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.”

About the Beak Street Bugle

May 19, 2015 /

By alex

The Beak Street Bugle is an online newspaper for the advertising world. Here you will find articles on advertising and commercials production, in particular, containing insight, opinion, reviews, blind conjecture, humour and work.

Signed: Manson

May 19, 2015 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A four-headed beast exploding from Barcelona with fire in its belly.

Nothing to do with either Charles or Marilyn, Manson are a Barcelona-based directing collective formed of  Tomás Peña, Pau López Peñalver, Martí Carós and Oriol Caba.

Their eclectic style, encompassing animation and live action, has taken them to some interesting projects exploring contemporary urban culture, from their ghetto-fabulous video for Cue feature Snoop Dogg to their Vimeo Staff Picked mini-doc ‘California Inspires Me’, and it's definitely earned them some internet buzz too.

On top of that they’re true world citizens and have worked with international clients including Nike, MTV and Adidas. Now they’re represented worldwide by Not To Scale, so keep an eye on their body of work as it expands.

Watch some of their work here:

Unsigned: Christopher Arcella

May 19, 2015 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A fiercely ambitious ex-designer from Steel City who likes to experiment.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Christopher Arcella made some of his early forays into film under the watchful eye of esteemed filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, while he worked part time at his office.

With a background in product and furniture design and a Bachelor’s Degree from the Virginia Tech College of Architecture, his interests have gradually shifted away from design and towards writing and directing. His first jobs saw him designing all sorts of things for a wide range of clients, from furniture to digital experiences. He even ran his own interaction design studio, RUNROBOTS, for a while.

To date he’s directed over 40 short films and music videos as well as one feature. Due to financial constraints he's shot it all himself. He recently started a feature film production company with his high school friend Mike Uy called Film Club 13 (or FC13). Their first project is a science fiction film titled Deviations, about a society that has waived its right to privacy. He’s gone deep into research and development, even writing a novel to supplement the script and help the actors develop their characters.

Keen to apply his filmmaking talents to more commercial ends, Christopher is seeking representation. It’ll be worth watching where he heads next.

Watch some of his work here:

A Royal Rumble

May 18, 2015 / Features

By Jessica Turner & Helen Hadfield

All the drama of a real-time, reactive, documentary-style campaign about childbirth.

Film production is essentially advanced problem solving. And producing advertising can throw up all sorts of problems. But it’s not often that producers face as many challenges as Bare Films did when they shot their most recent campaign for Pampers in reaction to the recent royal birth.

We asked Producer Jessica Turner and Executive Producer Helen Hadfield to relive the experience with us. It’s surprising they don’t have PTSD after this job.

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi London
Exec Creative Director: Rob Burleigh
Creative Team: Hector Dudding & Oliver Quinn
Exec Agency Producer: Lauraine Bhuglah
Assistant agency producer: Beth tomblin
Account Director: Lisa Robbins

Director: Elizabeth Stopford
Executive Producer: Helen Hadfield
Producer: Jessica Turner
Production Manager: Rosie Pike

Associate Producers: Vicky Gardner, Ayesha Tariq, Jenn Westlake, Alex Dewhirst, Alessana Hall
Production Assistant : Maddy Perkins

DOPs: Petra Graf, Sarah Cunnigham, Maeve O’Connell, Elvina Nevardauskaite, William gardner

Edit House: Stitch
Editor: Phil Currie
Post-Production: The Mill
Sound: Scramble

Jessica Turner: As the world waited in anticipation for a new royal baby, in January of this year Pampers commissioned a new campaign, which centred itself around babies born the same day as the new prince or princess. Conceived by Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency approached Bare Films with the 90-second project, which was to be part of a larger print, digital and online campaign. Bare joined forces with award-winning director Elizabeth Stopford to come up with an approach to achieve the challenge, which was to be filmed in real time and delivered to air the next day.

Helen Hadfield: We had to deliver a truly outstanding job with no shoot date, notwithstanding getting people to agree to showcase such a personal moment on film as a campaign for Pampers. The moment it was confirmed we all drew a pretty deep breath. Great to have a one-off, never-again opportunity, then there’s just the problem of making it happen.

We had an extremely tight budget and a high-risk production. A very talented documentary Director, monumental expectations all round and everyone was going to work in an entirely different way, way out of their comfort zones. It was the nearest I have got to making a real documentary. We didn’t know exactly what we would get on film or indeed if anyone would actually have a baby on that day.

JT: It was a difficult challenge and the methodology specifically evolved to create the film was vital. We had no shoot date and needed to capture babies born on the same day but we had no idea what day that was. There was a rumour it would be some time in late April. There were no second chances. We knew we would have to run it like a military operation but handle it with a great deal of sensitivity due to the subject matter. 

We were fortunate that we had a director who was brilliant at getting sensitive material in pressurized environments, she had just been filming in a prison in America for her documentary feature and had also filmed in a hospice. She is particularly calm, considered but equally determined. We needed someone with the right clout and credentials to help us build the level of trust required to give us access to film where and when we needed. We were obviously filming in real-time with real people on one of the most important days of their lives, so we had to ensure that everything was handled with a great deal of understanding from all involved.

HH: Only the Director, the DOP and the Assistant Producer could ever be in the birthing areas and there would be no video playback. The sensitivity of the subject matter meant everyone in these areas had to be female. Luckily our Director Elizabeth was a new mum and so were two of the Assistant Producers. In fact Elizabeth’s baby Esme was with us a great deal throughout the production. She was only six weeks old when the production was confirmed. This was a vital connection. Trust and detailed collaboration was not just a requirement, they were essential.

JT: One of the most unique and challenging parts of the whole project was not knowing the shoot date – something you might ordinarily take for granted when creating schedules and prepping for projects. We could only really work by press speculation for the royal due date, so we made the decision to have all crew on standby for a month between early April through to early May with everyone being on call and ready to go at moment’s notice.

In many ways it was a case of heading into the unknown and we had to prepare for the unexpected. We set up Google alerts and had a Twitter account dedicated to following all the royal correspondents, fans and media outlets. We scoured newspapers and magazines to see if there was any update on when the due date might be. To cover all angles, we created individual plans for different scenarios depending on what time we discovered she had gone into labour and also when we knew she had had the baby, continuously being aware that we had to deliver the finished film the day after. We also had to anticipate any false alarms, which could quite have easily been a possibility.

Stitch were on board for editing, with Phil Currie at the helm. Phil had worked with Elizabeth on a number of other projects and this was an essential part of making sure we had a strong unit that would work seamlessly on the day! We worked closely with Stitch and The Mill to construct a plan to execute the editing and post-process as smoothly and as quickly as possible and ensure there would be nothing that would hold us up on the day and through the night. We made a template film in advance and commissioned music so that everyone, including the client, had a clear idea of the film we were making and we ran two test days, one in each hospital in advance so we could see how our process worked for the hospital and for us.

HH: There was much agonising about what we would do if we didn’t get a birth on the day. The template film was still being changed well into the standby period, which was meant to be agreed before the start of it but we did get the music agreed and the vision agreed and shaped before we filmed… eventually.

JT: A huge part of the production process was getting the hospitals on board and working closely with them throughout the period. We carefully selected them based on a number of different elements, but in order to achieve the concept of the project, we wanted to try and capture four babies that were born on the day so we needed to ensure we could work in environments that had a high number of births per day.

HH: Preliminary research on getting the hospitals to consent was negative. At one stage it looked like no major hospital would agree to filming. If that happened we were in deep trouble. We would have no film, we knew that we had to play the long game and it takes time to get these things in place and  we had an established documentary protocol for the hospitals, our snag was  we didn’t have endless amounts of time. There was much celebration when our two chosen hospitals said yes!

We put a massive wall chart up in the office Romford of the highest numbers of births in one day in the country and Chelsea and Westminster was very high up and a flagship hospital and they agreed! However on both test days we didn’t get a single birth. It nearly happened at Chelsea and Westminster but she just didn’t have the baby in the time period. What if that happened on the day?

JT: We had a team of Assistant Producers who started on the project as soon as it was commissioned, organizing the access, liaising with the comms teams and midwives at both Queen’s Hospital, Romford, and Chelsea and Westminster hospital in Fulham, to create a protocol and advise of the consenting process, which would ensure everything would be handled in the correct way on the day and build a relationship of trust between all involved.

After initial planning we created two teams, one for each hospital, which were then divided into smaller units of two-woman teams (one AP and one DOP) with a female runner on standby. The editors were based close by at each hospital waiting to receive the rushes and we formed a plan to transport the rushes from Fulham over to Phil at Romford, so he could make selects and edit throughout the day.

When the standby period approached, within the production office we had set up a rota of 5:00am alarms to check Twitter and news outlets every morning to see if she had gone into labour.

HH: Filming at Mary’s was very restricted (obviously!) We had a scout there every day of our standby period to report back as well as being permanently connected to every royal baby Twitter feed. Exhausting!  We couldn’t use any footage of Buckingham Palace or overtly identify the Lindo Wing.

JT: We worked closely with the camera house Shift 4 who supplied us with essential kit for each DOP for the whole standby month. We also had someone on standby at the camera house who would then deliver any additional kit on the day of the shoot.

We had to check in with all crew every three hours on a daily basis via text message, to let them know that there were no updates.

HH: The publicity was in overdrive so we couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing. None of the runners knew the connection until the day. Everyone had to be on alert throughout the four-week standby period.

It went to the wire. We never thought that we would actually be filming over the bank holiday weekend. All the reports indicated it would be earlier. But there it was, on the Saturday, nothing at 5:00am then at 6:40am Kensington Palace tweeted that the Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted to the Lindo wing. The adrenalin surge was massive, but the relief was huge too.

We went in our organised teams to our respective hospitals. We filmed the first birth at Romford an hour after arriving. A C-section at C&W followed.

JT: We were incredibly lucky managing to capture a birth at each hospital almost straight away.

HH: Then news of the Duchess of Cambridge. It was very exciting. It felt like we were making news.

JT: We had the right day! Our teams worked quickly alongside all the incredible parents who were so friendly and open to us being a part of those special first moments. The rushes were sent straight from the hospitals over to Phil and his team who carefully made selects from the footage.

HH: The poor editor Phil Currie was in our hospital flat in Romford, being fed all the footage from Romford and C&W throughout the day. He didn’t leave that flat until 6:00am the following morning when we left with him. The flat was exquisitely uncomfortable for all of us, director Elizabeth’s baby Esme slept in the spare room while we stayed up all night editing. We ate a lot of crisps and chocolate and the creative team attempted to watch the boxing match and failed.

We got to The Mill at 7:00am on Sunday morning. It was so civilized. We spread out, we ate toast, we drank delicious coffee, we got given bacon sandwiches, we had a graded, dubbed, approved edit by 13.00!

We were all on a high. In the end it went better than we could have hoped for. We had lots of babies, we had lots of press, we had lots of praise. It was all good. PR went into overdrive.

It was a privilege to make, to be invited into one of the most special moments in life by these new parents - giving birth to and meeting their baby for the first time. It’s kind of humbling.

Very grateful to the Duchess of Cambridge for getting in early on Saturday Morning and giving us all day up to midnight to get our film, she gave us the best chance possible and we used it. Lost the bet on the baby name though.

Billboards Covered in Tits

May 12, 2015 / Features

By Jake Dypka

Does the advertising industry have a moral duty to support the feminist cause?

It is an undeniable fact that sex sells. I don’t think anyone can refute the power of the human body, preferably scantily clad, to stimulate our desires in order to push a product. I recently began a project with the poet Hollie McNish and listening to her poems is bringing into question my own loose set of morals, which I had hoped I had buried far enough in my own subconscious to allow me to go about my daily life. I do work in the advertising industry after all. 

Advertising from the beginning has used sex as a weapon to grab people’s attention. My views are fairly liberal on the subject of images of nudity in the public sphere, after all some of the best of art centres around the human body. The problem for me is more a matter of taste. As much as we would like to convince ourselves otherwise advertising is rarely art, and sometimes some campaigns clearly cross the line when using sex to sell things.

I am reminded of the recent ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ billboard, where advertisers took it upon themselves to attack people’s insecurities. Seeming to suggest if you didn't match up to their impossible standards then you weren't ‘Beach Body Ready’ and your place wasn’t at the beach but presumably hidden away behind closed doors.  The first time I came across it I could taste a faint hint of bile at the back of my throat and it wasn’t even targeting me. I was glad to see the force and speed of the backlash with pictures of the campaign defaced with graffiti or altered in Photoshop to represent a more realistic curvy figure. I find it all rather liberating, this trend of the masses responding with their wit and imaginations to demonize some of the worst offenders. Change is in the air and advertisers need to watch their step.

If you don’t use Instagram or haven’t heard, there is a campaign at the moment to “free the nipple”. Instagram bans users who post material deemed inappropriate and one such regulation is no image can show the fully naked breasts of a woman. The defining insult seems to be that as long as the nipple itself is covered then the image is ok. Many people understandably argue that, as the naked chest of a man is apparently ok then why not a woman’s? You can understand the problem of course. Many of the images posted are beautiful and entirely inoffensive but if you ‘free the nipple’ as it were, how long until Instagram is ‘covered in tits’, as Hollie McNish would put it, and more offensive material becomes the accepted norm.

These are very strange and exciting times. The internet has thrown out the rule book. Views and opinions of individuals can now be shared at the click of a button allowing the status quo to be challenged in a way that has never existed before. Cultures across the world are seeing the effect of voices so often kept quiet in the background now having a platform to be heard. One of those voices gradually gaining listeners is Hollie’s.

Hollie and I were classmates back in school and one clear memory of her that springs to mind is me struggling away in an English exam watching Hollie a few rows up repeatedly asking for more paper to continue writing after running out. It was clear to me then as it is now that Hollie was destined to do great things. Her poems on all things social, cultural, personal, and provocative have been steadily growing in momentum over the years, and by some beautiful twist of fate we are working together to make one of her poems ‘Embarrassed’ into a film. If you haven’t heard the poem I urge you to do so, but in short it attacks everything from aggressive formula marketing to the double standard of anti-breastfeeding discrimination in a world of “billboards covered in tits.”

Is this some form of double standards on my part then? I am after all working as a director in advertising. The industry Hollie so cleverly vilifies for its own double standards.

I know from personal experience how individuals in the advertising community become extremely passionate and dedicated whilst working on projects with a positive message. Charity films are well known to attract directors and production companies alike willing to work for free to get a decent film made. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that most of us suffer some quiet moral dilemma when required to use our skills just for the purposes of selling. Do the brains behind the ‘are you beach body ready’ campaign lay awake at night ruminating on the negative ideas they have spread? Does the advertising community then, who gain profit for exposing breasts, have a moral duty to support the feminist cause whole-heartedly? I hope so. Perhaps I can make a start by exposing breasts on camera for all the right reasons.

 

Jake Dypka is a director at Indy8 and is working with Hollie McNish and Indy8 on a film based around Hollie’s poem Embarrassed.

Misplaced ‘Purposeful Marketing’ is Annoying

May 11, 2015 / Arts and Culture

By Ivo Roefs

It’s as if a new race has begun: Who is the new champion in social involvement? In many cases, the contenders aren’t credible at all.

Every agency, every awards organisation and every judge has asked themselves, or has been posed, the following question at least once: which campaigns have a good chance of winning?

As I was pondering this question, I caught myself thinking: “I bet it’ll be a charity again”. Because whichever awards festival you look at, charities are always among the winners.

Also, I recently attended a meeting on “being a meaningful brand” – a topic that was immediately linked to supporting social themes or sponsoring charities.

And this led me to a feeling of annoyance about our trade, which I’ve been harbouring for a while now. It is a growing annoyance – and it is an annoyance that I feel is actually more interesting than speculating on who will take the stage at the end of this event [The SpinAwards in Amasterdam].

So whether you like it or not, I’ll be discussing this annoyance with you, and leave you to make up your own minds on who the winners will be. My tip, then: charities.

Charities have been very successful in the past few years – not only on stage and at awards festivals, but also in the marketing plans for a wide variety of brands. It’s almost as if a new race has begun: which brand distributes its sponsorship budget most nobly? Who is the champion of social involvement?

You may be thinking: how can Roefs possibly have a problem with this? Isn’t it a good thing that companies and brands are finally assuming some responsibility in this field? Shouldn’t I be happy for the good souls who help seals and fight illiteracy, now that a big company has finally given them a proper budget to help them do their good deeds? For the environmental crusaders, who owe their continued existence to a soap factory and a coal-burning energy corporation? Let me tell you: I’m very happy for them!

But let me tell you this as well: in many cases, such alliances lack all credibility for me. Which is why I think that this entire trend is overshooting its mark, however well-intentioned it may be.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand where it all comes from. The economic crisis has triggered a collective allergy to commerciality. “Greed is good” – Gordon Gekko’s motto in Wall Street – has become a contaminated phrase. Because that same greed has now thrown our economy into the deep end. In the 1980s and 1990s, “big and successful” was a compliment. Now it just makes many consumers suspicious. We see that every day, in studies. And we hear it in focus groups.

As always in hard times, people are looking for hope, faith and trust. Which has led many brands to think: “Let’s do something with CSR” – corporate social responsibility. That’s the modern thing to do! That’s what consumers want us to do! And just like that, under the banner of “purposeful marketing” and “corporate social responsibility”, an entirely new field has arisen in our trade.

In my mind, things usually get stuck on those two words: “purpose” and “responsibility”.
Not because I don’t think brands can have a purpose or be responsible – I think they can.
But what I see is that most brands forgo that essential first step: defining what their own purpose is.

Because it is only if you’ve figured that out – if you have seriously examined and stated what your brand’s passion really is – that you can sponsor a social purpose in a credible and passionate way. And feel truly responsible for it.

Let me give you a few examples. If Procter & Gamble calls itself  “proud sponsor of moms”, I believe it without reservation. Because moms, that’s P&G’s bread and butter. Moms – that’s who they make products for. They spend all their days thinking about moms, if all is well. So that’s a credible obsession and responsibility for that company: empowering mothers.

Here’s another example. American Express’s “Small Business Saturday” – I get it. Amex wants to be a meaningful partner to small-business owners and it used that promotion to provide relevance to that group.

These are all examples that were conceived from a thorough understanding of what these brands want to represent. This is a completely different proposition from simply tagging your budget and logo onto a random charity or social theme, and then hoping that that will help you rise on parameters like “noble”, “involved” and “sympathetic”.

Just to be clear: this story is not about those charities that manage to do well under their own steam. It’s a very good thing for our trade to use its creativity for non-commercial ends every now and then. (Even though – and I am wording this carefully on purpose – you have to be careful not to mix up your own interests with your client’s.)

The point is – and this is where I’ll finally mention some examples – that I really do not see what the connection is between some big organisations and the social theme they are connected with. Other than, of course, opportunistically pushing brand awareness.

It may be superfluous, but I’d like to draw your attention to the “Why”, “What” and “How” from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. If you do not know this story, you are one of the very last to discover it, and I encourage you to look it up on YouTube as soon as I finish this introduction. 

Every brand should place itself in Simon Sinek’s place and discover what the real “Why” of its existence is – before coming up with a social theme that the brand can and should connect to in a credible way.

What is the true purpose of your brand? What is the obsession that is real and credible?

Which is not the same as asking: which obsession can we benefit from today? Or: let’s do something really cool with this for a few months, and then move on to the next thing. Because if you really believe in your convictions, and if you feel responsible as a brand – that implies a long-term commitment, not a temporary campaign theme. If a conviction, a theme, a topic does NOT flow through a brand’s veins, then that brand should simply stay away from it.

I fear that this story of mine may have caused some restlessness at the boards of a lot of foundations – and that is not something I set out to do. I think every committee and every social theme deserves to have a sponsor – one that is as generous as possible.

But such collaborations must be based on a deeper meaning, one that goes beyond jumping on the latest bandwagon. Because if sponsoring is a temporary fad, then the charity will not benefit from it in the long term.

And I do not believe that any brand ever benefitted from doing things that were not credible.
So let me end with an appeal. And let me say right from the start: this is not a moral appeal, but one based on professional conviction. Let us resolve to reward ideas and strategies that are truly aligned with a brand’s “why”. And not ideas that simply happen to reflect a social topic that is fashionable.

 

Ivo Roefs is Co-CEO at DDB & Tribal Worldwide, Amsterdam.

This is a translation of an article originally published on Adformatie.