Introduce yourself, who are you and what are your roles?

My name is James Spradlin and I'm the founder of Orlando Creatives. My primary roles are leading the group as the Executive Producer and Executive Creative Director. Which means I'm ultimately responsible for every single thing we do from start to finish on each project. I lead the creative development process, which includes any brand strategy development and integration, and then also manage and direct all projects while working alongside the other creatives on each project.


On a personal level, why did you start Orlando Creatives?

I started Orlando Creatives to partner with Brands and like minded Creatives to help amplify their impact in other people's lives. When I say impact, I basically mean creating a significant improvement in someone's life, especially when it's greatly needed.  Many Brands, whether for profit or nonprofit, have customers, clients or communities with significant needs who they serve through their products and services. What comes with that though are unique and challenging problems to solve, some requiring compelling creative content to accomplish their visions.

 

Helping others through my work has been a lifelong consistent theme for me, as it's been grafted into my DNA and sense of purpose. I can't live selfishly for too long before life begins to become dull, thank God. So for me, Orlando Creatives was really the next natural stage of the path I've been on for the last two decades of using the creative forms to solve problems to make people's lives better.

 

From my current perspective, I can unmistakably see how the story of my life has converged to where I'm at now. Many key life experiences have prepared and propelled me to where my different passions and strengths have become fully aligned. I feel very fortunate to be able to say that, and I try to work out of that gratitude. Which isn't easy, as when you are focused on problem solving most of the day, it's easy to get hyper focused on what's wrong (and needs to be fixed) instead of seeing what's going well.

 

I'm both very left brain and right brain in how my mind works, so it's nice to be at a place where those two parts are in unison instead of being incongruous. Like many people, my path has been extremely difficult at times with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears along the way. This has given me a lot of empathy for others who have visions for change but perhaps just don't know how to cross the gap in front of them. I've been there many times myself. And, I know what it feels like to meet the right person at the right time, who has walked that path before, and can come alongside you to navigate the unknown territory.

 

At the heart of it, that's why I started Orlando Creatives.


What are the key life experiences that led you to this point?

Growing Up in the Dawn of the Internet Age

Depending on which demographic expert you ask, I'm either one of the youngest Gen Xers or the oldest of the Millenials. This put me at a unique place in time growing up in the dawn of the Internet age. We didn't have much money growing up, but ironically, we had a home computer, and sometimes more than one. This is when PC's (personal computers) in the home were very rare. My father worked in various faith based ministries, making peanuts, and to make ends meet he was a computer salesman who couldn't say no to a heavily discounted floor model.

 

One of my first defining life experiences was using the paint app on the first Macintosh (this is where "Mac" comes from). My tiny little mind was blown, that I could essentially draw using a mouse by clicking on black and white pixels. For me, this was the beginning of using technology to create. As I grew older, I learned to code (before it was cool), to use Photoshop, to build websites, modifying games and applications, among other things. I didn't know it at the time, but this collection of experiences galvanized a deep rooted philosophy to use creativity, critical thinking, and technology to solve problems. Learning to code, which is almost entirely based off of designing logical structures and their relationships, shaped my mind to forever think like an engineer or architect, using logic creatively.

 

Naturally, for undergrad, I chose computer science. After a few months in the program I felt too disconnected from people, and so I finished with a degree at Florida State that combined both computer science and business management (MIS) to work more with people than screens and machines.

Using the Creative Forms to Pioneer in Neuropsychology

After college, I began working at a cutting edge neurotherapy clinic that used technology to help "rewire" brain functioning in kids, teens, and adults struggling with everything from ADHD, depression, anxiety, memory loss and even drug addiction. This was a right place right time situation, which to me became a clear orchestration of events outside of my control.

 

Eventually I became the Director of Technology and we continued developing programs such as one ADHD training program I designed where the user, while attached to electrodes, would focus on a digital spoon. When the user's brainwave activity hit the target "focus" neurological frequency, the spoon would start bending , a la the Matrix's "there is no spoon". The longer the person kept the spoon bent with their mental strength, like lifting weights, the stronger their ability to focus became. Over time, due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, they would be able to think, feel, and act different than before.

 

We also developed technology to work with other games as well as used movies that would start and stop based off of the user producing the desired brainwave activity. This was my first major exposure to seeing how external stimuli using the creative forms could literally transforms lives.

Working Behind the Wizard's Curtain

Years later, I met the president of a local children's hospital and he graciously began mentoring me. It didn't take long before he offered me an opportunity that I couldn't refuse, which was to come work for him directly. Having a long term view, he was looking to groom a younger generation for upper level executive leadership and he put me on that path. This gave me access to high level corporate strategy, decision making and operations. Over time, I became a behind the scenes strategic advisor to him and other executives such as the CMO. I helped design and develop the brand strategy of the organization, including digital and brand storytelling.

 

One defining life experience happened while in the operating room shadowing a surgeon as he reconstructed a little girl's disfigured face. Before the surgery, she was mangled and difficult to look at. I watched the physician carefully transform her into a beautiful little girl. Immediately, an image popped into my mind of the little girl getting asked to prom one day because of what was happening in front of me. I was quite overwhelmed by the experience, and I left that OR on fire to do whatever I could to help capture that amazing reality, put it in a bottle, and share it with as many people as possible. I knew this would be great marketing, but more importantly, it would encourage and inspire people in need.

 

At the time, there was only one person I knew who had the gift to capture and share those stories in a powerful way, my aspiring filmmaker friend, Jon. We partnered with him and the team ended up developing multiple brand films documenting the life changing impact the hospital staff had on families. This was well before "brand films" were even a thing.

 

Collectively, these stories have been viewed over a hundred million times around the world, and to this day that hospital is considered a leader in brand storytelling in the healthcare industry.

Making a Brand Film Company Stronger

As I continued down the corporate path, I decided to get an MBA at the University of Florida to better prepare for the challenges ahead of me. It was during this program that I began questioning whether or not I wanted to stay in healthcare the rest of my career. Coincidentally, the next day I learned my filmmaker friend Jon needed help building his brand film company as his business partner was moving on to new adventures. Jon was (and still is) a very gifted storyteller, but at the time he was struggling with the professional and business side of the equation, even having slipped into a near paralyzing case of writer's block. I was excited by the opportunity to help him through that and also take things even further than before.

 

Standing at this fork in the road between the corporate and startup paths, I realized both paths had inherent risks.  As part of my decision making process, I reflected on what work I had enjoyed most over the years, and realized it was designing and executing brand strategy through brand storytelling and the creative forms. And so that's what I decided I wanted to continue in with many other Brands.

 

And so I was crazy enough to make the jump head first into the entrepreneurial world. But there was only one problem, after leaving the comforts of the corporate world, I quickly discovered the startup was actually slipping into a financial death spiral. Ironically, if I had known this going in, I never would've taken the career risk I did. But, by that time it was too late and I had no choice but to be all in and go for it.

 

For the following twelve months, every day was trial by fire. Fortunately, we were able to not only pull the company out of the nosedive, but we also began to experience more success we'd ever imagined. We attributed the sequence of success to both things within and outside of our control. Time and time again we saw proof that a bigger story was playing out in front of us.

 

During this time, we landed big clients, learned how to design complex projects and work with big budgets, reached millions of people across the world with our stories, won multiple prestigious awards, and even achieved a big long term goal, starting our first feature length documentary.

A New Vision

Over the years, our visions became clearer and clearer, and though they overlapped, they were not entirely in unison. He wanted to continue on the path of making feature length films, scripted narratives and original content, which I fully supported. But I also knew I was meant for something else and to continue down my own path.

 

At that time of discovering what would be next, standing at yet another fork in the road, I looked back over the years of all the projects I'd worked on, and once again it became clear that I was most passionate about using the creative forms to help Brands accomplish their visions and impact people's lives. I also wanted to stay anchored in the Brand world and work alongside many more talented filmmakers but also photographers and designers.

 

And so, this is where Orlando Creatives evolved from.


What do you mean by effective creative work and why is it important?

To use a thought experiment with an extreme scenario, let's say a scientist invents a cure for a fatal disease. But, the people who need that cure don't know about it. Or perhaps they are aware, but just don't trust that the cure will work. Or perhaps they are aware and trust its abilities, but don't understand how to take action to use it. Regardless of which scenario, the cure becomes useless and it's benefit has virtually no value. It's as if the cure never existed.

 

This would be a tragedy.

 

Now of course not every need or situation is life or death, but you can see the point. We can dream up wonderful visions, even design and build them, but if they fall short of reaching and impacting those in need, what then?

 

When it's needed, I see creative work as a means to crossing the gap between having a viable "cure" and that "cure" actually transforming a life. The creative forms (film and video, photography, design, etc.) are a means through which you can effectively compel people to move through that sequence of awareness, understanding, trust, and action.

 

That's why I always keep the end goal, the vision, in mind. Whatever we are doing, the creative work is a means of getting to that desired change as effectively as possible. First, people have to be aware of the value you have to offer. Then they have to trust you and that value and then finally be able to take action. Which is where all this creative work fits in. It's a means of creating that change in thoughts, feelings, and actions that all fall within that sequence. Films, videos, images, designs, scripts, stories -- in this realm, they are primarily just tools.

 

But just like every other tool, not all tools are created of equal quality, such as a hammer made of glass verses a hammer made of iron. And just as important, not all tools are used effectively. If misused, some tools can make things even worse than before.


For Brands, what's beneficial about the Orlando Creatives model?

For challenging special projects that a lot rides on, I designed the Orlando Creatives model to provide Brands a better option than having to choose between the two extremes of hiring a traditional agency verse working with individual freelancers.

 

Building custom teams that specifically match the unique needs of each project avoids the one-size-fits-all dilemma you can run into at times with agencies and giving us more options to work with. This prevents having a predefined team size defining the path forward for a Brand. By providing excellent customer service and project management,  this allows talented independent creatives to focus on what they do best. You don't have to worry if a gifted film director can't properly manage a $100,000 project and all the moving parts -- because they don't have to.

 

When it comes to staying competitive for Brands, an ongoing challenge is that the demand for quality and effective creative work is exponentially outgrowing the supply, namely because of two things.

 

First off, the competition for the attention and engagement of most Brand's audiences is fierce, and only getting more intense due to technology providing more ways for us to be interrupted or distracted and almost constantly bombarded. Additionally, competition in many cases has become less localized and more globalized.

 

And when it comes to Brands competing for attention online, they aren't just competing with their competitors. Since social media is essentially the primary medium through which we consume, Brands are also competing against every other piece of content, whether funny cat videos, cute babies, news headlines, clickbait articles, or the next latest and greatest product.

 

All in all, we are collectively becoming desensitized to "normal" messaging, hence the growth of the rapid need to find new ways to reach and engage people.

 

The challenge for brands is also rooted in a second factor: effective custom creative work is almost entirely labor based (time, energy, skill) and in effect is not easily or mass produced. The barrier to entry for acquiring decent creative work is becoming easier, such as access to affordable stock photos and videos, and even getting cheap design work from overseas. Even hiring creative freelancers for bargain prices in the US is becoming easier as massive brands like LinkedIN and Amazon are building momentum in making access a thing of the past.

 

Believe it or not, I think there is a place for mediocre creative work because not every situation requires it. With that said, using average creative work is an extremely risky path when something important is actually at stake and your audience has other options than what you are offering. Here's why. When a basic level of quality of creative work is accessible by every brand, choosing those options are not typically going to put a Brand in a competitive position when it comes to standing out from the noise and competition.  Because decent creative work is becoming more and more accessible by all, by default, those resources can't create a unique competitive advantage.

 

Brands have a few different key options for developing effective creative content to reach and engage their audience. On the most basic level, they can use internal resources, external resources, or a combination of the two.

 

When they look outside their organization for creative partners, they find an extreme of options, or models, from big advertising agencies to individual freelancers. There are general pro's and con's to each, but those also vary depending upon the agency or freelancer. I would be careful to assume they are all the same in any respect and use the generalizations as guidelines instead of absolute truth (most agencies will focus only on the weaknesses of working directly with freelancers and vice versa). The tricky thing is there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in our industry, so I fully understand how annoying and difficult it can be for Brands to cut through all that.


How does investing in Creatives benefit Brands?

Where Orlando Creatives significantly diverges from any typical agency model is we invest in each other's future by working together on projects in and outside of Orlando Creatives -- and are able to encourage and inspire each other along the way so we don't have to go at it alone, and the Creatives can maintain their independence.

 

The benefit for Brands is that we aren't a stagnant or sluggish group of creatives. As each of us grows individually, the group becomes stronger. As the group becomes stronger the individuals become stronger. Brands reap the benefit of this compounding growth by having access to a continually improving special projects team.

 

For Creatives, the model is designed the way it is because it's equally as important for me to help each Creative in our group to grow and make a greater impact through their gifts. This has been done for me by many people along the way, and it's changed my life, even to the point that I wouldn't be writing this. In turn, I want to do the same that's been done for me.

 

Having a deep understanding of each Creative's gifts and skills, and then helping them develop a roadmap forward, helps me and others come alongside them to help them realize their own vision. This benefits those creatives, the brands they work with, the people who are impacted by their work, and then also contributes to us as a group becoming stronger.


Why did you choose Orlando Creatives as the name?

I wanted our identity to be anchored in the people and community I'm most committed to, which is Orlando. I also wanted local brands to be able to take pride in partnering with creatives who live alongside them in their own communities, instead of unnecessarily bringing in outsiders when the quality is already here.

 

Practically speaking, I also picked Orlando Creatives because I wanted a name that was somewhat descriptive and functional, instead of esoteric and disconnected (i.e. Apple, Uber). The creative industry can be a bit ambiguous and fluffy to start with, so to counter balance that, I wanted a name that was a first step towards clarity in lieu of potentially starting from a place of confusion. It's a fine line between creating curiosity and creating confusion.

 

I also had something bigger in mind for beyond Orlando. I strategically wanted the name to be a bit broad as my intention is our group earns a high reputation with Brands and others outside of Orlando. As our work and impact continues to spread beyond our own community, I anticipate a halo effect where people subconsciously associate our quality of work with their perception of Orlando as well as their perception of the greater creative community.

 

Of course I don't think we by any means represent all of the creatives in Orlando by any fashion, just like Orlando Health doesn't represent everyone working in our local healthcare industry or like Universal doesn't stake claims on the entire Universe. But I do take the responsibility of embracing the name very seriously. We are not the only creatives contributing to building the evolving image of our community. But, this is a way we can play a small part in the maturing identity of our great city.

 

My hope is that one day Creatives won't see the need to leave Orlando for greater opportunity. Perhaps instead, we might see Creatives leaving the bigger cities for greater opportunity here.