A Pint With… Barney Richard

June 12, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Knocking a few jars back with one of the industry’s most affable figures.

There’s a buzz around Riff Raff at the moment. The Creative Circle named them Most Creative Production Company in May, right before they went on to win 13 British Arrows.

I decided to grab a drink with Partner and EP Barney Richard before he and fellow Partner Matthew Fone get swallowed by a summer of well-earned revelry. Barney chose to hit up The Social, renowned Fitzrovia bar and music venue, where we knocked back a steady stream of Camden Pale Ale and delved into his soul.


…The Social is steeped in rich musical history. So many great bands and DJs have come through here. It was an important part of the big beat scene in the early 90s; there’s a certain psychedelia about it. I know the guys who run it, they play musical treats they care about - the cheese grills are pretty good too.”

…I used to rave in Nazi bunkers. Hitler built all these monolithic concrete bunkers around the beautiful granite coastline of Jersey where I grew up – we threw up graffiti and played music where once there was darkness. There’s also the German Underground Hospital – this huge network of tunnels underneath the Island. Eastern European slaves built them and when they died of exhaustion they cemented their bodies into the walls. I remember smoking my first joint and freaking out down there. It’s palpable, the energy, you can feel the suffering – I had to walk out…with a snickers and a can of coke in my pocket from the tourist shop of course.”

…As soon as I discovered dance music and the rave scene as a teenager, I was sold. It informed a lot of my personality. I used to listen to all kinds of other music too but the thing I loved about the rave scene was the openness, togetherness and sharing like-minded experiences with others. It changes you – when you’re 15 and finding yourself, it’s powerful.”

...There’s a definite connection between your environment and spirituality. There are Ley Lines that flow through Jersey, in the same way they do Glastonbury. There is an energy about the place, it’s Pagan.  My dad and I used to rock climb and explore all the Neanderthal burial sites on the Island as a kid and subsequently as an adult, I did the same with friends – we used to hunker down with our percussion paraphernalia and play all night…possibly under the influence of mushrooms.”

…Travelling is the elixir of life. I travelled on and off for about six years before I started my career. Everyone has to travel to understand the connection to their inner self and the world around them. The way we consume travel has changed a lot since then. You can stay in a five-star hotel in a lot of places now but you couldn’t do that then. I feel that if you want learn and detach yourself from society and its pressures, you need to find those places and people that are very different from you and your normal environment.”

…Cuzco (Peru) blew my head clean off. There was a waitress in a café who we became friends with, she invited us to this wedding at a temple at the top of the city in the mountains. There were roofs as far you could see, punctuated by mountain peaks. Living above the clouds is otherworldly. As I remember it, the culture there is so undiluted. It’s beautiful.”

…Riff Raff feel like the pirates of the industry. Culture and personality are so important to our business. It’s so important to have that collective understanding. People need to fit in here and have good taste as well as good ideas. We’re all scruffy buggers who’ve ended up doing something that we care about deeply...by the way, where’s your eye patch…?”

…It’s so difficult to grow young talent now, mostly because of the ad industry’s fearful mind-set of accountability. Everyone has a list of people they want to work with but let’s be realistic. Does your brief rely on an understanding of culture or even have a good idea? Do you want a director to dial it in because budgets are smaller and they have a shoot window? You can’t build a young director’s career on branded content because it’s mostly shit. Music videos and self-generated ideas are where it’s at.”

…Music videos are an integral part of our business and we fucking love them. They’re the only way to build young directors’ careers because it’s the most creative environment you’ll ever work in. Music videos are as powerful now as they were ten years ago and they inform and are part of popular culture and sub-culture.”

…We’re living in a time when great filmmaking is helping music. There’s a lot of shit music out there but you can proliferate an average track by virtue of an incredible music video, and that’s really interesting in terms of how people view what turns them on or off…and these days, it’s a very quick decision.”

…Matthew and I have a yin-and-yang partnership. A producer’s job is to look at what’s in front of them and find a solution. A salesperson is miles ahead, lining up the next opportunity. Every good salesperson needs a good producer in this business.
I need a partnership to bounce ideas around in otherwise I’d burst.”

…My life’s all about people. My parents brought me up to be sociable. Maybe being an only child I’ve got this incredible insecurity that I need to be loved or something! People are very precious to me and this need for attention has even ended up informing my career. I feel obligated to find common ground with others as a human being, it’s fascinating.”

…I feel things deeply. It means I get hurt quite deeply if that’s what’s on the table. But when it’s a positive it’s an ecstatic positive, like nothing else. I’d rather have an insane up and down existence rather than flat line all the time. Every single interaction you have is informative and impulsive and of the moment, only you can decide how you wish to take it, it’s ultimately what you make of it.”

Barney Richard is Partner and Executive Producer at Riff Raff.

Lifting Standards in Mexico

May 30, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Fighting corruption, stereotypes and creative lethargy, one production at a time.

Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall.


The Lift has grander aims than most production service companies. They don’t just want to service jobs. Managing Partner Avelino Rodríguez has been on a crusade for almost a decade to change how the filmmaking world sees Mexico.

Avelino’s life in production service began with a slowly dawning realisation while filmmaking in his native Mexico. An assistant director on commercials and a producer for feature films, he began to notice the potential Mexico had as a service destination. With its massive catalogue of locations, top talent and low costs, he knew it should be attracting way more foreign production than it was.

“Mexico was very specialised for features,” he says, “but for quick turnarounds and the timing of commercials, it wasn’t that developed. That was the gap.”

He started drawing up business models. Soon he heard about two Mexicans in Barcelona who ran a big production service company called The Lift. They were looking to expand to their home country. Avelino was the man to help them. This was 2005. Eventually The Lift would become a Mexico-only company and Avelino would take over as Managing Partner.

The immediate task at hand was building Mexico into a more attractive destination for international production. A priority was tackling the widespread corruption in Mexico City – something locals took for granted that Avelino felt deterred international producers.

“Our first projects were very difficult in that respect,” he says. “I remember one where the cost of the police was $7,000[US] a day.” They had no choice but to pay up if they wanted to shoot in the city. “For us [that] was very natural, but when you’re working with someone from abroad and they see you bribing the cops they feel it’s very unsafe.”

Because of the hierarchy within the police structure, it was very common to have two or three interventions from cops wanting a bribe to allow a shoot on location. There was no documented process for permitting or for what constituted a proper production that met all the criteria to be able to shoot on location, this was convenient for cops who could easily “sanction” productions on a subjective basis.

Avelino began working closely with the mayor, reporting every person paying bribes, how much and where the money was going. He helped local government set up a film commission to combat the corruption, tightening up regulations around permits and making sure they were issued quickly enough for producers to make use of them.

This was a huge step forward. “The film commission had authority over anyone else in the city because they had a direct mandate from the mayor,” he explains.

The Lift had a big shoot on the day the commission came into being. They wanted to start at 6am but the commission wouldn’t be active until noon. They’d resolved not to pay any bribes that day, so the police held them up all morning. Precisely at midday the cops received a command over the radio. “We started to shoot with no corruption from that day onwards,” says Avelino.

With the film commission came streamlined permitting processes and validation from a government entity that would decide whether to green-light a production prior to a shoot, not during. If a production met all the criteria (a comprehensive shooting schedule, logistics mapping etc.) the permit (a physical document) was given and cops no longer had authority to shut down or boycott a production.

It now takes a maximum of two days to turn around permits to shoot on the streets of Mexico City. “We’re really happy working on that,” he says, “preparing the city and sometimes other parts of the country to make it more friendly and less scary.”

That was nine years ago now, but the crusade to make Mexico a more attractive production destination continues. And it reaches much further than just rooting out corruption. The Lift work closely with another local government body called City Lab to develop the international image of Mexico City.

“When we started the image was very old,” says Avelino. “We were this big square in the middle of nowhere with some old buildings. We made a big effort as creative industries to start to change the Mexico City brand.”

There were several misconceptions that made people reluctant to choose it as a production destination. One by one Avelino and The Lift have been trying to combat the idea that Mexico is corrupt and dangerous to shoot in, that there are no professional crews there, or no professional equipment, that Mexico has a limited geographical variety or that it’s hard to cast international projects because Mexico has only one race of people.

There are a few cultural stereotypes to take on, as well. Avelino reels them off: “Mexico only has tacos and tequila. The culture is boring; there’s only pyramids and deserts. The only creative industry in Mexico is rudimentary arts and crafts.”

It’s come a long way. “Mexican chefs started to become more renowned internationally,” he says. “Now you have younger people in the creative community and it’s all going in parallel, so the city has become very cosmopolitan. The directors really love it. It has been a common effort to fight these misconceptions.”

Avelino’s keen to create international advocates for his country. He wants directors and producers to give Mexico a try because they so often go home and tell everyone how positive their experiences were.

“All these efforts are paying off,” he says. “For some people it’s even better than shooting in Los Angeles. But it’s still a growing thing. I don’t think you can compare LA to Mexico City in terms of equipment or technology, but in terms of crews and attitudes they really love it.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Donald Trump could be helping Mexico become the filmmaking destination Avelino hopes it will be. Since 2015, The Lift have had more than double the projects coming in from the US. Due to Trump’s election, Mexico is better value for money than ever.

Mexico has also been experiencing a boom of foreign production since 2015. “The James Bond film had a lot to do with that,” says Avelino. “It sort of put Mexico back on the map as a solid production destination. We have been part of this boom by providing top-of-the-line production experiences for our foreign clients. If they have a good experience, they go back to their countries and share those experiences with other people in the business. This is very good for us and for the country. It’s also a very solid way to fight those misconceptions.”

Since they made Audi Warm Up in 2006 together, London production powerhouse Blink would become instrumental in putting The Lift and Mexico on the map for UK production companies. Later in 2008 came another big opportunity from Blink in a project for Cadbury directed by Juan Cabral.

Other breakthrough projects from the UK are the first projects they produced for Academy Films in 2011 directed by Martin de Thurah, a couple of music videos for Feist, and their first two projects for Rattling Stick directed by Sara Dunlop. During 2016 and 2017 they produced two large-scale projects for Academy Films and Nike directed by FKA Twigs. “UK projects have always made our company better,” says Avelino. “They’ve always made us step up our game and challenged us on every level.”

You can forgive Avelino for waxing lyrical about his home country when you hear what it has to offer. A tri-coastal nation, Mexico offers staggering diversity of locations. “The Pacific has the rolling sands, the Caribbean has the turquoise waters and the Gulf [of Mexico] is more industrial, with ports and spectacular highways,” he says.

Then there’s the capital itself, which never ceases to surprise: “For example, Mexico City is the biggest producer of broccoli in Mexico. We export broccoli, cactus, flowers, so within the city there is agriculture.”

Then there’s the diverse architecture that comes from over 700 years of history. “You have Indians trying to tear down a cathedral that was built on top of a pyramid,” he says. “A cycle ride I really like is from there going all the way up into the hills, passing all the stages of the city until you get to the very modern part. You can see right from the Aztecs until now.”

Mexico’s not quite the filmmaking utopia he hopes for yet, though.

Casting is a particular challenge. Mexico’s population doesn’t have the ethnic diversity of somewhere like London, so getting a broad range of people together can be tricky. “We always pull it off and there are always possibilities,” he says, “but if you want a big diverse, international vignette commercial then you’ll struggle.”

The Lift are trying to combat this, too. They’ve rented out extra office space to host their own casting facilities and are talking to managers, agents, street casting and casting directors to make sure they have enough talent at their fingertips. Also the city is becoming more cosmopolitan every second so new and diverse cultures are populating the city each year.

The local advertising industry is a disappointment for Avelino. Mexico’s advertising market is worth around $110 million (US) a year, but he estimates that around 80 per cent of that is spent on product-focused, demonstrational ads with low production values. “You only have 10 to 15 projects a year which are over a million dollar investments,” he says. Naturally, The Lift focus on these scripts, where they can encourage an international director to come and make the most of that budget. But they’re too few and far between.

Mexican agencies aren’t strong enough to confidently sell the best ideas to clients, he theorises. “There’s a lot of work to do because they get very scared. It’s a market where clients are pitching accounts out to 20 different agencies.”

One reason for this is that agencies in Mexico have never managed to organise into one association to protect the quality of the work they do. “It’s an absolutely client-controlled industry. Creative is secondary and not so well regarded,” says Avelino.

And clients aren’t secure enough to show creative courage either. “Once clients start to work with a director that really delivers they don’t want anyone else,” he says. “They’re under a lot of pressure for their KPIs. They don’t want new ideas because they’re scared they might lose part of the market they already won with their previous commercials. There’s a lot of fear of losing their jobs. They live under that pressure.”

All of these complaints just make Avelino more convinced of production service as the solution. “I believe that in order to change, we need new international players to come. That brings you a new perspective and new ideas.”

Avelino and The Lift are doing what they can to elevate the quality of Mexican advertising craft. They’re introducing international best practice where possible. He thinks they’re making progress. “As long as we’re able to get the best projects we can bring the best producers and directors to Mexico. The good work always inspires people. They see they can do it better and then they make better films.”

Truth, Trust and Perspective

May 9, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

This year’s Future of Advertising… in One Afternoon was less techie and more theoretical than the name might suggest.

Photograph by Rodney Rascona.

"Grandfather and Child" Tsunami survivors in Banda Ache, Northern Sumatra

"The road past this mans house leads straight to the ocean. That's the path the raging water took, stripping the earth of every living thing-of any sight or sound-of anything natural. There were no flowers blooming, no birds left singing. He recounted being on his scooter when he looked to the sea and saw waves that were "as high as the palm trees" coming towards him. He grabbed his grandson and literally outran the oncoming torrent, escaping to the hills that surround his village. A single man with a single child who were very lucky to have survived that day..knowing what it meant to run for your lives."



The APA’s Future of Advertising… in One Afternoon provides a compact package of thought leadership every year. This year, it was particularly thoughtful, at times even philosophical.

What better way to kick off an afternoon of existential pondering than by putting it all in context? Journalist Dominic Mills’ fireside chat with Advertising Association Chief Executive Stephen Woodford was all about Brexit and what it means for citizens of British Adland, former duchy of European Adland.

Stephen admitted that understanding Brexit’s implications – a challenge for most experts – is made eve more difficult by the fact that around 90 per cent of the ad industry voted to remain in the EU last year. But we must try, because its implications will continue for years to come and will reach into the smallest details of our lives.

There’s plenty of doom and gloom surrounding us on this subject. It’s easy to slip and fall in, so Stephen carefully steered through the discussion, focusing on the positives.

Surprisingly, 2016’s last quarter was the best ever for the UK advertising industry. And while Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris are keen to market themselves as the new leading creative hubs of the Europe, Brexit hasn’t automatically stripped London of that title. With its unparalleled creative heritage and uniquely multicultural composition, London’s ad industry will be hard to kill off. Besides, the billions of pounds that the UK exports in advertising to EU markets like France and Germany will be hard ties to break.

Stephen seemed confident that the advertising’s power in the British economy – a large percentage of GDP – means negotiations won’t be able to ignore this business and its interests. It will get worse before it gets better, he conceded, but the UK’s place in advertising will be hard to erase.

Arif Haq from Contagious Communications spent his 20 minutes on the popular pastime of blaming clients. Having once worked as one, he claimed some sort of justification for this. The best ideas will never get signed off, he claimed, and spent his presentation explaining why not.

Firstly, clients lack imagination. It’s not their fault, he said. Human brains don’t like creativity, even when our mouths say we do. He shared some research to back up the idea that we are biased against really creative ideas.

Great creative ideas are terrifying to clients. They’re too similar to exactly the sort of ideas that should never be signed off. People certainly don’t know how to sell them to their bosses, even if they like them personally.

Clients are also unprepared to deal with true creativity, he said. Looking at the funding that goes into training, the amount focused on execution is miniscule, compared to the strategic end of things. The right execution of an idea is vital, and how to do it right is largely a mystery to clients. Arif argued that the Pepsi debacle was a problem of execution, not because of an inherently bad idea. With more attention paid to casting and the details, it may just have worked for them. Personally, I don’t buy this, but it’s an interesting perspective.

Clients definitely need expertise in craft. Many big ones, like P&G, are suggesting that fewer, better ads provide more efficiency. Production companies are uniquely placed to help them create culture, he said. They’re the ones to illuminate clients’ blind spots.

Tom Wiltshire, New Business Director of party-streaming platform Boiler Room told his brand’s story first – how in six years they’ve grown from throwing illegal parties to filling the void that MTV left in youth culture when it became a trashy reality TV channel.

Boiler Room have the keys to underground youth culture and they’re willing to give brands access to that audience, but only on their terms. By putting the emphasis on real artists and their ideas, Boiler Room help their brand partners to provide content that their audiences actually want to engage with, rather than intrusive branding that leaves a bad taste. His presentation was a demonstration of how brands should be approaching partnerships with media owners and culture, with trust and authenticity.

Edelman’s Toby Gunton might not seem the most obvious choice for an advertising conference with a production slant, but he noted that there’s a growing grey area between the two areas. His talk focused on some research they’ve been conducting every year since 2000 – the Edelman Trust Barometer.

2017 is a notable year for them. We are in a “crisis of trust”, the research shows. Trust for institutions is at an all-time low. For the first time in their survey, respondents’ trust for all four types – NGOs, business, media and government – fell.

According to the Barometer, people only trust search engines and ‘people like themselves’ now. Apparently, Michael Gove was right when he said Britain has had enough of experts.

Depressing as it may be, these are creative insights that help us to understand our audiences, which should lead to sharper, more appropriate advertising. For example, with media institutions lacking trust, owned media is on roughly the same level. Maybe it’s time for brands to fulfil that prophecy from years of conferences and become broadcasters in their own right. They might become the more trustworthy voice.

Freeformers’ Lucy Lyall Grant next made the case for reverse mentorship, which is basically what it sounds like – younger people teaching and advising their elders. Aside from sorting out your parents’ internet troubles, Lucy stressed how important it is for senior businesspeople to understand their younger workforces, and increasingly their young audiences and consumers. It’s a thought that many businesses could benefit from taking some time to consider.

There aren’t many more future-obsessed companies than Google, so a 20-minute tirade from Andy Kinsella, Head of Production at their Creative Lab, lived up to the day’s title.  He started with a few quotes to inspire and amuse and fessed up that Google is actually not full of sorcerers. The people there perform normal roles – designers, producers, developers etc. – but they do so with a different focus. One thing Google aims to do is try to “create” the future, rather than just predicting it, and the projects he showcased suggested that is true.

From Project Soli, which uses a scaled down version of radar to sense contactless hand gestures, to something as simple but quality-of-life improving as Gboard, putting search into other apps, everything was looking to a future where technology helps us to live easier lives. It’s not just privileged westerners that benefit, either. Andy talked about how in 36 hours Google were able to help set up the Refugee Info Hub website to help refugees arriving in Europe. To date it has assisted over 100,000 people arriving on boats in places like Lesbos.

Everything Andy showed was fast, playful and new, a masterclass in how a future-facing company behaves.

What is the truth about Britain? This was the question answered by ‘recovering anthropologist’ Rodney Collins from McCann Truth. In line with the existential themes of the day, his presentation focused on the bigger themes. Also backed up by lots of research, he presented the country we live in, how different parts of the public feel about globalisation and how there is are huge tensions between opposing viewpoints.

The general British sentiment, he summarised, is “I’m fine, we’re fucked.” He described the different ways people view Britain and compared them to brands people consider representative of the UK – as a castle keep (John Lewis), fields of green (The National Trust) or a sailing boat (Virgin). Again, a strategic long view that could inform all sorts of productive thinking.

To close the day, Rodney Rascona took a further step back from advertising, appealing to our morals and humanity. An advertising photographer “trying to give something back”, he told the story of his personal trajectory. Once he shot glossy pictures to sell cars. Now he documents the lives of some of the most troubled and unfortunate people on the planet for various NGOs and good causes.

He spoke about how to develop a new way of seeing the world and implored the world-leading image-makers in the room to do something with their talents to help humanity as a whole. We live in troubled times, as some of the day’s sessions alluded to, but people in advertising have the skills and resources at their fingertips to affect change for the better.

The whole day amounted to a necessary reset in perspective. Advertising people can easily lose sight of the wider world while they focus on the detail in a pre-production meeting. It’s useful to be reminded of the context into which their work fits. People and stories are everywhere and insights of all varieties can be applied to make your work better.

Reinstating the Obvious

May 5, 2017 / Features

By Alex Reeves

D&AD Festival was a timely reminder of how simple creativity can be.

Ad industry conferences and ‘festivals’ of creativity are often predictable. Particularly if, like me, you exceed the recommended dose of a couple a year. It’s no surprise, really. How often can really big, game changing ideas come along in one industry? When the same speakers do the same spiel at several events this feeling is only amplified.

Last week’s D&AD Festival was only in its second year, but they’ve carefully avoided the common pitfalls of similar events by booking people who are engaging and creative first. If what they had to say was directly relevant to advertising as well, that was a bonus.

I’ve listened to lots of nebulous talks on the subject of creativity and they often descend into the sort of truisms that wouldn’t look out of place on your less successful friends’ Facebook feeds. “Keep Calm and Content is King.” The speakers I listened to at D&AD steered clear of this territory though, firstly because they were genuinely creative people who’ve proven themselves in their fields and secondly because they had concrete advice rather than vapid sound bites.

Alexandra Taylor, a genuine creative icon behind the sort of campaigns that are familiar and effective decades on, kept her advice simple, telling some of her best anecdotes around the theme of “Horror Stories & Industry Fuck Ups”.

Admittedly, she started with a sound bite. But a good one from her mentor Paul Arden: “if you work from knowledge you are not going anywhere new.” She proceeded to illustrate exactly how one does that. How a casting fuck up unexpectedly changed the idea at the last minute but made the final ad all the more impactful. How her brutal honesty with the egotistical Tyen helped him take exactly the photo that the campaign needed. How her DIY attitude to a prohibitively small budget and lack of photographic expertise helped her conceive an idea that stood out from the pack. How running out of time on a shoot in Thailand motivated her to turn all the water machines on full-blast, just to see what happened. As it turns out, it got her the shot that made that campaign resonate with people.

The festival’s focus on creativity in general, rather than just within the advertising bubble, injected lots of life into their programme. Refinery29 Founder Piera Luisa Gelardi was a whirlwind of American enthusiasm throughout her session. That might sound nauseating to some of you awkward Brits (she DID get us all up on our feet to do an exercise she learnt at her improvisation class), but the content of her presentation was honest and concrete enough that anyone could take something from it. Her philosophy, “be the most you” is definitely motivational-poster territory, but she backed it up with enough home truths and vulnerability for it to feel genuinely empowering.

Very much on the design side of the D&AD fence, Craig Oldham didn’t even attempt to talk about advertising in his session, “Tools of Protest”. Instead, he delighted his audience with a slideshow of the best creative approaches from decades of social dissidence, from 1960s Parisian graffiti to the experiential activism of Charlie Craggs’ Nail Transphobia. It was like nutritious food for creativity that could fuel all sorts of ideas, cheerily served up by a sweary Northerner.

We don’t live in the 80s anymore. Greed isn’t good and brands without a moral compass pay for it. People don’t feel good about just doing advertising anymore. Naturally, there was a lot of discussion of “capitalism with a conscience.”

To summarise: it’s necessary. Thomas Kolster, author of Goodvertising, told us to “Stop Selling Shit”, highlighting the amount of unnecessary consumption that advertising has always driven – the sort of consumption that’s filling seabirds with plastic. We’re a self-obsessed, uncaring industry, he said, and we’re hypocritical too. He noted that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was on the cover of Time talking sustainability while his company cleverly pays hardly any taxes.

People can smell companies’ bullshit and act on it en masse. And it’s notable how often brands miss the mark on the social and political front. Wieden + Kennedy CCO Colleen DeCourcy noted that while Nike invoking the spirit of revolution in 1987 worked for them, similar tactics in 2017, co-opting social issues have been disastrous.

It’s difficult to maximise profits for your shareholders while doing the right thing and generally changing the world for the better. You could say that’s an inherent flaw with capitalism. Steve Vranakis of Google cringed at the idea of people forcing purpose onto brands without justification and showed how even a gargantuan (“don’t be evil”) corporation like Google can find appropriate ways to help humanity. He showcased three projects that Google took part in to help make children in developing countries’ voices heard, offer refugees in Lesbos basic services and aid Indian women in getting online. Each example used techniques that were a natural fit for Google, and each seemed to have made a positive difference to people’s lives.

Of course, they serve a marketing purpose too – to “remind the world what they love about Google.” And the business motivations for capitalism with a conscience were repeated all week. The well-rehearsed Unilever line that sustainable brands grow faster than ordinary brands got a lot of airtime. Companies are now seeing the benefits of their corporate social responsibility in their bottom lines. Be prepared for more misjudged disasters, though, because it’s murky water.

With the Pepsi fiasco fresh in people’s minds, there was a lot of talk about brands awkwardly co-opting culture. Frederik Andersen of Vice Media admitted that working in the creative industry can be soul destroying, but one of the obvious ways of coping with that is by doing things of substance – genuinely contributing to culture, rather than milking it for its commercial value. Then your brand will have a real foundation to fall back on if they ever come under scrutiny.

Lots of the week’s sessions were refreshing because they didn’t mind stating the obvious. Rather than going out of their way to prove they had a new, groundbreaking formula for success that nobody’s thought of, they just reassured us that the central tenets of creativity remain the same. Anna Higgs of NOWNESS made a point of this, repeatedly admitting that she was stating the obvious: that putting the creative first is how you stand out and that great talent is the foundation of great work.

Despite all the talk about data, algorithms and audiences’ attention spans, NOWNESS have built their platform on faith in their own editorial standards. Making things they believe in, surprising their audiences rather than pandering to what the data says gets the most clicks. The beautiful works of film art she showed, some of which were made for brands, encapsulated what the festival was about: honest creative principles executed with vision, without the clever-clogs post rationalisation our industry is up to its neck in.

How to Catch Lightning in a Bottle

May 2, 2017 / Features

By Colleen DeCourcy

Here's what Wieden+Kennedy's Global Chief Creative Officer had to say at last week's D&AD Festival.

[This is a transcript of Colleen DeCourcy's presentation from last week's D&AD Festival. We thought it was so invigorating that we had to publish it in full for a wider audience.]


The title of this talk is “How to Catch Lightning in a Bottle” because that’s what we do when we do this thing right. The “lightning” is something fundamentally true and it’s powerful and elusive and you’ve managed to catch it and hold it long enough to show it to the world. And the world goes….”ahhhh…” And that’s the goal. That’s the job. If you’re not setting yourself up to be a person or a place that can do that, well, you might just as well go home.

Everything else is just a distraction.

The talk was written to be about the “how” but I’ve been here all week judging advertising work and I’m feeling a bit agitated about what I’ve seen and so, now it’s been re-written to be all about the “distraction.”


Every once in awhile you have a moment where you worry you may have lost the plot.
You’re not sure what you’re doing or why.
You’re not sure what the right next step is or when to take it.
You look around and you're not sure if you love the work you're seeing.
You're not sure who sees the good work you like.
You're not sure where the clients are.

For 15 years we’ve been talking about the disruption of the advertising industry but I’ve never felt it more than I feel it today. I look at a lot of the work and I feel like we’ve become confused about what the job is.

Marc Andreesen of Andreesen Horowitz says disruptive innovation is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the modern world. Clayton Christensen says it comes down to one thing: more people having access to tools that used to be available only to people with lots of money or skill.

The printing press put the monks out of business, the camera put portrait painters out of business, Instagram took Kodak out of business and iPhones took cameras out of business. Progress is direct access to the means of getting to an end. A shortening of the distance from A to B. Friction taken out of the process.

But here’s the thing - the end, the end hasn’t changed. Lightning in a bottle is still the end goal. We just have to take the friction out of getting to it. I have every indicator I need to make me believe that (despite popular complaints from account people to the contrary) the creative process is not where the friction is...it's the infrastructure.

Infrastructure disruption is not just happening to advertising. It’s happening all around us. Most relevant, it's happening to music and television and movies. Chance The Rapper didn’t need a record label. In fact, records didn’t need a record store, and music didn’t need records. That’s “taking the friction out of the process.”

But we still have Chance’s music.

Hollywood said “OH this is going to kill creativity.” But it doesn't appear that it is. Hollywood is in a panic because Netflix and Amazon are stealing all of Hollywood’s actors and writers because they are paying them more and giving them better briefs. Because Netflix and Amazon didn’t kill the ideas….they just killed the system it used to take to make them. They've accelerated the opportunities to get work made by using data instead of infrastructure. The costs they took out were the costs of the studio system. They didn’t kill creativity, they killed the studios that used to have the monopoly on ideas because it was really expensive to make a movie and a lot of them failed. Now, check out the Netflix Originals tab. It's shockingly alright. Data and a tsunami of auteurist talent means friction of delivery can be 86’d. Serialized content is having a creative renaissance. The television industry’s disruption has actually intensified its creative output.

But our industry? It seems to be going in the opposite direction. We’re heavying up on buildings and holdings and media and programmatic. Marketers are building themselves huge internal marketing department machines to drive around in. Holding companies are growing so big that they can’t even see their own dicks anymore and instead they’re setting up purpose-built mini-agencies like Elbow United.

If you open Campaign or Advertising Age there’s a pretty consistent party line on how fucked we are and many rational points of view on how we should be innovating. The trades are more than happy to publish those because there’s not enough creative work being made to keep them in business just reporting on the work.

There are a million sensible reasons to be reasonable and pragmatic and follow those smart people. Except, sensible reasons are the wrong reasons, common sense is, well, common... and reasonable pragmatism is the final act of people who believe they have lost the battle.

I don’t believe we have lost.

The best asset an agency can have is an artist who sees the world through their own strange and magical lense. The brand is an additive to that. That's the fastest route to catching lightning.

If you follow the examples immediately in front of us, we’re back in a golden age of auteurism. We need to double down on what we’re good at and get some of the infrastructure out of this business.

After 35 years and eight offices opened, Wieden+Kennedy still only employs about 1,300 people. Most high schools are bigger than that. Our costs are the costs of housing and paying for the talent and the work. We add a bit of a premium because our best ideas scale themselves. That’s the surcharge for the aesthetic pleasure machine. The money mostly goes into the work. That's why the work is good. We’re not easy, but we’re transparent and we’re small.

So, we’re not an elephantine holding company living in a world that’s facing a shakedown on what it takes to deliver commercial creativity. For that, I'm grateful. But still, I worry. I feel hungry and wanting.


I ask myself that question all the time.

It’s a stupidly simple question, but it helps cut through the bullshit. It’s the kind of question that ignores everything except what really matters. I ask it of the people we’re supposed to be selling things to and I asked myself that question recently while researching what other advertising companies say about themselves. I was gob-smacked and confused by what I found while looking for the answer.

So I read the claims and asked myself the question…

You want to never stop looking ahead?
You want to be strategically driven?
Digitally native?
Humanity obsessed?
You want to be industry-leading?
You want to explore and evolve?
You want create cultural impact?
You want to go where the status is far from quo?
You want to do some zagging?
Or maybe you want connected specialism?
You want to be customer-obsessed?
You want best-in-class?
You want to work with or for the world’s most awarded and effective advertising agency?

Is that it?

You want to join an industry formerly known as advertising?

I don’t fucking want any of that and I can guarantee you that there isn’t a money-in-their-pocket, stuff-buying human in the teeming masses of people on the high street right now that gives a fuck either.

That question triggers more glorious chaos in humanity than all of civilization could ever imagine.
It’s the most human of questions.
It’s a dangerous question.
Because humans are non­stop, all­continuous, totally nude, triple X, wanting machines.


You think we’d be pretty good at that by now.

You think we’d be pretty good at understanding what want feels like, what forms it takes, how to tap it, how to give it. Because, it's the single biggest qualification for our job.

But making stuff people want is really hard.

We do our best work on hate. Hate can fuel our desire to make our immediate world a better place. It’s the rock W+K was founded on. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, hated advertising and we still do. But, recently, what used to be a healthy hate for this weird business seems to fuel a self­-destructive lack of confidence, deep frustration, self-­loathing, and then more hate. Why?

We have a saying at the agency ­ “We’re at our best when we’re in the eye of the cultural storm.” In setting an industry example of doing that, we’ve managed to clear a direct path to some pretty shitty things that are now happening in the world of Advertising:

[You can probably figure out where that kind of advertising has led us to, 30 years on.]

Why do we increasingly feel impotent to make great advertising? Because this business is getting too shallow and too wide. Advertising feels like it’s drifting further away from us. Drifting away from original ideas and further into truisms. Away from imagination and into science. Research takes brands into places in culture that they have no authority to be. Because marketers want to harness some of the buzz of the revolution. Stop.

Nike, Revolution proved that pushing ourselves towards ideas that feel uncomfortable is where you find gold. People remember that ad because it was shocking. It didn't feel “good.” It didn't feel like advertising. It looked like shit. It was electric. Like a car crash—people couldn't look away. Its lesson, to the extent that the wisdom earned from these things, is portable: never go for polish when you can break the mold. Fulfill the want that no one knew they had.

For the record, this is what youth looks like when they’re protesting:

If you want to take your brand swimming naked in culture, to be in the eye of the storm, if you want to play with lightning, it’s best you don’t forget Bibi. If you're going in you go in for real. Know where the hurt is. Touch that. Don't gloss it. Be raw and original and human.

[Colleen’s next video isn’t online anywhere, but she described it. It’s a shot of a white jockstrap hanging in front of a black backdrop.]
The jockstrap sets on fire. It’s just one long shot, panning around it as it goes up and at the very end Aretha Franklin starts to sing and then it cuts out and it just says “Nike Women’s”.

That commercial was killed before it ever got out of the presentation room. Nike asked if Wieden really wanted to give the finger to the entire male sports complex. That was 1994. The women that presented that, they did. There was no making that less aggressive towards male athletes. So, it had to be scrapped. You can’t co­opt dissent and then tidy it all up. Eventually the agency and Nike figured out the messaging and made a canon of work for women.

It’s hard to give the world what it wants before it knows it wants it. That question—“What do you want?”—asked of ourselves, of consumers, audiences, people, is the central question of our business, at least the business of Wieden+Kennedy.

And, sometimes, when everything’s right, something or someone can come along with a thing that is so simple, that taps into the bottomless reservoir of want in humanity, and the world goes fucking crazy. We love that feeling. We believe in that feeling. That is lightning in a bottle.

We spend too much time focusing on inputs and outputs. You can do coverage, you can achieve a channel first, you can be social, you can do programmatic, you can make sure your message is everywhere, but real creativity at scale? You have to take leaps for that. Disruptive thinking, scaled, is lightning in a bottle.

Powerful creative ideas that change hearts and businesses require a leap. They require a leap in the minds of their makers, who make connections that no one else thought to make, and, crucially, they require a leap from the marketers who back them. Not blind, not reckless, not uninformed, but a leap nonetheless—a willingness to recognize that creative breakthroughs often seem improbable, until they become inevitable.

We agitate and break through, and create human meaning and connection with creativity.
The world wants frictionless transactions, efficiency.
Creativity needs agitation, friction, opposites, collisions, explosions, emotions, the unruly.

We use the work to say something bigger. Work that creates conversation and lives in the real world not the ad world.

It’s a good time, this particular, challenging period in our industry, and in our world, to remind ourselves of the power of raw creativity, and what it takes for creative companies to conjure and harness it. Best­in­class, relationship­driven, integrated, digital­innovation­operations­technology­process companies can’t do that. Companies devoted to creativity can. Agitation, meaning, the unexpected — these are the things that can truly ignite a culture.

As for Wieden+Kennedy?
I think we're an improbability. Lightning, caught.

There have always been flashes of danger in the history of the agency that felt so scary and so right all at the same time. We’ve followed our gut. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve searched for and stood beside clients who stuck with the journey because they understand that it's a long haul, over time, to greatness.

That's the reason why creative people feel a sense of purpose at Wieden+Kennedy. The goals are clear:
1. Catch Lightning
2. Hold on to it
3. Find (client) partners who aspire to that. Keep them close and keep them dangerous.

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.

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.