With its aim to continually wow its audience with top-level entertainment, Hollywood has become a haven of technology. In this episode, Dani Behr and Tara Joseph chat with Yorkshire lass now LA resident, Bethan Horton from The Mill. Bethan shares with us where she’s from, what she does, and what new advances keep The Mill ahead of the game as the leader in Hollywood for all things digital and technology. She talks about the use of AR, VR, and AI in creating hyper realistic content, and how they are continuously creating ads for big events with bigger impact!
Listen to the podcast here:
AR, VR, AI And All Things Digital And Technology In Hollywood With The Mill’s Bethan Horton
We’re going to be discussing the world of digital, technology, advances with AR, VR and AI and any other acronym you guys can think of. Tara who is our special guest?
It’s not every day that you meet someone who is smiley, welcoming and has the warmest of ways about them. They also happen to be the Head of Marketing and PR at leading visual effects and content creation studio, The Mill. As well as being an accomplished public speaker who has won two Webby Awards and is also a crisis counselor at crisis text line. Quite frankly, what does this woman not do? Let’s ask her welcome to the show, Bethan Horton.
Thank you for having me.
I’m exhausted listening to that introduction. When does this woman have a minute off?
I’m fueled by a good cup of tea.
That’s all real Yorkshire lass right there. Before we even get into what she does and how she does it all, tell the readers a little bit about Yorkshire. It is a special place not only in the UK but in the world. You are special people who make the best cup of tea you’ll ever get but give them a bit of a picture.
I could do a full podcast on Yorkshire because I am proud as are all people from Yorkshire. It’s in the north of England. It’s near Scotland than near London. It’s an incredible place. It has beautiful green rolling hills. If you think about how sunny it is in LA, we have about that amount of rain in Yorkshire. I’ve been getting used to the climate and drying out over here. People from Yorkshire are proud of it. In terms of what I’d compare it to in the US, it’s a bit like how people talk about Texas. We have the same little catchphrase which is, “Don’t Mess with Texas.” We’d say, “Don’t mess with Yorkshire.” They have a similar pride. Everyone gets on with it. It’s straight-talking people and we’ve been through a lot, War of the Roses and all that. We have a chip on our shoulder about history and we are proud. We do have a lot to be proud of in terms of we’ve got great literary greats like the Brontë and we’ve got amazing musicians. We’ve got brilliant figures in culture and athletes. Every time there’s an Olympics the people from Yorkshire will say, “If Yorkshire was its own country, we’d be free.”
Who’s the most famous person to come out of Yorkshire?
I would say Sean Bean or David Hockney.
As a Yorkshire lass, how have you found it settling in LA?
Sometimes I do say that LA is a bit like Yorkshire with all-year-round sunshine. I had been living in London for eight years and I couldn’t get over the fact that everyone in LA says, “Hi,” and smiles to you. That reminds me of being at home. Everyone will have a nutter and they’ll check-in and you go to the bus stop and everyone chats.
They’re not doing that in London, Bethan, now are they?
When I first moved to London, I used to try and hold the tube door open for people.
Did they look at you like you were weird?
No, she’s got one arm left. That’s all.
Did they look at you like you were weird like, “What’s wrong with her?”
It meant that I never traveled anywhere further. I never went anywhere.
Tell us what brought you here?
It was not part of the life plan, that’s for sure. I don’t even come to the US that much and never thought about leaving. I thought moving from Bradford to London was brave and big. What happened was, I did some work for a company called The Mill doing marketing in the visual effects world, which is quite a niche and quite specialized in its way. I did a bunch of other stuff and I’d enjoyed that job. I’d got on with everyone well. I’d left to go and do some other things when a little LinkedIn message popped in saying that they had a role coming up at The Mill in Los Angeles. As we’d worked get together in the past, would I be interested in going for it? It’s not something you would say no to. I had a crazy three weeks where I had to make the decision of whether I wanted to do it or not.
What was the term of the contract? Was it a year, indefinite or did they give you any timeline?
I’m sure it was indefinite but with an initial visa for three years. I had to commit to three years to renew my visa, but I’ve been here for years because I love it.
Are you here to stay? It’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
The people that have not experienced moving from England to America or anywhere, for every light picture of the beach and rooftop cocktail, there is a little asterisk with that. The trade-off is that you’re not in control of whether you stay here or not when you’re on a visa. Everything is dependent on your visa, your company and your job. Until you’ve got that green card in hand, I would say, you can’t quite count all your chickens off.
We’ve got to set you up with a nice Yankee then.
Did you marry a Brit? Obviously a Brit, not a Yankee.
I married a Brit.
You are too premature on that one.
Dani and I are both married to an American.
You were married to an American and I am married to an American. After years of going through the whole visa and Green Card process, we are both now citizens. Don’t give up, keep going.
We have to get rid of husband number one to get a Yankee number two. Maybe we can get your number one back in on the mix after that.
You can have two husbands. Isn’t that the new trend? Probably one day.
I’m on my way to a Green Card to be more legitimate.
Tell us, what goes on at The Mill? You’re ahead of the game and technology is on another level.
It’s moving so fast. It’s hard to keep up with us laymen over here.
I would say that’s one of the best things about being in LA. In Los Angeles, you’ve got this Heritage of Hollywood, the studios and all of that. You’ve got the combination of Silicon Beach or whatever they’re calling it. All these amazing tech brains coming down and shaking everything up. I know I’m biased but I do find LA the best place in the world to be if you’re interested in or you’ve got an idea because it’s all happening here. The world’s your oyster. At The Mill specifically, we do content creation. Historically, we’re a visual effects company, but we’ve moved into a lot of innovation and experiential technology. It does still all come back to working with partners to tell impactful stories. The story is always the key, but it’s finding new ways to do that and new ways to engage in people and inspire them.Technology is elevating what people are capable of doing. Click To Tweet
For the readers, can you paint a picture? Give them a bit of a visual? When you say your content creator, what have you done that they would go, “Yes, I see.” I remember you telling me Super Bowl commercials. We can all visualize those.
If you anyone that’s worked for The Mill in Los Angeles like me, Christmas is quickly over. As soon as you take your turkey sandwich you’re into Super Bowl season because we do a huge amount of the Super Bowl commercials. The record-breaking year was 29 in that run in the Super Bowl. You’ve got this massive cultural moment where everyone sits down. It’s like the Christmas ads in the UK. People get super excited about the ads that are going to be in the Super Bowl. Everyone is talking about them.
They’re as famous as the game itself and the halftime.
How far in advance do you start working on the commercials? Are you going to be doing a lot of the next Super Bowl?
Yes. It’s this time of year that things start moving in that direction and that deadline is not moving. The Super Bowl Day is coming.
It comes quick, doesn’t it?
What’s your specific role at The Mill?
I do a marketing and PR, so that means any communication around the company, the work, and the incredible big brains that work here. That is my job. It’s making sure everyone knows what we do and how we do it. A liaison with clients to make sure that we can tell the right stories, press releases entering into words, getting our amazing thought leaders and best of all it is producing sessions by SouthbySouthwest.com. Every day is completely different. I’m not doing the work. I get to talk about the amazing work which to me feels the best job of it. It’s jammy.
You are a public speaker.
Before we get Bethan to talk about that, I wanted her to go back and share with the readers, besides the Super Bowl commercials tell them about the new technology. What’re the trends are? What people can expect to see now in Hollywood because you are definitely at the forefront of all the new goings-on that in that area.
What’s exciting about The Mill specifically is, we’re not using the technology. We are also creating new technologies to make the industry more efficient and more time to be creative. Some of the stuff that might have been lengthy or involved in the past, we can do much more quickly. There’s a lot of different examples of that. A big one for us was The Mill Blackbird. To try and be brief because all of these things I could do a whole show about. We worked in the automotive sector a lot and when you’re making car commercials you often have issues where the new model of car might not be available. It might change or if you do have it you might get paparazzi trying to get a sneaky shot of it. This was something that The Mill learn from doing this time and time again and so, they invested the money to create what is ultimately a car rig. You can shoot and then lay over the new model of the car over the top. Meaning, you don’t actually need the physical car there to make it happen.
It’s like the bones. You shoot it with the bones or the carcass of the car and then you slap on the pretty part the end. That’s interesting.
It’s even cooler than that because they can send the CAD data and the way that the rig has been set up. You can watch it on the screen and have a model there in front of you. People can see exactly what the commercial is going to look like in real-time as they’re filming the commercial.
What are the tricks? As the general public that we look at on TV. You know the behind-the-scenes of that are fun to share. Can you share with us any extras like that? That’s fun to know.
It’s a similar concept but worked on a cool music video for a musician called Cashmere Cat and the director Jake Schreier. It was a music video called Emotions. Jake is famous for doing single take amazing ambitious videos and he wanted to do that but featuring a fully computer-generated character and environment. Usually, he would have to go and film somebody performing then it would go back and be turned into CGI and it would be rendered. It would take a bunch of time and the amazing team that I work with here came up with what they call a virtual pipeline. Jake could be filming a performer wearing all of that mocap gear that you’ve probably seen on behind the scenes from certain movies.
Somebody performing in the mocap gear and rather than directing her he could see in real-time what the final computer-generated character was going to look. It’s those things that make everything a lot more efficient and a lot more creative. It’s elevating what people are capable of doing and then certainly the timeframe and budget that they are capable of doing them in which let’s be honest, in our industry people don’t talk about it, but it’s important. Demands are high. It’s inspiring and I am always being kept on my toes. I’ve got to learn how to talk about this stuff and often will get a job in and it’s a lot of acronyms and buzz words.
It’s a whole other language when you’re working in technology. For the reader, AR, VR, AI, ABC, XYZ, what are the difference between in all those?
The interesting thing is, you think it’s all of this lofty technology, but everybody is using these things. To bring it back down to earth, AI is Siri, Google Maps and it’s all of those things that you’re using on a daily basis to get around. It’s when you need to talk to the bank and you talk to a bot instead to get you to a certain level. That is all AI. It may frighten, surprise or delight people to know that they are already engaged with AI. We’re already progressed in using that in our everyday lives. That’s AI, which is artificial intelligence. You’re all using AR, that’s augmented reality. Every time you do an Instagram or Facebook filter for Game of Thrones is coming on and you’ve turned yourself into a dragon that’s augmented reality. That’s adding something to the reality that you exist in to add something a bit fantastical. Virtual reality is the one that’s a bit more immersive. I’m sure everyone at this point has YouTube, has 360 videos that you can watch, where you’re you feel that you’re moving in a world and environment that’s built around you. There’s a virtual reality that is sometimes more placed in the headsets, so it’s immersive. It’s an intense experience. Nowadays, most people have at some point accessed one of these new technologies. They might not realize it.
Do you enjoy the technology yourself? Do you find that during the day you’re so immersed in it that when you go home it’s like, “I’m not going to be involved with that, I’m not going to be playing the video game, let’s turn off?”
I am a bit of a grandma. I love reading physical books. Outside of work because it is so much a part of my everyday. I like to get outdoors and always prefer to see someone in person for a good cup of tea or a margarita. We’re in LA.
You made Dani and me a good cup of tea when we came in. The best meeting we’ve ever had was when we saw you were with the Penguin biscuits, the caramel biscuits and a goodie bag when we left.
It’s all downhill from here Bethan. You know that.
The caramel ones are called stroopwafels. I learned that from Belgium, it is European and civilized. Penguin biscuits.
Those are chocolate digestives. I was a happy camper.
I found that penguin in my bag how many days later. It wasn’t long, “I’m going to eat this right now.”
It’s survived the LA heat?
It did. It ended up in Nevada. It traveled to Laughlin, Nevada.
It was sweating at the bottom of a bag, but she polished it off.
This is a proper Yorkshire story. The last time I went home, I went to Betty’s Tea Room and I got myself a fat rascal.
What’s that? We’re Southerners Bethan. We don’t know all the terms.
I’ll educate you and it’s dangerous. It’s a currant based cake that has a little face on the front made out of almonds and cherries. It’s called the fat rascal and it’s the size of your head. It’s epic.
I’m going to Google a fat rascal.
You’ve got to say it the way Bethan says it.
I forgot about it and then I remembered it on my flight, so I ate a fat rascal at 40,000 feet.
Do you do what Tara and I do when we go home? Do you go to the shops? The sweet shops and the grocery shops and stock up on all your favorite things? Are you on those British websites? It’s not the same for me ordering online here then going home and getting it proper from my corner shop.
I take an extra suitcase.
I’ll give you my list. When are you going back?
It’s always the baked beans.
I bought two cans of baked beans from Ralph’s.
It’s a popular luggage weight. You can’t ship those overseas.
I was excited when I was whizzing around Ralph’s to see there were four cans and I bought two.
If you want to buy a loaf of Warburtons white bread, you can’t get one like that. You want to buy one, but you know it’s squishy. You can put it in a shoebox and then it won’t get squashed.
There you go, the tips and tricks. With your introduction, I was saying that you are an accomplished public speaker and you’ve won to Webby Awards.
What is a Webby Award?
Can you tell us about that? Tell us about your Webby Awards and your public speaking.
The Webby is a cool award show. There’s a lot of awards shows that have been going on for a long time, but Webby’s was the first out of the blocks to recognize innovation and websites. I guess that’s why it’s called The Webby.
Maybe LaLalanded.com will be up for the running.
Probably, you never know. They award social media presence, those different digital campaigns and podcasts. They’re a great award show for the best in the digital and technology-based stuff. My Webby was because when I was at Penguin, the publishers who I worked for back in London. You probably recognize that Penguin has three brands within it. Ladybird for your babies and preschoolers. Puffin is for the lovely reading age and Penguin. When I went there they were hoping to bridge that gap between Puffin and Penguin. I worked with a lot of smart people. It was not me to create a new brand for them called Platform, which was the young adults. It’s was to provide a much-needed community for people that have grown out of them, but we’re not quite at that adult reading stage.LA is the best place in the world to be if you've got an idea because it's all happening here. The world's your oyster. Click To Tweet
Are people still reading? Are they still buying books? My kids, I can’t get them off the bloody phone. What can I tell you?
Something I do find interesting online is, you get all of these huge influences. YouTube stars and all of them bring out books.
Not the ones my son watches. He watches grown men skateboard off of a back of a truck into a wall. I don’t know. All these pranks are bizarre.
That’s not going to translate that well to the literary type.
What do Tara and I need to do to win a Webby? What do we need there?
It’s about having a unique voice and doing something a bit different, which you guys are already doing.
We’re a couple of birds nattering on.
I think I’m unique.
You are on your way. I look forward to your acceptance speech. They make you do it in 140 characters.
We’ll have to make sure we split that right down the middle.
I don’t even know how many words that is.
I’m not getting enough time to speak.
Talking about time to speak, we are running out of time, but I want to discuss your crisis counseling because that sounds on a serious note, there are a lot of people in crisis. There are always people that are willing to give up their time to help people. That’s an honorable thing that you do. Thank you for that. How did you get into that? How has that affected your life from working with this crisis text line?
It was partly to do with moving here. Everyone is always so busy. When you’re trying to schedule social arrangements and you feel a heel because you’re like, “I’ll see you in a month’s time. That’s my first window.” When I moved to LA I didn’t have any friends who wouldn’t know anyone. I can put this time to good use and Nia wanted to volunteer. I found out about a crisis text line through a TEDx Talk from their founder who was super inspiring. It’s a 24-hour service. It’s completely free for anyone. If it’s a crisis for them, it’s a crisis for us. They can text. The number is 741-741. We take about 5,000 messages a day especially right now in the world.
There are a lot of people who are needing support and deserve that support. It is an amazing thing to be able to give. We said would be a bit serious. I did start volunteering because I’m a survivor of an assault that happened to me when I was eighteen. I didn’t have anywhere to go and I didn’t know how to access the part at that age. I feel like it would have been amazing to have a resource this to help guide me and help me through that. It’s meaningful for me to be able to be that person now to help others. It’s been healing and inspiring and the best of it is, you do it on your laptop from home so I can do it in my pajamas and eating ice. No one knows. No one’s any wiser.
That’s admirable and brave of you. It’s special that you do that.
Thank God for people like you. You do have to stop a minute and go right. Your life runs away with you especially in a busy city like Los Angeles where we’re all working towards the next project and the next goal. You keep going and you keep running all the time. To be conscious enough to take a time out whether it’s ten minutes of your time or two hours or a day. That’s honorable the fact that you’re doing something, not for other people but to help you as well. You probably get as much out of it as they do in a way.
They will not let me back into Yorkshire when I say this, but I’ve probably got into therapy meditation crystals, sage, full moon, blood moon and whatever.
Bethan, I have to ask you one question. Don’t you have a cat or a dog psychic like Tara?
She’s gone extreme LA.
You probably don’t have a cat or a dog, do you?
I’ve got a dog and she’s called Buttercup. She’s a pit bull and a rescue.
I’ve got a rescue as well.
We should go on a little double date.
I’d love to do that. He’s got a bad shoulder, so he’s on lockdown.
I didn’t even know dogs had shoulders.
He’s got a bit of a problem. It’s interesting that you do crisis counseling because the thing that I like to do is, I volunteer at East Valley Animal Shelter whenever I can. That fulfills something in me that I love to give to the animals. I am better with animals than I am with people. I admire Bethan and what you do for people and I try to do my bit for animals.
She doesn’t do babies and I’m not good with animals. That’s our deal. She does all the animal stuff and I’ll do all the kiddies stuff and it works out well.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. Volunteering and servitude is an important part of life. It’s fulfilling but you’ve got to do it in an area that you are going to learn that it’s good for you as well. There is something good for everyone for sure.
We’re going to have to wrap up, but it’s been so special speaking to you. You’ve been an amazing and inspirational guest. If any of our readers have any questions for Bethan, send them our way and will forward them on to you. Do you have any socials that you want to let everyone know?
It is quite funny considering my job for all my social media is private.
She needs time off.
You can follow The Mill, @Mill_LA on Instagram for all technology stuff.
You check out all the new technologies and what they are up to. They’re always up to something and ahead of the game.
Thanks, everyone. Join us again soon.
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About Bethan [Bee] Horton
Bethan [Bee] Horton oversees both external and internal communications as Head of Marketing & PR at The Mill’s Los Angeles studio. The Mill is a VFX and content creation studio made up of directors, artists and creative technologists, focused on concept-to-delivery collaborations. Bethan drives new partnership opportunities and ensures maximum exposure for the talent and creative work through strategic marketing initiatives, public relations, social coverage, speaking opportunities, festival attendance and awards.
Bethan’s decade of marketing and public relations experience spans multiple audiences, disciplines and industries. She started her career at Nickelodeon where she worked her way up to managing the entire marketing mix for the iconic television network. With her insatiable appetite for future-first opportunities, Bethan created the social media strategy for the brand, on an international level. As a result, Nickelodeon was the first children’s property to launch across Twitter and Facebook, providing an opportunity for audience interaction and insight over its competitors. During her time at Nickelodeon, Bethan was the first marketer to incorporate a hashtag into a cinema ad! The idea had to get special top-level approval as it was thought it could encourage people to then use their phones during the movie.
In her role as Head of Social & Digital Marketing at beloved publisher Penguin Random House, Bethan managed the award-winning team as they engaged with key audiences across Penguin (adults), Puffin (kids) and Ladybird (parents and pre-schoolers). In that position she also branded and launched Penguin Platform; the groundbreaking new offering from Penguin to target the important young-adult audience.
Bethan is a thought leader in all things trend and technology, regularly speaking at events such as Social Media Week and producing sessions for SXSW and OFFF. She co-founded the LA chapter of Glug; a quarterly speaker series and creative community. Her efforts in leading marketing campaigns have earned her two Webby Awards. In her spare time, she volunteers as a Crisis Counselor for Crisis Text Line. She recently appeared as an ‘expert’ on England for the Funny or Die ‘Ron Burgundy Podcast’ where she was interviewed by Will Ferrell.