Under the Influence: Max Weiland

February 8, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

It takes a combination of the funny, the creepy and the magical to inspire this director.

Creative people don’t hammer out their own unique style by sitting alone in silence. To become a successful in any creative role you need to immerse yourself in the amniotic gloop of culture until you’re fully nourished. That’s why in this series we ask people in advertising to tell us about five things that impact their work in some way, to examine the parts that make up their imaginations.

Max Weiland is still at the start of his directing career, but he’s already done some impressive filmmaking. Represented by Somesuch – a company he used to work for as a writer / researcher – he recently finished two funny ads for the BBC that have been warmly received by both the advertising community and the public. Take a look at what inspires him and you’ll be eager to see what he does next.

Hamlet Cigar Ads

“My dad’s a director as well [Paul Weiland] and he made a few Hamlet cigar ads and some other big ads in the 90s like Cinzano and all that – comedy. Those ads, for me, are the purest. The kind of comedy that I think commercials should go back to.

There was one joke and it was so nicely told in one or two shots. It was never trying to ram information down your throat. It was just a beautifully crafted end line -‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’, with such a great idea at its core it allowed them to be completely silly with everything.
The one in the photo booth is a classic. I think people remember these ads from those top 100 ads of all time lists, but I remember them because I was with my dad. When I was young I’d be on set with him a lot. He did all the Heineken ones as well – “the water in Majorca” – so that was a massive influence on me, growing up in that comedy world. He’s always driving home to me how can you tell it in the simplest way? What’s the core idea?

Nowadays you get a script and there’s so much stuff they’re trying to shoehorn into 30 or 60 seconds. People whack on an end line at the end. I was a creative as well for two years so did a lot of writing ads myself. I worked for a guy called Matt Keon at 18 Feet and Rising and he was always driving home ‘get a good end line and then work backwards’ or just find the simple idea and then go as silly as you want as long as you can bring it back.

The only people that do that sort of comedy nowadays – people like Tom Kuntz. I can see that simplicity of idea in his work. But also people like Tim Godsall, who never overcomplicates it. It’s just ‘what is the funny thing here? Now let’s turn that up to 1,000.’”

Otto Dix

“He was a German war painter and he used to paint these kind of caricature, satirist, mad paintings. His portraits are some of my favourites. He did a lot of disfigured war veterans and prostitutes. The colours are amazing and I try in my work to push colour a lot. I like getting that vibrancy and playing with this cartoonish feel. I think directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet have that slightly grotesque, surreal character looming out of the frame too. His work is all like that. You want to know more about that character as soon as you see it. For me that’s what good casting is. If you get casting right, yes, they might look great but also you want that intensity and depth beneath that.

One of the fist things I shot was a little short for my sister who runs a fashion line called Shrimps. She’s definitely inspired by Otto Dix a lot in her colours. We tried to bring his work into the way we shot people, close-ups on wide angle lenses, their faces distorted in that cartoonish, Ren and Stimpy, creepy way.

He did this one painting called The Skat Players, that is a group of war veterans playing cards in a bar. They’ve got tubes going up into where they’ve been injured and they’re all disfigured. I made a video for The Vaccines where I tried to borrow from that language, strange nightmarish faces in this surreal casino.“

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

“It’s a novel about a Jewish boy growing up in America. I basically see it as all of our Jewish neuroses. It almost reads like stand-up comedy from someone like Larry David. I’m rewatching Curb Your Enthusiasm at the moment from season one to eight. You see so much of Philip Roth [in that].

Another one of my favourite films is The Coen Brothers’ Serious Man. The little boy in that film – you can feel Philip Roth worming his way in. He captures that growing up as a Jewish boy in America – all the rules. There’s this amazing chapter about when he first discovers wanking. The whole chapter is just about where he used to wank and what he would wank into. I’ve read a few of his other books, but Portnoy’s Complaint is just comedy. I’ve never laughed that much while reading a book, especially that one chapter.

There’s one scene where his mum goes to the butcher and she then leaves. He goes to the fridge and sees the liver and ends up wanking using the liver. And then the next scene is him watching his family eat the liver that night for dinner. It’s twisted but it felt so fresh reading it, even though it was written in 1969.

My dad’s Jewish, and my first short film was very heavily inspired by Portnoy’s Complaint. It’s about a young boy who’s mum never cut his umbilical cord, so he is still attached, a metaphor for the overbearing Jewish mother. A Jewish coming of age story and Philip Roth is the master of that.

I find it such an interesting community, the Jewish community. My nana is 92 and she lives in the same house she’s lived in since my dad was born. It’s in Southgate and it’s exactly the same. She’s got all these little Murano clowns and she goes and plays bridge with her local Jewish bridge club. And my short film completely ripped off everything in her house.”

Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers

“Do you remember those mini-DV players? My dad used to transfer VHS onto those things so we could watch stuff in the car. We basically only had Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers, so every car journey we’d watch that.

David O’Russell recently said every time he shoots an action scene he watches it because that train scene is the perfect action sequence. For the rhythm and everything.

I love it because of the craft. One, because it’s Claymation so it’s another level of craft but also the fact that every shot is so considered in terms of telling the story. You can get lost nowadays and hide behind a lot of handheld and mop it all up. But the great storytellers are able to know which shot leads to which shot. I recently saw the storyboards. It’s amazing how pieced out it was and everything was completely crafted. It’s got everything – comedy, emotion, action. And it makes you laugh. The dialogue is so stripped back.

You can also see all the influences from films he’s watched, where he’s pastiching them slightly but the Claymation world it brings its own life to it. I love where you can see people’s influences where they’re giving a little nod to their predecessors. I love giving it layers, trying to create more subtext. For instance I just did a Sport Relief commercial and the fat guy pings his swimming trunks. I work with Kim [Gehrig] a lot and Kim did it in hers [Sport England, This Girl Can] and she called me afterwards like ‘you cheeky little shit.’ That’s what I love about Somesuch. Because I worked there before becoming a director I have relationships with all the bigger directors, so every time I get anything I send it to Daniel [Wolfe] or someone. I call up and they give me feedback and references. It’s a bit of a family. I definitely get my inspiration from there. And Tim and Sally are great. Everyone’s so helpful. You can go to production companies where the other directors there are your rivals, but Somesuch is very collaborative.”

This Kid’s Reaction to Maurice Sendak’s Drawing

“It’s from an interview with Maurice Sendak who wrote Where The Wild Things Are. It’s a slightly different one to the all the others because it inspires me as a thought.

He was being interviewed by this woman called Terry Gross and she asked him ‘Can you share some of your favourite comments from your readers that you’ve gotten over the years?’ And he said:

‘Oh, there’s so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters–sometimes very hastily–but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim, I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”

That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.’

For me this made me think one day I hope I can make something that will provoke that sort of visceral reaction from someone. The way we live we consume entertainment so I think that’s quite a nice symbol. If you can get someone to want to eat your work – not in a literal way but watch it over and over again, that’s the dream. Great videos like Fatboy Slim, Weapon of Choice by Spike Jonze, you just want to watch it over and over again. It never gets boring.

MIA, Bad Girls, by Romain Gavras. I want to create work like that. A music video or a film or an ad that people want to watch and ‘eat’ over and over again. That is something that I always want to try and provoke.”

APA Announces IDEAS

January 13, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

We discuss association’s new showcase for the best non-traditional advertising.

For many years, companies that used to make traditional advertising have been producing work that is more than just film, print or out-of-home advertising. Members of the Advertising Producers Association now make experiential, virtual reality, interactive posters and websites for product launches. This work isn’t eligible for the APA Collection, which is about film only (whether for TV, the internet or any screen), so the APA have created a new platform for their members to promote this work, which is exciting and in great demand by clients and agencies.

It’s called IDEAS – the Interactive Digital Experiential Advertising Showcase – and will first be seen at The Future of Advertising…In One Afternoon at BAFTA on 22nd February, before being featured in advertising events around the world, as with the APA Collection. The APA Show is big enough already, and frankly there are already enough expensive awards nights, so the entry fee is £50 and the format is simple – a showcase of the ten best interactive or experiential productions from APA members that year.

We asked some of the APA members who were involved in its creation why the ad industry needs such an event. One reason is that this sort of work is hard to define. “Inherently digital work can be diverse and broad,” says Luke Ritchie, Executive Producer at Nexus Interactive Arts, “so despite our best efforts it’s hard to pigeonhole.” It’s true. You’ve got film, print, out-of-home; and then you’ve got the other, more experiential, interactive, digital sort of stuff that makes little sense in any of the traditional categories.

“At the moment this work gets lost,” admits Luke’s colleague James Tomkinson, Managing Director of Nexus Productions, because it’s hard to PR – a case study or making-of film isn’t as compelling as the real thing. “Often these making-ofs do not look as eye catching as a commercial and they would invariably be sitting side by side one another.”

“The best work tells a story,” states Luke. “Whether linear or interactive, you’re transported visually and emotionally. Interaction is another layer that helps transport visitors inside the story – they’re no longer the viewer. I’m naturally biased, but when you get it right, traditional advertising has nothing on it.”

Neil Morris, Founder of Grand Visual agrees, saying great interactive campaigns “allow consumers to become part of the campaign in the course of their everyday lives, blurring the lines between the physical and digital world.” This can only be good for brands. As he puts it, “fostering deeper, more personalised relationships with your customers is not desirable, it is essential.”

Interactive, digital and experiential disciplines can also be functional rather than promotional or entertaining. Nexus Interactive Arts recently made a Kinect based game called Woodland Wiggle, designed with Royal London Hospital to help children with mobility problems exercise despite physical limitations. A film couldn’t do that.

“Obviously all the major award programmes now include interactive categories,” concedes Neil. “What’s appealing about the APA’s IDEAS is that it is cleaner, simpler and more accessible for the audience – championing just ten great projects.”

Its simplicity is typical of the APA’s approach, as Chief Executive Steve Davies notes. “It is a simple idea, to showcase interactive / experiential advertising work in the same way that the APA Collection showcases commercials,” he says. “It is important that this brilliant, groundbreaking work is seen, to help enable the companies making it to develop their businesses, thrive and innovate further.”

“Like all awards the first year is the hardest,” says James. “Once the audience recognize the quality of the work and how much it has piqued their interest it will be something to look forward to.”

Neil sees IDEAS becoming more and more relevant. “As creative technology becomes more and more important, so too, does the creative talent behind it,” he says. “This showcase for UK interactive practitioners is therefore very important.”

The showcase’s horizons are global, as Steve points out. “I saw from our event in Shanghai and the Chinese agencies that attended that there is a huge appetite for providing clients with creative ways of using new technology to reach consumers,” he says, “and that the UK is seen as being a world leader in interactive and experiential advertising. Our showcase will ensure agencies in China and around the world see the best new work, can see who has made it and can connect with those UK production companies for new projects.”


Entries for IDEAS are now open until Friday 15th January 2016. For more information check the APA website.

EDIT: Due to popular demand, the deadline for entries to the IDEAS showcase has been extended from Friday 15th January 2016 to Friday 29th January 2016.

Directions to Direction: Chino Moya

January 11, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

From teenage raver to philosophical world builder.

It’s often said that you must suffer for your art, which is unfortunate for aspiring artists growing up in stable, happy environments like RSA / Black Dog director Chino Moya. Raised in Madrid, his father was a professor in Sociology and he was brought up by his mother and her husband, who was a journalist and publicist. “They were sort of hippie-ish, intellectual types,” he says. He was surrounded by books, culture and politics and supported in whatever he wanted to do. Where’s a kid like that going to find the darkness in his soul he needs to become an artist?

Chino’s childhood obsessions already betrayed a search for darkness. “I was very into horror films and fantasy books,” he says, and he was particularly into English fiction. Along with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, he lost himself in reams of gothic horror like Edgar Alan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and other 18th and early 19th Century writers.

Surrounded by the intelligentsia, there were a few filmmakers around while he was growing up and while he devoured horror films there was a vague idea that he could end up making films, but he never pursued it. “The Spanish system doesn’t really encourage you to do what you want to do,” he says. “I didn’t know that you could go to film school – that you could actually do that for real.”

Chino was a good kid, but when his teenage years hit they hit hard. Maybe in another attempt to escape his comfortable home life, he stopped bothering with school and dove into the decadent rave culture of the 90s, which he admits didn’t combine very well with school – or many other things. “I went completely off the rails,” he says. “I ended up getting kicked out of a few schools. I stopped reading. I stopped studying. I was just hanging out with friends and going out.”

The one passion that remained was film. In his late teens he discovered the more art-house areas of film, which he loved – the nouvelle vague directors, auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and Japanese directors like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.

Eventually Chino got to university, where he studied history. But his passions remained simple – film and raving. One night he found himself in a techno club, involved in one of those earnest, late-night conversations with strangers, pouring his heart out about the films he loved. “I hardly even remember it, but apparently we had a very long chat about film,” he says. “The guy was at film school at the time. We exchanged numbers.”

Six months later he answered the phone to this stranger, who asked if he wanted to work on a film. “I’d never worked on anything,” says Chino. All he had to do was find a van. He arranged to borrow a friend’s van and eventually found himself picking up equipment for a low-budget short film. “I didn’t know what all this equipment was for,” he says. “Then I arrived on the set and I saw all these people working. Each person has a very specific job with names like producer, assistant director, director, camera operator, focus puller. Everyone was very specialised in what they were doing. The minute I got there I decided this is exactly what I want to do.”

He asked the line producer if he could help on shoots in the future and soon he was running regularly.

Chino’s life began anew in a moment. He stopped going out and never went to nightclubs again. He dropped out of university and dedicated his life to the low-budget films he was working on, reading about and watching films when he wasn’t working on them. His parents were as supportive as ever. “For years I was just hanging out with friends, going out, failing at school and not showing an interest,” he explains. “They saw me really focused on something positive so they were encouraged by that.”

Working for free, he soon got a lot of work as a runner and quickly got into TV commercials. “I was so happy,” he says. “I was doing the crappiest jobs, driving a van, picking up actors from airports or just loading and unloading equipment from vans. But I was so happy to be able to participate.”

Of course he soon burned out. The hours were insane and he wanted to make his own films, so he enrolled on a film course in Madrid. “It was a really crap evening course in this little apartment,” he remembers. Twice a week for a couple of hours in the evening he learnt the basics of film. Still, he was happy to be there.

Soon Chino’s passion for filmmaking made him restless. He needed to escape Spain. “I always felt I was far from where the good stuff was being made,” he says. “I was always looking up to the good stuff they were doing in London and other places. I felt I was missing out. I felt trapped in Spain.” So he went to New York, where he took up another film course. This one was perfect for him. They gave him a camera, some lights, some film and let him spend three months shooting.

He discovered a video rental place called Kim’s Video in the East Village of Manhattan. It was a revelation to him. He could suddenly watch any film he wanted, including lots he’d been reading about for years but couldn’t get in Spain. The energy of New York invigorated him. It was the perfect environment to make his first serious attempts at direction.

Inevitably, his visa ran out and he was ejected back to Madrid. But he had enough confidence in his direction now to keep shooting and cutting his own short films, honing his craft. Obviously he wanted to make a feature film, like everyone else. He shot 20 minutes to try and find funding and, predictably, it wasn’t easy. But someone he knew who worked at an ad agency saw it. She asked him if he wanted to make commercials. Within two weeks he was shooting his first ad.

For the first time Chino had a crew and a budget. He was plunged into the relentless process of pitching, losing jobs, winning jobs, shooting and repeating. It was great experience, but he eventually became disillusioned. “It’s less about making stuff yourself and more about competing against other directors,” he says. “I became just another director. I lost all the drive I had to put my own stamp on things.”

The call of the Anglophone world rose in him again, so he took a plunge and moved to London with a DVD full of Spanish commercials and music videos. He tried to get signed, but his reel wasn’t right.

It was a shock. “In Spain it’s very easy to get jobs,” he says, “especially music videos. Labels often ask, sometimes even beg you to do music videos. And they don’t get involved. You do the whole thing and they very rarely ask for changes. It’s not the fierce competition you have in the UK.”

He kept working on Spanish briefs while living in London and soon noticed his style was changing due to local influences. “I started realising what I really wanted,” he says. “I started to find my own voice.”

The voice he found was about creating worlds – free-standing alternative universes that his films transport the viewer to, with their own characters, their own architecture – a philosophy well expressed in his 2009 video for the Spanish band Supersubmarina. Piquing the interest of Promo News’ David Knight, it turned out to be the beginning of a new era for the young director. Soon after he signed with HSI and was plunged once more into the relentless pitching machine.

This process in the UK was more ruthless than he’d known it to be in Spain. “I found the competition exhausting and frustrating,” he says. “I’d pitch and pitch and pitch. Not even for bands I liked. I was just pitching for whatever came in.” He was very lucky. The first job he got ended up being for Ladytron – a band he did happen to like. “From not doing anything I started shooting videos back-to-back, non-stop,” he says.

After a year of this, he decided to focus on what he loved and only take jobs that gave him the chance to build worlds. It was a good strategy. Soon he won the pitch to shoot a bizarre Drambuie ad called Extraordinary Bar. It was an extraordinary job. “I was absolutely surprised that they let me do everything I did there. They gave me almost complete freedom.” They wanted surrealism and they wanted a bar. Everything else was fair game. Small man carrying a giant egg on his back? Great! Man standing above the clouds on a freestanding ladder? Fine. “They said yes. We presented. We shot it. They liked what they saw. We presented the first edit and they approved it. And it worked for them. I hope there will be more like that. It’s one of my favourites.”

Another favourite on his reel is his video for avant-garde guitar sorceress St Vincent for her 2014 single Digital Witness. Again, he was allowed free reign to create an alternate world. He admits that when he pitched the idea of a simplified, weird world he wasn’t sure how to do it, especially not for the budget and with only four days of pre-production.

Pulling in countless favours and flying St Vincent into Madrid by herself on the week before Christmas, they were somehow able to bring Chino’s dystopian vision to life and create an iconic music video. Chino admits he was inspired by the dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin, We. “As opposed to 1984 [a book it heavily influenced] that was very gloomy, the world of We was very colourful and there was this sense of brightness,” says Chino.

Dystopias have been an obsession of Chino in his search for the darkness in humanity. He blames his Spanish heritage – a nation with a fairly recent history of Fascism. As he puts it, “two worlds: a dictatorship and a democracy with supposed freedom, access to happiness, consumerism and promise. I guess the combination of both had a big effect on my world.” He’s gone further than most westerners in his exploration of models of society, having visited Iraq during the American invasion, Palestine on two occasions and even North Korea.

In Iraq he learnt what it felt like to be surrounded by violence. “I discovered what it was like to be in a country outside of this comfortable western life with suffering and violence – to see people being killed around you.”

North Korea was the most bizarre of his trips. On an individual tour he was accompanied by two guides, young women who were fascinated by his Western life and insatiably asked him questions about sex, society and culture in Europe. “It was sad but also interesting to see people living simpler lives,” he recalls. “There are no billboards, no neon lights, advertising, girls in bikinis or famous sports players. It was very peaceful in a way. You can drive for a hundred miles and only pass one car.”

Chino would love to bring this interest into his work more. “If there’s a chance of doing something dark, I’m very up for it,” he says. “In commercials it’s not so easy.”

It’s interesting to think that this thoughtful anthropologist evolved from a teenaged rebel-without-a-cause raver. Chino is glad about his off-the-rails phase though. “Looking back, it was a good thing because nothing bad happened,” he says. “If I hadn’t found film, my life would have been completely different. I pulled out on time. A lot of people didn’t and their lives are a complete disaster.”

“When you find somewhere you want to go, suddenly your life has a meaning. Whether you get to that place or not is something else, but at least you have a direction.” Thankfully, Chino knows where he’s heading, and we’ll watch his reel grow with interest as he continues to create his strange little worlds.

Games, Film and the Space Between

December 16, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

A pair of VR directors trying to understand what this new medium could become.

Video games and Film don’t always get along. As two of the world’s biggest industries, they have much in common. But while film is almost universally respected, it often looks down sneeringly on the younger, more commercially successful medium. The games industry built itself on many of the storytelling principles developed in film. And now it’s matured into one of the world’s biggest entertainment industries, the language of games has its own lessons to teach.

Horton de Rakoff may sound like an aristocratic vampire hunter from a Hollywood action romp, but it’s actually a duo of British directors on the UNIT9 roster – Alex Horton and Alex de Rakoff. With experience spanning the worlds’ biggest video games, VMA award-winning music videos, Hollywood feature films and commercials, they’re a unique partnership, keen to draw from these different areas in their work. There’s a lot of talk about virtual reality in advertising at the moment, so with their combination of film and game experience they’re naturally poised to get involved.

De Rakoff began as a music video director over 20 years ago, when it was still glamorous and lucrative, before moving to the even more glamorous Hollywood, to be a writer in the studio system. He even directed a couple of feature movies, starring talent including Orlando Bloom and 50 Cent.

Horton approached directing from a completely different angle, working for many years at Rockstar Games, the infamous developers of the Grand Theft Auto series. His job was animating the cutscenes in between the main action of the game. “I was obsessed about giving it legitimacy in terms of its presentation, the way it was costumed and the way it was shot,” he says. Essentially, he was directing the bits of film that moved the games along, fleshed out the characters and created context for the action that was the main meat and potatoes of these experiences.

The pair had been friends for years before they first worked together, when de Rakoff got involved with the games industry. “Games started tapping up Hollywood writers to bring narrative, context and characters,” he says, “because they felt like a lot of the people they’d brought up internally didn’t want to create those kinds of narratives.” EA hired him to help with this stuff and write scripts for a racing title, Need For Speed: The Run.

EA decided to shoot a test and asked de Rakoff to direct it. It involved a lot of motion capture though – something he’d never worked on before. He knew his friend Horton had shot more mocap than most in the game industry, so got him involved.

They soon realised they had a productive partnership together, but Horton had a change of heart about the games industry. “I lost patience,” he said, “and went into a corporate job [Chief Creative Officer at Jagex, who make the popular game RuneScape]. I moved from Brooklyn to Cambridge, thinking I’m growing up, I’ve got children; I should behave myself and settle down in a proper job.”

Jagex were working on a new game called Transformers Universe, a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) based on the hugely popular Transformers franchise. Horton got de Rakoff involved to work up the story and characters of the game and together they worked on all the film media around the title. When they were done de Rakoff went off to do his own thing, directing and writing.

Trying to get back into directing commercials, de Rakoff went round the big production companies. “It felt quite stale to me,” he says. He started looking into the more innovation-focused companies, discovered UNIT9 and realised it was a good place for his experience in film and games to converge.

Meanwhile, Horton was still working in Cambridge. “It was really cool,” he says, “but being an exec didn’t suit me. I bring vibe, like Al does. I got tired of all the nonsense and a bit disillusioned with where games have gone.” They decided to get the band back together as a duo on UNIT9’s roster.

VR became the natural focus for their work there. But they realised they had to specialise if they were going to make it work. “As a director you’ve got to invest the time and energy if you want to work in VR,” says de Rakoff.

They’d picked the right company to support them in this. “UNIT9 got into VR from the jump when the VR work wasn’t there,” explains de Rakoff. “Now it’s coming through the door like the Dambusters and they’re positioned with the infrastructure and experience to deliver.”

The pair are thoughtful about the interplay between games and film and where VR sits in between. Much of it is about simply bringing the discipline and language of filmmaking to another medium, like Horton’s cutscenes in Grand Theft Auto, which granted the game legitimacy. “The execution was slave to film techniques,” he says. “Games are very cinematic. The games industry has embraced that aesthetic.”

There are ways in which VR can use film language too, but there are ways in which it differs vastly. VR is immersive and interactive, and the challenges of a 360-degree, real-time experience can’t be solved with filmmaking techniques.

They also differ in terms of motivations. A film is a defined length, usually topping out at around three hours if you’re Martin Scorsese or Peter Jackson, TV series are bite-sized but can be binged on. “Games want to keep you up all night,” says Horton. “A lot of games are based around compulsion. Between boredom and frustration there’s a cash channel and they’re trying to keep you within that.” Where VR sits between these is yet to be defined. “If Blade Runner is an Arthur C. Clarke novel that’s 200 pages long, how short is that one page that’s the ideal VR experience, that gives you something you’ve never done before? I don’t want to sit with a headset on for an hour yet. No bloody way! It’s got to find its new form.”

The pair’s dual background makes them well suited to this. “Look at film people who write in games,” says Horton. “A lot of them fundamentally don’t understand how or why a game works.” And it goes the other way too. “Everyone who works in games watches films more than I ever could. They’re encyclopaedic on films, but they don’t have any common sense on set. Knowing and understanding is different.”

“There are a lot of ‘experts’ in the VR world now and it’s such an undefined medium,” says de Rakoff. “People are looking at it and figuring out the new language of it and we are a couple of guys working in that industry.”

Part of this process is learning when something won’t work in VR, though. “There’s an argument,” says Horton, “that if you can do it in a 16:9 frame, why do you want to do it in VR? Because so many more people can see a film. VR is harder to consume. It’s more demanding.”

Finding the right approach is simple. As de Rakoff puts it. “The technology should support the creative, not lead it. Some people are looking at VR and leading with the tech because it’s new and exciting, but the creative doesn’t fit.”

They’ve noticed the superficial experiences this mentality has led to. It’s notable that the genres of porn and horror, with their animal directness, have done well in the medium. “There’s a moment in some things that is interesting,” says de Rakoff, “when you go into one and look around for 15, 20 seconds. But then what?”

To find experiences that are right for this new medium, directors like Horton de Rakoff need to be very careful with how they treat an agency’s idea. “We feel a big responsibility to do something that won’t make you sick,” Horton says.” It’s their job to tell people what they think will or will not work in VR.

Fortunately, the pair’s backgrounds allow them to experiment with the new medium easily. Horton’s computer animation background means he’s got the abilities and tools to test ideas. “If someone has an idea we can quite quickly jam on that, build it up and see if there’s a way of doing it,” he says. “You can come to us with something batshit fucking crazy and we could probably find a way of doing it.” Horton has a studio in Cambridge where the pair is playing with this new medium, working on experiences that can tell stories in unique new ways.

They encourage agencies and their clients to be experimental too, because nobody has sussed this new platform out yet and if a brand manages to crack it, that will be a powerful coup. “Anyone who tells you they’ve figured it out is a liar,” says de Rakoff. “We’re trying to be honest about where the industry’s at and where we’re at with it. But we’re pushing to get a handle on it because it’s a really exciting medium and as filmmakers there’s great stuff to do. We’re defining it as we’re making it, which is really challenging. But it’s really exciting.”

Fame, Music and Advertising

December 15, 2015 / Features

By Jack Carrington

How Adland is affecting the charts.

In advertising we talk a lot about fame. We talk about making brands famous. We praise ‘famous work’ – and planners especially talk about ‘fame’ as a vital component of effectiveness. An outsider listening in on all this patter would be forgiven for thinking we’re in showbusiness.

And perhaps that’s not too far off the mark. One look at the music charts recently, and you might mistake advertisers for hitmakers. Currently riding high in the top 10 are Fleur East’s ‘Sax’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me’ by Grace (feat. G-Eazy), both of which owe a large chunk of sales to their respective support from Asda and House of Fraser’s recent Christmas campaigns.

But how did this happen? Once upon a time, having a hit record was all about having the full resources of a record company behind you to get that vital radio support. Nowadays, the digital disruption of the past decade and a half has reduced record company marketing budgets to a fraction of their CD-era peak. And the bulk of music marketing practice is social, digital and subcultural (read: low spend, low risk).

In the early noughties, Simon Cowell realised the correlation between fame-making and TV formats and has dominated the charts ever since. But even Cowell’s talent show formats have gone stale and the biggest mass media support behind a record release can come from something as strange and old-fashioned as TV brand advertising. And the payback to brands having a hit record is huge.

The TV-Shazam correlation is a giant advertising platform in itself – and a win-win for artists seeking sales, and for brands seeking attribution from their TV spend. Perhaps the resurgent role of advertising in showbiz should come as no surprise. If we look back at the history of our business there’s a rich legacy of fame-making from which to draw inspiration.

Ever since Barnum brought the circus into town, there’s been a strand of unashamedly populist thinking which tells us that creating spectacle and buzz is the best way bring in the punters. And even today we have a lot in common with the most successful fame-makers in the music business. With more shared interests than ever before, both industries have had to deal with dwindling profits and find clever ways to do more with less. We also have a lot to learn from each other.

Agencies often talk about real time sales data (and dream of getting their hands on it). It’s a daily reality in the corridors of a record company. The music biz has a level of reactivity that agencies can scarcely fathom. But what does this mean for advertising?

Too often we leave the burden of the fame part entirely to the creative department – ‘we need to make this brand famous’, goes the brief. Or worse (and often) to the PR agency after the event.

The fact that music is an incredibly important part of making effective work isn’t news. From Phil Collins and a drumming gorilla to Tom Odell’s John Lennon cover, some of the most talked-about work has had music at its heart. The music choice needs to be more up-front in the campaign planning process. Not as something that has fallen to the bottom of the list as a creative afterthought.

Back to Fleur East and Grace who are happily sitting well inside the Top 10 who show that when the music choice is properly planned in advance, it really works. What does that involve for agencies? It might involve (gasp) giving up a little creative control. It will also involve talking to the rights-holders – i.e. the record companies – up front. Cutting out the middle man (don’t use a music search agency where you can go direct). Developing closer relationships with the record companies, ones that let you look at the year together. That way, we could map the record release schedules against the big advertising seasons and see where the money is going (and where it’s not). If you get on really well with them, you could allow the record company to advise you on which artists might fit the brands you work with.

Most labels now have planning/strategy functions and can tell us a lot about which cultures and subcultures a particular artist has access to – and which brands they might work best with. But what’s really helpful is that they have unrivalled access to the artists themselves. And that means that if you can get everyone onside, brand partnerships can be about shared values and long-term premium, rather than short-term transactions.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to be like Droga5 and partner up financially with a talent business, but there’s a lot of value to be won by simply talking to our fellow fame-makers.

Give up a small degree of creative control, and fame could be yours.
That’s the perennial offer of showbusiness after all.

Jack Carrington is a Strategist at 18 Feet & Rising.

Marketing Ready for 2016

December 3, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How can APA members best promote their talents in today's ad industry landscape?

For those concerned with helping brands get their marketing messages across as effectively as possible, it’s surprising how rarely companies in the advertising industry think about how they market themselves. But APA members are keen to improve on this front, which is why the screening room at the Soho Hotel was packed out earlier this week for the trade association’s latest seminar – Marketing Ready for 2016.

The panel included Justin Tindall, ECD at Leo Burnett, Emma Bewley, Dept. Head of TV at the same agency, Jemima Monies, Head of New Business & PR at adam&eveDDB, Anna Allgrove, PR Consultant and Jason Stone, Editor of David Reviews. The discussion was a unique chance for those responsible for marketing production, post production, editing, music and sound companies to get a candid insight into what works best from the perspective of the agencies and publications whose attention they are competing for.

The traditional model of directors’ reps was the first point of discussion. Knocking on agencies doors with directors’ reels is the tried-and-tested strategy, but Justin admitted that it’s often fruitless because of the harassment agency staff often feel it becomes. Some even joke about being “date repped”, he revealed.

So should directors’ reps stop presenting work at agencies? No. Emma maintained that meetings are still much better than emails. Reps just need to make sure they approach them in the right way.

It seems blindingly obvious, but Emma warned production companies: don’t show bad work! Amazingly, she admitted that some reps even seem apologetic for the work they’re showing. This is more than just wasting agencies’ time. It puts them off.

Secondly, it is vital that reps know the detail about the work their directors have shot. The more knowledgeable about locations, equipment and crew on a given job, the better you will come across. Not knowing these fundamentals looks terrible.

However, the Leo Burnett pair agreed that talking over work is even worse. Let the film speak for itself and save your wealth of information for any questions the agency might have afterwards.

Creatives’ and agency producers’ time is under huge pressures today. Emma stressed that three directors’ reels of carefully selected, good, recent work beats a bombardment from every director on a roster. Armed with knowledge of what clients that agency has and the sort of scripts they are likely to get, it’s possible to make the most of that limited time.

A warning also came out of Emma and Justin’s confession: avoid director’s cuts when possible. If a piece of work didn’t come out how the director hoped, the agency will likely see the official cut anyway, so why hide it? It rings alarm bells that either that director is a prima donna, or that he / she is shooting two films – one for the director’s cut and one for the client.

Encouragingly, the agency contingent of the panel were keen to say TVCs aren’t the only valuable thing on a reel. Even if a director has only made one short film, that might be enough to convince an agency to put him / her to the client. The hard part, Justin admitted, was convincing a client to put their trust in someone who’s never made an ad.

All of these tips go towards building up a trusting relationship between production company and agency. Honesty is invaluable in this. Emma suggested that occasionally saying “sorry, we don’t really have someone for that” once in a while is a powerful gesture for earning trust. Jason took that one step further and suggested recommending a competitor’s director when you don’t have the right one on your roster. The agency are probably considering that director anyway, so what do you have to lose?

The panel agreed that networking in places like Cannes still has its role in “putting faces to names”, but people shouldn’t expect to get any work directly off the back of a rosé-drenched conversation on the Croisette.

Social media also got a mention, but the panel agreed that Tweets etc. don’t hold much sway unless it’s personal friends or people you trust recommending stuff. Their number of Twitter followers won’t affect Emma’s opinion of a production company, she confirmed. What a revelation!

It’s also worth noting that agencies are unlikely to be checking production companies’ social media or newsletters. Justin said people at agencies are much more likely to look to aggregators such as industry publications (David Reviews, The Beak Street Bugle, Shots etc.), who have a less partial, more trustworthy position and apply a critical filter.

To that end, Jason, Anna and Jemima discussed the ins and outs of how companies should communicate with the industry press. Press releases need to be tailored for publication, they agreed. Some want the facts to give them a chance to work out if there’s an interesting story here, some just want the work so they can make up their own minds, others want text they can easily copy and paste onto their site (not the Bugle though, thanks).

Jemima suggested that specialist information is welcome in an agency press release as long as it’s relevant, interesting and the production or post production company get this to the agency far enough in advance of a launch.

Anna stressed that whenever you contact the press it’s good to have a goal in mind. What do you want to get out of this? How would your company best be presented in the context of this publication? There’s more to the industry press than simply uploading videos to their websites.

The seminar was a particularly transparent and frank discussion of how APA members can best market themselves. Armed with these insights, maybe knocking on doors and email inboxes will be a more fruitful experience.

Bringing Production Into FOCUS

November 26, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How the location production event could unite the disparate tribes of production.

A good producer is someone who can organise everything and everyone involved in making a film to within an inch of its life. And good organisation takes knowledge, particularly when you’re shooting somewhere unfamiliar.

Jean-Frédéric Garcia has been Managing Director of The Location Guide for over ten years now. For almost 20 years the publication has been an indispensable resource for anyone planning on shooting just about anywhere, providing all the essential pre-production resources needed for filming on location around the world.

Now they’ve started something new – an event with the same goals. On 14th and 15th December 2015, the London’s Business Design Centre will be host to FOCUS.

According to their website, FOCUS “is London’s first international trade show, summit and networking event for film, television and commercials”. That sounds ambitious, so we asked Jean-Frédéric what the big idea is.

The Beak Street Bugle: Where did the idea for a location production event in London come from?
Jean-Frédéric Garcia:
Over the years we’ve been going to the Location Trade Show in Los Angeles, organised by the AFCI, and almost every year people were asking us ‘why don’t you do one in London?’ With our contacts in location management and production across screen industries, we’re the natural link that can bring all the right people together.

We thought it was something interesting and were approached by several big event companies to do it in London, but wasn’t always the right time. I know that several other organisations and publications in the UK were thinking about doing an international production and location event in London. But because it’s a big venture and there’s always the risk of doing something that people are not going to attend. So nobody made it happen.

We’ve been toying around with the idea for a while but The Location Guide is a publishing company and we don’t have the expertise to do a big event, because it involves such a lot of organisation. If we were to do something we’d want to do it properly. We didn’t want to do five tables in a hotel reception.

Early last year we were introduced to LiveBuzz, a company that specialises in helping media owners plan their first event. We had lots of conversations and meetings. They liked the idea, the industry and people’s reaction to The Location Guide so much that they said ‘we want more than to help you; we want to do it with you.’ So that’s what happened. They believe in the project as much as we do and so FOCUS is a joint venture between LiveBuzz and The Location Guide.


BSB: Why do you think now is the right time for this kind of event?
London is the big production hub of Europe but nobody has ever done anything here that actually talks to all screen industries. Film, TV, the internet, commercials; everywhere in the world they used to be extremely separated. They used to have that silo mentality – you shoot one or another. However, when it comes to directors I can’t remember having met one who does commercials who doesn’t want to do a feature film.

Because of the explosion of content with the internet the whole industry is creating so much more now. It’s unbelievable how much is being made. And with that the old lines between film, TV and commercials are getting blurred. I’m not saying there’s no difference anymore, but the borders are not as clean cut as they used to be. And The Location Guide is perfectly placed to talk about that or to galvanise all of those people together because that’s what we’ve been doing since we became independent.

We always wanted to talk to all the screen industries because when it comes to film and location it doesn’t really matter whether you bring to the location a documentary, a feature film, a commercial, a TV series. It’s work that arrives in a certain place and you need to make sure crews work, eat, sleep and play.

It wasn’t always easy to make sure that everybody understood that we wanted to do something for all the screen industries, but we really wanted to transcend all of that because the audience will not care what format you are labelling your content as. If it is cool they will watch it. If it lasts two hours they will watch it. If they want to binge watch a TV series then they’re going to binge watch it. It’s not about airtime anymore because they don’t care about that. They just want to access whatever is good wherever they want whenever they want.


BSB: What are the benefits of bringing these industries together?
The aim has never really changed. We really wanted to use the platform of London to create an international event and to make sure that producers, production managers, location managers, executive producers etc. could all meet under one roof and benefit from the other industries.

Feature film people work so much with incentives, which is something that is just about to start in the commercial industry, but is very interesting to see how it worked for them and how now hardly any movie goes somewhere to shoot if there isn’t an incentive. Incentives have obviously spread to TV with all the high-end TV dramas. High-end TV dramas need money and sometimes they turn into very neat (or sometimes not so neat) branded content, which is more like advertising. Our objective was to make sure that all of the people would be able to talk together. And benefit from each other.

It’s also good for the London production industry to see what is out there. Many producers have the one production service company that they use in South Africa a lot because it’s great to shoot in South Africa. There’s no way around it, South Africa and Spain are massive countries to do service, but we wanted to show them that maybe they could consider other places and providers who are really keen on making the best job they possibly can for London or Europe.


BSB: What have been the main challenges?
We never went into this thinking it’s going to be easy. Obviously this is a commercial venture, and the two biggest challenges were to make this proposal viable for all parties concerned and to attract the right audience for the exhibitors.

A show without visitors is not a show. But I believe that we are on the right track to provide the audience. The figures look good so far. But have we overcome the challenge? I will only be able to tell you that afterwards.

It also looks like the producers are willing to travel for FOCUS too. 57 per cent of visitors registered come from the UK, 24 per cent from Europe and 19 per cent from the rest of the world. We always thought that the bulk would come from the UK, but that’s quite a good mix.

The conference [FOCUS Summit] is a massive beast. We’ve got really cool names to talk. It’s going to be extremely interesting. I can’t stand boring speakers at conferences. I prefer to go home and sleep. One of the things we decided early on is we will need to have speakers who are really engaging because that’s so important. It’s one day. It’s going to be full on but people really have to be engaged. That’s why it took us a bit longer to put the summit together because the speakers really need to be of a certain calibre within the industry.


BSB: How have your aims changed as you’ve put the event together?
I don’t think our objectives from the moment we started to where we are now have changed. I think it’s still the same – to create an alternative to the more corporate events that already exist in London.

We tried to remove as many barriers to entry as possible. It’s free. So whether you come for an hour or the day you’re not going to pay for anything. The second thing is we tried to schedule it in the least busy period of the year. In the second week of December the industry starts to relax a little. People are going out and catching up for Christmas drinks. We wanted to make sure people would not be abroad shooting a movie or something, so a fair amount of the industry would get to the show. We’re going to have a big bar lounge at the show to make sure that people will be able to catch up with their friends.

It’s in central London – N1 – not some out-of-the-way exhibition centre. We’re going to have a drinks reception on the opening night. On the second night we’re throwing a party with the APA, so we’ve tried to make it as networking-focused as possible. People will have a chance to meet and greet, renew contacts or make new ones.

Register now to visit FOCUS. 

What Epica Taught Me About The World

November 16, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Cultural learnings of the world for make benefit glorious industry of advertising.

I spent last week in a dark, soupy room in a Parisian conference room with a rabble of assorted journalists who had been assembled as the pre-selection jury for the Epica Awards. As the only creative prize awarded by journalists working for marketing and communications magazines around the world, I was proud to be part of it. It has a unique impartiality because nobody in that room had any personal connection to the work we were judging.

Over the week we voted on over 3,000 pieces of advertising. It was exhausting but enlightening. As Epica is a truly international award, we saw entries from the most unfamiliar markets (at least to this London ad industry journalist).

I noticed that not only was there good work coming from unexpected countries, but they also taught me a lot about the cultures that they were made in. Good advertising won’t work if it doesn’t understand its audience, so commercials are a brilliant tool for learning about the world.

I am saving you watching over 3,000 ads here, by bringing you the most interesting and odd ones that you won’t have seen.



Denmark isn’t making enough babies

Apparently the Danes need a bit of encouragement to make more Danes. There are also some good facts about sex in this campaign. People have 28% more sex in a sunny location on holiday and exercising together increases chances of having sex. Useful knowledge.



Kazakhstan needs to stand united

I don’t think I’m alone in saying I know very little about Kazakhstan. And I expect Borat wasn’t the most reliable documentary source on the subject. So it was interesting, if sad, to learn that they have serious racial tensions that the government are trying to soothe through nostalgia. This campaign harkens back to the hard times directly after the break-up of the USSR, when the nation pulled together to help each other. The hope is that reminding the people of their past unity will bring the different ethnic groups closer again.



Lebanon don’t like black cats
…But New Zealand do

Superstition is a funny one, but it’s hard to work out how the black cats being unlucky thing somehow morphed into them bringing good luck. Anyway, this is probably a fictional event, but it’s interesting to learn.\



Argentina’s mechanics are just like everyone else’s mechanics

Our international jury had a good laugh at these ones. They’re built on an observation that’s valid in every culture around the world – mechanics will always try and fleece you. There’s something reassuring about that.



The United Arab Emirates have similar taste in films to the West

This was just one execution from a very funny campaign for cinema chain Du. It’s interesting to know that people watch the same sorts of films on the shores of the Persian Gulf as they do in the West. And it’s good to know they find the same sorts of films ridiculous.



Norway is full of people with good intentions and unrealised dreams

I must admit I have a stereotype about Norwegians being offensively good-looking, outdoorsy, active sorts of people, so when this ad implied that some people don’t go through with their exciting hobbies, it made me feel a bit better about my own lazy lifestyle and lack of staying power.



Sweden have a very dark sense of humour

It probably has something to do with the dark winters they get, but a lot of the Swedish ads we saw were very gloomy. Even when they’re joking they keep it disturbing.



But they’re also pretty chill when it comes to sex and sexuality

The Swedes clearly take pride in their social equality and apparently don’t mind taking a subtle pop at Russia, which is undoubtedly a little behind on such issues.



Russia is a very macho country

This is just one of the many Russian ads we saw in which men were men, in the old-fashioned chest-beating, sausage-loving sort of way.



Egypt have a strange taboo around saying mothers’ names

To Westerners like me, this seems bizarre. None of jury had ever heard of this taboo before so it raised a number of eyebrows when we first saw it. My mum’s called Sarah by the way.



Thailand really push the boundaries of advertising

One of the great things about watching advertising from around the world is the abundance of WTF moments. This is one that stands out. Imagine a UK client agreeing to this idea.