Confessional interviews intercut with scenes of the workplace, the types of people you totally know from your company, and gentle parody of the half-dopey/half-serious way people act at their jobs—no, it’s not an old episode of The Office. It’s a training video from Bronxville-based Wheelhouse Communications, LLC. And it’s surprisingly, well, enjoyable.
“Anyone who has seen a corporate training video has rolled their eyes and said, ‘This is cheesy, and I’m not paying more attention than I have to,’” admits Dan Krystallis, who co-founded Wheelhouse, which produces a reinvented breed of corporate training videos, in 2007. “I’ve sat through some painful stuff. And I swore we’d be different.”
For Wheelhouse, being different means eschewing voiceovers, stilted acting, and poorly lit shots in favor of higher production values and scripts that often emulate recognizable genres and even specific TV shows and web series, hence the references to The Office.
“It’s all about audience engagement,” Krystallis says. “The best way to hold attention is to entertain. If you can’t keep [employees’] attention, all the time, energy and money that went into the project is wasted.” Krystallis’ partner, Christopher Ming Ryan, agrees: “It’s like Mary Poppins—putting the message with a little sugar makes it easier to swallow.”
Krystallis says that growing up, he “was the kid with the movie camera down in the basement. I’d make movies with my friends.” But being “too practical” for a long-shot career in Hollywood, he instead got a master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University’s Teachers College, then got into consulting, and ended up doing in-house training for Pepsi Bottling Group.
At the time, Pepsi trainers were looking increasingly for “behavior modeling” to aid instruction, and it became clear that to do that, “video was critical,” says Krystallis. “All of a sudden, this came full circle from when I was a kid. Not that I didn’t enjoy the PowerPoints, but video was where I started to get excited and do some really creative things.”
That included a video called “PepsiCenter,” a SportsCenter-invoking piece that ran at a training event to teach coaching techniques to the company’s sales managers. To make other videos, Krystallis often worked with Ryan, who was an external video producer at the time.
The two found they had a nice rapport and complementary creative skills. Ryan describes their connection as being “like a great shortstop and second baseman.” And after really enjoying a number of projects together over a couple years, they decided to start Wheelhouse.
Clients, Krystallis says, usually come to them wanting to communicate to employees about “a new process, a new training, a new philosophy on dealing with people, a new frame of mind, a new direction for the company.” He and Ryan then come up with a strategy and a script, staying involved through “the entire design and every phase of the project.”
The result has been videos for Pepsi, American Express, Colgate, Random House, the Wall Street Journal, Columbia, NYU, and others, and they’ve received multiple Telly Awards in separate years. (“It’s not the Oscars,” says Krystallis, “but, for corporate internal video, it’s probably the highest honor there is.”)
Krystallis attributes Wheelhouse’s success to its ability to not only entertain, but to do so effectively. He points out that clients “keep coming back because the audience demands quality and creativity.”