High Five: January

January 14, 2016 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

This month’s best ads are designed to make you crack a smile.

When advertising makes you feel good, you associate those feelings with the advertised brand. That’s what they hope to do, anyway. Clients know this, and they’re desperately trying to drag you out of your January blues. These five are some of the most effective, in our opinion.

Brand: Center Parcs
Title: Bears
Production Company: Mustard
Director: Ben Liam Jones
Production Company Producer: Nick Papworth
Ad Agency: Brothers and Sisters
Executive Creative Director: Andy Fowler
Creatives: Ollie Wolf, Malcolm Duffy, Indy Selvarajah
Agency Producer: Jennifer Kennedy
Editor: Elena De Palma
Sound Company: GCRS
Sound Designer: Tom Pugh
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Collective

Center Parcs – Bears

This anthropomorphic triumph nails it on several fronts. The idea that, like bears, we feel more at home when immersed in nature fits perfectly with Center Parcs’ offering. The family are adorable and, thanks to the stellar CGI work of Electric Theatre Collective and the emotional awareness of director Ben Liam Jones, they’re a lovable bunch – quite an achievement considering they’d tear your throat out if you met them in real life. An undeniably warm and fuzzy film to get you booking an outdoorsy holiday.

 

Brand: Cillit Bang
Title: The Mechanic
Production Company: Partizan
Director: Michael Gracey
Production Company Producer: Khalid Tahhar
Director of Photography: Carl Nilsson
Ad Agency: BETC Paris
Creative Directors: Stephane Xiberras, Jaques Jolly
Creatives: Alexandre Saad, Marie Baillot, Guillaume Rebbot
Agency Producers: David Green, Emilie Cointot
Editing Company: Royalpost
Editor: Stuart Bowen
Sound Company: GUM

Cillit Bang – The Mechanic

Let’s be honest. We’re going to miss Barry Scott. His passion for this all-purpose cleaning product was an inspiration to us all for many years, the likes of which we may never again see on our televisions. But there’s something about this Flashdance homage that captures the satisfaction of having a really good cleaning session perfectly. It’s brilliantly choreographed, cleverly shot and fun to watch. It must have been quite a relief when they finally got all those moves in the can.

 

Brand: Nissan
Title: Hoybot
Production Company: Somesuch
Director: Bob Harlow
Production Company Producer: Dougal Meese
Director of Photography: Benoit Soler
Ad Agency: TBWA\
Creatives: Simon Morris, Dean Webb
Agency Producer: Fiona Campbell
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Thomas Carter
Music Company: Finger Music
Composer: Daniel Lenz
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Phil Bolland, Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: The Mill

Nissan – Hoybot

Of all the car manufacturers, Nissan’s reputation is one of the most high tech, so creating themselves a mascot that’s more machine than man was a neat fit. The style of the film is smart. It looks like a teaser trailer for the sort of sci-fi superhero movie we’re inundated with these days. There’s even a digital graphic novel to go with it. It’s light-hearted, different and an original way of using Sir Chris as an ambassador.

 

Brand: THINK!
Title: Doghouse
Production Company: Smuggler
Director: Guy Shelmerdine
Production Company Producer: Jason Scanlon
Ad Agency: AMV BBDO
Creative Directors: Martin Loraine, Steve Jones
Creatives: Adrian Rossi, Alex Grieve
Agency Producer: Mat Towell
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Tim Hardy
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: The Mill

THINK! – Doghouse

The road safety category has been repetitive for a long time, often relying on plain shock tactics. That only makes this clever approach even more refreshing. Bravely admitting that not drinking and driving can cause trouble, it pushes the point home that capitulating can potentially be much worse. It’s well cast, relatable and with a brilliantly British sense of humour it’s a film that does its life-saving role justice. It's a funny road safety infomercial. That's impressive.

 

Brand: Thomas Cook
Title: Pool Kid
Production Company: The Sweet Shop
Director: Mark Albiston
Production Company Producer: Kate Taylor
Director of Photography: Justin Brown
Ad Agency: Albion London
Creative Director: Debs Gerrard
Creative: Hugo Isaacs
Agency Producer: Petrina Kilby
Editing Company: Tenthree
Editor: Billy Mead
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: The Mill

Thomas Cook – Pool Kid

This idea comes from the same feel-good school of advertising as the Cadbury Gorilla. It’s a risky approach; it’s simplicity can often backfire, but when it’s done right it’s a powerful strategy. And this time they’ve got it spot on. From the choice of track to the casting of the kid to the moves themselves, it all comes together to bring the right positive vibes. It’s really quite hard to explain, but we’re sure it will make people smile (and potentially even book holidays).

Signed: Dropbear

January 14, 2016 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Agile's latest signing has a vibrant reel of graphical, stop-motion delights.

AKA Agile Films’ newest director Dropbear (whose real name is Jonathan Chong) remembers being enthralled by the stop-motion animations that Sesame Street used to feature between segments when he was a kid. He’d wake up unreasonably early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and always being loved being taken to the cinema. 

He studied graphic design at university and his love for film and animation laid dormant until his final year, when he discovered Jan Švankmajer, Hayao Miyazaki, the Bolex Brothers and Henry Selick.

After graduating he worked as a stamp designer at Australia Post for a few years and at other design studios, before deciding that he wanted to work more with moving images. He taught himself by making simple animated loops and experimenting with different techniques such as rotoscoping, stop-motion and motion graphics and found a lot of the techiniques of graphic design were transferrable. Over time he began to get more animation work and less graphic design projects until he became a full time animation director.

His big break came in 2009 after completing his first stop-motion music video for Hudson and Troop's track Against the Grain. An animation using coloured pencils, it went viral within days and was featured on a number of influential sites and blogs. The global exposure launched his career as a stop-motion animator and ever since he’s been thrilling the internet with his meticulously crafted music videos.

Watch some of his work here:

APA Announces IDEAS

January 13, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Directions to Direction: Chino Moya

January 11, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

From teenage raver to philosophical world builder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games, Film and the Space Between

December 16, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fame, Music and Advertising

December 15, 2015 / Features

By Jack Carrington

How Adland is affecting the charts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jack Carrington is a Strategist at 18 Feet & Rising.

High Ten: 2015’s Best Christmas Ads

December 9, 2015 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

We’re so full of festive cheer we're handing out twice the love this month.

Endless millions are splurged every year on British ads in the attempt to ‘win Christmas’ and it’s becoming more of an advertising extravaganza – the British equivalent of the Super Bowl – with every festive season. In fact, so much care and talent has been lavished upon brands this year that we’ve decided to get into the spirit of seasonal generosity and use both hands to congratulate the best ads of the month. Here’s our first Christmas High Ten, in alphabetical order.

Brand: Aldi
Title: Over The Moon
Production Company: Another Film Company
Director: Mark Denton
Production Company Producer: Sara Cummins
Director of Photography: Miguel Ragageles
Ad Agency: McCann Manchester
Creative Director: Neil Lancaster
Agency Producer: Melissa Bennett
Music Company: Polydor Records
Sound Company: Wave Studios
Sound Designer: Parv Thind
Post Production Company: Jam Films

Aldi – Over the Moon

The beauty of a simple idea like the one at the heart Aldi’s advertising is its flexibility. John Lewis’s Christmas ads have become such a rich vein for parodies in recent years and the people at McCann almost certainly knew they were going to spoof it before The Man on the Moon had aired. That said, it’s still impressive that they managed to get their witty retort made, signed off and aired in just a couple of weeks.

 

Brand: Currys PC World
Title: Jigsaw
Production Company: O Positive
Director: David Shane
Production Company Producer: Nell Jordan
Director of Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Ad Agency: AMV BBDO
Creative Directors: Alex Grieve, Adrian Rossi
Creatives: Mike Sutherland, Antony Nelson
Agency Producer: Anita Sasdy
Editing Company: The Quarry
Editor: Paul Watts
Music Company: Finger Music
Sound Company: Wave Studios
Sound Designer: Aaron Reynolds
Post Production Company: The Mill

Currys PC World - Jigsaw

This is the standout film from a very well executed campaign. Jeff Goldblum’s performance is spot on, the script is funny and the idea is built around an insight that’s obvious to everyone. Several campaigns have tapped into the idea of feigned delight when faced with uninspiring presents, but this one is so well done, and with a famous face to boot, that it’s sure to be the one to stick in people’s minds.

 

Brand: House of Fraser
Title: Your Rules
Production Company: Prettybird
Director: Ace Norton
Production Company Producers: Tom Knight, Jess Wylie
Ad Agency: 18 Feet & Rising
Creatives: Anna Carpen, Oli O’Neill
Agency Producer: Claire Ramasamy
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: James Rose
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: Nice Biscuits

House of Fraser – Your Rules

We all know what a big department store’s Christmas ad looks like (see below), and it most certainly isn’t this. Essentially a dance video, it’s shot in a studio with no attempts to recreate an authentic, cosy family setting and no tearjerker story to hit you in the feels, it works simply because it’s different, marking House of Fraser out as unlikely rebels of the department store category.

 

Brand: John Lewis
Title: Man on the Moon
Production Company: Somesuch
Director: Kim Gehrig
Production Company Producer: Lee Groombridge
Director of Photography: Andre Chemetoff
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Richard Brim, Ben Tollett
Creatives: Miles Carter, Sophie Knox
Agency Producer: Lucie Georgeson
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Tom Lindsay
Music Company: Leland Music
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: The Mill

John Lewis – Man on the Moon

The pressure of making the John Lewis Christmas ad must be unbearable for everyone involved. We’ve hyped it up so much that we have to applaud the people who made it just for managing to get something on air. Amazingly, they’ve also managed to live up to expectations this year, with a touching work of magical realism, bringing together some of the best talents from all disciplines of advertising to make fragile, shopping-exhausted parents weep into their mulled wine.

 

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: Journey to Christmas
Production Company: Outsider
Director: James Rouse
Production Company Producer: Benji Howell
Ad Agency: Leo Burnett
Creative Directors: Matt Lee, Pete Heyes
Creatives: Phillip Meyler, Darren Keff
Agency Producer: Lou Pegg
Editing Company: Work Post
Editor: Art Jones
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: MPC

McDonald’s – Journey to Christmas

This is a pretty typical Christmas ad, featuring an adorable family singing a festive hit we’ve heard so many times that we’ve gone through cycle of hating and then ironically loving and then hating again several times over. It’s nicely put together and with all of James Rouse’s trademark warmth, it’s sure to get people feeling festive, which is pretty impressive for a brand as un-Christmassy as McDonald’s.

 

Brand: Mulberry
Title: Miracle
Production Company: Outsider
Director: James Rouse
Production Company Producer: Benji Howell
Director of Photography: Alex Melman
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Director: Richard Brim
Creatives: Aidan McClure, Laurent Simon
Agency Producer: Panos Louca
Editing Company: Work Post
Editor: Bill Smedley
Music Company: Focus Music
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson
Post Production Company: Finish

Mulberry - Miracle

James Rouse strikes again in this wonderfully dry and absurd bit of comedy. Replacing the messiah with a £700 handbag was an interesting move, but ultimately makes for quite an appropriate parable for these consumerist times. It’s exactly the tone we now expect from the brand, whose low-budget offering last year was an unexpected and welcome gift.

 

Brand: Sainsbury’s
Title: Mog’s Christmas Calamity
Production Company: Outsider
Director: James Rouse
Production Company Producers: Benji Howell, Heather Kinal
Ad Agency: AMV BBDO
Creative Directors: Michael Durban, Tony Strong
Agency Producers: Rebecca Scharf, Nikki Holbrow
Editing Company: Work Post
Editor: Bill Smedley
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson
Post Production Company: Framestore

Sainsbury’s – Mog’s Christmas Calamity

Completing James Rouse’s hat trick is this formidable festive romp from the defending champions of the supermarket Christmas ad competition. And, despite the ludicrously high bar set by last year’s emotional commemoration of the 1914 Christmas Day truce, we’re fairly confident Sainsbury’s will keep that title for another year. It’s cute, warm and jolly – all the good stuff we look for at this time of year.

 

Brand: Temptations
Title: Say Sorry
Production Company: Rattling Stick
Director: Austen Humphries
Production Company Producer: Kelly Spacey
Director of Photography: Jim Joilliffe
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Ben Tollett, Richard Brim
Creatives: Steph Ellis, Rory Hall
Agency Producer: Catherine Cullen
Editing Company: Speade
Editor: Gareth McEwen
Music Company: Sound Lounge
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Phil Bolland
Post Production Company: The Mill

Temptations – Say Sorry

Speaking of cute... Cat treat brand Temptations have burst out of obscurity in the past couple of years thanks to the work of adam&eveDDB and, as that agency are the tried-and-tested masters of Christmas, it would be poor form not to do something festive. Naturally they’ve nailed it (with more than a little help from Elton John), encouraging us to spare a thought for the cats who’ve fallen victim to their own cuteness this yuletide.

 

Brand: Vodafone
Title: Terry the Turkey
Production Company: Thomas Thomas Films
Director:  Kevin Thomas
Production Company Producer: Trent Simpson
Director of Photography: Bob Pendar-Hughes
Ad Agency: Grey London
Creative Director: Matt Doman
Creative: Howard Green
Agency Producers: Marcus Eley, Sophie Paton
Editing Company: The Quarry
Editor: Scot Crane
Sound Company: 750mph
Post Production Company: Gramercy Park Studios

Vodafone – Terry the Turkey

This is exactly the kind of uplifting parable we’re looking for at this time of year. Cuddly and funny, thanks to the deft touch of director Kevin Thomas. The pro-vegetarian overtones are surprising for such a mass-market brand, but it’s a compelling message, sure to warm the cockles, especially with the mighty Westlife backing it up.

 

Brand: Warburtons
Title: The Giant Crumpet Show
Production Company: Another Film Company
Director: Declan Lowney
Production Company Producer: Simon Monhemius
Ad Agency: WCRS
Creative Director: Billy Faithful
Creatives: Andy Lee, Johnny Porthouse
Agency Producer: Helen Powlette
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor:  Leo King
Sound Company: GCRS
Sound Designer: Ben Leeves
Post Production Company:  Finish

Warburtons – The Giant Crumpet Show

This ad’s status as part of the Christmas commercial extravaganza is debatable. Some have argued its lack of even a single sleigh bell should disqualify it from the competition, but seeing as Millward Brown have now crowned it the most effective campaign of the season those arguments can be safely laid to rest. The Muppets bring exactly the pantomime kind of vibe we love at this time of year. Brought together with a witty musical number written by the songsmiths at WCRS and expert comic direction from Declan Lowney, it’s easy to see why people are enjoying it so much.

Marketing Ready for 2016

December 3, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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