What makes the UK so good at winning the Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix?
In the past ten years, seven British-produced films have won the Film Grand Prix at Cannes Lions.
Just give that fact a second to sink in. Cannes is a worldwide festival. It is the advertising industry’s biggest global event, but in arguably its most celebrated category, work from the UK accounts for well over half the winners in recent years.
Since 2005, when Wieden + Kennedy London and Nexus picked up the most prestigious Lion for Honda, Grrr, we haven’t gone more than two years without a British-produced winner.
With Harvey Nichols’ Sorry, I Spent it on Myself picking up the most coveted prize in film advertising this year, it seems clear that British film advertising is still as dominant as ever. A commercial for a quintessentially English brand, created by adam&eveDDB and directed with subtle wit by Outsider’s James Rouse, advertising doesn’t get more British than that.
So why does work made on these rainy little isles do so well on the worldwide stage, at the rosé-drenched industry powwow that is Cannes Lions? How does British work stand up to over 37,000 entries from 97 countries? We asked the heads of some of the production companies behind this pride of British Lions to see if they could explain.
The Beak Street Bugle: How has UK production managed to win seven Film Grands Prix over the past ten years?
Robert Campbell, Founder, Outsider (2014 Film Grand Prix for Harvey Nichols, Sorry, I Spent it on Myself): “We are the centre of talent. If you look at [production companies like] Blink and Outsider we’ve historically found young talent and brought them through. We treat our directors with reverence. A lot of people treat them as a commodity. And we’ve always produced people who make ads who go on to make good films: Ridley Scott, Tony Kaye. It boils down to one thing: we have incredible talent in this country – agencies writing brilliant ideas and, on their doorstep, directors to execute them.
We’re very lucky. Take a step back and look at this country and what we’ve done. Don’t look at a week or a month; judge it on a century. The consistency with which we have produced great filmmakers, incredible artists, musicians, architects, writers. That just trickles down to almost everything we touch creatively. It’s incredible. It’s not just a couple of production companies knocked out some ads. We keep our national tradition of producing outstanding creative products.
And the UK makes good ads with UK agencies because we trust each other. The secret to making a great commercial is trust. They just let them get on with it.”
Chris O’Reilly, Co-Founder, Nexus Productions (2012 Film Grand Prix for Chipotle, Back to the Start and 2005 Film Grand Prix for Honda, Grrr): “We have a great pool of directing talent here, and London is one of the strongest global production centres. As an industry we’re collectively pretty good at nurturing and developing talent in the UK. Spotting directors and then guiding them through innovative ways of production is really key. This talent has delivered for us – Smith & Foulkes for Honda and then Johnny Kelly for Chipotle. This year Kibwe Tavares swept up a raft of new director gongs at Cannes and I think has the qualities to make work in the future of the highest calibre.
London production companies are hugely supported by the strength of broader creative industries in the city. It’s not the production companies alone, but the incredibly high standard of VFX, model-making, casting, creative technology, design, art music and fashion. There are not many cities in the world with such cultural breadth and depth.
It’s this special blend of creative talent with innovation that keeps Britain at the forefront of commercial production. The talent base here isn't just British either. It attracts directors from across the world. So naturally great scripts find their way to London!”
Jani Guest, Managing Director, Independent Films (2011 Film Grand Prix for Nike, Write the Future): “The UK market has always had a deep-seated commitment to delivering outstanding creative work. There is an unspoken drive to create brilliant idea-driven campaigns, beautifully executed. The amount of time and energy that creative directors and directors consistently commit to crafting films far exceeds the time and effort in other markets. There can be collaboration for months on a project before it is awarded to production and equally months of effort put in during the post process. It’s that commitment to the craft that I think has helped the UK set itself apart; as well as a wit and intelligence in the work that has a different tone to work generated elsewhere.
There is a real commitment to quality, not quantity. Many directors would prefer to do three great films a year rather than one or two productions every month, which is often acceptable in other markets. This market calls for total dedication. You can't be half-hearted about it.”
Mark Pytlik, Managing Director, Stinkdigital (2009 Film Grand Prix for Philips, Carousel): “Even though we're seeing more and more great work emanate from increasingly far-flung places, the UK is still clearly one of the world's best markets for advertising. A lot of that has to do with concentration of budgets and habits of global attention, but there's also a lineage of great filmmaking and storytelling that has probably become a self-fulfilling and perpetuating thing at many agencies. The idea that they have to do work that was at least as good as the previous generation's is one that probably informs a lot of agency creative departments.
This might be a bit controversial, but I think the EU has been a factor as well. The UK has become an increasingly transient place over the last decade. More than anywhere else in Europe, it's still the place where lots of creative hopefuls will most likely move in order to further their career. No other country on the level of England has anything remotely like Soho. That makes the concentration of talent – and with it, the work – even stronger.”
James Studholme, Managing Director, Blink (2008 Film Grand Prix for Cadbury, Gorilla): “Wow! Really? I guess when the jury has to watch so much work the boldness and the freshness of the idea has to shine through to get noticed. I’ve sat through the long list before now and that’s meant to be the top 5 per cent of world worldwide and it’s a pretty soporific, bum-numbing experience.
Historically that focus on ideas has always been strong in the UK. I think we have a very playful mindset and a constant desire to do something new. We still give the appearance of being motivated more by art than commerce. A philosophy that’s becoming as rare as rocking horse shit these days. And we do like an award. Or is it just dumb luck?”
We are constantly told how creativity around the world is catching up with us, but by changing itself and becoming a huge magnet for worldwide talent, London is still at the top of the pile.