The One-Eyed Monster Grows

September 19, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

A catch-up with CICLOPE’s founder on where the festival is heading in its seventh year.

It’s hard to start something new in the crowded space of advertising festivals and award shows. The only way is to carve out a space between the gaps the others have left. That’s exactly what Francisco Condorelli has done over the past seven years.

Starting in his home city of Buenos Aires, Francisco started CICLOPE – an international festival of craft that celebrates and tries to understand the talent that goes into the best moving image.

On 3rd and 4th November the festival hits Berlin for its fourth year in its European incarnation. We caught up with its creator to find out what direction he’s taking it in.


The Beak Street Bugle: What is the main focus of CICLOPE this year?

Francisco Condorelli: I think there’s something really interesting going on, which is a crossover between music videos, brands and short films. CICLOPE lets the producers, directors, musicians and brands meet. As a festival we want to reflect that the boundaries are blurring a bit.

We have people coming from all those areas and we will have talks on that - the people who have made it talking about how they did it and why.

Then there’s what’s happening with the show as well – this convergence between advertising, film, music, etc. We’re inviting a lot more people from feature films and Hollywood. We have a couple of people like Mark Woollen, who you might not have heard of but he is actually one of the most talented directors in Hollywood. He makes trailers. His first trailer he made when he was 21 and it was for Schindler’s List. Fuck, man.

[He’s also done] Spotlight, Birdman, The Social Network, Batman v Superman, all these huge blockbusters. Trailers are about synthesis. I think that’s interesting for the advertising industry to hear about.

I’m curious about it. It might not be easy to sell to Stephen Spielberg what you’re going to do to his film. But what I’ve heard is there is a play between them and the studio, who is in the middle negotiating that with the director. I think it’s a huge job to come up with something that shows a little but not too much and doesn’t overpromise.

We have this guy called Sebastian Schipper [speaking at the festival], the German director who recently made Victoria – this one-take film. From an artistic point of view it was very interesting and he has an advertising background. He’s going to talk about how to keep the balance between commercial commitments and client commitments. And then there’s the APA presenting Jani Guest talking about Kidspiration [an online channel created for and powered by kids, created by the production company Independent].

Another speaker I’m excited about is Thomas Punch, who is the Global ECD of Vice Media. They own Pulse Films now, so it’s going to be a conversation between him and [Pulse CEO and co-founder] Thomas Benski about brands, content, why they made this partnership, which I think says a lot about what’s going on.

The TV and film industry don’t really respect the advertising industry, I feel. I think everyone deserves respect and I think they should because there are always opportunities for them there. Advertising is not just making shampoo commercials, especially today. The recent Spike Jonze work [for Kenzo] is an incredible example of that. I’m sure that he feels very proud of it as a filmmaker and that possibility is something that the advertising industry has given to him and is willing to give to a lot of other directors.

It’s a good moment for the film and TV industry to be more friendly with the advertising industry. Directors are directors. It doesn’t matter if they’re working on a TV commercial, or a TV series or a film. And you’re probably sick of hearing that, but it’s true.


BSB: What changes have you made to the awards?

FC: We have a different set up but we’re awarding the same kind of work – commercials, short films, music videos and now VR, that’s the new thing. It’s definitely happening so we definitely have to do it.

Most of the companies have experimented with VR lately. Some of them have done a lot of work, some just a few. But everyone does some VR now. I think the issue with VR is it’s difficult to see what other people are doing because you can’t see it online. You need to download an app and each experience has its own device etc.

I think it’s an interesting opportunity not only for people to showcase what they’re doing and expose their work to a qualified audience but also as a benchmark. It’s a way of understanding the quality of the work that’s being produced.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the VR category this year.


BSB: What other trends are you responding to in the festival?
FC:
It’s going to be a special year for music videos as well. There’s something very interesting happening with music videos lately. Ringan Ledwidge’s video for Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers work from The Mill, Up&Up for Coldplay from Prettybird and Beyonce’s Formation video. Even the Spike Jonze Kenzo film. That is is basically a commercial or fashion film, but the music and choreography is so powerful that it looks like a music video.


BSB: Having started in Buenos Aires, you’ve been in Berlin for several years now. Why is it the right city for CICLOPE?

FC: I think people enjoy going to Berlin. It’s Germany, so it’s a very powerful market and economy. You’ve got all the car manufacturers for example. And it’s a cool city. The vibe is interesting. And it’s very cosmopolitan. Like the New York of Germany.

For people in London it’s a nice escape while still being close. Germany has a very interesting heritage and film-wise it’s a prestigious spot. Berlin is the most creative city in Germany. People go to Berlin just to show off. They make money in the south and they put offices in Berlin. You can’t avoid having a Berlin branch if you want to be cool.


BSB: What have been the biggest challenges each year?

FC: Every year you have a different challenge. Things that were difficult, like making people understand the importance of submitting their work and being involved, are now no longer an issue for us. People understand why they should invest money and time in festivals of craft like this. So the challenges now are about bringing better people every year. The better the people, the higher the bar is.

My job is to bring to the table the most interesting content possible, because people don’t have time. People don’t want to hear bullshit and people are paying me to do that, which means delivering the best content ever, creating a frame for people to meet people and helping people to see where everything is going to help the people who work in this industry to understand.  We need to find the people who are doing things differently.

I think we’re on the top of the global advertising industry. The next step for us is to be on the top of the bigger industry, which is TV and film. It’s more difficult because it has different standards. So I hope to get the attention of that somehow.

A Pint With… Anna Smith

September 9, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Geeking out over some craft ales with Iconoclast London’s EP / MD.

Finally venturing out of my familiar square mile of Soho, Anna Smith and I met at The Fox on Kingsland Road, craft beer specialists just a short hop and skip from where Iconoclast’s new offices will soon be. It’s a favourite of hers as she’s a bit of a hophead. We started with a couple of pints of Gamma Ray – a jazzy American pale ale from the Tottenham’s Beavertown brewery. It got the conversation trickling along nicely before we anxiously checked our emails and moved onto a pair of Duets, another pale ale by Bristolians Left Handed Giant, celebrating my southpaw identity.

…It’s essential to know the best local spots to eat and drink. We’re moving to new offices in Dalston soon, so that’s an excuse for me to visit every restaurant, coffee shop and pub on this stretch of Kingsland Road. You’ve got to know where’s good to take people for meetings.”

…I’ve wanted to work in production since I was five. One of my first memories is watching someone winning an Oscar and realising ‘I want to do that.’ I would love for my next feature to win an Academy Award. I have worked with some really inspiring people who have won academy awards including Steve McQueen so I take much of my inspiration from them!

…Having friends all over makes the world feel so small. I’ve been blessed with a life that meant I had to adapt at every turn. I grew up in Hong Kong and when I went to school in England I always went back for the holidays. Later I lived in Malaysia, the Bahamas, New York and I’ve been able to shoot just about everywhere else.”

…British advertising has always excited me. Growing up in Hong Kong and then coming to England, I would watch advertising with my siblings and be blown away. The depth of story, the visuals, the jingles… It changed our world. They were like mini films to us because we didn’t have anything like that on Hong Kong TV.”

…New York is magical. I lived in the Lower East Side in 2008. I was producing for Psyop. I worked hard and played hard for about six months. L.E.S. Artistes by Santigold was the soundtrack to my life. The city represented everything I’d missed about Hong Kong – the vibrancy, living on top of each other, the cosmopolitan attitude. I felt so at home.”

…Horror is my all-consuming passion. I think it’s better to express darkness through other people’s eyes than do it yourself! The fact that someone can dream up something so horrible makes you feel so much better about yourself.”

…It’s a gateway genre for filmmakers. It shows that you can do tension, drama, comedy. It’s a really expressive genre for talent in every department there is in filmmaking – from make up to art department, performance to stunts. You have to push yourself both narratively and on set for it to be considered believable, tangible and seamless.”

…I work with a lot of geeks and I like to celebrate that. You should be proud of your passions, no matter how weird they are. I admit to people I’ve been to X-Files conventions. That’s who I am. A lot of people might be worried about being cool, but I think it’s really important for people to express their inner passions. I am only who I am really because of my severe nerdy-ness!”

…Production needs to go green. We joined AdGreen a while ago and we’re trying to engage with it, but it’s difficult when crew are often resistant to even simple changes. Even emailing out a call sheet instead of printing it freaks people out.”

…Anna Smith is an extremely generic name, but now I’m married I have a much cooler one to use when I want to [Anna Smith Tenser]. My father-in-law was one of the first horror and exploitation producers in the UK back in the 60s & 70s. He produced a selection of British classics and some of my favourite horror films for directors including Roman Polanski, Michael Reeves, Burt Kennedy. So now whenever I do anything related to horror (or film in general) I have to make sure ‘Tenser’ is included in the credit to honour his legacy.”

…I’m never direct enough with people. Every now and then I wish I could slam my fist down and say something pissed me off. But nothing pisses me off. Even when stuff goes wrong I don’t blame people. I just want to solve it.”

…Sometimes it’s great not to talk about work. We all work in this industry because we love it and respect our peers. But I want to learn about people, have a nice conversation. Often you can know someone professionally, but never get to the real person underneath.”

Anna Smith is EP / MD at Iconoclast London.

Under the Influence: Sam Pilling

August 31, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Find out what inspires one of music video’s most exciting directors.

Great directors are invariably voracious consumers of culture – music, art, film and literature all contain the raw materials that build brilliant filmmakers. And it’s always interesting to see what lies under the best directors’ foundations.

Pulse Films director Sam Pilling has been laying down some of the most impactful music videos out there since 2010, as well as some top-class commercials. Most recently he’s caused an online ruckus with his latest music video for DJ Shadow featuring Run The Jewels – the incredible scene of an online brawl between suited world leaders. 

We asked him to tell us a bit about the inspirations that go onto his creative mixtape.

Ascenseur pour L’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows)

“Jeanne Moreau, a murder, Paris in the 50s and Miles Davis.
Need I say more?

Somewhere between Film Noir and the French New Wave this film paved the way for every crime-thriller to come: lovers gone bad, a crime of passion that inevitably goes wrong and a mistaken identity.

I think the way Louis Malle combined style and substance is far beyond his time. The opening scene is so bold and visually striking but also the perfect way of introducing the characters and setting up the story. The film opens on an intense, emotional close-up of Jeanne Moreau’s wet-from-crying eyes as she whispers “je t’aime” into a telephone receiver.

As the credits roll the camera slowly pulls back to reveal she is in a public telephone booth, hiding, making a call she shouldn’t make. It’s clear she is talking to a lover, not her husband.

We cut to see Maurice Ronet on the other end of the line. And our camera pulls back to see he is at work, in a grand office block. By the end of the phone call and the end of the opening credits we know our two lead characters, we know they are secret lovers and we know something terrible is going to happen. This style of visual but informative filmmaking is something I find incredibly powerful.

Moody, atmospheric and cloaked in darkness, Elevator to the Gallows has also been an inspiration because of its fatalist theme; that even the best-laid plans will always go wrong. Which brings me nicely onto…”

 

The Coen Brothers

“Things never go to plan in a Coen Brothers film and there is a strong fatalism theme in much of their work. In fact their storylines are almost always a messy knot of interweaving weirdos and oddball characters that have to weave their way through a series of events that are seemingly out of their hands and that always spiral out of control.

The confusion and misunderstanding that results in George Clooney’s ‘Harry’ hiding in the cupboard and accidentally shooting Brad Pitt’s ‘Chad’ in Burn After Reading has to be one of the most hilarious accidents in film! Not to mention the entire storyline of Fargo or The Big Lebowski. Both of which seem to be one fuck up followed by another, by another by another…

The Coens’ love for Film Noir can be seen in many of their films from Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Fargo and No Country For Old Men. And I love the way their films combine elements of humour and silliness alongside these unsavory events and actions. One minute their films make you laugh, the next they have you transfixed with tension and suspense.

I love the choices they make when it comes to their storytelling: the moments they choose to show us and the way in which they visualize these moments.

For example in No Country For Old Men when Javier Bardem’s ‘Anton’ is approaching the hotel room that Josh Brolin’s ‘Llewelyn’ is posted up in, the tension is immense but we only know how close Anton is getting to Llewelyn by a shifting shadow seen through the gap in the bottom of the doorway… then the light in the hallway goes out and we’re left with a moment of darkness and suspense - broken only when Anton tries to open the door and Llewelyn shoots him.

And in A Serious Man when Aaron Wolff’s ‘Danny’ has got stoned just before his Barmitzvah, the Coens use close-up macro shots, intense sound design and off-kilter camera angles to perfectly visualise the kid’s spaced out paranoia and heightened senses. The result is hilarious.

What do we learn from Coen films? We learn that people don’t learn! That life goes on and people will continue to make bad choices and mistakes.”

 

Storytelling in Hip-Hop

“As a teenager all I listened to was hip-hop. It was a culture and way of life for me that helped me grow up and find a place in the world. I started doing graffiti, I bought turntables and (don’t laugh) tried to break dance. I became captivated by the cut-and-paste sound of hip-hop, the cultural references and the re-appropriation of songs and samples. I was in awe of rappers’ tongue-twisting lyrics, ego and bravado, and I just had to nod my head to the big beats and jazz and funk samples that the DJs put together.

However, above all that, it was the stories in hip-hop that consumed me. Great rappers are really great storytellers, using rap as a device to address social inequalities and issues ranging from poverty, crime, drug-abuse and broken families. In their raps they would often describe key events that they experienced or the lives of the people and communities they have grown up with, in clever, brash and hard-hitting ways.

Gil Scott Heron is seen as the godfather of Hip-Hop. His tracks were always provocative, had a social or political edge and told us a story. I still love songs such as We Almost Lost Detroit. In the same regard, Gangstarr – Just To Get a Rep, Nas – New York State of Mind, Jurassic 5 – Contribution are all hip-hop tracks from my youth that I still love today for their storytelling qualities. More recently Kendrick Lamar - The Art of Peer Pressure (and in fact the whole Good Kid, Maad City album) blew my mind as Kendrick brought us, the listener into his mad world, growing up in Compton and everything that went along with that. This was hip-hop back to its storytelling best.

Many of the music videos I’ve made have been for urban or hip-hop artists, and because of my love for hip-hop storytelling, I have tried to give a narrative element to each of these videos, and where possible, I’ve tried to tell stories that are slightly unexpected or un-typical for the genre.”

 

Jurassic Park / Stan Winston

“Jurassic Park is one of those movies immortalized from my childhood. The film I loved before I knew anything about film, it is Spielberg at his nail-biting, entertaining best and there are many, many reasons why I could cite it as being influential, but I’ve included it for the way that Spielberg combined in-camera, practical effects alongside digital VFX.

As a result of this approach, I would argue that bar a few shots, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park look far more realistic and believable than in Jurassic World.

For me, Stan Winston’s Human Velociraptor suit or the animatronics of say the T-Rex are examples of movie making at its best – creative problem solving to achieve as much as humanly possible IN-camera, rather than relying on post effects.

The scenes where these techniques were used have stood the test of time; they look just as awesome and believable today as they did in 1993. The close-up shot where the T-Rex comes up close to the car window and blinks, because Tim accidently flicked the torch on, is terrifyingly realistic.

To go back to the Velocirapter suit, what I love about this making-of video is two things: Firstly, in its early, crude stages the suit is just made of pieces of foam tied together and this D.I.Y approach to making things or problem solving is something that I’m very into. Whether it was constructing things out of cardboard, Cellotape and Blu-Tac as a small kid or wrapping band members up in cushions, to roll them down a bowling alley for one of my music videos!

The second thing that you can clearly see is a group of passionate people working together tirelessly to create something that they believe in – where there’s a will, there’s a way. And this drive and passion has stuck with me ever since. Whether at university where we all stayed up until the crazy hours of the night, turning my sitting room inside-out to build our set (a giant-sized T.V that our actors could sit in) or the countless occasions that people have given up their precious time and expertise, to make a low-budget music video come together.”

 

Darkness / the Night

“For me, the darkness of night is a scary place but also one of wonder and mystery. A place filled with uncertainty, where anything can happen and where the moonlight casts an ethereal blanket over the normal world. A place where reality meets fantasy.

Bad things happen under the cover of darkness: villains lurk in dimly lit corners, people commit violent, bloody crimes and the super-natural reveals itself to us but the night-time is also alluring and sexy. It holds an unknown, and a mystery.  An area that seemed so boring and insignificant by day suddenly has an air of suspense, silence and intrigue about it.

In the darkness our minds race, trying to make sense of what we can’t properly see, often coming to all sorts of ridiculous assumptions, and this over-active imagination is something that has been a great influence on me. “What IF…?”

The night is the time of choice for many Film Noir or crime-thriller films and directors that I admire such as David Fincher, Alfred Hitchock, Steven Spielberg, The Coen Brothers, Louis Malle etc etc… who have mastered the darkness as a tool for drawing viewers into their stories by heightening tension, creating suspense, and emphasizing loneliness.

Photographers such as Patrick Joust and Gregory Crewdson are also great influences. In Patrick’s work there is an emptiness, stillness and isolation that is compelling and makes you wonder what might be lurking behind closed doors or in the dark corners of an empty street. Whereas Gregory Crewdson’s work goes one step further, hinting at surreal, other-worldly happenings – revealing odd characters and staging scenes that feel like they are part of a bigger story. It is impossible to look at one of his photos without thinking, “what happened before this moment?” and “what will happen after?” 

My fascination with darkness has resulted in many of the stories or scenes in my music videos being set at night, often with an underlying sinister tone or a fantastical, other-worldly element.”

Barry Myers Obituary

August 30, 2016 / Features

By John Clive and Caspar Delaney

Barry Myers, one of the preeminent commercial directors of British advertising's golden age has died at the age of 79.

Spanning four decades from the seventies to the naughties he won every international award available in an industry that prized and rewarded artistry, craft and innovation. This was a period when British commercials were giving as much pleasure and had as much cultural influence as the programs that they paid for. Barry's contribution to this creative movement can't be overstated.

His British Airways ‘Boardroom’ was as much a powerful satire of 80s ruthless business culture as it was a powerful marketing tool for the company that commissioned it. Like the best craftsmen and artists in all ages his work fulfilled its patrons' needs and then transcended them.
He was one of a remarkable crop of British directing talent, which included Ridley Scott, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson. All of whom had very distinctive styles. Unlike them Barry was eclectic and his style was not distinctive - but his films invariably were. His unique talent was to combine his visual, performance and narrative skills so that each served the other. He was as gifted at making viewers laugh as he was at making them gasp.

Barry made hundreds of commercials so choosing which best represent his talents is a daunting task. Here's a few - with links to the films: 
1978 : Olympus (Snapshot)
1978 : Tefal (Tefal Superfryers - Gas Masks)
1979 : Cadbury's (A finger of fudge)
1981 : British Airways (look up Hong Kong)
1984 : Barclays (Mr Grey)
1984 : Radio Rentals (Love Scene)
1984 : Wrights Coal Tar Soap (Macau)
1985 : Public Information Film (Smoker of the Future)
1985 : Hovis (Watermill)
1985 : Cadbury's Flake (Sunflowers)
1988 : British Airways (Boardroom)
1989 : Volkswagen Golf (Le père et l'enfant)
1990 : Citroën ('Spike')
1993 : Renault Clio (Le Paradis communiste' et 'L'Héritier)
1995 : Smirnoff (People's Army)
1996 : Axe (Jalousie)
1996 : Mars (L'indien)
1998 : Schweppes (Fièvre de la jungle)
2004 : William Lawson's (Sharon Stone)

If you watch any one of these little movies you'll see why Barry was the greatest features director Britain never had. He had his chances but wouldn't play the game. On the set of the one feature he did eventually get he famously told the U.S. producer, "I don't do over the shoulder shots." He was fired the next day. His uncompromising attitude to agencies and clients was legendary - he used to say, "Just as you're about to throw the ball - they tug your sleeve." He learned how to stop the sleeve tugging. On one epic Coke shoot at a beach location he literally drew a line in the sand a few feet from the camera and told the senior client, "Over this you will not step." 

It was always about the work - never about the status. And as the countless gongs testify - in the end everyone benefitted from Barry's stubbornness.

Caspar Delaney of RSA writes:

"I remember one agency creative director telling me that, when presented with a script for a huge, important and lucrative client, him saying ‘damn, this has got to be good, damn, we’re going to have to use Barry Myers’. Despite this reputation he was hugely popular in the industry and even those who encountered his fearsome single mindedness on the film set or in the cutting room remained good friends, they respected the standards he set and his determination to protect them.

Barry set up his production company Spots in 1972 with his business partner and Producer Tim White, having already had a hugely successful career as an agency copywriter and creative director. The company flourished and opened offices in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Those who worked for Spots formed a great loyalty to Barry and Tim, hardly any ever chose to leave.

I joined as a clueless 17 year old runner in 1986 and became Barry’s Producer a few years later. It was the best university/film school I could have wished for and Barry was my tutor. He taught me about the industry and about life and how to enjoy it, how to be decent and fair. I can only strive to live up to the standards he set but I owe him my career and a whole lot more. He will be sorely missed."


I also owe Barry my career and a lot more besides. He plucked me out of my ad agency career when I was 25 - he paid for my test films and then paid me a retainer for two and a half years before I got my first script to direct. I doubt if anyone has ever owed so much to another man's stubbornness.

Barry's middle name was Zenith - his parents must have been very wise.

John Clive

Barry Myers is survived by his wife Vicky, his three children Lesley, Max and Joe and his granddaughter Hannah.

Directions to Direction: Ben Scott

August 30, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

One man’s journey through minefields, spaceports and tundra to unexpectedly become a director.

Not many directors win a Gold Lion in Cannes for their first film. That fact alone makes RSA Films director Ben Scott something quite remarkable, not to mention the raft of other accolades his film for Red Bull has picked up this year. But not many directors have the background like his either. Having travelled to the most extreme parts of the planet as a production designer and worked on some pretty iconic, high-end film productions, he had a pretty solid foundation in filmmaking before he helmed his first shoot.

It’s not hard to see where Ben got his creative bent. His mother was a seamstress while his father ran the prop department at the Royal Opera House. His mum taught him to knit – a skill he still uses occasionally – and his childhood was generally filled with people around him making things for the purposes of entertainment, mainly designers bringing models of things they were going to build for the stage. Ben didn’t need much convincing to follow in his father’s footsteps. “The idea someone would pay me to make models sounded fun,” he says. “I was single-mindedly interested in production design from very early on.”

Ben took up his pencil as a youngster, working as a designer at the National Youth Theatre before taking the classic route of a foundation course at the Central School of Art and Design (now Central St Martins). But he soon turned his back on the stage.

He loved working in theatre, but film needed great production design more, he decided. “I thought that film wasn’t theatrical enough,” he remembers. “I was actively trying to design more theatrical productions. After the heyday of Fellini and all those theatrical films it became very realistic and true to life. It was just replicating and reproduction.” Ben made it his mission to create heightened cinematic environments.

The National Film School ran a post-graduate course that attracted him. The problem was he didn’t have an undergraduate degree. Not wanting to waste time, he pretended he did have one and just used his experience working in the West End for the National Youth Theatre as his “theatre design degree” portfolio. Amazingly they bought it and Ben ended up entering the film world with an MA but no BA.

Ben’s first job out of university was as an art director and assistant to renowned production designer John Beard – the perfect apprenticeship to teach him the nuts and bolts of doing the job properly.

“As a student you design on paper and can be wildly creative,” he says. “There’s no reality check of a budget.” Suddenly working to one was a big lesson. “A lot of people can design amazing things. It’s much more of a skill to design stuff to a budget and a specific brief that can actually be built in the time.” That’s what his time with John Beard taught him. And he got good at it.

It gave him the chance to play in the biggest league possible, too, working on commercials like the Paul Weiland-directed electricity flotation ads – a six-week shoot taking up most stages at Shepperton. “That was a big eye-opener to me as to what could be done,” he says.

But when Ben struck out on his own as a freelance art director was when he started to have his biggest adventure. He worked on a big TV series for the BBC about the life of controversial British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, shot in South Africa over nine months. “I thought it would be great fun to spend the extra three months driving home, to make it a round year,” he says, casually.

Cape Town to London is a fair old road rip, as it turns out. And it wasn’t quite the fun sightseeing tour he’d prepared for. Travelling up the east coast of Africa was the more direct route, but the more politically unstable in the mid 90s.

With the benefit of hindsight, driving through war-torn Sudan solo might not have been the most sensible choice. He got stuck in a minefield at one point. “That’s when I realised I probably wasn’t as adventurous as I thought I was,” he says. “The reality of picking your way through bits of metal, poking at the sand, was a very sobering experience.” He backtracked safely and ended up taking a different route.

Apart from nearly going blind as a side effect from anti-malarial drug Lariam, he got home basically unscathed. Everyone said he was crazy to spend three months not working – the greatest fear among freelancers – but his ill-advised trip ended up working for him. “There was a story going around of this crazy art director who’d just driven all the way across Africa on his own.” It wasn’t long before his phone rang. The production designer on the other end was Gavin Bocquet, who was working on Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. He wanted to send Ben back to the Sahara to build the sets for Tattooine – the legendary home planet of Luke and Anakin Skywalker.

We’ll let you imagine how many milliseconds it took him to decide to take this opportunity – building a spaceport for one of the most iconic franchises in film history. Well worth spending another three months in the desert for. “All the stuff in Tattooine was very well referenced, so it was like a dream going out there,” he remembers. “My first drawing was one of the water condensers – those big iconic things sticking out in the desert with arms coming out of it. Then you get there and you’re building all this stuff you’ve grown up with.”

Apart from the 58-degree burning heat, it was a joy. And it cemented Ben’s niche as a globetrotting art director. Soon he was shipped off to the Thai jungle to build a set for The Beach. He even ended up in the arctic soon, designing a film called Far North, directed by Asif Kapadia.

“I think the arctic is the most extreme place I’ve worked,” he says. “We were shooting in Svalbard, an island virtually at the top of the world.” On one of the recces he asked their fixer how many people were further north than them, expecting a number of villages. He counted people on his fingers and didn’t get to ten.

On the way out there, the captain of their boat needed sleep, so Ben was told to steer. Oh, and stay on the look out for icebergs. In -40-degree cold, the polar bears were particularly hungry, so the shoot needed armed guards at all times.

All the time Ben fell more in love with his job. “It’s pretty unique,” he says. “You get to travel around and do different things. You have to have a discipline to be very concentrated and quiet at a drawing board with a pencil – there’s that very technical side of it – then you’re out battling sandstorms and icebergs at the other end of the same job.”

Eventually he progressed to become a production designer in his own right, working on TV dramas and movies, trying his best to bring his theatrical ideals to them.

With the arrival of children, his lifestyle had to change. Spending months thousands of miles away from London didn’t seem an attractive option, so he shifted his efforts towards advertising. He fitted well into his new environment. “The average film is four or five months,” he says. “In that time in commercials you’ll build three or four times the number of sets. So it’s much more intense and creative. And the sets you’re building are often quite out there. You could be doing a spaceship one day and a bedsit the next. Then back to the jungle, and you haven’t actually left the studio.”

Ben got absorbed in these creative challenges. Building the world’s biggest zoetrope for Sony, Braviadrome was a highlight – a production design-led idea that he could really own. It was on that set that he had his first inkling about becoming a director, persuading the client to let him direct one of the internet-only ancillary films around the main TV spot. He found his intimate knowledge of the set allowed him to shoot things a director normally wouldn’t think of. He’d never considered directing, surprisingly. “When you’re younger everyone wants to be a director,” he says, “but I never did. I just wanted to design. But being given the camera on that Sony job was a real eye-opener.”

For several years he forgot about any ideas of directing, but eventually stumbled into it again, working on another design-heavy job for Red Bull – their phenomenal Kaleidoscope film showcasing the talents of BMX ace Kriss Kyle. Red Bull came to Ben with the idea of building a moving graphic environment to surround his riding. Ben, no extreme sports expert, was blown away by Kriss. “He’s a master. It’s almost balletic, the way he rides,” he says.

Ben came up with a concept around optical illusions and pitched the idea for a course to the client. It went so well that mid-pitch he thought “now is my chance.” He told them he wanted to direct it. They instantly agreed and moved onto some other detail about the course. “I left the meeting wondering if they really said yes,” he says.

With so many of the shots requiring complete understanding of the set, Ben directing was a natural move. Soon he was represented by RSA Films, who he’d worked with many times before with a different hat on and four months later he was standing on a massive set with a huge crane behind him thinking “what have I done?”

His directorial debut went remarkably smoothly. Having been on set since the age of 19 he was at home in that environment. And his knowledge of the design shines through in the film, which co-stars the intricate set design alongside Kriss and his bike.

As soon as they called “wrap”, Ben entered the unknown. “Editing, the offline and online process, the grading, the sound – all of that is a foreign land to me,” he says. “That’s where my learning process really started.”

He must have learnt pretty quickly though, because the film was a roaring success, winning at the Creative Circle, D&AD, the AICP Show and even picking up a Gold Lion in Cannes this year.

Ben has since gone on to direct another design-heavy film for CBBC, making use of every inch of the set – a key philosophy he’s taken from his background. “Building a set, everyone complains that it’s never seen,” he says. “You build this amazing stuff and it’s all shot in the corner. On the BBC film we shot everything that was there. It’s planning so you put the money where it counts most.”

He’s still designing, and feels his directing career is still in its early days. He wants to branch out in the near future. “So far my style is a very visual one,” he concedes, “so the next big hurdle for me is storytelling. Something I’ve got to do now is get some people talking in front of the camera.” He’s bullish, though. “There’s a rich history of designers that have become directors [his boss Ridley Scott, for a start]. There’s obviously a sensibility there that lends itself to looking at things slightly differently.”

A Pint With… James Rose

August 2, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Friendly chat from the grumpiest face in editing.

As we’re both consummate professionals, James Rose and I met within spitting distance of both of our Soho offices, at The Blue Posts on Berwick Street – ready to dart back should we have urgent business to attend to (we didn’t). The golden afternoon sun demanded lager as we got to know each other. It was Becks Vier for me, keeping it session as I knew we’d have more than one, and a classy(ish?) Kronenbourg 1664 for him. The conversation meandered from work to culture to history for quite a while. I think he was just pleased to be out in the daylight.

 

“… When I was a kid my stepdad was a builder. I would have been one too if I was any good at it. To this day I refuse to put shelves up. But I loved the sense of achievement. At the end of the day you’d look at what you’d done ( in my case digging holes or mixing cement for a wall ) with pride. I often get that same satisfaction when I finish a day’s editing.”

“… I was into fighter jets when I was growing up. Norfolk was the airforce base of the Free West - Lightnings, Harriers, F-15s, F-16s, MIG-29s, SU-35s… There’s something reassuring about knowing all the specific details – wingspan, max speed, range… It was like Top Trumps flying past daily.”

“… It’s strange how little boys were obsessed with war. I don’t think it’s so much the case now. We had grandparents who’d been around in the Second World War, so we still had that connection. My Great Uncle was a pilot and my Grandfather used to say he wouldn’t buy anything Japanese, as the Norfolk regiment were stationed in Singapore. Now it would be hard not to buy Japanese.”

“… Being unemployed used to be fashionable. I was made redundant from a job in insurance in my early 20s, and it was a positive thing. I spent quite a while on the dole, reading far more voraciously than I’d ever done – proper, mind-expanding classic literature. Amazingly, I could survive. I used to be able to spend a tenner a week on food and managed to still smoke as well.”

“… We in the ad industry can inflate the importance of what we do. It sometimes reminds me of the end of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where the new Earth is populated entirely by hairdressers and telephone sanitizers. I don’t know if editors would be all be that useful on a newly colonised planet either.”

“… I like when it goes quiet in the edit. At first it freaked me out, but it often means I have people’s trust. Part of editing is getting someone to trust you as quickly as possible so you can understand each other. It’s an interesting mind game.”

“… I’ve got quite an undiplomatic face. It looks like I have a problem even it’s fine. But it kind of works in the edit suite. If I have a problem, I’ll tell you. I’ve had trouble convincing people that I’m a warm, generous person because of my grumpy face. I really am, though!”

“… One part of editing is about rhythm and keeping time. I used to play the drums. I learnt to edit from an ex-bassist in a punk band – another member of the rhythm section. He used to say being a drummer was good, but the bass is the soul of the music.”

“… The idea that post production needs to offer a five-star-hotel experience is bollocks. You need to make clients comfortable enough to work, but not so comfortable they just want to come and hang out. You don’t want people to be distracted by luxury. Everyone needs to be thinking about getting the best edit possible.”

“… I’ve seen a few hotels around the world, but that’s not real travelling. Lots of the travel I do is professional, so I often never see places in the daylight. You arrive at night, leave before it gets light, come back after it gets dark and do that for days. I edited for 21 days straight in January, which is my record – a week in Prague and then two weeks in Amsterdam. It was a long time to be away from home.”

“… I’ve got a son who’s going through his ‘teenage discovery’ moments. Some of which I tolerate. Some of which I’m relieved that at least he’s talking to me about. He’s happy to talk to me about weed and he can allegedly source other products from the dark web that are allegedly 83% pure. Part of me wants to guffaw and say that’s bollocks. That would be the strongest this side of the Atlantic if that’s the case! But I can’t say that. So I just go ‘Oh really? Goodness me. That’s not a good route to go down. Especially not with your (my) pocket money.’”

“… I don’t want to be a shouty Malcolm-Tucker-type boss. I’m enjoying the challenges of being a Partner. It’s fun editing, but this is a project to see what I can do with people - balancing personalities and trying to move forward as a group. We’ve got a panoply of characters. It’s about finding an interesting balance and getting the best out of everyone, helping them to enjoy this game and to have as much fun as I do.”

James Rose is an Editor and Partner at Cut+Run.

Directions to Direction: Phil Lind

July 20, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How a commercials director was nourished by the fruits of a TV career.

Advertising likes directors to fit into neat boxes. Some specialise in food, others in animals, comedy performance, sports, or slick shots of cars cruising through picturesque valleys. A brief look at Phil Lind’s reel on the Mad Cow site makes it very clear that he’s avoided this fate. His work ranges from the profound and naturalistic to the jokey and scripted. And he attributes this diversity to the background that shaped him. Through sheer luck, he’s taken a route to directing ads that’s allowed him to reliably and steadily gain experience – a long meander through the machinery of a TV channel.

Growing up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne Phil had no idea what he wanted to do. After a foundation course and a degree he ended up qualifying as an interior designer, but soon realised the reality wasn’t for him. “I found myself sitting at a drawing board all day long, doing really mundane specification,” he says. “It was boring.”

His escape route from this tedium presented itself by chance, with a girl that he’d been at college with. “She was a bit untouchable,” he thought, one of those impossibly unattainable women. Phil bumped into her one day and took a punt on asking her out. To his delight she agreed. She told him she was working at Heaven (the Charing Cross superclub) on Saturday night so he could pick her up when she finishes. He assumed she must be a barmaid there.

He arrived, asked security to radio for her and was guided upstairs through the club. Loud Eurodance was blaring out (it was the early 90s). His date was no barmaid. She was working on a SNAP! music video as a production manager. He can’t remember if it was for The Power or Rhythm is a Dancer. Fair enough, they’re both huge dancefloor fillers. “They had five massive camera units live,” he says. “Everyone had headsets on and there were giant cameras and big lenses. It was like peeping behind the curtain. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I was gobsmacked.”

Phil’s parents weren’t thrilled when he decided he instantly needed to jack his stable interior design job in to become a runner. Promoting nightclubs in the in the evening to support his new habit, he got himself on as many sets as he could in the day, running for free. The relationship with the production manager didn’t last, but Phil was firmly in love with film.

“It became very apparent very quickly that I could be a runner for the rest of my life,” says Phil. “While people were helpful and wanted you to move up, you had to be self-motivated.” He’d wanted to direct music videos since that moment in Heaven so he and his friend Justin found a track they liked and marched into a record company’s offices to ask if they could make a video for it. Astonishingly, they emerged with £2,000 without many questions asked.

The video did well for them. The track was Revival, by Martine Girault, which stayed in the dance charts for years. Phil and Justin got signed to Propaganda Films, sharing a roster with the likes of David Fincher and Mark Romanek. They were set, they thought. “It felt like it was going to be OK,” he says.

As it turns out, the first video was the easiest for a long time. “We were small fish in a pig pond,” says Phil. He was broke before long. But he had director friends, so he started producing music videos for them. He was surprisingly good at it. Having been in their position, he understood what directors needed. Soon, he started getting more work as a producer than as a director. “I felt like it was going a bit off course,” he says, “but I needed the money.”

Inevitably, this work led to ads. He started working on them as a production manager. “Suddenly this was commercials, with money sloshing around everywhere,” he grins, only half joking (this was the 90s, remember). Although he was working on the production side, Phil saw this as an opportunity to watch the best directors at work. With his sights still set on directing, it was like going back to school.

He soon came to learn the language of commercials, and having seen many of the best at work he had an idea of how to direct one. Channel 4 approached him asking if he’d produce some bumpers for Volkswagen. “In those days no one really understood what a sponsored programme was,” he says. “The broadcasters didn’t really know how to handle it.” Without as much agency involvement as an ad, there was a lot of freedom, too.

The Channel 4 environment was perfect. He realised they were shooting stuff two or three times a week, so when they offered him a job as Creative Services Manager he took it – anything for a chance to get stuck in on set and become a director again.

The job wasn’t directing though. Phil was managing all the directors and producers, similar to a head of production, but he soon found himself helping out with scripts for the TV promos they were churning out, gravitating back toward the creative and away from the managerial. Eventually his superiors sat him down. They’d noticed where his interests lay. Rather than chastise him, they made him a Creative Director for Channel 4 and found a new Creative Services Manager.

“That’s when it really started taking off again,” he says. “I was shooting more than most people. Once or twice a month sometimes.” Making promos sharpened his directing skills, working with the cast of Shameless, This is England and the celebrity chefs on a smorgasbord of snappy promotional films.

In many ways, it was the perfect training environment for someone who wanted to direct commercials. “The promo environment is about as close as you can get to a TV commercial,” says Phil. “They exist in the same airtime, so they’re bedfellows. And while everyone was aware that commercials, per second, had far more money spent on them, you still had to write a script and shoot it within a certain duration, you had voiceovers and you got to work with really good actors like David Threlfall [Frank Gallagher in Shameless].”

This is where Phil broadened his range. “One day it’s sport, the next day it’s drama and the next day is a documentary,” he says. “You end up being good at everything a little bit and then you have to focus. It gave me a chance to try out everything.”

After 11 years in the Channel 4 mill, a phone call came from elsewhere in TV land: “How’d you fancy rebranding the Nazi Party?” ITV knew they had an image problem and they wanted Phil to be Executive Creative Director for a complete rebrand. He couldn’t resist such a huge opportunity. He formed a pop-up team to oversee the project and took over a whole floor of the post house Envy to work it through.

“I was super excited,” he says. “When you looked at ITV’s properties it was such a mess. I honestly thought it doesn’t matter what I do; it’s going to be better than the crap they’ve got at the moment.”

He wrote a proposal for how each channel would change, worked with designer Matt Rudd to settle on the all-important logo and worked on making the transitions into commercials as smooth as possible. Then coming up with a style guide for idents. It was broad brush-stroke stuff, not the minutiae of directing a single promo or commercial.

Since then he’s had the chance to focus on specifics. After ITV he was asked to be Creative Director on the Unquiet series for The Times and The Sunday Times – a branded content project taking stories from the newspapers’ archives and making mini documentaries. Working with Dave Monk at Grey, they ended up making 14 perfectly-formed pieces of branded content after about 18 months.

Phil directed four of these, including one called Bearing Witness, stressing the importance of professional, objective war reporters. He interviewed Anthony Loyd and Jack Hill, who had just returned from being kidnapped in Syria. “They’d literally, just come back,” Phil says. “Anthony still had terrible knee problems from being shot and you could still see where Jack had been beaten. To be given access to them was amazing.” That’s about as far from recreating a scene from Gladiator with Gordon Ramsay as you can get. The other ten films gave Phil yet another chance to watch and learn from other directors such as Liz Unna and Will Clark.

Now he’s repped by Mad Cow and hanging his Creative Director hat in the corner, leaving that to the ad agencies. And having been on set for almost every kind of commercial shoot, his eclectic reel continues to expand. His work on the latest Dairylea ad was a triumphant return to the director’s chair, shooting near Cape Town for the sun, but blocking it out for most of the day for that grim Game-of-Thrones look. “It was refreshing to have a casting and actors,” he says. “For about two years every job was real people.” Whether it’s comedic performances, naturalistic documentaries or serious drama, becoming Mr TV has given Phil enough experience to draw on for a long and varied directing career. Advertising doesn’t have a big enough pigeonhole for him.

Under the Influence: Layzell Bros

July 12, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

One half of the Lion-winning duo reminisces about their cultural upbringing.

Narrowing your influences down to just five subjects is a difficult task for everyone we feature in this series, but it’s even harder when you throw a creative partner into the mix. Thankfully, Matt and Paul Layzell grew up together on the same cultural diet. Matt couldn’t meet me in London as he lives in Los Angeles. But Paul, his younger brother, assures me that he’s qualified to speak for the both of them on this occasion.

Following their recent Film Grand Prix win at Cannes Lions for Harvey Nichols it was interesting to discover the fuel that stoked the flames of the BlinkInk duo’s creative engine.

Skateboarding Culture

"I think everyone our age skateboarded in their early teens, around the late 90s and early 00s. But I think we stuck with it a bit longer than we should have. I’ve still got the shin splints. I never really got any good though.

There’s something about the culture and the creative side of it. It was a physical activity but different from other sports. There are no rules. You can do it however you want. It’s more than a sport.

What I think we took from that was the whole DIY ethic and more specifically skateboarding videos. Me and my brother would make videos with our friends. We’d incorporate animated or sketched bits. So we got practice infilmmaking, editing, working with music, timing, all in one. That played quite a big role in shaping us. Subconsciously it taught us a few rules of filmmaking, but in a completely un-academic setting.

That’s carried on. We do fun, fast stuff. Music plays a big part in what we do and editing’s really important. All of that applies to our Harvey Nichols film, which ended up with the music we originally suggested. And also the quality of it. It kinda looks shit but that’s the charm of it. Like skateboarding films, it doesn’t need to look glossy as long as all the parts come together.

For me, it was doing stuff with our friends and being able to make something in your bedroom. That resonates with what we still do, even if it’s in a studio with 14 people, not a bedroom. But that same love is still there."

 

Adult Swim

"Growing up I used to watch all the cartoons like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The British equivalents on children’s TV, I never really had the same love for.

When I was in my early teens I remember seeing these cartoons that were really weird and really funny on late night Cartoon Network. One of my favourites was Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which was super weird. I remember watching it as a kid and really loving it. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There used to be an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon called Space Ghost, which was a kind of lame 60s cartoon. But they took the characters and all the assets, even reused the animation and turned it into a late-night talk show that goes really wrong. He was really egotistical, like a kind of Ron Burgundy character. And they had actual celebrities come on as guests on a TV. It was kind of leftfield humour.

It taught me that you don’t have to do action-adventure superheroes – nice, friendly stuff – you could do whatever you wanted.

Animation is a laborious process and time consuming. I don’t think we’re necessarily top-skilled animators or anything, but I think you can use animation in a way that’s just enough to tell a story and communicate. It’s good if it looks nice, but that’s not what’s most important. Adult Swim wasn’t always the most beautiful, polished animation, but the humour came through."

 

Tim and Eric

"They were on a website called Super Deluxe and had a show called Nite Live. Humour-wise, when people look back on it there will be a pre- and post-Tim and Eric humour. You see what they do slowly leaking into advertising and films and loads of people are borrowing what they did, but to my knowledge they were the first to do it.

It’s about enjoying the sloppiness of stuff, celebrating QVC for example, finding the humour in it. Or using the language of news graphics in silly ways.

We used to watch a lot of that and they definitely influenced us. The low-fi quality, the delivery, things going wrong. I don’t think we try and emulate what they do because they do it better than anyone, but we respect what they’re doing.

It resonated with us. It was a sense of humour that we liked, felt fresh and we hadn’t seen before. It lends itself to being online and I think the format of online videos is another thing that they got right. They were big on the internet before they got on TV."

 

Anime

"We grew up with shows like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing. We’re not anime buffs, but we definitely spent a lot of time drawing Dragonball Z characters. That played a part in our technical development. I had those books about how to draw anime and manga style characters.

As a kid, anime is accessible and fun. It’s more poppy and vibrant and hyper real, but it does still pay attention to anatomy and some details. It was really good in terms of the economy of animation, like focusing on a still frame and zooming in, or the character’s mouth doesn’t necessarily need to be perfectly lip synced, but you get the idea. It gets across the emotion but takes less time. We definitely learned from that.

But then it also uses big, fluid animation in bits where it’s important, like action sequences. It’s all about keeping a balance in order to tell the best stories."

 

Hayao Miyazaki

"For all I’ve just said, Hayao Miyazaki’s films are the complete opposite of that. He doesn’t value that kind of anime as an art form. He’s a traditionalist and would argue that in filmmaking it’s important to actually see human emotions and you should animate them. If someone’s sad, don’t just give them a sad face. Pan in, have someone quivering or something; have characters act it out in the same way as they would in live-action film.

For us, he’s more important for the kind of stories he’s telling. We saw some of his films when we were kids, which is cool. Our mum took us to the cinema to see Kiki’s Delivery Service. I don’t know how our mum knew about it. She’s not a film buff necessarily. We used to be into Dragonball Z and stuff so she thought we’d like a Japanese cartoon. We didn’t know anything about it, but it was so different from a Disney film or anything we’d seen.

They’re kids films but they don’t only relate to kids and they don’t talk down to their audience. Kid characters are celebrated for themselves. They don’t gloss over the difficulties of being a child, growing up or moving to a new place. You see it in a lot of Pixar films now. They tell stories the same way, with multiple layers.

We’d always try to work up to that kind of storytelling. Even though maybe we don’t see eye-to-eye on the animation style. We think you can still do that kind of storytelling in an economical way.

We would always try and add something deeper to even the silliest film, even if it’s all action and physical humour. Underneath there’s a message about something more serious. I think that resonates with people. Even in Harvey Nichols there’s a loose narrative of someone stealing something, getting caught and then being sad about it. A good example is the Future Travel short we did with ADHD. On the surface it’s a silly, brash, shouty thing, but it has a relevant story in it too about finding love in the modern age."