David S. Cohen - Brand Storytelling
I moved from Variety features team to Variety Content Studio when it was forming in 2016. Since then, I've been immersed in the world of branded content and brand storytelling.

As it turned out, my years covering post-production houses, visual effects studios (all service businesses) and emerging technologies all proved great preparation for this world. The post people had taught me a lot about working with clients, while the tech people had shared a lot about the challenges and opportunities of working in a startup — and VCS was essentially a startup within a century-old company. I also came to understand that the licensed "making-of/art-of" books I'd been writing were essentially branded content projects. So I was better prepared than even I realized.

Brand storytelling has turned out to be a great way to combine the analytical thinking (reporting), which helps me discover and understand what a client needs, with the empathetic, creative side of storytelling (writing and directing), which taught me to focus on what the audience is feeling as well as what they're learning.

VCS has delivered over 40 brand campaigns, comprising more than 100 separate videos, advertorials, digital hubs and standalone digital articles since its official launch in early 2017. We've done behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries, influencer campaigns and written profiles. Within the VCS team our roles are fluid, as we all help each other out whether the project is video or written, but I'm the only VCS staffer with a print journalism background, so I'm chief editor on all our advertorials and partner articles.

Below are 10 of my favorite projects from VCS, showing my work as an editor, producer and director.

Click here to view the VCS home page with a full list of our projects.

Abilities Unlimited
• Client: Easterseals of Southern California

Pressboard Award honoree:
One of the top branded content partnerships of 2018

Print Advertorial Standalone Supplement with Bonus Distribution + Digital Hub
My Role: Producer, Editor
Click to view PDFs
Easterseals had several goals including:
1) Enlist creatives in the entertainment industry to change depictions of people with disabilities (PWDs) and in turn influence the larger culture;
2) Encourage hiring of PWDs within the industry.
Also, they wanted to change the stereotypical depictions of PWDs as either heroic or long-suffering. We went with a colorful design to emphasize energy and uplift. We put young actress Millicent Simmonds on the cover, with our own photo shoot incorporating Easterseals colors. It was my idea to drop flowers around her. The vibe was right and it worked — credit to Millicent for getting it and selling the concept.

Click to view digital hub:

The digital version of Abilities Unlimited includes some bonus content and incorporates video and photo galleries, as well as late-breaking event coverage.

Parasite: Breaking History
• 2020 Academy Awards FYC campaign
• Client: Neon

Winner of Four Academy Awards including Best Picture

Print Advertorial in Weekly Variety + Digital Hub
My Role: Producer & Editor
Click to view PDFs
Neon knew they had a major contender in Parasite and the film had a real shot at Best Picture. But no "foreign language" film had ever won the top Oscar. Our goal was to encourage Oscar voters to "break history" by making this film the first. We presented Bong Joon Ho as "your favorite director's favorite director," the picture as the film of the year, the design as both essential and groundbreaking, and the cast as an ensemble that was (surprise!) cast against type, and yet perfect. This project was completed in just 11 days and 10 days later they were accepting Best Picture.

Click to view digital hub:

The digital version of Breaking History is very similar to the print, with one major exception: It avoids spoilers (about the rich family's house and the secrets it holds) that are included in the print version.

Joker: A Case for Empathy
• 2020 Oscars FYC campaign
• Client: Warner Bros.

Winner of Two Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Score

Print Advertorial Section + Digital Hub
My Role: Chief Editor
Click to view PDFs
This package for "Phase II" of the 2020 Oscars season (i.e., after nominations are announced) was completed in just nine days. That was only possible because we had a strong take on the film: That it was a cry from the heart for us all to pay more attention to the least among us. Warner Bros. agreed and we collaborated closely to realize this vision. The design was meant to harmonize with the film's print ad campaign.

Green Book: Don Shirley's Journey
• Green Book
Oscars FYC campaign
• Clients: Universal + Participant

Winner of Three Academy Awards, Including Best Picture

Print Advertorial Section + Digital Hub
My Role: Producer & Editor
Click to view PDFs
In late 2018, some voices were criticizing Green Book for being basically a buddy comedy. Our pitch to Universal was that the film told an important story about what performers went through in the Jim Crow South — and the Variety archives had the coverage to prove it. We leaned into the true record and wove quotes from historical Variety coverage into both the artwork and the lead story. This campaign launched as Oscar voting began; less than two weeks later they won Best Picture.

Just Mercy: Legacy of Hope
• 2019-2020 Awards FYC Campaign
• Client: Warner Bros.

Web Video + Digital Hub + Print Ads
My role: Producer

Click to View

This video series features the director and cast of Warner Bros. film Just Mercy on the importance of the story and the making of the film. I was on set in New York and helped throughout editing and post-production. Jasmine Simpkins was our main interviewer, however I interviewed director Destin Crettin.

An Epic Ending
How to Train Your Dragon - The Hidden World

• 2019-2020 Awards FYC Campaign
• Client: DreamWorks Animation & Universal Pictures

Print Advertorial Standalone Supplement to Variety with bonus distribution + Digital Hub
My Role: Producer & Editor

Click to view PDFs

DreamWorks Animation was proud of the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy (rightly so!) and wanted to remind awards voters of the extraordinary storytelling, craft and heart that had gone into this decade-long production. This was the longest package we had ever done but the heavy lift was well worth it. Also, we were excited to present some art that had never before been in print.

Walk a Mile In My Shoes - Quyen Tran
• Client: GEOX

Digital Article Series (3 articles)
My role: Producer & Editor

Click to view PDFs
GEOX, the Italian shoe and fashion brand, was launching in the United States and wanted to align with creative professionals with a very particular kind of personal history. We selected entertainment professionals and asked them to choose a favorite place in Los Angeles, take the reader there and explain why it's important to them. While there, they’d reveal the key moments from their lives.

Cinematographer Quyen Tran had a great story to tell, picked a lovely spot and looked great in the shoes.

These feature profiles had no brand integration in the text. Instead, each pro was photographed in GEOX shoes and the brand did a page takeover surrounding the article.

We're proud that the execution was superior branded content — that is, content people would choose to consume because it's enjoyable and interesting — while still carrying the brand message.

How Humor is Saving Our Skin
• Client: SK-II

Branded Digital Article
My role: Producer & Editor

Click to view

Japanese makeup brand SK-II had produced a series of funny videos starring James Corden to promote their brand. Our task: Drive viewers to their videos with our own article echoing their tone.

The Art of Sound
• Client: DTS

Branded Web Video
My role: Producer + Director

Compelled to Create
• Client: Karma Automotive

Branded Digital Video series
My Role: Director