Diary of a Cannes Virgin

July 3, 2015 / Features

By Sophia Melvin

Few of us can imagine the horrors of spending a week in Cannes as a rep. Sophia Melvin just did it for the first time.

The author. Before her Cannes defloration.



DIARY OF A CANNES VIRGIN

If I’m completely honest when Cut+Run’s MD first approached me about going to Cannes this year, I imagined a holiday disguised as work (don’t tell Tobes I said that) – the bright soothing sun twinned with a soft balmy breeze, the elegant stretch of the Croisette sprinkled with folk of the a la mode type, dipping their toes in the Mediterranean blue of the French Riviera - with no thought of advertising types (like myself) shadowing the view of the somewhat ostentatious utopia that awaited me.

Being a “Cannes Virgin” though, it was no surprise to me that every industry individual I spoke to prior to apocalyptic week felt it was their duty to scare the shit out of me (excuse my French) with apocryphal tales of Cannes Festivals gone by. Brazen and blissfully naïve I thought, “I’m 22, I’ve done freshers week, I can handle this”. It is however no amplification to say that Cannes Lions was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. Nothing at all. Apart from maybe losing your virginity, so I guess the title of this piece is apt.

AT THE END OF THE DAY… IT’S A WORK THING

I’ve come to learn that, as a Rep, Cannes is the highlight of your working / social calendar and not something to be treated lightly (however much you dislike the potent taste of French rosé). In fact, it’s near on a week of drinking rosé, seeing old faces, meeting new faces, drinking more rosé, booking lunches, knocking back even more rosé, securing party invitations (that’s a biggie), doing shots of rosé, entertaining your clients, feeling the rosé burning a hole in your chest, until you finally reach the safety of your desk in Soho with that famous couplet “new business”. So ultimately, it’s your day job - just revved up to a Formula 1 break-neck speed. So you may have a nervous breakdown by Saturday (if not before).

…BUT, YOU’RE ALLOWED PARTY?!

But yes, you are allowed to party! When nighttime falls, the elegant promenade of the Croisette transforms into an obnoxious 18-30s holiday destination and… it’s awesome. You’re a free spirit and you can let loose (I’ll admit some seem to let loose more than they should) but ultimately the parties were such a release. A breath of fresh air from the endless networking, small talk and exchanging of business cards between the awards ceremonies (oh yeah, there are awards ceremonies going on, but I’ll get back to that in a bit).

Though it was the sundown beach parties that really made me find a deeper appreciation for the people in our industry. The fact that you can talk serious business with a CEO by day and then dance around with them (whilst sporting the hat you just whipped from their head) by night, is pretty cool.

THAT FATEFUL WORD… WRISTBANDS

Although, collating the party invites takes much preparation. Months in advance your entire company waits on tenterhooks at the anticipation of which party invitations you manage to get your little rep paws on and for the rep, it becomes a complete addiction (I swear RSVPs became like dope to me) I found myself RSVPing to parties that I didn’t even want to go to, just to prove that I could get a wristband for it (which I could).

But it’s actually collecting the damn wristbands that becomes the bane of your life (orienteering is suddenly a key skill you wished you’d tried harder at during your school days). Hours are spent trekking up and down the Croisette, accompanied by your faithful bosom buddy Google Maps (generally smack bang in the middle of your very important lunch date) to pick up wristbands and it’s a bloody nightmare! To the point where I think even the word wristbands will forever send chills down my spine (I’m sure the reps of the world can concur).

Spare wristbands on the other hand are music to my ears. they’re like gold dust. I’m not complaining, but who knew my “cute British accent” (bearing in mind I’m from Stevenage) could get me a load more wristbands? There is no better feeling than producing an extra golden strip of plastic out of your handbag and casually handing it over to wide-eyed receiver who would otherwise be banished to the Gutter Bar. You feel like Willy-fucking-Wonka.

VILLA LIFE

Villa life is a weird one. You’re suddenly thrown into an apartment crowded with people that you have a professional relationship with and expected to live with them (or in their defense, they’re expected to live with you) for a week like it’s the Big Brother house. Fortunately my OCD tendencies were warmly received after our Tuesday night mash-up, unlike my morning face (we all have one) that almost shocked three of our senior editors into cardiac arrest on more than one occasion.

Though we were the lucky ones - a stylish city apartment a minutes walk from the Croisette and all its festivities, including the awards (oh yeah, the awards, I’ll get back to those later). It was the glitterati who resided in the hills on the other hand who suffered from what will always be known as the Great Cannes cab strike / Über apocalypse of 2015. With no means of transport back to their vast abodes (one of the many tragic first world problems we face in advertising) for lots, Cannes became something of a rambling holiday. I distinctly remember a female creative arriving at a party in a hot sweat with a broken Michael Koors sandle post-hike from the hills - so if ever I make it into one of those beautiful villas from MTV Cribs someday, I’m booking a driver for the week.

THE GREAT, THE GOOD AND EVEN JAMIE OLIVER ARE THERE…

The great and the good and even Jamie Oliver graced the Cannes Lions Festival this year - as did the infamous “Selfie stick”. Like Disneyland Florida they should been banned. They were everywhere! If someone wasn’t using one to take a ‘hilarious’ selfie with a giant pepper grinder or an oversized bottle of rosé, someone along the Croisette was trying to sell you one… #irritating

Although, I really could have done with one outside the Giorgio Armani café on the Wednesday when I was trying to keep up with Kim Kardashian, before a brigade of seasoned paparazzi photographers on mopeds came storming out of a side street behind Christian Dior and crowded me out. Never mind, catch you next time, Kim.

A VIRGIN’S THOUGHTS ON THE HOTSPOTS

So I can officially say that I made it to not all, but most of the Cannes hotspots this year, so here’s a word or two on my experiences:

Gutter Bar – Everything you heard is true plus more. Your innocence will be taken from you in the blink of an eye. I watched someone get arrested and then a random person stroked my face before throwing up at my feet (nothing personal I hope).

The Carlton – They meant it when they said it was expensive (bear that in mind before you order a couple of bottles of rosé for the table) and their staff get sassy if you don’t pay before they’ve finished their shift. But they do make a mean Bloody Mary for 25 Euros if you need a break from the old rosé or a seriously good hangover cure.

Île Sainte Marguerite – The most beautiful sanctuary on earth. Definitely the greatest place to spend your last day in Cannes. Also a good port of call before checking into rehab - Massive recommendation!

Radisson Blu Rooftop Bar – I recommend the Banana Colãda and it’s the best view for the Cannes Lions closing fireworks (they even turn all the lights off and play pretty music for you).

La Pizzaiola pizzeria – The manager Marco is an ultimate babe. He makes the best pizza you will ever eat when you’re staggering back to your apartment at dawn and need a quick fix (of the food variety).

Palais de Festival – I’ve come to learn you can only go into this magical place if you’re a delegate, whatever that is? (I don’t think anyone really knows to be honest. Not even the delegates)

EN CONCLUSION

Thus the legendary Cannes Lions Festival in all its glory is over for another year and whilst that infamous strip of the Riviera attempts to return to its peaceful normality, the Shaston Arms awaits the world of advertising where we will reflect on the unmentionable sagas that took place during the 2015 festivities – but what happens in Cannes stays in Cannes right? So I may have been brutally deflowered by the Cannes Lions Festival this past June, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. So… Who’s up for Cannes 2016?! 

Oh wait, what was that? Oh yes, the awards….

 

Sophia Melvin is PR + Sales Rep at Cut+Run.

The Diversity Summit

June 30, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How do we turn words into effective action creating a diverse industry?

“We can all feel very smug that we got up for a nine o’clock talk,” joked APA Chief Executive Steve Davies in his introduction to the APA and CFP-E’s Diversity Summit in Cannes last week. And it would be easy to criticise the event as a self-indulgent ego massage for people who make advertising for a living. But what’s harder, and more worthwhile, is to listen to the messages of the six speakers and work on translating them into tangible progress towards equality in the ad industry.

Undoubtedly, there is much progress to be made. As Steve pointed out, advertising is a business in which most people consider themselves liberal and without conscious prejudice, but funnily enough, most of them are still also white, middle class and male. Talking the talk is no longer enough. Action is needed.

Tom Knox

In that vein, Chairman of DLKW Lowe and IPA President Tom Knox took to the stage to discuss the importance of advertising as a force for good as well as for money: “the values as well as the value” of advertising, as he put it. Diversity is a large part of this.

People are worried about discussing these issues, he observed, because they are concerned about their companies looking bad. But honesty and transparency is the best way to start. Companies like Google have led the way by publishing their admittedly less than perfect employment diversity data and Tom insisted that the advertising industry should follow suit, if only to get a solid baseline on which it can build.

The current IPA census data shows that at the beginning of people’s advertising careers the gender split is neutral, but only about 25% of the most senior roles are taken by women. The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) percentages are at about 13% across the IPA membership, which isn’t representative when you consider how many of those agencies are in London.

He revealed that the IPA would publish a league table on the gender splits and BAME percentages of agencies. They also hope to include some salary data, to reveal unfair pay gaps. “I was surprised by the degree to which this has caused a bit of a stir,” he said, but he insisted agencies must be brave.

He explained that it is not an exercise in shaming those that have the lowest number of women in creative roles or ethnic minorities employed etc., but of establishing a benchmark. We expect the same low levels of both to be shown across the industry, so there is no reason for any agency to be concerned about being poorer than the average.

Despite people’s worries, the IPA intends to go ahead with publishing these figures. Once they’re out there, targets can be made, he said. “We must move the dial up.”

Finally, Tom stressed that “this is not just do-gooding.” Employment diversity is vital to making sure the industry is relevant to diverse audiences. It is the only way to succeed as an industry.

Kat Gordon

Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference focused on the small acts everyone can take to promote gender diversity in advertising. Considering the significant consumer power women have, she noted how unproductive it is that they make up such a small percentage of top advertising professionals. When she founded the conference, 3% was the percentage of US creative directors who were female.

“Advertising does not have a recruitment problem,” she said. The portfolio schools are graduating more young women than men. The problem is that they got lost along the way in their careers.

One of the fundamentals of her movement is a document called 50 Things – a list of small ‘microactions’ to move the industry towards diversity.  They are manageable actions that can help to change the culture of an agency to be more welcoming to women.

She also evangelised for the power of ‘manbassadors’ – men who support gender diversity by championing women from their privileged position. “The differences between the genders don’t need to be remedied,” she said. “They need to be celebrated and accommodated.” Engaging men is a big part of the 3% mission.

Kat was the first of the speakers to mention mentorship, which became a huge theme of the summit. She suggested that men in leadership positions are often reluctant to mentor women in less senior positions because they worry about how it would appear. “It seems unsavoury for an older man to invite a younger woman out for lunch.” This needs to change and it is the responsibility of successful men to mentor young women who have the talent to succeed. “You have to get over the fact that people might wink behind your backs,” she said.

Beyond that, an important method is to make successful women in the industry more visible in order to inspire people. “If you’re a female creative director I think it is your obligation to jury an award show,” said Kat. “We cannot complain that it’s mostly male jury here at Cannes if you didn’t throw your hat in the ring.”

Thankfully, things are moving in the right direction. Kat noted that a lack of diversity is seen by agencies as a badge of irrelevance. “If you show up to a pitch with an all white, all male team, clients know what their customers look like and you don’t look like you understand their customer base.”

Sally Campbell

As the co-founder of Somesuch, who won the first Glass Lion this year for the Sport England This Girl Can campaign, directed by Kim Gehrig, and represent six female directors, Sally Campbell is one of the foremost champions for female creativity in film production.

She identified the trouble of keeping women in the industry. Motherhood is the clear difficulty here, because of the pressure that’s put on women to work long hours and to travel so much. “There has to be some kind of action to ensure women can be mothers as well,” she said. She suggested more mothers being brave enough to demand time to be mothers, to normalise the fact that women can work in advertising and have children at the same time.

Moving on to class and racial diversity, she admitted “we really suck at that.” Having told her story in a rather self-deprecating way as a series of mistakes and failures, she ended with a point: “A reinvented myself and you all believe me. And the reason you all believe me is because I’m white and middle class. Even though I was a fuck-up, ultimately I was a safe fuck-up because I have the white, middle-class thing to fall back on.”

Those who don’t have those privileges have far less chance of succeeding. “What if you don’t even know that there are fantastic jobs in advertising for you?” she asked.

The answer isn’t complicated, but it is hard. Sally insisted we all have a responsibility to look around at less privileged communities and do our best to help people from them in starting careers.

With the APA, Sally is working with councils in London on creating an internship scheme, encouraging every company in the industry to take between one and three interns a year from underprivileged and minority ethnic backgrounds.

But it has to be done the right way. “We can’t give them a job as a runner,” she said. “If you tell me to make you a cup of tea I’ll make you a cup of tea. If you say that to someone from a pretty rough background they’ll tell you to fuck off and make your own tea and you won’t see them again.”

The important thing is to discover the role that best suits their temperament and interests – 3D VFX for a kid who plays video games (“and maybe smokes a bit of weed”), working with a director for a kid who’s very creative, or alongside an executive producer for a bossy kid. “It’s about ensuring that that kid is learning and knows that they’ve got a chance because there is a job for everyone in this industry.”

Michelle Matherson

Production talent executive Michelle Matherson spoke briefly about how she came to end up in her current job at Shiver, the factual production arm of ITV Studios, detailing how she had to be pushy and determined to get there.

Many companies tried to focus on diversity years ago by recruiting people from minority ethnic backgrounds, but one problem she pointed out was that they didn’t last because as soon as these recruits made a mistake they lost their jobs. “For most companies that was it,” she said. “They did their bit, it didn’t work out and that was that.” The responsibility is to nurture, support and mentor young people and to bear with them when they make mistakes. She noted the importance of letting young people “fuck up occasionally.”

At ITV all the executives receive ‘unconscious bias training’ in order for everyone to question their perceptions. We all have biases, she said “and once you know what your particular bias is, that’s when you can start to address it.”

Another initiative ITV use is MAMA Youth, a training programme to equip young people from BAME, disadvantaged backgrounds with the skills to go into TV and the media. At the end of the course people like Michelle look at the people it has helped and cherry pick the best for their companies. Michelle did it herself a few weeks ago, proving that these kinds of works are creating a more diverse industry.

Finally, she admitted that we recruit naturally in our own image, but that in order to make any progress we have to take chances with some people.

Henrik Eriksson

As Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association, Henrik Eriksson has been on the frontline in the fight against the gender imbalance. As a producer who runs a production company, his focus is naturally on the lack of female directors – a struggle that goes back many years.

“Almost all commercials are directed by men,” he stated. Less than 10 per cent of directors are female. From that starting point, the Swedish associations decided to introduce an award to their Roy Awards show to give to the person, organisation or company who has made the biggest difference to getting more female directors working.

“Nothing really happened,” Henrik admitted. “There was a lot of talk in the media and the industry but the numbers were still the same.” He admitted it was boring to have to hand out the prize year after year without seeing much concrete change.

In 2014 Henrik’s association came up with a new approach – a new pitch recommendation called One of Three, meaning every pitch for an advertising film must include at least one woman. It was launched last Autumn together with the Swedish Association of Communication Agencies.

The impact is yet to be seen. “We should talk again in five years to see what’s happened,” he said, but production companies began signing female directors to their rosters as soon as they found out about the new guideline.

Henrik next moved onto ethnic diversity with a story:

We won the pitch on this film for a French agency and an international client.

We were planning to shoot the film in Stockholm. We were told to have a very clear presentation in all details so we went down to Paris for the PPM. Two hours before the client arrived we went through all the slides – a massive folder – we showed the location pictures, casting, editing examples, photography, animatronics, everything and the last slide of 50 was just a big screen of 50 mugshots of extras to show how we create Paris in Stockholm in the street. It was a mix of people, exactly how it looks when I look out [at the audience] now.

The account director on that slide said ‘It won’t happen. You can’t show that slide.’

‘OK. You don’t want us to show the extras?’

‘No. The client will not accept it.’

‘Why is that?’

‘He doesn’t want the black people to be in the film.’

That’s a really tough comment.

‘We don’t agree with you but secondly for the film’s purpose we need to have diversity in this film. If we take them out it’s going to look like Finland.’

It went to a big discussion in French and my French producer was talking for ten minutes. This was really tough, hardcore French. I didn’t understand it. But ending in English as the last sentence saying ‘It’s because of you French advertising films look like shit. We will not shoot the film if we don’t have these people in the film.’

‘Great. Then you’re not shooting the film.’

Five minutes before the PPM starts.

‘Can we leave that subject and take out that slide just for five minutes? And take the subject again after the client’s left?’

‘OK.’

The client arrives and he’s black.

Henrik pointed out that these moments still happen and they are why diversity is so important to fight for. “Whatever we create will become a reference for how the world looks like.”

Trevor Robinson, OBE

Being a black man marks Quiet Storm’s Founder and Executive Creative Director Trevor Robinson out from most top creatives. He took to the stage as the Diversity Summit’s final speaker to tell his story.

He grew up in Clapham, the youngest of four kids. He described the area as quite rough, but he was lucky to have the protection of his older brothers. “My mum was amazing. She looked after us and worked really, really hard,” he said.

With nobody around him working in a creative job, his decision to go into a creative industry was a surprise. “The only icons I was really aware of were fighters or footballers,” he said.

When he suggested to the careers officer that he wanted to do something creative – to be an illustrator or a fashion designer – “she smiled and said ‘maybe think of another career. Maybe a bus driver or something?’ I got quite angry about that, but used it to form an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude.”

The insecure, bitchy environment he found when he got to college confused him, having grown up somewhere that “if somebody didn’t like you they’d just punch you in the face – very instant and very honest.”

After being on the dole for a long time, Trevor and his creative partner Al Young – “a seemingly aggressive Scottish man” – would repeatedly get rejected at interviews. They didn’t even get a placement. His only theory is that they made people uncomfortable.

Eventually they got into HHCL, who allowed Trevor and Al to make the ads they’d like to see. Out of that came their famous Tango ad. “That is totally a little Scotsman and a black guy having a laugh,” he said. “I think if you get the right people in with the right mindset you can do things that will really resonate with people.”

People are comfortable with people that are like themselves, he observed, but he felt his background allowed him to bring something different to the table. He attributes his success to being able to see things differently, and from a perspective closer to the people advertising is addressing.

Quiet Storm’s creative department is as female as it is male, and the agency contains many different nationalities. “We’ve got all sorts of people working at our company which I think makes us an incredibly strong agency,” he said.

“I thought when I first came in the gates would open,” he said. “I felt positive about the industry changing because I thought it made sense bringing the most talented people from whatever diverse backgrounds and you will get something different and powerful and will resonate.”

But as Head of Diversity for the IPA and later as the Chairman, Trevor got sick of everyone patting each other on the back without anything changing. He began to feel frustrated with the lack of progress.

He went back to his school and got kids to come up with an ad on the subject of knife and gun crime. This became the film competition Create Not Hate, the winning film of which was directed by a young ex gang member. Trevor’s very proud of the project. “I felt it was one of the best projects I’ve ever done in advertising.”

With this positive attitude towards taking action on diversity, the advertising industry can make an impact on its gender, ethnic and class profile. The overarching message from all the speakers is that change won’t come from one far-reaching initiative or campaign, but through the combination of everyone who cares taking the actions available to them, no matter how small.

 

The APA has some practical measures to announce that will enable APA members who are concerned with these issues to contribute to improving them. Details will be announced shortly.

A social history, no matter how you view it

June 18, 2015 / Features

By Jacqueline Holmes

Advertising is a unique tool for understanding the past.

Advertising has become a great barometer and record of our social change and history over the decades. Whether in print or on TV, ads and commercials have mirrored society reflecting the changing settings, fashions, language, products and attitudes which have enticed consumers, offering an insight into how we Brits lived our lives. 

A BBC TV Washes Whiter series, first broadcast in 1990, explored these changes in depth tracking the changing face of British advertising. Researchers collected thousands of TV commercials on a variety of formats from numerous agencies across the industry with only a fraction making the final cut. The entire collection however, was then transferred onto 1-inch videotape. In 2007, the BBC donated the 110 VT 1 inch tapes to The History of Advertising Trust (HAT), an archive regarded as a national treasure collected over the last 40 years and home to the industry’s archive. 

Thanks to the HAT charity’s expertise and equipment donated by the local ITV Anglia studio, the unique collection of ads from the Washes Whiter series is now preserved and being digitised by HAT. Programmes from the BBC series can be seen on YouTube:

The first in the 5 part series is entitled She’s Not a Moron – She’s Your Wife – a well-known comment attributed to advertising executive David Ogilvy 1955. Ogilvy suggested that customers should be treated more sympathetically, in softer tones and regarded as intelligent customers and not patronised.

She’s Not a Moron… focused on the changing role of women in society and the emergence of a new, post-war domestic environment. In the first half of the 20th century, cinema advertising – the forerunner of TV commercials – had  been mainly aimed at men and the war had seen women taken out of the kitchen and home to work in the factories and on the land.

Now, with the war over, TV commercials were produced to appeal to the female customer. They focused on products that could help women fulfil their new roles as they adjusted to being the homemaker, a mother and a good wife. Commercials were aimed at the woman at home in charge of their own domestic bliss! They showed how women could take pride in their housework – their families’ clothes were whiter – think cleaner – than the next person’s, which was the mark of a successful mother and wife. Even with the introduction of frozen foods and cake mixes, a frozen pie still had to be baked just right and an egg added to the mix to create a perfect sponge.

The thousands of Washes Whiter commercials from 1955-89 along with the British Arrows Archive of more than 25,000 award-winning TV commercials from 1976 to the present day are now available through the History of Advertising Trust. They provide a fascinating moving-image record of advertising right from the start of commercial TV in 1955.

These ads are held alongside records, documents, artefacts and images of various organisations, brands, agencies and campaigns charting the history of advertising back to the 1800s. The HAT Archive is regarded as the largest archive of British advertising in the world, reflecting changes in our social history and providing a unique resource for advertisers, broadcasters, researchers and students.

Washes Whiter was an early success story for HAT Archive and the charity continues to acquire, preserve and, very importantly, provide access to other collections from the industry and operate an efficient and reliable service to ensure they are preserved and accessible. The HAT Archive has featured in other ‘ad inspired’ series including ITV’s Ade in Adland, the BBC’s Back in Time for Dinner and a wide variety of other TV and Radio broadcasts from game shows to factual and foodie to footie docs. Take a look at HAT and prepare to be inspired!

Under the Influence: Brian Williams

June 17, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

What inspires this Irish graphic designer turned director?

Now a director making commercials for major international brands like Adidas, the BBC and Lexus, Bang’s Brian Williams gets his acute visual awareness from his earlier career as a graphic designer. But what sort of experiences and ingredients does it take to make a director like him? We asked him to talk about his five biggest influences to see if we could work it out.

A Playful Upbringing

The atmosphere I was brought up in was amazing. Looking back on my early life and how my mum and dad were into the arts really fed through to every decision I made after that.

Everything was about playtime and imagination for us. We were a very lucky Irish family in that we got to travel a lot as kids. We were basically like gypsies on the road in a tent across Europe for a month, which is very unusual in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There was always that sense of adventure and that fed into the movies we watched.

My mum and dad were massive movie buffs. They just adored cinema. And they were kind of mainstream. I’d love to be able to wax lyrical about watching Fellini and whatever when we were young. We weren’t. It was Clint Eastwood, the Marx Brothers. Ice Station Zebra is a really particularly influential film on me.

The Lord of the Rings was a long time from being out in the cinema, but I’d read the books and loved them, so I made myself a ringwraith costume and I was wandering round the sand dunes in Cork scaring people. It was a fairly scary costume. I’d bought my first Bell and Howell Super 8 camera. I filmed myself murdering my family when I was 10 and we submitted it to BBC Screen Test.

Two months went by and eventually a BBC letter headed envelope came through the letterbox. Obviously, it was a very polite ‘what is wrong with your son?’

I just thought this kind of life was normal. I’d build a robot and enter it into competitions or build a city out of found objects and the whole family would be stepping over it for a month. They just accepted it.

At that time my dad was into amateur dramatics. I got involved in doing the lighting on The Plough and the Stars when I was about 13. This old ‘60s style man with polished shoes and Brylcreemed hair had taught me how to do lighting. It was coming up to the big launch of The Plough and the Stars and he dropped dead. It was a big shock but the show must go on and they turned to me and said ‘you know how to do the lighting board. Will you continue on with it?’ I said ‘OK, but I’d like to make some adjustments.’

There’s a famous battle scene in it and I took a lot of the lights down and put them underneath the grannies’ seats at the front. It had a spectacular effect when the battle scene was raging and the lights were going off in the auditorium. Unfortunately I did manage to melt somebody’s tights to the seat. They went a bit on fire.

When the review of the Amateur Dramatics Society ended up in the Evening Herald a week or two later it never mentioned my name, which I loved, but it did say ‘the lighting was very experimental.’ I was thrilled at that.

That period for me was such a fantastic playground. I was a sponge and I was being given all these amazing things to see and do and play with. Some might say I was indulged, others might say encouraged.

 

2000 AD

My brothers were reading very normal comics and I remember seeing [2000 AD] on the top shelf. I think Dan Dare was on the cover in the early days. I got into it when it was very young, just as it was moving away from that ‘60s, idealistic science fiction stuff and into stuff like Harlem Heroes – basketball with jetpacks – and Flesh – farming dinosaurs in the future.

I was captivated by the stories at first, but as I grew up the art became far more important to me. That’s when I began to mimic the style. I’m not an expert on the history but I think it was Brian Bolland doing Judge Dredd and a guy called Mike McMahon and I’d never seen anything like it. And I’d never seen anything as violent. I thought that was fantastic.

It’s punk, basically. I was too young to realise it was punk but it was. In a strange way many of the themes and looks that were created for it were cyberpunk before cyberpunk became cool.

The art of 2000 AD was always very considered but it had this very well thought out punk attitude in terms of stylisation of the characters, they could be bald with warts. I’ve always loved that idea of standout faces. If I’m looking at Marvel all the faces are normal, acceptable type people, whereas there were really super ugly heroes in 2000 AD.

There were a slew of characters I thought were amazing. My desktop background is actually still Rogue Trooper. There was Strontium Dog. What really changed things for me was Nemesis the Warlock. I think it was only Kevin O’Neill who did most of the Warlocks.

It was so edgy, so different. It showed a science fiction world in such a completely different way. They shredded the rules, coming out of an era of optimistic science fiction, where aliens were the bad guys and spaceships were rounded and clean. Way before Neill Blomkamp was dirtying up spaceships with graffiti, 2000 AD were doing it in the ‘80s.

I would be doing paintings of Nemesis the Warlock and hanging it on the wall at school. And bear in mind this is the ‘80s and it’s a Christian Brothers school. It was very unusual. 2000 AD wasn’t pop culture at that stage. Nobody realised what was hanging on the wall at the Christian Brothers school.

 

Syd Mead and Blade Runner

I saw the film and was obviously blown away. I couldn’t believe it. I started buying all the books and magazines, everything I could possibly buy. I remember coming across Cinefex magazine, buying a subscription and coming across the drawings of Syd Mead.

I absolutely adored his style because he had this quite architectural style, which is beautiful to look at, and fine pen work with those beautiful markers. It was super futuristic just in the way he drew and, having come from 2000 AD, it was something completely different again.

I got into the films on a totally different level then, even further, because of his work, buying books and drawings of his.

I began to do paintings and drawings of Dublin retrofitted like he’d done in Blade Runner. That’s what my portfolio was full of when I went to art college. I remember redesigning the Evening Press in a future Irish setting, because he had done USA Today for the film. I was just consumed by the world.

I loved the lighting and the cinematography. I didn’t even know I was looking at cinematography. I just knew that light is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was only really years later that I honed in on Jordan [Cronenweth] and his work. Sure, Ridley Scott is a master, he was the ringleader, but those two particular guys, Jordan and Syd, and [special effects supervisor] Douglas Trumbull. Lets face it: they’re the triplet that were utterly key in making something that was so unique.

Ridley Scott was from an advertising background as well and to actually include advertising in the film as a huge component, that was utterly unique as well.

It was the everyday that we see around us. He didn’t change everything like science fiction had been doing. It was just taking the everyday and pushing it forward slightly and that was what Syd Mead’s job as a futurist was. He was grounded as being an industrial designer. It was a stroke of genius.

 

Vaughan Oliver Vs. Peter Saville

The two influences from that period for me would be Vaughan Oliver at 4AD versus Peter Saville at Factory Records. Two very different aesthetics.

Vaughan Oliver for me is kind of summed up by the music, whoever it may be on 4AD. I just found those album covers wonderful. And this is before Photoshop. By the time I was doing work like this as design or as a live-action director, I had the ability to do incredibly layered textural pieces, so it was a massive influence for me.

But then you look at Peter Saville and his restraint, his minimalism, his attention to detail and type and it was just a completely different story.

Basically my early career was very Vaughan Oliver, very OTT, very textural, then later in life I worked with another designer who was very minimal and I began to be influenced a lot more by his design style and that would be the Peter Saville style.

I found that the results were a hint of chaos and a hint of restraint. My work improved. And that fed straight into how I direct and what I like still to this day.

I was shooting something the other day and thinking ‘that is very, very busy coming through the lens to my eye. How do I frame up so that I’m not being greedy here?’ And that means sacrificing somebody’s work. Maybe your own. But the result is often more satisfying.

 

Dark 80s Music

My early taste was somewhat dubious. When I was very young I was given Cliff Richard to listen to. So my first record was Cliff Richard. My second record, however, was Kraftwerk - Autobahn.

It all ties in that we would be driving with our tent and a little trailer behind us on the Autobahn in Germany, listening to Autobahn on the cassette recorder, with my mum going ‘It’s a little bit monotonous, but I kinda like it.’

That then fed into all the other things I loved. I never went the rock route. It was always this electronica-influenced stuff. Caberet Voltaire was hugely influential, both visually and their whole attitude seemed to be quite unique.

Dif Juz – one of the loudest bands I’ve ever heard. They were like a heavy metal Cocteau Twins. Obviously Dead Can Dance, D.A.F., Shreikback, the list could go on and on.

All of those were the soundtrack to that period. There was a darkness to all of that. And there was a darkness to the films and the stuff I watched. I guess it’s the same as why the Swedish and Danes are so good at dark noir – they would always say they have a really happy life so they don’t mind looking at the dark. I think there’s something in that, without getting too wanky.

I was able to indulge all those things and have a great time doing it, but I felt very comfortable around music that was dissonant and dark. I think there’s a big streak of melancholy that goes through me and in a strange way that atmosphere informs the kind of commercials I like to make. I always like light and shade in film and I love a sense of warmth, but put it in jeopardy and you maybe have some magic.


Have a look for these influences on Brian’s reel.
 

An Exciting Life Samuraised

June 16, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

An unlikely advertising evangelist's adventures, from the Paris suburbs to every corner of Japan.

Growing up a hippie in the uneventful suburbs of Paris, Jean-Christian Bouvier had a burning wanderlust. But nobody would have guessed that over 40 years later that desire for adventure would see him touring to the remotest islands of Japan showing commercials from around the world to paying audiences.

For over ten years the APA Collection has been a part of Jean-Christian’s travelling show. That’s why the trade association have chosen him as the champion of their recent ad for the APA Show, which you may have seen in Campaign.

Depicting Jean-Christian rowing across a tempestuous sea, the copy reads:

A TRUE STORY…
Every year without fail, Jean-Christian Bouvier rides the waves of the East China Sea to show the 41 inhabitants of a remote Japanese island the latest APA Collection…

Also shown in New York, Paris, Milan and 385 major cities around the world.

So how did he end up in such a bizarre position? It began when he finished school and realised he didn’t want to work for a bank or an insurance company. Mostly, he wanted to see the world. “I was a kind of hippie,” he says, but he was more dedicated to travelling than your average ‘70s globetrotter. The French word for it is routard. “I’m more of a routard than a hippie. The hippie would stop in Kathmandu. The routard would go further to Japan.”

He left France and trekked for the best part of year until he was in Japan. On his arrival he fell in love with the country. Having travelled through some of the poorest countries in the world to get there, the exotic environment, paired with a good standard of living was enchanting. He felt at ease there. But Japan had other draws “Like everybody, I fell in love with a young Japanese woman,” he says. “It’s not original, but it’s true.”

Once he’d returned to Paris (on the Trans Siberian Express, no less) real life kicked in. He soon took his first teaching job in Vietnam, travelling there in the midst of the war. France still had national service and Jean-Christian saw the chance to avoid going into the army by teaching there. He was posted to the French high school in Saigon, where he taught a mixture of French ex-pats and middle-class Vietnamese children.

The best part of his year there was the teaching itself. “I really loved it, especially with the cute Vietnamese classes,” he says. He remembers once asking them to write an essay on whether they prefer chopsticks or a knife and fork. “The answer was all about the nice feeling of the chopsticks in hand. The way you could choose the food and delicately pick it up and pride of their culture – all written in almost perfect French.”

It was 1975. For weeks everybody knew the North Vietnamese (Bodoi) Army were advancing on Saigon. Jean-Christian listened for the rockets at night. “I learnt that the rocket you hear is not for you. You only hear the ones that go above you. The problem is you wait for the next one, the one you will not hear coming.”

As the South Vietnamese regime disintegrated, his life got very strange. “Life was getting more and more surrealist,” he says. As the piastra (the local currency) lost 99 per cent of its value, Jean-Christian suddenly became rich thanks to the US dollars in cash he kept under his pillow. He bought hundreds of LPs by the boxes and his first Japanese Nikon cameras with several lenses. “In the evenings we would discuss the rumours and wait and wait and wait, drinking excellent French wines bought on the street for almost nothing,” he says.

“It was not a very glorious way to be a part of it, I know,” he admits, “But to my defence I don’t know what else we could have done.” Till the end they kept on teaching as if nothing was going to happen. “The policy was to stay, to hope for the best and be ready for a new Vietnam when the war is over.” He couldn’t bear to abandon his Vietnamese pupils.

“The last months were surrealist; the last days (or last weeks?) were hectic!” The young teacher watched as American helicopters evacuated embassy staff and South Vietnamese allies. One crashed not far from his home. Soon he and his colleagues were the last foreigners left in Saigon.

Finally the Bodoi Army rolled into the city, meeting no resistance. Jean-Christian’s enduring memory of it is silence. No cheering or shouting. The people of Saigon watched the tanks and trucks loaded full of exhausted, young soldiers pass through the streets. “I think for most people it was a feeling of relief: ‘Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s finished. The war is over.’”

One week later he went to see a Russian film in a theatre downtown. Watching newsreels of the Bodai Army entering Saigon, he was appalled to hear that the resigned silence had been dubbed over with rapturous cheering.

By the end of July he had returned to France and was soon reunited with his extensive record collection, as well as his Japanese girlfriend. It wasn’t long before they got married and soon their first son was born. He had to get serious. “I decided that I had to work to satisfy my mother and my young wife at the time and the easiest way was to be a teacher,” he says.

Still infected with wanderlust, the plan was to teach French around the world, staying for a few years in a country before moving on to another. “Teaching French would allow me to keep travelling,” he thought.

The first post he landed was in Fukuoka, a large city in the south of Japan. The plan was to stay for two or three years and move on to teach in another country. But he didn’t stick to the plan.

Coming from a small flat shared with his mother in the Parisian suburbs, he appreciated his new life in quite a big house in Fukuoka. The city was big, but not sprawling, a 20-minute drive from beautiful beaches and impressive countryside. He was contented and his career as a routard was postponed for the foreseeable future.

Originally he taught French Literature, which indulged his self-confessed inner snob. “I was very happy teaching French Literature in a department of Japanese students who couldn’t really speak French. But at least they were studying literature!”

With few teaching hours, Jean-Christian had a lot of freedom. He did a lot of windsurfing, reading and began translating Japanese texts into French. “I wanted to have an intellectual link with my country,” he explains. He translated children’s books, detective stories, theatre, the books his fluency in Japanese allowed. In ten years he had translated almost 50 books.

After 14 years he moved to a smaller university. Sadly, they didn’t care about French literature so he had to teach French as a foreign language. As he was a foreigner they also asked him to teach a class in Japanese called International Communications. When he asked what it was and they said they didn’t know. It was a new class and he could do what he liked with it. Baffled, he accepted the challenge.

A fan of theatre, Jean-Christian started doing things in the new class like comparing productions of Don Giovanni from around the world. He’d gather ten versions and show his students the same song performed ten different ways.

This is when advertising crashed into his life like a freight train. “Up to this point I’d had no contact with advertising at all and, I’m sorry to say, no interest in it either,” he says. But he found a VHS tape that changed his life. It was full of old Japanese commercials and it intrigued him. Many of them featured famous foreigners. One that stands out for him is Orson Welles advertising Nikka Whiskey. “I was amazed to see that a genius like Orson Welles would do advertising,” he says. Another featured famous man’s man Charles Bronson advertising a men’s cosmetic brand called Mandom.

Realising they could be useful tools for examining culture, Jean-Christian started including commercials in his classes. “It was a real hit when I started to use advertising,” he says. Classes of 30 or 40 students grew to over 200. It worked too well in his opinion. “I thought my Don Giovanni classes were better than my classes on advertising!” he says.

It was a revolutionary idea. People studied commercials in Japanese universities, but it was always in marketing departments. Jean-Christian’s classes were the first to analyse ads from a cultural perspective, using them as windows on the societies that made them.

Having started out with no interest in commercials, Jean-Christian soon found himself in the role of a specialist, writing about advertising in magazines and always looking to expand his collection of vintage commercials. This led him to Jean Marie Boursicot, the first man to convince people to pay to watch commercials as part of La Nuit des Publivores – Night of the Ad Eaters – a six-hour late-night marathon of commercials from around the world, interspersed with music and other entertainment.

Jean-Christian asked if he could buy some of this huge collection for use at his small Japanese university. Boursicot refused, but noted that nobody was running the show in Japan. If he wanted to start exhibiting it in Fukuoka he could have the collection.

Jean-Christian returned to Japan thinking he’d have to look elsewhere for commercials to use in his classes. Then on his 50th birthday he received a surprise. Five of his friends, all teachers from Fukuoka, clubbed together and gave him an envelope full of yen to bring this crazy ad bonanza to their city. He was overwhelmed.

Protective of his tapes, Boursicot brought them personally to Japan and CM Festival was born in Fukuoka, showing 500 commercials from the most obscure countries, from Montenegro to Angola, punctuated by live music, magicians and circus performers. Running from 11pm to 5:30am, the night is full of drinking, laughing and pachi-pachi-clapping, a celebration of all cultures from around the world coming together through advertising.

It was an immediate success in Fukuoka and after only two years managed to sell out a 1000-seat theatre in Tokyo two nights in a row. What began as a hobby was fast becoming a big commitment. Jean-Christian started to travel around Japan with his show, still supporting himself through teaching.

After six years CM Festival became his full-time job. It was around this time that he went to London, met APA Chief Executive Steve Davies and arranged to include the APA Collection in his festival. The existing show had a good spread of weird commercials from non-western countries, but fewer from more developed industries. “We needed to have the best produced commercials,” says Jean-Christian. “It’s an important part of the show. We still have funny commercials from all over the world but the APA Collection has the quality.”

Favourite British commercials among the Japanese audiences include those made by Japanese brands like the very famous Honda Cog and Sony Balls. “They were amazed that a Japanese company would make such wonderful commercials and not show them in Japan,” says Jean-Christian. “They are still surprised.”

The festival now travels to every corner of Japan and audiences vary from the party of 150 Dentsu employees who come to the Tokyo show every year to the locals of Miyako Jima, a small island in Okinawa with only one 100-seat theatre left.

No matter where Jean-Christian and his mad show goes, audiences are overwhelmingly made up of normal people from outside the advertising industry who just enjoy the show. “Some people are groupies who come every year,” he says. “It’s funny and unusual and there’s an old Frenchman who runs the show with a lot of young, energetic musicians and stuff. We don’t make money on food and drinks. We try to make people happy. And it works. Many people come again. I do it because I love it.”

If you want Jean-Christian to tour your work around Japan, entries for the APA Collection are now open.

Not the Usual Archive Material

June 1, 2015 / Features

By Jacqueline Holmes

Physical relics from Kleinman's iconic Smirnoff ads.

Models of sexy girls and a weather-beaten Spitfire don’t bring to mind historically important archives but they sit comfortably in the collection held by the History of Advertising Trust (HAT).

There are shelves of books, cutting files, film clips and databases – all you would expect to find when researching but there is also the unexpected. There are some classic ‘props’ used in commercials housed in the stores. These help to tell the whole story of a campaign and bring it to life.

Amongst these are two ceramic models of modern women, in striking red and black, shown as break-in-two Russian-styled dolls. They represent the image of the £3m campaign created for Smirnoff Red in 2004.

JWT London for Smirnoff Vodka went back to the product’s Russian roots for the ‘not the usual’ campaign, which included the customary matryoshka – Russian nesting dolls.

Tapping into the era of tales of espionage and spying, the commercial shot in Russia, features a beautiful woman who, seemingly innocently, is in a grey Moscow queue to buy a loaf of bread. But there are more twists and turns than in a Bond adventure.

In an office she breaks open the loaf and inside is a key which fits a safe. Inside the safe is a microchip but the alarms are sounding and the guards appear; she leaps from the window and runs off leaving a divided shell of herself behind.

Again she seems cornered but then she slips out of her skin leaving the two halves. Now it is clear each time she is close to capture she sheds a shell that gradually becomes smaller. Eventually she slips down a drain cover.

The film ends with a man buying a traditional rounded tourist souvenir matryoshka. On a plane he opens his brief case, then the doll and there inside the centre is the microchip.

The drinks trolley appears with a bottle of Smirnoff and ends with the tag, ‘Not the usual’.

Purity is the theme that brought the concrete model of Spitfire to HAT Archive.

Hovering over the doors to HAT’s offices is the very Spitfire that was spewed from the sea in the 2007 Smirnoff Vodka TV ad. The concept for the commercial was the triple-distilled purification process Smirnoff goes through to create their ‘pure’ vodka.

The ad, directed by Daniel Kleinman, was part of a £5m campaign which began with an online presence, then a 60-second cinema commercial (first shown during a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum), followed by a nationwide launch on TV. Digital agency AKQA also created an online game to complement the package.

The Sea, again created by JWT London, shows the sea purging itself of all the junk found on the ocean bed. Once clean, a bottle of Smirnoff appears.

The film, shot in New Zealand, with further scenes filmed off the White Cliffs of Dover and at Pinewood Studios, opens with a Russian fisherman at sea. He throws an empty drinks can overboard. The sea responds. It dramatically rises and throws ashore an incredible collection of debris deposited over the centuries. This includes the Spitfire, a Spanish galleon and a washing machine.

The ocean is cleansed and on the pristine sea bed are the words ‘ten times filtered’, ‘triple distilled’ and finally ‘clearly Smirnoff’.

Produced by Rattling Stick for JWT’s client Diageo, the special effects were created by FrameStore CFC, also credited with sequences in Harry Potter and Bond films.

These unusual artefacts preserved at HAT within the JWT Archive reveal the skill and creativity behind the craft of model making for TV commercials such as these.

For more infomation about HAT see www.hatads.org.uk
Contact: enquiries@hatads.org.uk

What Is An Animation Director?

May 21, 2015 / Features

By Rebecca Manley

How different are animation directors from their live-action brethren?

I have been working as a director in the world of animation for just over ten years now, primarily in short films and commercials. I find that, even in creative circles, the role of an animation director is not widely understood. ‘Animation' can cover any number of productions including feature films, television series, cartoons, commercials, music videos, and video games. But from my experience it is not common knowledge that there is a key figure at the helm of each of these productions, namely the director, whose role is fundamentally the same as that of his/her live action counterpart.

"Most people can name their favourite (live action) directors. Ask anyone with the slightest cinematic interest and they can reel off the names of a dozen or so from blockbuster moguls to arthouse auteurs.  Ask someone to name an animation director and they tend to be far less fluent...When you consider that animation is a huge part of our entertainment and visual culture, and with so many of the largest grossing movies of all time being animated, this is pretty surprising." Christopher O'Reilly, co-founder Nexus.

What is an animation director?

I posed this question to a group of well respected, high-flying directors and producers working in the animation industry both nationally and internationally. And I have found that the discussion is multi-layered, often complex and invariably volatile. Has the changing landscape in film, interactive media and entertainment removed the distinction between directors and animation directors entirely?

My aim for this article, is to define the difference between a director at the helm of an animated piece, an animation director working on, for example, a feature film and an animator. By doing so, I hope to go some way towards elevating our common profile in the public consciousness.

Animation director, Director of animation, Animator…Eh?

I think that most people could describe a live-action director's job fairly easily. So it is strange that the animation process and production hierarchy are shrouded in mystery.

"The beauty of animation lies in its lack of creative boundaries - there's no theme too obtuse, no story too unreal, no design too hard, no set too ambitious…Anything is well and truly possible." Katerina Athanasopoulou, animation artist and director.

Perhaps as a direct result of this, there seems to be a perception that animation happens magically. Far from it. You start with a clean slate. Then, as a director, faced with an empty set, page or virtual space you must envision, and then oversee, the creation of all that is to inhabit the final picture from the tiniest spec of dust to the most terrifying of dragons.

"You can’t place a camera in front of a puppet, shout action and watch the magic unfold…Unfortunately animation doesn’t work like that. Every single event, object or character in every single frame of every animation production has to be planned, researched, designed and crafted by numerous different groups of incredibly specialised, talented people. This process is repeated and repeated for each and every frame you see. The person who orchestrates all of this insanity is the animation director." Mark Waring, director.

I spoke to my brother Ben, a writer and father of two, on the subject and his outside perspective was interesting.

"I think that people value directors of films for adults more highly than directors of films for children. This has lead to them being given higher status and celebrity. It just so happens that films for children are often animated. Could your average punter tell you who directed any of the Muppet movies, for example, or the Harry Potter films? Films for adults are perceived (by adults) as more important than films for children. I would say most people would see animation as low art for kids… Children aren’t sophisticated enough to understand that their favourite cartoons were directed by someone, but the characters in their favourite shows are as famous and glamorous to them. So I think animation directors suffer from the fact that their work is usually consumed by an audience either too young to know of their existence or too old to take it seriously."

This is a good point, especially as most people think immediately of children's programmes or films when the term animation is mentioned. Unfortunately, even though the animation world has expanded so much now that the children's market is probably just a small sector of over all animation-related production and turnover, the general perception of the medium has remained the same.

So what does a director working in animation do exactly?

A director working in animation can often be heavily involved in every stage of the production process. Sometimes, depending on the budget, they carry out many of the roles themselves from initial script development and writing, storyboarding, creating the animatic, casting the voice talent, designing/art directing, directing the animators, working with the composer and sound design team, to compositing and the final grade.

But on a big production, there is usually a person whose role comes somewhere in-between the over all director and the animation team.

"In the case of working with an overall director like with Tim Burton or Wes Anderson on a feature film, the role of the animation director is slightly different. Although a lot of the same directorial work will be covered...on a feature the animation director is the eyes and ears on the floor for the overall director. The director has the universal vision and usually has been the one working on the story and involved in the boarding stages to create the template for the film. It is the role of the animation director to implement this vision - they put into practice the wishes of the director...Regular check-ins and updates are prepared, but it is the animation director who keeps the ship running and moving forward on a daily basis." Mark Waring, director, lead animator ‘Corpse Bride’, animation supervisor ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ and ‘Frankenweenie’.

"On 'The Amazing World of Gumball' all of the 2D animation crew; twelve animators in London and twenty four clean-up artists in Germany, work on scenes with [the character] Gumball in it. They are all very different artists, with creative strengths and weaknesses. Yet when the work is finished, nobody should be distracted and see that so many people acted the part of Gumball. Part of the job of animation director is to 'cast' the right animator for any given shot and then to ensure that all those scenes look like they came from one artist. Some animators are brilliant at subtle acting but not at broad action scenes and vice versa. It's my job to get the best possible performance out of my crew as a group and create character portraits that are of high quality and consistent across all the scenes. The animation director's job is invisible. I've done a good job when the animation successfully communicates the ideas of the director and looks simple, unfluctuating and effortless." Joris van Hulzen, animation director 'The Amazing World of Gumball' and 'Peppa Pig'.

Where does the animator fit into all of this?

On 'pure' animation productions, the animators are your main actors. As an animation director you guide them in exactly the same way as a live action director would her cast. And like actors, individual animators can be better at interpreting different characters, personalities or emotions.

"I believe in ʻcastingʼ animators wherever possible, like actors, they can breathe and own a character, taking it further and making it more complete than I could do on my own." Suzanne Deakin, freelance director.

The animator looks to the director for an overview of the character just as an actor would look to a live action director for guidance. And similarly an animator often brings something unexpected or amazing to the role, something that the director never considered. In short, as a director, it is a real joy to work with a talented animator. They bring your vision to life.

Conclusion

So, a director working in animation is a leader and the creative head of the production team. They have final say on all the creative aspects of the job from design and animation through to sound and music, as well as guiding and motivating the other members of the team. This is also the role of a director working in live action or the theatre. So perhaps we should all just use the term 'director' and drop the 'animation' part. After all the role is the same and there is a lot of crossover these days, with directors making hybrid work that combines both live action and animation.

"I came to film with a background in stop-motion animation. However I now make films which involve blending live action performance into miniature sets and digital effects, to create the cinematic worlds that I imagine. Having this background in animation certainly comes with many advantages, one of which is knowing how to construct films frame by frame. This skill enables me to create precise and visually distinct work." Lizzie Oxby, director.

The main confusion seems to come from people muddling up animation directors with animators. For me and many of my peers, this is the rub. Mixing up the terms “animation director” and "animator" is like confusing “director” with “actor”. I think it is extremely important for those individuals working in the industry to understand the difference. I am approached on a regular basis by clients saying that they are in need of an animator, when in fact they are in need of firstly a director and then secondly an animator. Technically speaking, an animator does not work on the pre or post-production of a project (excepting those working in pre-viz and vfx). So they do not come up with the ideas for a piece and they do not design, plan or oversee a production. This common misconception can be extremely frustrating for both animators and directors alike because the client's expectations are often quite far removed from what is achievable within a certain budget or time frame and with regard to an individual's skill base.

A director is also, more often than not, trained as such, whether this be at college or on the job. Years are spent acquiring and honing a knowledge of storytelling and conventions for screen, visual language, etc. It is not uncommon for a director to have started out as an animator - Tim Burton, Brad Bird, John Lasseter and Nick Park for example all having taken this route. But they have all gone on to learn more about the entire process of filmmaking rather than concentrating on the craft of animation.

And it doesn't necessarily figure that animation directors can animate. An increasing number of illustrators and designers are being signed by production companies as commercials directors. Whether or not these individuals know how to animate is, in some ways, irrelevant - just as a live action director does not need to be an actor. A knowledge of the craft is valuable but not essential. The director must have an overall vision and be capable of steering a team towards the realisation of that vision. A director tends to do the longest hours, working overtime and at weekends to fix problems and keep projects on schedule. The weight of the production is firmly on their shoulders. This is not true of the animator. Although they will no doubt have tight deadlines and heavy workloads, they are not responsible for delivering the final product.

I think the overriding message that has arisen from gathering opinions for this article, is that most of us directors working in animation feel that we are no different from our peers in live action and theatre. Above all we are storytellers and creators.


Rebecca Manley is a director at Independent Films / Indy8. She is currently working on a title sequence for the BBC and ABC Australia. She is a board member and Animation Group Chair at Director's UK.

(NB: This piece is a cutdown from the original article published on the Director’s UK website).

Directions to Direction: Sam Brown

May 19, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How talent, inspirational mentors and a lot of hard work ‘accidentally’ led to success directing commercials.

If you want to be a commercials director, you should probably stop trying to become one. Having interviewed a few of the most successful ones, it seems clear that they all fell into their jobs backwards, without really trying.

Take Sam Brown for example, a director who’s consistently held a place in the top tier of ad directors for some years now at Rogue Films. He had no burning desire to direct originally, but here he is. “Most of the directors I’ve met never intended to become directors,” he agrees. “They just stumbled into it.”

But while he wasn’t running around as a little boy with a Super-8 camera, it was clear from an early age that Sam had creative talent. He did a lot of drawing and remembers taking a unique approach even back then. “If I was going to draw a man I’d always start with the hand or something, but I’d do the hand with as much detail as you can possibly imagine and then grow the man from there,” he says. “Quite of then I wouldn’t finish them, so I have all these drawings of half a person. The hand is immaculate but the rest is not drawn at all.”

Sam had no ambitions to turn his talents into a career until he was approaching his GCSEs at the public school he attended. “I didn’t work very hard,” he says. “I was disruptive.” He was good at drawing but the old-fashioned school had never treated art as a real subject and so Sam had never considered it seriously either. But his path was altered by the school’s new art teacher, who put Sam on track towards a successful future when he came in and created a completely new, serious art department for the school. “I remember him taking me to one side and saying ‘art and design can be a career for you’”, he says. “’You can be as successful and make as much money as these other boys who are going to go out and be bankers.’” The teacher explained that everything from toothpaste packaging to the title sequences of films is made by someone.

This was a revelation for Sam, who remembers the conversation vividly. “It was the first time somebody had said to me ‘someone is out there having a good life and successful career doing this. And you could do it too if you focus and stop fucking about.’ It was an eye opener.”

From then on he knuckled down a bit and dedicated himself to the visual arts, eventually earning a degree in photography. After the expensive course he graduated completely broke, so was forced to get a job straight away while his buddies ran off travelling round Thailand and India.

The job he ended up in was as a runner for a food photographer. “God, I hated that,” he reflects. But it was good practice in honing the meticulousness his childhood drawings had hinted at. The photographer was doing one or two ten-by-eight plates a day for magazines, teaching him an important lesson in patience and attention to detail.

This was in the late ‘90s, when the music video industry was going through a golden age. Visionaries like Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry were making the promos that we still regard as seminal. Sam wanted to get involved. “You had amazing directors creating bodies of work,” he says. “Every couple of months they were turning out something extraordinary and you don’t get that anymore. It’s just people coming in, doing single videos and vanishing for ages.” Of course, crucially, there was also still money in music videos.

Sam sent out hundreds of letters to production companies and after about a year in his photography running job he started answering the phones at Activate, the company that had represented Chris Cunningham, John Hardwick and Ben and Joe Dempsey. It wasn’t the best time to join the team. The week after he joined the company disintegrated and the partners went their separate ways. “I remember sitting in the office and my boss Mary Calderwood coming in and talking about how to divide up the assets and who was going to have what directors. I remember he pointing to me and saying ‘he’s coming with me.’” She wasn’t asking.

Mary went on to form Flynn Productions, who became one of the foremost names in music videos. But at the start it was just her, one other producer and Sam in an empty office with hardly any directors. “It was like Ghostbusters, sitting there waiting for the fucking phone to ring in this huge office.”

Flynn took off pretty quickly and soon Sam started doing more than just answering the phones. He’d notice treatments doing out to commissioners with grammatical mistakes. His meticulous nature couldn’t stand for that, so he started staying late to rewrite them. Soon he was writing whole treatments for directors, sometimes expanding ideas written on the back of an envelope or a napkin. Eventually tracks would come in that none of the directors wanted to touch. Mary asked Sam why he didn’t pitch on those himself.

He reluctantly started making low-budget music videos with absolutely no experience in filmmaking. £30,000 was considered low-budget back then, so it was a daunting responsibility for someone who didn’t know what crucial members of crew actually did. “I really was in at the deep end,” he says. “I had excruciating early experiences [and] made a series of absolutely diabolical music videos.” Sadly none of these are available online. “I hope they’ve been sealed in some sort of casket and jettisoned into space.”

Slowly Sam worked out his role in filmmaking with help from other people at Flynn. He remembers the mentorship of Alex Hemming, another director at Flynn who served as Sam’s Director of Photography on some of these early videos. “He’d talk to everyone on set from the runner to the caterer. That was really helpful in learning how to conduct yourself on set and understanding that as a director your mood is infectious.”

Ultimately, he’s happy he had to learn the craft of directing on the job. “There are no rules to directing,” he says. “You have to figure out your own strategies and the uniqueness of your process is what makes you individual as a director. Figuring it out from nothing is a really valuable thing.”

Finding a unique approach was challenge at the time, because every director was compared to the titans – Gondry, Cunningham, Glazer, Jonze. “It was very easy as a young director to want to be one of those guys,” remembers Sam. “They represented completely different avenues of filmmaking and had pretty much everything covered. They changed everything and it was hard for [other] directors to find their own voice.”

Struggling to find his place in the directing milieu took its toll. “I felt very demoralised and really wanted to leave the business,” he confesses. He began to believe he was a charlatan and that his videos were terrible. But Mary didn’t agree. Aware of his potential, she gave him a chance to find his feet again. She told him to make a film for himself, with no brief or client, and gave him several thousand pounds to make it happen.

The resulting short film was called The Fight, a slow-motion struggle between two people with a dance-like quality. It felt like he’d found his own voice. “I’m not sure it’s a brilliant film but it was very different at the time,” he says. “I did have a sense that I was making something completely uncommerical.”

Ironically, it ended up working very well commercially. Commissioners got to see it thanks to Mary’s evangelising. “All sorts of people tried to buy it,” says Sam. And eventually it found its purpose as the video for The Man Who Told Everything by the Doves.

This success gave Sam confidence in his role as a director. Finally he bloomed into the talent Mary had seen in him, crafting a distinct tone of voice. “I made a series of videos that felt like they were mine and not anybody else’s,” he says.

His next career-defining moment came from another all-or-nothing project. This time it was the last chance for a label to launch an artist. James Blunt had made a song called You’re Beautiful. It had already been in the charts but had languished in the lower positions and made little impact. The label wanted to repackage it and remake the video. They told Sam he could do whatever he wanted. It was a last-ditch effort to save this artist.

A successful indie music video director by this point, Sam had just had his first child and wasn’t making a lot of money. He was wondering if it was time to get a proper job. It was a last-ditch project for him too.

Choosing a one-day, one-shot approach with James Blunt himself having to jump off a building for real, it was a risky idea. “It was a set of ingredients I’d never go near now,” he says but, as we all know, it worked.

You’re Beautiful went to number one and became one the most overplayed pop songs of the decade. Sam was excited to see something he’d done directly drive commercial success, but eventually suffered from this success. “It was tough for me how ubiquitous that song became,” he says. “It almost became a trigger for me. I’d hear it in hotel receptions and go into a rage. I felt responsible for inflicting this thing on the world.”

Seeing the result of his risk-taking made him more reckless. Looking back he finds it baffling the number of times he’d get sent a track, write a treatment and not speak to the commissioner or the artist until he got on the shoot. “It was like ‘hang on. I’ve just taken 150 grand of your money and you won’t ask me any questions about it?’ It was an extraordinary amount of trust.”

The crazy days didn’t last. Once the recession struck and budgets collapsed, things started to get stretched. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was the video I did for Adele for Rolling In The Deep,” he says. With over 600 million views on YouTube now and a Grammy for Best Music Video, it undoubtedly helped propel her career, but never made Sam any money from it. He quickly decided it was time to get into commercials.

At the time it was a fairly natural progression. With the budget gap between promos and ads relatively small, they were closely tied together. It’s not so easy now. “I feel like me, Si & Ad and Scott Lyon were the last few directors wriggle through that door as it was closing,” he observes.

Rogue were the first company to approach Sam and he made the transition very smoothly with them, starting out working on commercials with the style of music videos. Careful not to get pigeonholed as one kind of director, Sam managed to broaden his style very quickly and it shows on his eclectic advertising reel, from light-hearted stuff like Strongbow, Moments of Truth to Guinness, Black, which is more like a music video than a commercial.

Sticking with Rogue, Sam’s ascent through the ranks of advertising directors has been meteoric. He’s picked up awards including golds at BTAA, Cannes, London International, Creative Circle and a best direction pencil at D&AD. He’s in the top league of commercial directors.

Occasionally Sam returns to music videos, but he’s different from others who go between the two formats. The big reason people go back and make music videos is for freedom expression, as he understands it, “because you’re the dictator of your own little island when you do a music video.” But Sam finds he gets quite enough freedom on the commercials he works on. “People come to me to develop things, reinvent things, come at them from a different angle. So I don’t crave the freedom of music videos because I get that in commercials, but with more money and better ideas. And actually, I don’t like being the dictator of my own little island. I like working with people, taking their ideas and making them better.”