunch, I stopped in to say hello to Ryan Honey (Co-Founder), we got to chatting, and a few months later after more discussion with the partners I formally became a BUCKer!
4. You’ve received multiple awards for your work. As the Head of Content Development at BUCK, how much input do you give and how free reign do you give collaborators?
Nowadays most of my input happens very early on in the development stage when we’re discussing our slate or interesting opportunities and collaborators we’re pursuing. I have learned that the best work comes from amazing teams.
So if you’re assembling a team who are capable, talented, and communicative, sometimes it’s best to get out of the way and let them be amazing! Fortunately for me, I’ve been part of outstanding teams for much of my career. I like to contribute, but reserve my feedback for when I believe it’s totally necessary and protects the goals of the project.
5. Can you tell us how BUCK got involved with Netflix’s Love, Death and Robots anthology?
We’d talked to Tim Miller a few times about the possibility of being part of Love, Death and Robots but we never landed on an idea and approach that felt right. When he approached us with the idea of the zombie apocalypse told in miniature, we knew this was it.
We began writing and “Night of the Mini Dead” was the result. If you haven’t seen it yet, the film is the cutest zombie apocalypse you’ll ever see in which a bit of unholy cemetery sex kicks off a global zombie plague.
Humor is incredibly important to Andy Lyon and Robert Bisi (co-directors of the episode) and after many iterations, we landed on the story you see in the film. The team had an absolute blast making it and we hope to collaborate with Tim and the team at Blur again in the future.
6. How did working on the show differ from previous BUCK collaborations?
The biggest difference was that the style we ended up with is very, very different to the aesthetic that BUCK is known for. While BUCK has dabbled with photo-real VFX, this was the first time we embraced the technique throughout a short film. The rest of the collaboration was fun, fast, and exciting, and this spirit felt like the vast majority of the other collaborations we take on.
7. BUCK recently created Dream Stream. Can you tell us about the project and its current state?
Dream Stream is a psychedelic, fun-loving, meditative lazy river that BUCK built in VR as a way for our employees to connect. We couldn’t get everyone together in person, so we sent VR headsets to employees around the world and threw a party for 48 hours in The Stream.
Not only did we have many people participating, but one out every four artists at BUCK contributed in some way to the development of Dream Stream, and for many of them it was their first time working in creative tech.
BUCKers DJ’d at different hours, and there were windows of time where everyone was encouraged to float at the same time. We designed different river floats and avatars so everyone could customize their look, and then we floated through 7 different levels.
Within Dream Stream there are mini-games and easter eggs, and the spacial audio made it really satisfying to talk with friends while on the river. It was totally insane, and so, so much fun! We’re currently developing a public-facing version we hope to publish soon so we can open up the stream to our friends, clients and the creative community at large.
8. What has been BUCK’s greatest professional success?
BUCK has done so much incredible and diverse work over the years. If I had to try and pinpoint the secret to our good fortune, I would say ultimately the ego-free, collaborative nature of the people at BUCK make us continually deliver outstanding and innovative work.
The partners have created a safe space for creative people to work and express themselves, and this attitude permeates throughout the studio. The best ideas rise to the top, and the collective rallies to amplify it together. It’s a very cool process to be a part of. BUCK is a creative opportunity to make and inspire.
9. What about a professional setback? What did you learn?
I’ve had too many professional setbacks to name just one. Truthfully every setback comes with an amazing silver lining to learn. I don’t like the feeling of failing – I would guess most people don’t – so the times where I’ve made mistakes have often ended up being incredibly valuable learning lessons for me.
Now that I have 20+ years of experience under my belt and a refined point of view on risk vs. reward calculations, I realize that taking chances is much more exciting than it is scary.
10. What would you say makes BUCK stand out from its creative peers?
The talent at BUCK here is off-the-charts-insanely-good! Literally every single person that works here is an all-star in some regard. We have over 600 employees now, with talent coming from all over the world. This all manifests in this wonderful creative hive full of different voices, cultural references, and stories that we incorporate into our work.
11. Can you tell us about any upcoming BUCK projects?
In the Original Animation space we have a number of exciting things in development right now, covering a broad range of audience types. In the preschool space we’re developing a series based on a trilogy of books that Penguin will publish this Summer.
We’re in talks to help reboot a very beloved Kids IP. We’re partnered with a leading brand in the meditation space to create a kids show about mental health and wellness. And we’ve been working with an amazing team to create a limited series that will reimagine the story of an epic folktale.
We’re tapping into our internal talent at BUCK and developing a handful of shows with our creative staffers. And finally, we just finished play-testing a game we plan on publishing in late ‘22/early ‘23. There’s a lot of fun things happening in the studio right now – watch this space!
12. What advice do you have for aspiring animators and producers?
Get in the mix as fast you can and start meeting people! One of the things I really love about the animation community is that in general, the people are extremely generous with information and very supportive of one another.
I’ve found it to be a very welcoming community. So do what you can to try and interact with it, and be willing to let yourself be extroverted and a little vulnerable. Animation festivals are a particularly great place to explore.
Although Annecy Festival in France is one of my favorites, there are plenty of regional gatherings of creatives where you can meet collaborators and be inspired by the latest and greatest. If you have the chance to attend one, go for it!