A Pint With… Lee Pavey

March 31, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Knocking some jars back with Mr. Electric.

Photography by Nipon Ravel.

I was relieved when Lee Pavey suggested The Sun and 13 Cantons for our rendezvous. With some practice, I could probably spit at it from my desk.

The choice wasn’t just for my benefit though. Since they started five years ago Electric Theatre Collective have employed three people who worked behind this bar and moulded them into valuable soldiers on the front lines of visual effects. We necked two pints of Edison British Pilsner (relevant, we thought) from the Electric Bear Brewing Co. with relish, nattering away and engaging in some colourful Soho people-watching (we think we saw Danny Boyle saunter past at one point).

...This pub was my introduction to Soho. I got my first job just down the road at Glassworks. All my mates in the industry come here. It’s been our regular haunt for about 20 years. It didn’t used to be so cool. It was a dive back then. There’d always be someone up to something.”

...Spurs are finally allowing me to come to work happy on a Monday.
They don’t lose every week anymore, so I can hold my head high when I walk into the office. I used to start the week a little bit tender.”

...I always dreamt I’d work on Star Wars. In my first runner interview the company told me they were about to work on the new Star Wars film. I thought it was destiny. I didn’t get the job. I’ve worked on a Nissan commercial with stormtroopers in and a Star Wars and Adidas collaboration, but that’s the closest I’ve come.”

...I couldn’t believe my luck when I got my first running job at Glassworks. At the time they were working with immensely talented people, on huge pop videos for the Spice Girls and George Michael. I was working at Marks & Spencer’s before and I refused to quit my job there, just in case. I used to come to the office in my black and green uniform. One day Hector told me not to turn up wearing it anymore. I eventually trusted him and let go. Amazingly, they never fired me.”

...Being a runner was the most amazing job. I was getting paid to hang out with interesting people and learn loads of skills, getting the chance to learn every aspect of the business. I didn’t want to move on. I met loads of people who are still in the industry. Now they’re directors, agency producers or heads of TV.”

...I’m anti Vanilla ads. So many are forgettable. At Electric it’s really important that real people – not the ad industry bubble – are talking about the stuff we work on. I want it to have a cultural impact.“

...People don’t realise how much work VFX is. Nobody queries the cost of building physical things, but when someone’s making something on a computer people expect it’s free. It undervalues the skill and craft of people in visual effects.”

...I believe in specialists. I believe in the client-agency relationship and the agency- production company part. I believe in editors, graders, sound designers. We’re all skilled craftspeople. That is really important. If we start to detach parts and those industries disappear, that’s bad for the industry. We could do everything at Electric. We could get an editor, but they wouldn’t be as good as someone at Work or Final Cut. You wouldn’t go to a suit tailor and ask him to make a pair of shoes. You go to the best craftspeople and you get what you pay for.”

...Oasis at Knebworth was a unique moment in cultural history. I was there. It was the last gig that will ever be like that – the last coming together on that scale. It was 250,000 people over two days who all lived one type of life.”

...Some young directors now would have been megastar directors 20 years ago. How can you make something great for five grand? Then how do you keep doing that time after time? They’re making stuff that’s baffling. At the UKMVAs there’s a category for budget music videos. And they look like they cost half a million pounds.”

...I love my ridiculous dog. She’s a British Bulldog called Tubbs, after the character in the League of Gentlemen. She’s annoying – needy, difficult and expensive to keep – but also the most amazing thing in the whole world.”

...People rely on VFX to make their bad ideas look better. If an ad’s a stinker, it’s a stinker. We can’t save it. We can make it better, but the idea needs to be great. It’s more important than ever to have a great idea.”

...I keep fit by boxing on Golden Square. Every Wednesday at 10:15. It’s not worth watching, but people can come. Being fat doesn’t suit me. I
just get a belly and look like Mr Potato Head. And gym’s boring. So I started boxing with this guy Honest Frank. It gives me a calmness, just concentrating on hitting something. I can’t pick my phone up either, which is liberating.”

...My job is the best. I get paid to run a company with my best friends. We have a good time. We make great work. And we’re proud of what we’ve done. We don’t want to own the world. But what we do, we want to do really well.”

Lee Pavey is Co-Founder and Producer at Electric Theatre Collective.

High Five: April

March 30, 2017 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Risky business is good business.

The best advertising is risky and the best ads this month have reminded us of how dangerous advertising can pay. Some ideas walk a thin tightrope between brilliance and naff-ness. These five could all have been crap if they hadn’t been treated in just the right way. They’ve come out all the better for not playing it safe though.

Brand: Halifax
Title: Thunderbirds
Production Company: Outsider
Director: DOM&NIC
Production Company Producer: John Madsen
Director of Photography: Alex Barber
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Executive Creative Director: Ben Tollett
Creatives: Jonathan John, David Mackersey
Agency Producer: Catherine Cullen
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Straun Clay
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Visual Effects Company: The Mill

Halifax - Thunderbirds

Buying the intellectual property rights to some of our most beloved cultural memories is a risky play for a brand. So often the show or character in question is used to fill an idea vacuum. When used in this way, fans will not only ignore your ads, they’ll actively despise them. But the clever folks at adam&eveDDB have been respectful to all the beloved culture they’ve commandeered for Halifax, and the same goes for the Thunderbirds. With dom&nic’s deft touch behind the camera, Parker is as charming as ever. A potent dose of nostalgia straight into the bloodstream.


Brand: HSBC
Title: The Swimmer
Production Company: The Sweet Shop
Director: Louis Sutherland
Production Company Producer: Justin Edmund-White
Director of Photography: Marty Williams
Ad Agency: JWT London
Creative Directors: Chas Bayfield, Dave Jenner
Creative: Naz Nazli
Agency Producer: Charlotte Jude
Editing Company: tenthree
Editor: Billy Mead
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Ben Gulvin
Visual Effects Company: MPC

HSBC – The Swimmer

HSBC have really been going all-in on the soppy stuff in recent years. Thankfully, their ads are usually made by people who know how far they can push it before it brings up people’s breakfast. Director Louis Sutherland has done just that with JWT’s understated script about a dedicated father supporting his daughter’s passion for swimming. It’s warm and reassuring without heaping on the sentimentality too thick – the sort of believable relationship that idealised advert characters rarely seem to demonstrate.


Brand: Nike
Title: Made Of
Production Company: Riff Raff
Director: David Wilson
Production Company Producer: Cathy Hood
Director of Photography: Benoit Soler
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam
Creative Directors: Mark Bernath, Eric Quennoy
Creatives: Vasco Vicente, Evgeny Primachenko
Agency Producers: Soey Lim, Karen Whitehouse
Editor: Govert Janse
Music Company: MassiveMusic
Sound Company: Wave
Sound Designer: Alex Nicholls-Lee
Visual Effects Company: MPC

Nike – Made Of

It turns out ‘femvertising’ wasn’t just a phase. It’s an awakening. Brands must demonstrate their passion for equality now, or face being held accountable for their silence. What began in the West is now global, and it’s amazing to see something like this coming out in a country as testosterone-drenched as Russia. Like so much of the work Wieden + Kennedy are writing for Nike around the world, this ad is an empowering short film despite its commercial origins – an active part of culture and contemporary discourse. It’s what makes Nike one of the world’s greatest brands.


Brand: MoneySupermarket
Title: Skeletor
Production Company: Sonny
Director: Fredrik Bond
Production Company Producer: Alicia Richards
Director of Photography: Ben Seresin
Ad Agency: Mother
Editing Company: Whitehouse Post
Editor: Patric Ryan
Music Company: We Are Theodore
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer:  Sam Robson
Visual Effects Company: MPC

MoneySuperMarket – Skeletor

Again, with the co-opting of popular culture for commercial ends. Such a dangerous tactic. Many 80s and 90s children will, like me, have recoiled in dread upon reading Skeletor’s name next to a price comparison website’s, but somehow they’ve managed not to ruin my childhood. In fact, the mystical supervillain’s dance moves are pretty funny. It’s a good progression for a series at risk of getting stale.


Brand: Virgin Media
Title: This is Virgin Fibre
Production Company: Rogue
Director: Sam Brown
Production Company Producer: James Howland
Director of Photography: Tom Townsend
Ad Agency: BBH
Creative Director: Carl Broadhurst
Creatives: Felipe Guimaraes, Lambros Charalambous
Agency Producer: Georgina Kent
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Amanda James
Music Company: The Most Radicalist Black Sheep Music Ltf
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Visual Effects Company: The Mill

Virgin Media – This is Virgin Fibre

There’s no subtlety to this idea. But that’s OK because it’s full of the lush, vibrant action that Sam Brown is so good at depicting. It’s a real feast for the eyes, full of familiar faces and adrenaline. It’s even got some nice little comic touches to keep it human. A slick, cinematic piece that demands your attention.

What Advertisers Should Know About Agency In-House Production Units

March 24, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Is this more ‘streamlined’ model for or against clients interests?

The rise of the in-house production unit at advertising agencies has been one of the more lively issues in the industry in the past few years, with passionate views on both sides. One session at Advertising Week Europe on Tuesday 21st March called What Advertisers Should Know About Agency In-House Production Units attempted to distil these arguments down for clients, and called on a relevant panel to discuss it.

Moderated by Dominic Mills, Columnist for Mediatel, the panel consisted of Steve Davies, CEO of the Advertising Producers Association, Sylvaine Mella, Bureau Member of the French Association des Producteurs de Films Publicitaires, Tina Fegent, Marketing Procurement Consultant and Chair of the CIPS Marketing Knowledge Group, Claire Randall, Creative Production Consultant and Philipp Schuster, Business Partner for Global Procurement Marketing Agencies at Bayer.

Dominic began by summarising the situation. “Some see these agency in-house units as just another way for agencies to make money,” he said. “Others that it is a free market and agencies can offer their services as viably as anyone else and, in some cases, perhaps offer services not only cheaper but maybe faster and perhaps even more user friendly. But on the other side we have those that believe agencies are acting dishonourably, seeking alternative bids from independents and then winning the work themselves. Judge and jury on their own bid, you might say.

“In the US this has taken a serious twist with a number of agencies under investigation by the Department of Justice for bid rigging. People could go to jail. They did 20 years ago in a previous Department of Justice investigation.“

With the stakes established, the panel were invited to describe the general pressures their respective parts of the industry are concerned by.

Steve and Sylvain stressed the increased quantity of content demanded by clients, paired with the same budgetary constraints and fast turnovers production has always wrestled with.

Tina explained clients’ demands for more streamlined and effective structures within agencies, while Claire noted one of the major motivators for agencies ramping up their production offerings – money. “We are seeing a move away from having an agency of record,” she said. “A lot of brands are working with a creative agency on a project-by-project basis, which is putting pressure on agency fees, which is why I think they’re looking for other ways to drive revenue.”

Philipp’s client perspective was that the decoupling and diverse business models that have hit the industry have increased choice for brands for how they buy advertising. “There are endless options,” he said. “To have choice is always good, but you have to pick the right option for you and that’s more and more difficult.”

The panel agreed that relationships are more opaque than they need to be and stressed that this needs to change. “It’s an oversupplied market,” said Tina. “Agencies haven’t been clear about what options are available. This lends itself to the role of procurement, making sure we understand the supply chain.”

But brands don’t question their supply chain often enough, suggested Claire, provided their agency is delivering quality, cost-effectiveness and on-time delivery.

Nobody is condemning the notion of in-house production outright. “It’s entirely up to a client how they spend their money and it’s up to an agency how they structure their business,” said Steve. “But the issue is whether they compete fairly. We don’t think they are when they bid themselves against independent companies. That is bad for clients because what appears to be an open competition in the open market isn’t.”

When asked whether he thought the bid rigging the US DOJ is investigating was happening in the UK, Steve said no, but that’s not required to make the system unfair. Agencies can withhold information from production companies or skip the negotiation phase and accept their first price. “There’s nothing illegal about that,” he said, “but you’re creating and environment where you are both player and referee There are so many ways in which agencies can favour themselves without doing anything as crass as entering into a criminal conspiracy with another organisation.”

He reiterated the APA’s public stance on the issue – that “an agency should be able to decide whether it’s going to do the work itself or whether it’s going to bid it out to the production community, but not both.”

This is unnecessary, as Claire saw it. She suggested that there are ways to fairly accept both in-house and external bids: “For example, different deadlines so that the agency has to make their bid prior to the external bids, or the bids go direct to the client, or to procurement, or to the production consultant, so that it’s an even playing field.”

Steve disagreed, arguing that if bids are judged by another party the value of judging a treatment and budget on its creative value to the idea is lost. That is a huge role of the creative agency that must not be bypassed.

Philipp expressed his concern for any possible unfairness. “That someone is judging their own bid doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We have to set up a process where this is not possible. Or bring in some independent body to make sure the referee is a referee, and not also a player. That’s critical.”

Some agencies feel insulted that their integrity is being questioned here. They claim they would never favour their own bid unfairly. Steve said he understood this. “But although I have faith in their personal integrity, I just don’t think that’s possible. Things have to not just be fair, but be seen to be fair. That’s why the chairman of the National Lottery can’t enter the lottery.”

Of course the pressure to move more production in-house is a revenue-driven one, not a creative decision. Steve noted that these demands usually come from agencies’ financial leadership, but while responding to business challenges by taking on new work is a good way to grow, clients should see the inevitable risk that an agency will decide who does a production based on its own interests, rather than their clients.

Ultimately the market will deliver the best value for the client, Steve argued. There are too many companies competing for this work and production companies have to fight on two fronts: with their treatments, in order to demonstrate the most compelling creative solutions their directors can envisage, as well as on price. “In any over-competitive market you can cannot put your prices up,” he said. “You have to put them bid as low as you can just to win the work. That’s what clients should take confidence from.”

Sylvaine added that production companies are uniquely positioned to support emerging directing talent. “That’s something that may be difficult,” she said. “You might not find it in an in-house production company at an advertising agency. It has been our role forever and I think we’ve done it pretty well. It’s really important to keep that love for the craft that we have as the producer. Most of the time we’re also able to invest in music videos that are not bringing in any money, but are bringing new talent that the advertising world is eager to use.”

That may be less of a hardheaded business argument, but we’re not talking about buying pig iron here – this is the creative industry. Tina noted that “the right procurement person” should take that into account.

It’s ironic that the session was hosted on the IPA Centenary Stage. The British agency and production associations haven’t been able to get on the same page on this issue since the APA called for the IPA to issue a best practice statement suggesting agencies should not bit themselves against the independent sector. Some agencies have vowed never to do this, but others insist there’s nothing wrong with it, and the IPA have so far refused to take a stand either way. APA member companies have decided not to bid against in-house production units, “so in a sense it doesn’t matter whether there is third-party approval,” said Steve.

But he does feel agencies should do their bit to reassure their clients of their integrity. “I would like to publicly ask WPP and Omnicom to say that their agencies won’t bid themselves or their own network in-house companies against independent companies,” he said.

The “spectre at the feast,” as Dominic put it, was the in-house production units that clients have now begun setting up. “There are new models popping up every other month,” said Philipp, the client voice here. “So there will always be a debate about it. We’re in a vibrant and lively exchange all the time. And we need to figure out the best way.”

What is Good Casting?

March 15, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

We ask a few of the industry’s best what it takes to find the right talent.

I’ve said “the casting is good” in many a High Five review. But what do I actually mean by that? I hadn’t really thought about it until recently.

Apparently I’m not alone here. Casting directors are used to being overlooked and misunderstood. There is still no Academy Award for casting, making it the only main title of credit without an Oscar category. And the BAFTAs are equally guilty of this oversight.

The inaugural Casting Directors Association Awards will announce its winners on Friday 17th March. The CDA Casting Awards 2017 are the first awards in Europe to celebrate this underappreciated art. With winners in each category judged by an independent panel of expert, industry judges, the awards hope to pave the way forward for appreciating this undervalued craft. The ceremony is taking place in Farringdon, London and will be hosted by comic actress and writer Sally Phillips, whose credits include Miranda, Smack the Pony, Radio 4’s Clare in the Community and the Bridget Jones films.

I decided to speak to some of the nominated casting directors to understand what makes good casting directors and why they should be celebrated.

Tree Petts is nominated for Best Casting of a UK Commercial (Worcester Bosch - The Long Day) and Best Casting of an International Commericial (Seat - Imaginary Friend). Also Chairperson of the CDA, she feels everyone can appreciate good casting because it’s so noticeable on film. “When you watch something as a lay person, you’re not looking at the background, the art department,” she says. “That infuses the feel. You’re looking at the casting. That’s what you immediately see – the actors.” No matter your technical knowledge of film, you can recognise good acting when you see it. And it’s casting directors who make sure the right actors get cast.

Shakyra Dowling, who is nominated in both the Short Film (The Nest) and Feature Film (Spaceship) categories, describes the magic of the moment when great casting happens. “The excitement is when magic happens in the casting suite,” she says. “You lock eyes with the director and you know that that this the right person. You know that you’ve found what you’ve been looking for.”

There’s a certain degree of intuition to casting that’s hard to explain, it seems. “A good casting director will read a script and have inspiration about who they’re going to talk about with the director,” says Shakyra. “It’s your job to ‘have a good eye.’ It’s talent spotting, I suppose – understanding who will work in a film.”

‘The eye’ is definitely a phrase casting directors like to use. “It’s basically seeing something in somebody that they may not even see themselves at the point and thinking ‘this person’s got something that we can work with,’” explains Tree. “Various people have ‘the eye’ in various walks of the entertainment industry. It’s about seeing something in somebody that can be developed.”

Casting directors pride themselves on finding talent that goes on to do great things. “Oh, God, I really love that,” says Tree. She remembers watching  a production of Othello many years ago. “There was a relative unknown on the stage who I felt blew Ewan McGregor off the stage. And his name was Tom Hiddleston. The person that cast him, I guess new out of drama school at that point, had seen something in him and that’s ‘the eye.’”

Shakyra demonstrated her ‘eye’ with the short she was nominated for, The Nest, for which she cast Amy Bowden. She saw something in her. “And it wasn’t just me,” she says, “because now she’s with one of the biggest agencies in the UK and is working constantly. That’s when you know.”

One of the other intuitive arts of a good casting director is providing the director with options he or she may not have considered. Like so many heads of department, their job is to provide the director with creative expertise. “A good casting director will put in a wildcard that doesn’t exactly fit the director’s brief, but actually from reading the treatment and script we think this person is really good,” says Tree. “And quite often they get the part. So even though the parameters are around what the director wants, you can open it up a bit.”

Diversity and representation are delicate issues among casting directors. They’re understandably wary of crowbarring diversity into a cast that feels unrealistic, but sometimes it can be an inspiration. Shakyra remembers reading a script with 36 male and only two female characters. “When I read it I said to the director ‘it’s not great on diversity. What do you think of changing this male character to a female?’ He found it so inspiring. He hadn’t even thought about it but loved the idea. So you have quite a lot of influence in making important decisions.”

The CDA will, in fact, be presenting a special Diversity Award, sponsored by Casting Networks, on Friday. Judging this special award will be a panel from UK Equity headed by their Equalities and Diversity Organiser, Hamida Ali.

But a casting director can only rely on his or her intuition so far. It has to be underpinned by knowledge. Amanda Tabak, who is nominated in the Best Street Casting Commercial (The Co-Op – Ask) and Short Film (Balcony) categories, remembers once having to cast a Chinese man in his 80s who plays drums. That’s quite a specific brief, but she managed to meet it by speaking to all the Chinese communities in London. Knowing where to look is key.

“When I started I was amassing knowledge,” says Amanda.  Now she has a huge reservoir of experience on where to find certain types of talent. “Someone will just intuitively spring to mind from the library of people in my brain that I’m sure is going to be right for it and, invariably, they are.”

Of course, there are go-to agencies with the best actors, but Tree insists that good casting is about unearthing those hidden gems. “I think it’s about keeping an open mind,” she says. “There are really good people that aren’t represented by the top agents. I think really good casting directors have to keep their eyes open. If I have to go through 2,000 suggestions to find 20 people to come into a casting, I will give myself that extra work just to open the field up.”

It’s also important to understand the director, too. No mean feat, as Shakyra knows. “They might say ‘a bit like Cillian Murphy but not. If you mixed him with Harrison Ford. That’s how I see this character.’ And I know exactly what they’re talking about,” she says. “We have to find that person.”

“I think it’s a combination of knowledge, gut feeling and organisation,” says Amanda. “You have to be super organised. If someone calls me up on Tuesday and wants to do a casting on Thursday, where I need to get 30 people to come in, and they’ve all got to bring something to the table.”

Casting directors are one of the many kinds of specialists a film director relies upon to make the best film possible. They aren’t technical specialists with an arcane piece of equipment that nobody else understands. Casting a subtle art, combining instinct, knowledge and a good helping of common sense. That’s probably why they’ve been somewhat overlooked by the filmmaking establishment. But this wrong will be righted and on Friday London will appreciate the greatest talents within the craft.

Unsigned: Tobias Ross-Southall

March 15, 2017 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

This director never stops experimenting and learning.

Tobias Ross-Southall was always messing around with a mini DV camera in school. He enjoyed experimenting with recording techniques. One day while cycling down a busy street at night, one handed whilst filming, he had the epiphany that this was what he wanted to do with his life.

A lot of his mates were in bands and he had access to a camera, so began shooting stuff for their music videos. His first music video was shot and edited in one night in order to get it live for the next day as the band at the time were due to go on a BBC show. It got over a million views on YouTube – not a bad start.

Since then he’s kept shooting, experimenting and learning. He’s created films for Coca-Cola, New Balance, Nike, Universal, Paddy Power, Vivienne Westwood and The Orient-Express, among others. He was nominated in the Best New Director category at the UK Music Video Awards and in 2010 co-directed Perfecting Fee, which won the Smoke & Mirrors 48 Hour Film Competition.

One particularly ambitious project was Eleanor, starring Ruth Wilson – a three-screen immersive installation, which exists both as an exhibition piece and a conventional short film.

He’s interested in pursuing more art installation-style work in the future and is also in the process of developing a live-action / animation feature film.

Watch some of his work here:

High Five: March

March 10, 2017 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Good advertising doing good.

Sometimes people who make advertising get the chance to use their talents for more than just selling more soap powder. Our pick of this month’s best advertising is a pretty clear demonstration of the social change advertising can exert. It’s all strong communication. Hopefully people listen.

Brand: Be Gamble Aware
Title: Online
Production Company: Park Pictures
Director: Tom Tagholm
Production Company Producers: Nick Goldsmith, Sophie Hubble
Director of Photography: Mauro Chiarello
Ad Agency: 18 Feet & Rising
Creative Director: Will Thacker
Creative: Louis Jopling
Agency Producer: Russell Taylor
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Leo King
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
VFX Company: MPC

Be Gamble Aware - Online

It feels like awareness of gambling addiction is a few steps behind other similar conditions, but with communication like this that gap could very well soon be closing. The writing is phenomenally effective at demonstrating the rationalisation of an addict’s brain. It seems well researched, at least to somebody with no direct experience of addiction, as if the creatives spoke extensively to addicts and councillors to understand the nuances of the condition. And that performance. It would be hard to ignore this even while you’re trying to make a cup of tea in the other room.


Brand: Honda
Title: Up
Production Company: Colonel Blimp
Director: Pedro Martin-Calero
Production Company Producer: Dougal Meese
Director of Photography: Éric Gautier
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
Creative Director: Scott Dungate 
Creatives: Joris Philippart, Jason Scott
Agency Producers: Michelle Brough, Samara Zagnoiev
Editing Company: Speade
Editor: Sacha Szwarc
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Anthony Moore, Jack Hallett, Neil Johnson
Music Company: Siren
VFX Company: MPC
Creative Director, MPC: Bill McNamara
Grade: MPC
Colourist: George K

Honda – Up

We’re suckers for minimalist advertising here at Bugle Towers. And this ad definitely falls into that category. With almost no music and a relaxed voiceover of only 17 words, the epic visuals are given room to shine. Of course, much of the stunning scenery comes courtesy of the CG sorcerers at MPC rather than Mother Nature herself, but it’s still an arresting picture, masterfully envisioned by director Pedro Martin-Calero at Colonel Blimp.


Brand: Nike
Title: Equality
Production Company: Prettybird
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Production Company Producer: Jonathan Wang
Director of Photography: Malik Sayeed
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Creative Directors: Chris Groom, Antony Goldstein
Creatives: Kervins Chauvet, Nate Nowinowski
Agency Producer: Julie Gursha
Editing Company: Joint Editorial
Editor: Peter Wiedensmith
Music Company: Walker
Sound Company: Barking Owl
Sound Designer: Morgan Johnson
VFX Company: The Mission

Nike – Equality

We like to think Nike went to Melina Matsoukas and asked her, “could you do us a Formation?” In many ways that’s what they’ve got here. Granted, no sportswear ad could ever measure up to one of the definitive cultural events of a generation, but the imagery she’s presenting here in monochrome is bold and poignant. It makes a fair point - the struggle for equality in sports is far more advanced than in other spheres of American society. Nike are justified in demanding that’s extended. After all, people don’t just wear their clothes on basketball courts or football fields. In Trump’s angry White America they stand to lose custom with this strategy. They should be respected for positioning themselves on the right side of history, even if it is only posturing.


Brand: Sport England
Title: This Girl Can – Phenomenal Women
Production Company: Somesuch
Director: Kim Gehrig
Production Company Producer: Lee Groombridge
Director of Photography: Robbie Ryan
Ad Agency: FCB Inferno
Creatives: Martin McAllister, Ben Edwards, Alex Gill, Sarah Lefkowith
Agency Producer: Hanna Davis
Editing Company: Trim Editing
Editor: Tom Lindsay
Music Company: Soundtree
Sound Company: Soundtree
VFX Company: Framestore

Sport England – Phenomenal Women

Sport England were never going to fully match the punching-the-air perfection of their original This Girl Can film, but this is an admirable follow-up. With Kim Gehrig once again helming, the tone is similar to 2015’s breakthrough debut, with a broad range of real women kicking ass and sweating. This time they’ve managed to get late legendary poet Maya Angelou’s voice to narrate the spot. Quite the coup, considering she’s every intersectional feminist’s go-to inspirational quote source.


Brand: Time to Change
Title: Be in Your Mate’s Corner
Production Company: Agile Films
Director: Ben Whitehouse
Production Company Producer: Nick Fewtrell
Director of Photography: Daniel Bronks
Ad Agency: Ogilvy & Mather London
Creative Director: Mick Mahoney
Creatives: Liam Butler, Mark Harrison
Agency Producer: Louise Mumford
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Anne Perri
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Jack Hallett
VFX Company: Absolute Post

Time to Change – Be In Your Mate’s Corner

Redefining masculinity is vital to combating mental health and this film is a step in the right direction. It makes an important statistic clear and memorable and challenges the taboo men face when owning up to feeling anything less than fine. Hopefully it will change enough people’s opinions to save lives.

More Empty Platitudes About Branded Content

March 6, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Why are we still having conferences about this vague subject?

What’s left to say about branded content? On Thursday 2nd March the Branded Content Marketing Association hosted One Extraordinary Day in Branded Content – a conference that promised “a unique opportunity to hear from and connect with the leaders of the Branded Content business.” And it left me thinking we’ve genuinely heard it all now.

Nestled into a modest, grey room on the periphery of the ExCel centre while BVE, the giant media conference, raged on in the main exhibition space, the BCMA’s event did deliver on part of its promise. The line-up was promising, including two knights – Sir John Hegarty, British advertising’s most prolific rent-a-quote luminary, and Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chairman of ITV – as well as senior professionals from respectable creative agencies, media agencies, research companies and even a few clients.

The BCMA’s CEO Andrew Canter introduced the day’s proceedings, encouraging us to use the event’s hashtag #lovebrandedcontent. Not a sentiment many people want to be associating themselves with, as one attendee identified early on.

First up, a “breakfast table chat” with Sir Peter Bazelgette, interviewed by Gary Knight, Commercial Content Director of ITV. ‘Baz’ was a laugh, inexplicably blessing us with a rendition of late 1950s advertising jingles at one point. Ultimately, the conversation was irrelevant though. Two commercial TV grandees spouting clichés about how important the creative industries are, how great the media landscape is with all these hip young things like Netflix and Amazon Prime entering the game (they stressed that TV’s not dead though!) and how good old-fashioned TVCs are branded content too. Most of it was hard to argue with, but no great revelations.

Next up was Neil Boorman, Content Director at Mother London, who chose to focus on branded content’s problems. Fair enough. It’s got a few.

He reminded us that everyone is making content these days. YouTubers, for example. He went on to extol the virtues of arch-gamer and YouTuber Pewdiepie, who was recently disgraced for including the message “death to all Jews” in one of his videos. Paired with his passion for Reddit and his Richard Spencer haircut, he should be careful people don’t mistake him for one of the ‘alt-right’. That might be a bit too edgy for his East London agency.

So everyone makes good content these days, he argued, except brands. As we’ve heard at a good few conferences, people don’t want to talk about brands or use their hashtags, they definitely don’t want to delve into the rich heritage of a brand on an expensive website.

One of Neil’s points resonated with the whole day. Red Bull and their Stratos stunt are still wheeled out as the best example of good branded content. It happened in 2012.

Neil did try to end on a positive though, which boiled down to: there are gaps for people to make great content; why shouldn’t brands provide it?

Sir John Hegarty, BBH Founder and Chairman of Electric Glue, leapt to the stage next to talk creativity. Everyone in this industry has heard him make speeches like this before. The amazing thing is that he always finds a new combination of words to do it. You know the drill. He told some anecdotes , settling on six semi-random abstract nouns as the “pillars of creativity”:

An all-encompassing formula to creativity. Nailed it.

The day’s first panel session was moderated by Andy Gulliman, Ex-Worldwide Film and Content Director for Saatchi & Saatchi and now Founder of Gulliman Films. He was joined by James Hayr, Head of Commercial Partnerships for the Endemol Shine Group, Andy Holland, Head of Production & Talent at Drum and Alastair Humphreys, adventurer and author. Their discussion was broad. They had a good ruck about whether Fosters bringing Alan Partridge back for the web series Mid Morning Matters was a good piece of branded content, agreed that different kinds of agencies need to cooperate rather than chase the same parts of a client’s marketing budget, and asserted that branded content works best for long-term brand building.

Barbara Matijasic’s presentation was baffling. She’s Marketing Manager at Edition Digital and spoke about the power of a “content hub” and why you should make sure you put all your content on as many social media platforms as possible. It felt a little patronising. I think she was trying to sell us something, but I could be wrong.

The afternoon promised to be L’Oreal section - “here comes the science bit!” It kicked off with Jane Christian, Head of Business Science at MediaCom and Tom Curtis, Managing Partner and Head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising to address ROI. As we’ve heard ad nauseum, nobody knows which half of their marketing budget is working. Jane and Tom admitted they had no “holy grail” and they didn’t. They spoke about the educated guesses MediaCom make to work out how much money their branded content makes for their clients. Surprise, surprise! Profits are more important to clients than “impressions”.

The media owners were up next. In a panel chaired by Clare O’Brien, Head of Industry Programmes at IAB UK, consisting of Tim Bleakley, CEO at Ocean Outdoor, Karen Stacey, CEO at Digital Cinema Media, Abby Carvosso, Group MD, Advertising at Bauer Media, Adam Harris, Director of Custom Solutions, Europe at Twitch and Tim Mines (AKA Spamfish), a gamer with over 130,000 dedicated followers on the live streaming platform. The debate mostly consisted of each panellist flying the flag for their medium of choice as the number-one branded content platform, punctuated by more clichés: content needs to be great and authentic and relevant to its audience.

One worrying side note: Adam remarked that out of a room of apparently serious marketing professionals, he had spent the day repeatedly explaining what Twitch was. The live streaming platform was bought by Amazon in 2014 for almost $1 billion. Its audience is undeniably on the young side, but you’d think that business story alone would be enough to earn it some recognition.

Eleanor Thornton-Firkin, Head of Content and Creative Development at Ipsos Connect provided the outsider’s perspective, backed up by research, which turned out to reinforce what everyone else has been saying for years: most branded content is crap, there’s too much of it, it tends to be an afterthought for CMOs and it’s difficult to know what works. She did have some insightful case studies to hand though – For example, Lexus’ hoverboard stunt changed 51% of people’s brand expectations and 71% were into it. Why? It was “super cool” and not too heavily branded.

Finally, the clients took to the stage with Tom Curtis courageously reprising as moderator. Leah Davis, Head of Marketing for Team GB and the British Olympic Association and Scott Wilkinson, Head of VOOM, Brand, Acquisitions and Digital at Virgin Media Business, were here to predict the future of branded content in a 20-minute “fireside chat”. Expectations set, they got stuck in, ready, as Tom put it, to “think, drink and breathe branded content.” After a spirited back-and-forth they landed on some conclusions: everything marketeers do is branded content, don’t fall into “the crap trap”, it must be as good as non-branded content, platforms and mediums will change, but the creative idea must come first.

I suppose part of me knew that was the kind of insight a conference like this would deliver. I think everyone knows, broadly, how brands should be approaching content. And when you’ve been to a couple of events like this you’ve heard it all. There really is no silver bullet, but I’m sure marketing professionals will continue to pay £499 (not including VAT) to reassure themselves that’s still the case. Even if it means inevitably hearing the same old guff for the umpteenth time.