From the Jaws of the Sharks

October 3, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The most memorable truth-nuggets from Kinsale.

I’d never taken the Kinsale Sharks seriously enough to bother going. It’s always seemed a frivolity – an excuse for London’s production companies and a smattering of agency producers to have a catch-up over Guinness and under the pretence of work. As Susie Innes wrote a few years back, “it has little kudos,” but it is “good craic”. 

I decided to see for myself this year. I couldn’t keep ignoring those emails from reps every year asking if they’d see me out there. And the prospect of more than a few pints of Guinness in a quaint Irish harbour town is hard to resist.

Of course it was good craic. Loads of familiar faces and a great environment to meet new people. I soon discovered that I should in fact be drinking the impossibly smooth Murphy’s Stout from Cork, not its more famous Dublin rival, and it flowed freely in each charming little pub (and there are more than enough of those).

But as a delegate, there was so much more to it than pints of the black stuff and diddly diddly bands. I found to my surprise that I was also able to stimulate my brain cells in the day before I killed them off in the evening.

In its 54th year Kinsale have shaken things up a bit. With Creative Social curating the speaker schedule, the content was consistently inspiring. While bigger festivals may have more celebrity speakers and ‘creative luminaries’, they are invariably hit-and-miss and often full of unoriginal platitudes. Every speaker at Kinsale held my interest and made me think of advertising in new ways.

Here are some of the best lessons harvested from the speakers’ presentations.


“The true power of creativity comes from a real belief in the transformative power of creativity, from a real belief in the best that humanity has to offer and for choosing interesting rather than doing the same old thing over and over again.”
- Laura Jordan Bambach, Creative Partner, Mr President

“The people that are often responsible for the great work aren’t represented [in Cannes]. The technologists, producers, the young creatives they don’t get a look in. So Cannt is trying to remedy that.”
- Laura Jordan Bambach

“We all know diversity is a massive issue. Why on earth is it not happening on a grand scale across these massive agencies?”
- Laura Jordan Bambach

“It’s never OK to make someone feel bad about themselves just to sell something.”
- Laura Jordan Bambach


“We’ve fallen into a terrible trap. Lack of time outside of work is killing creativity.”
- Emma Perkins, Executive Creative Director, MullenLowe Open

“A good friend of mine said to me ‘you should only ever give 80%’. It was the opposite of what I thought being ambitious meant. The very ambitious tend to give 150% so if people like me give 80 no one will notice. I’m getting away with it beautifully.”
- Emma Perkins


“The parameters we set ourselves actually free us to do better work [...] So work in a box rather than outside of the box […] The important thing is you’ve got to find your own limits that energize you. […] You’ve got to get into something tighter because that’s when the work gets better.”
- Tom Kelly, Freelance Creative Director


“We do everything within our grasp to say thank you to our clients’ customers because great advertising is a thank you to customers from brands and great design is a thank you to customers who buy our clients’ products.”
- Maggie Mouat, Founder & CEO, Luvly New Zealand                      


“When you bring your version of the truth, your own experience and your own belief and the conviction of passion that come with it, and you apply it to human truths, that’s when you create magic.”
- Kenn MacCrae, Executive Creative Director


“My existence is simple. I serve to entertain and amuse.”
- Mr Bingo, Illustrator

“Work with people that can do things that you can’t do. It’s amazing to work with people that can write a beat, record a rap song, make a book or make a rap video.”
- Mr Bingo

“If you think you can do better than what’s out there, it’s worth having a go […] Don’t talk about it. Just do it.”
- Mr Bingo


“I professionally refer to [straight8] as a monster side-line hobby from Hell. It’s one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.”
- Ed Sayers, straight8 Founder


“Teaching takes you out of your commercial environment where you’re always making things for someone else. It’s really nice.”
- Fuscia MacAree, Illustrator


“I think we can all agree that communication has gotten a little lazy. Let’s provoke and scare ourselves, then persuade our clients and make work of consequence.”
- Susan Hoffman, Global Executive Creative Director, Wieden+Kennedy Portland


“It’s really important that we try to absorb things from different areas to make us the best possible in our field.”
- Louise Sloper, Head of Art, BMB

“Having space to think means that you end up coming up with much more creative ideas, rather than rushing and contantly working.”
- Louise Sloper


“I think fame has become a false god. People want to be famous just for the sake of it. To have a vocation is so important. While people are doing reality shows there are people who are following vocations – the nurses and doctors and sewage workers.”
- James Bradley, Founding Partner, 750mph

“FAIL is an acronym for First Attempt In Learning.”
- James Bradley


“I speak seven languages fluently and on top of that I can understand maybe ten or 15. […] The French version of World War II will be different from the Italian version, which will be different from the Russian version, etc. Somewhere in the middle you’re going to find an area of truth. That objectivity inspires me to know that I’m going in the right direction.”
- Jason Romyeko, Worldwide Creative Director & Commercial Artist

“I’ve lost all respect for job titles. […] We are all commercial artists making art for commercial purposes. […] Like artists, commercial artists have to put eyes on screens and bums on seats, but like artists they are responsible for setting trends or opening doors that have been closed for a long time.”
- Jason Romyeko

“We shouldn’t always be guided by research. We need to respect that consumers have taste, but they are waiting for cues from us, so we must with confidence remember that we are makers.”
- Jason Romyeko

Under the Influence: Nicolas Davenel

September 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The foundations this Iconoclast director builds his films on.

Ever since we decided which band names to scrawl on our school rucksacks, the stuff we’re into has come to define us. The art, music, film and hobbies we surround ourselves shape us and the things we create.

So having seen the dynamic, stylish music videos and branded content on Iconoclast director Nicolas Davenel’s reel, we were fascinated to hear about the components that feed his filmmaking.

Early 2000s Hip Hop Videos

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a director.

I didn’t even really watch a lot of movies until the age of about 20 but I was influenced a lot by music videos. I grew up in Brittany in the countryside. At the time there was no YouTube so I remember downloading music videos with my friends, which was a tough job on 56k internet. We burned them on DVDs and built up a collection.

When I was in high school I was really into American hip-hop. All those early 2000s music videos, not even underground stuff – Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, N.E.R.D., DMX. The video for Gimme Some More by Busta Rhymes – that crazy cartoon environment paired with all the rap clichés – I think that is a part of why I wanted to make music videos. I was excited by that.

Later I was fascinated by music videos based on a visual concept, instead of a story. Like all the Michel Gondry music videos, the one he did for The White Stripes, or the one he did for The Chemical Brothers that was a view from a train and every piece of the landscape represents a layer of the music.

My first music video was purely visual too, just a fast dollyshot through the streets of Paris. We had no money so I just used my camera and took pictures, building the fake dolly shot through Paris streets in a 25fps stop motion, that made it sort of look like a video and not stop motion.

Motor-head Subcultures

I’ve done several films about motorbikes and the communities around them. I have a passion for motor-fashions. I’ve done a couple of pieces about motorcycle gangs. I followed moped gangs in the US, spent some time with them, did a music video around a group of motorcycle stunters. I like the community around the vehicles – the passion around a specific object that can become a movement.

The thing is these people are mostly from the countryside where you have a really normal life and having a passion like this is a way to touch the extraordinary and build friendships. There’s something that touches me. It’s about being a hero in a regular environment.

There’s a rich visual environment about Motor that is really attractive and what really got me going was the idea that this vehicle becomes a huge part of their life. They decorate and paint it, it essentially becomes part of their family!

I liked also weird Motor cultures, like tractor pulling. It started with farmers comparing the power of their horses, and now people put three helicopter engines in a tractor and compete by pulling heavy loads on a 100m track. It’s really a motorsport. I like it because it might look ridiculous from the outside, but it’s deeply interesting when you look closer at it.

Bruno Dumont

He directed La Vie De Jesus, and a short series called P’tit Quinquin which is a hilarious burlesque thriller, with a lot of dark humor. P’tit Quinquin is also all about a sense of growing up in a rural, racist environment. In the first episode they find human body parts stuffed inside the asshole of a cow.

All of his films take place in the north of France, like La Vie De Jesus. The story was inspired by something he saw in the newspaper, a racist crime in a small village. Some guys had beaten up an Arab guy. He was wondering how you could end up murdering someone for his race in the countryside where people are almost all white. It’s just following a group of teenagers who hang out on mopeds because they have nothing else to do. There’s an Arab kid in the village. It’s about how this hate starts growing up.

He works with real people, casting on location so all the kids you see are actually from those towns and I love this authentic style. His work is really cynical about humanity. It’s also really touching though and really ambiguous. You never know if he’s a misanthropist or not. He has a raw style that’s really beautiful.

Andreas Nilsson

Having made music videos I’m a big fan of his work. He has an amazing talent to combine his great sense of humour with something freaky. I was really inspired by some of his work when I started, like the videos he did for Fever Ray.

I like how he’s able to do films with an intense environment, almost paranormal or fantastical and also make them funny. I love the music video for Peter, Bjorn and John for It Don’t Move Me about a father teaching a kid to dance like Michael Jackson. The ideas for his music videos are always really simple, but somehow he could fill a whole feature film about that kid and his dad. Being able to put that into three minutes is great.

He also does really funny ones like 2Chainz, Birthday Song. It links to those early 2000s rap videos, where everything is really clichéd. He’s taking that and he’s able to put a lot of humour into it. It’s a sequence shot. It’s riffing on the cliché of a hip-hop video from the beginning and you feel he and Kanye West are making fun of that whole thing.


I really like Jeff Nichols. Take Shelter and Shotgun stories are great movies.

Mud is probably not the film people would talk about as their best movie ever, but seeing that was the first time I realised the sort of feature film I’d like to make, it made a great impression on me. You can feel that every piece of the puzzle is there in the right place, every character, every piece of the story fits well.

It’s about a kid who is helping a fugitive that’s hiding on an Island in the Mississippi.

The Mississippi background is amazing and it’s about a community that is disappearing, people living in houses on the river.

That theme connects also to Beasts of the Southern Wild, which is an amazing first feature from Benh Zeitlin and also a story of a disappearing community in the bayou of Louisiana.

I guess those films have all the themes that I like. a social background treated with a bit of magic, often seen through the eyes of children who are trying to understand the adult world while at the same time becoming one.

A World of More Craft

September 28, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Editor Matt Felstead on why we should celebrate the artisans of our industry.

The British Arrows CRAFT awards nailed their colours to their mast when they started 20 years ago. They’re here to celebrate the craftsmen – the people whose finesse in their specific field manages to elevate a piece of work. And while there are plenty of award shows, the CRAFT awards’ diverse jury of experts in their field gives this one heaps of kudos.

With the last entry date looming, we spoke to one of last years’ winners and a true craftsman – editor Matt Felstead of Big Chop, who won Gold for his work on Sony, TKO.

The Beak Street Bugle: How did you become an editor?
Matt Felstead:
I started as a runner at an editing company and slowly worked my way up from there. I was lucky enough to have some brilliant editors to watch and learn from.

BSB: What do you most enjoy about your job?
Pretty much everything to be honest. I enjoy building the film from scratch, the nervousness and excitement of having lots of rushes that mean nothing individually, working through them and combining them to give them meaning and to tell a story that entertains. I get to do this in the company of brilliant, entertaining, interesting, creative people in a brilliant company with brilliant people in it. Best job in the world.

BSB: What were your first thoughts on how you would edit the TKO film?
I wanted it to have a linear story that took the viewer through the journey of a boxer preparing for and then having a fight but also had the added layers of being a music edit with action that matched the beats of the music rather than just cut to the beat of the music. I was lucky enough to have brilliant rushes from Greg Hackett (the Director) that enabled me to do that.

BSB: How did the footage shape the way you cut it?
Actually it was the music that shaped the way I cut the footage. As I said before the rushes were brilliant and I think it would always have been a beautiful looking film but when we found the music track it dictated what parts of the footage would be used and how.

The music track is just as important in a film as the film itself.

BSB: What does it mean to win a British Arrows Craft Award?
I think, for me, certainly nationally, the British Arrows is the one. It feels like it's more interested in recognising the craft and the individuals involved in making it than creating its own reputation. It’s certainly the one that seems to hold weight with people within the industry and put you up there in terms of reputation when you win it.

It was also confirmation that the decisions and ideas I have day to day are the right ones.

BSB: Why is it so important to have dedicated awards for craft?
I think it’s very important to have dedicated craft awards. A lot of individual talent goes into making the whole of a film and people put their life and soul into the work. You can have an exceptional soundtrack, edit, sound design, cinematography etc. in an unremarkable film and it’s important that the individual work is recognised within that and not lost in the whole.

Entries for the British Arrows CRAFT 2016 awards close on Friday 30th September at 18:00. Enter here

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.”