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SMALL BUSINESS

Hollywood as a teaching tool

Firm turns companies' workers into film crews to foster teamwork.

April 21, 2008|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

To keep costs down, they worked out of Wendell's apartment in Brentwood. And instead of hiring full-time workers, they relied on freelancers, drawing on Wendell's network of Hollywood contacts.

The thriftiness kept the company debt-free, but there were challenges. As often accompanies anything to do with a movie camera, customers demanded increasingly elaborate and time-consuming events. One involved building a set in New Orleans modeled on "The Apprentice" TV show. Another event was a knockoff of the TV series "CSI."

"We were constantly pitching new ideas and reinventing the wheel every time," Lanier said.

Two years ago, they settled on a simpler strategy: Help companies create faux commercials that would highlight their own brands.

They reached out to meeting planners and speaker bureaus such as Los Angeles-based Nationwide Speakers Bureau Inc., which recently booked an event for the company at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City.

As a result, business surged. Sales jumped 40% to $1.7 million in 2007 from the previous year, and are estimated to reach nearly $2.5 million this year, the co-founders say.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, April 23, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Hollywood team building: A caption with an article in Monday's Business section about a firm that turns companies' workers into film crews for a day to foster teamwork, said its accompanying photo showed Greg Cebulski of Lights, Camera, InterAction, left, helping InterContinental Hotel employee Nedim Hasonvic. The photo, above, actually shows, from left, Hasonvic, Rafik Ghazarian, who also works for the hotel, and John Knowles of Lights, Camera, InterAction.

Today, the company undertakes two to three events a month in locales such as Huntington Beach and Cancun, Mexico, for clients as diverse as confectionary giant Cadbury Adams, home builder Ryland Homes and Morton's Restaurant Group Inc.

One team from the Morton's steakhouse chain turned to the action genre, crafting a commercial showing a wimpy customer emerging from an elevator with a bag of steaks after fending off a gang of beef-salivating bikers, who are shown piled up behind him.

Next up for Lights, Camera, InterAction is an event in May for financial managers from the newly merged Thomson-Reuters news organization.

One of the biggest challenges was finding a way to entertain 600 accountants and financial analysts at General Mills last fall during an event in Minneapolis.

But the number crunchers proved surprisingly theatrical. One team created a "superheroes of finance" commercial inspired by the film "Fantastic Four." The segment featured various heroes of the balance-sheet and income-statement world with names such as "Anjelica Keeper of Profits."

"The event could have been a flop, but it was a hit," said Jason Krob, financial manager at General Mills.

Despite its growth, Lights, Camera, InterAction has stayed lean, with just five full-time workers.

Its only assets consist of half a dozen cameras and a warehouse of props, costumes and makeup, which are stored in giant crates and air freighted to events.

"We can outfit any idea that someone has," Lanier said, "whether they want to be Mick Jagger or Flash Gordon."

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Lights, Camera, InterAction

Business: Uses the process of making commercials as a team-building event for groups of employees

Owners: David Wendell, Sterling Lanier

Revenue: $1.7 million in 2007

Employees: Five

Most unusual project: Building an operating room set for Baxter Laboratories, manufacturer of skin care and pharmaceutical products

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