What Makes Colourists So Special?

September 29, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Do these strange inhabitants of dark grading suites deserve our adoration?

Of all the bewildering job titles in advertising and film production, the colourist is the most curious. On the face of it, their job is fairly straightforward – to make the colours on a film look the best they can. The tricky part is how they do it.

It has been said that they are the stars of post production, cherished by their companies and jealously coveted by competitors. According to Televisual’s 2014 Salary Survey, they earn an average of £78,500 a year, more than the average managing director earns, and the top ones take home considerably more than that average. But where does this veneration come from and do they really deserve it? We spoke to four of the most celebrated colourists in London about why they think people treat them like some kind of sorcerers.

They know what people think of them and the way they are treated by their companies. “You hear it in pubs,” says George K of MPC. “We’re treated like superstars. Some think we’re overrated. Maybe we are.” His colleague at MPC, Jean-Clement Soret agrees. “The colourist is now the big magician. The guy who reveals the image in its full glory.” But it’s hard for them to know what people really think. “You get told lots of things when you’re working in any company,” says Seamus O’Kane of The Mill. “They’re dependent on people performing well and feeling happy, so you do sometimes feel like you’re being overtly cossetted and buttered up.”

The most striking thing about the role is the air of mystery a mention of colour grading evokes. “It’s always been seen as a slightly black art,” says Paul Harrison of Finish. “I think it’s a bit impenetrable.” This must be due in some part to the environment colourists work in. Their suites are their own personal bat caves – dark, expensively decorated sanctuaries, custom built to suit their needs and those of their clients; the sharpest of screens at one end of the room, the softest of sofas at the other. And in between, endless buttons, knobs, sliders and gadgets, incomprehensible to mere mortals.

George remembers his curiosity for all this since before he started grading. He used to walk past the dark suites, peer in and wonder what was going on in there. “It was kind of magical,” he remembers. Now he knows those secrets, but admits it’s hard to explain, “my mum and dad still don’t know what I do. I guess if you haven’t got the technical knowhow it’s difficult to explain what you actually do.”

Seamus still doesn’t fully understand what makes good colour grading, despite being repeatedly counted among the top handful of UK colourists. “It does almost seem like sorcery,” he says. “At the end everyone’s happy, but no one actually knows why.”

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” wrote sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke, famously, and magical analogies are understandable when you consider the powerful devices and software colourists work with.

It’s not only technology that creates that magic though. Graders are much more than technicians working the buttons on a big machine. They’re artists helping to make moving images more powerful. It’s a woolly process, full of vagaries and gut feelings, as Seamus admits. “Colour is an intangible, very unquantifiable thing. You can have all the mood boards in the world, all the expectations of how it’s going to be, but somehow it just looks right.”

Advertising, indeed all film, wants much more than a realistic representation of colour. Colourists’ talents lie in manipulating the hues, lightness, saturations and contrasts to create the most evocative images possible, building layers of nuance and emotion on the raw footage. “It’s about creating atmosphere and mood,” says Paul. “It’s there most of the time. We just have to bring it out.”

On top of this there’s the challenge, particularly relevant to those colourists working in advertising, of dealing with a suite full of people with different opinions. Sometimes a grading suite can contain a director, a DOP, creatives, creative directors, and even clients. There’s something about too many cooks to be said in that situation.

It’s a particular kind of person that can sit in the middle of seven people criticising your work, but it’s important to remember who’s boss. Humility is a must, no matter how revered a colourist may be. Seamus is philosophical about it. “If you’re too fragile it’s not going to go well. You’ve got to take it and make something else and ultimately convince them that what you’ve done is good for them.”

A good colourist must also have to have a talent for diplomacy, as the many voices in the suite often clash. “Sometimes you get real disagreements,” says George. “You’ve got to learn when to pipe up and when not to.” Balancing these opinions, working out where allegiances lie and who has the final say are all key.

That said it’s important to know when to say no politely and convincingly. The sofa dwellers may think they know best, but a good colourist can show them the full potential of an image. Jean-Clement notes that sometimes people say they’re happy with the flat offline footage, straight off the camera. “They got used to the offline and think it is what serves the piece,” he says. “I have to make a call as to whether I should respect their choice or push them somewhere they didn’t imagine they could go.”

On top of all this a colourist must also be a translator. Lay advertising people don’t speak the language of colour, so graders have to work out what they mean. Seamus finds it amusing. “There are generic terms like ‘warm’ and ‘cold’, but you hear things like ‘fizz more red’, ‘a tad’, ‘a natch.’” George gets ‘fluffy’, ‘muddy’ and ‘milky’ a lot. “A lot of them contradict,” he says. “‘I want it soft but contrasty.’ Fortunately, sometimes they bring you references.”

Some of these skills rely on raw talent, or a certain kind of personality. It’s probably true that only a small handful of people have the right combination of attributes to make it work. But it also takes years to become a successful colourist, which is why the top ones are all at least the wrong side of 30, if not much older.

Experience is vital for learning what works. There are so many variables and every grade provides a unique set. There is no easy way to learn, the colourists say. You just have to practice your craft. “When you’ve been doing this for a number of years, any film that is brought to you, you know straight away how it’s going to work,” says Jean-Clement.

Some solutions are to do with the science and psychology of colour (Jean-Clement says that if someone wants something more blue, sometimes adding yellow next to it does the job). Others are subtle tricks of diplomacy, like George knowing when to step into a tense disagreement and when to stay out of it.

Trust is a vital factor. The grade is a kind of choke point in the process of making a commercial. Over its months of gestation, any given ad has had dozens of people working on it. By the time it reaches the colourist all of these creative contributors have a vested interest in how it turns out. The grade can have a huge effect on the final result and yet it rests on the shoulders of one person, often on one day in the suite. “It’s quite a high pressure job,” says Jean-Clement. “It’s very rewarding and interesting and I enjoy it very much, but every day is a big day.” There’s a lot riding on that person, so agencies and directors need to know they can trust their colourist.

Once that working relationship exists with a colourist it’s a powerful force and a valuable resource. It can minimise the many aforementioned challenges of a grade, smoothing them over. George has certain direcotrs that come to his suite, put their feet up and ask for ‘the usual’. “They know that you know best,” he says, “because you know what can or can’t be fixed or whether a certain something can go a certain way.” It’s hard to earn this trust, but it’s also difficult to break.

That’s why grading is such a personal process. The weight of all this rests not on the back of a company’s reputation, but on the relationships a colourist builds and maintains. “People like to have someone to idolise,” says Jean-Clement. “Colourists are an ideal one because it’s pretty much a one-man show. Of course you take everyone’s opinion into consideration but in the end it’s a very personal craft. You can give the same image to five different colourists and get five different results.”

People in advertising enjoy the grade. The culmination of a months-long process for some, it’s nice to sit in a comfortable room and see your vision bloom into its full potential. “For the fist time in [sometimes] a year they’re seeing on screen what they’ve shot is going to look like,” says Seamus. It’s the big reveal, and the colourist is master of ceremonies. “You take all the energy in the room and you’re a conduit,” says Paul.

If done right, the grade can be a good experience for everyone. “Someone once told me it’s like a sanctuary,” says Jean-Clement. A good atmosphere, relaxing and luxurious, thanks to the armies of attentive runners VFX houses employ.

“Every day is a bit like a long-haul flight,” says Seamus. And an expensive one at that. “You’re sitting in a room for 12 hours or so getting very well attended. If you want some coffee or something to eat you pick up the phone and ask. If you think the room’s too hot you make a phone call. So you can act like a rock star every day.”

But colourists aren’t rock stars, and they know it. “You walk out the door and you’re Joe Public,” says Seamus. “If I were sat at home sending my wife for coffee it would not be popular.” He finds it funny that people he knows from the suite don’t recognise him on the street.

George is similarly grounded. “It always brings me down to earth then I go on holiday and no one actually gives a shit what I do for a living. It’s not that important to people.”

People might talk about colourists like Premier League footballers, but their glamour is limited. Ultimately, they’re a bunch of well-paid geeks sitting in dark rooms all day. And they know it. “The secret is not to take it so seriously,” says Seamus. “If you believe you’re fantastic and wonderful, you’re probably not.”

The Mad Experiments of Jim Le Fevre

September 18, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

This Nexus director is exceptionally curious. In both senses of the word.

Jim Le Fevre never grew out of his art foundation course. Many in the creative industries spent a year after their A-levels experimenting in various mediums, finding the most comfortable outlet for their creative energies. Most eventually settle down and pick one though. But Jim liked the experimentation too much. “You’re just playing around and you learn,” he remembers fondly. It’s essentially how he still conducts his business.

Now a director with 15 years at Nexus under his belt, you could say he’s settled into a career in animation and commercials. “I still like doing film stuff,” he says, “but I get obsessed about all this other stuff. I’ve always wanted to be an artist but never had the balls.”

He’s not a normal animator. As his reel makes clear, he’s a fan of unconventional techniques.

Experimentation comes naturally to Jim. Often daunted by the prospect of writing a narrative, he’d rather start by playing with process. “When you’re experimenting in process the action justifies what you’re doing,” he says. “Then you can go back and weave through narratives.”

Another notable aspect of Jim’s work is the curiosity for engineering that comes through. “The thing that really makes me excited is how things are made,” he says. So he looks outside of animation and filmmaking for inspiration.

It’s a good time to have this attitude. “Everything’s really holistic at the moment,” he notes. Engineering, the sciences, technology and the arts are converging more and more, and he celebrates the richness this brings. “They’ve all got things that we can use, and I think art’s got so much more it can use from other places.”

He doesn’t exactly work in a goal-orientated way, preferring to pursue things he finds interesting to see where they take him. “The most exciting thing is realising they’re so worth following down,” he says. “Nobody may ever understand what I wanted to do with some of these things, but the end result is always interesting enough.”

Housed at the Nexus studio, Jim’s experiments have led to some fascinating techniques. Here are some of his creations:

The Phonotrope

Wikipedia lists Jim as the man who coined the term phonotrope. As a father of the technique, he describes it as a descendant of the zoetrope, a kind of animation “using the confluence of revolutions of a record player and the frame-rate of a camera. It doesn’t have to be a record player. I did one on a potter’s wheel and I was recently playing with our salad spinner until my wife told me to stop. Anything that spins really.”

The idea came to him as he was taking part in the Straight 8 film competition, where directors are given a single Super 8 cartridge and have to make a short film without editing. “Everyone tries to out-clever each other and I thought it would be quite good to get some animation into the frame-rate.” It didn’t work, but Jim’s rampant curiosity was piqued enough for him to continue experimenting.

“I didn’t discover it,” he says. “I just uncovered it because we’ve practically been able to do it for years. Three of us kind of independently stumbled on it roughly at the same time.”

As one of the fathers of the technique, Jim has worked on a number of Nexus commercial projects using it and has pitched on a few more that have ended up getting made by other phonotropists. “You can’t copyright a technique,” he concedes. “But I feel responsible for them, even though some of them are really badly done. My ugly bastard children.”

He took to a potter’s wheel for his Craft Council film, which was a little scary. “Pottery’s very different to animation,” he says. “There aren’t as many undos on a pot.” Luckily the pot didn’t explode in the kiln, and the film has now been watched by thousands of people.

It’s also got him involved in other zoetrope-like projects, the most recent being his work on Nexus’ SBTRKT-O-SCOPE for electronic music artist SBTRKT, which used strobe lighting as the electronic equivalent for the slits in a zoetrope, illuminating a rotating sculpture at intervals to make it look animated. http://www.nexusproductions.com/work/sbtrkt-o-scope “It was a real delight when we got the SBTRKT-O-SCOPE up and running,” he says. “What’s so nice is that it cuts away the rest of the world and you’re entirely locked into this thing.”

In the process of making that Jim continued to experiment. They tried to play around with UV lighting until they realised it brought up certain health risks.

Nexus Stage

The Nexus Stage project is another new medium Jim’s experiments led to. Its job was to prove that game design, Unity, Arduino, projection mapping, mobile technologies and microengineering could all come together to create a new kind of experience. “They’ve all been around and they’re accessible enough to be able to just wire them together and create a lovely thing,” Jim says. The lovely thing they created allowed people to use their mobiles to control a 3D-printed physical installation with projection mapping on it.

This prototype later developed into Futureville – an interactive exhibition at the science museum that incorporated this platform to fit a commercial brief.

It was only through simply playing around with these new technologies that that was able to come about. “To get to that stage we discovered some really clever tools, which we’ve since used on some other jobs”, Jim says, “which we never would have discovered otherwise.”


Deconstructed Videogames

Jim’s been playing a lot of early 2000s Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask recently. And he thinks he’s onto something. He started thinking about the structure of the game and how the player’s progression through it requires certain tasks to be undertaken. “As soon as you’ve done that you can get to this,” he says. “But it’s all dressed up in narrative. “It’s really beautiful and I recently started this. It’s really satisfying.”

Basically, he’s stripped away all the narrative and skill required and drawn maze-like diagrams of the game’s structure, not based on the geography of the game but of the tasks themselves. “Everything is a lock and a key,” he explains. “And that key could be loads of different things. It could be an ability, a fight, a challenge.”

He’s drawn maps for every stage of the game. “I don’t know why but I know there’s something interesting about totally deconstructing a game and creating this ziggurat formation.” He’s looked at other games too and the differences are striking. “Grand Theft Auto’s got a circular, kind of fractal shape to it,” he says.

The aesthetic representation of a level in Majora’s Mask


One idea he has is to build a physical structure of the game, because his diagrams are beautiful in their own right. But he’s also learning to code in Unity, so would be interested to create games himself. If games have different shapes, he’s realised, “you can paint a game by making a structure which is interesting to look at and then you’ve a data hierarchy, which you can work backwards from.”

You could even use these stripped down game shapes to build new games, overlaying new characters, settings, narratives and skills. Jim’s interested in exploring this. “Does it matter that I had to go to the snow world? What if all the snow related abilities and tools and enemies and challenges were toothpaste?”

“I don’t know where that’s going,” he admits. “But I know travelling through I’ll discover some really interesting things on the way.”

The aesthetic representation of a number of choices in Majora’s Mask


Something Between Games and Films

He’s also on the path to answer a question that has plagued the creative industries for the past decade or two: how to make a game that’s as emotionally engaging as a film or a film as immersive as a game. “I think the solution is that it’s not a film that’s a game or a game that’s a film. There’s actually something else.”

“It’s kind of early but I know there’s something in there, like I knew something was in the other stuff,” he says.

He’s creating a short film and a short app experience that share the same story and setting but certain things depend on which you visit first. “It’s actually the difference between the two that’s most important. We’ll see how that works out. I have no idea. It just sounds really cool.”

Nexus is known for its core of ingenuity, and whilst not every production company would support a director exercising such curiosity, Nexus prides itself on nurturing these director characteristics. Jim still directs traditional commercial jobs, but he’s lucky. “I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve been here so long, but I feel like I’m allowed to just play around with things,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t get jobs for a while and you can either not earn money not doing anything or not earn money doing something.”

But all these experiments serve a business purpose. What Jim’s learnt in the process can be applied to countless clients’ briefs. “There’s so much that just showing something to an agency that have possibly got the right kind of client can do,” he says, “rather than people trying to drag ideas out of the internet. We have seen this with Nexus Stage leading onto Futureville for the Science Museum as well as being used  in  a 100 metre interactive Printemps window display for Burberry”

It’s important to get the right fit with this process. “I think if you either have no morals or taste you can shoehorn anything,” Jim chuckles, knowingly. But the trick is to hold onto the great ideas until the right client comes along. “When something is good in its own right and is totally justified; when they all fit it’s so nice.”

Jim will keep going with his investigations. “I’m a doer,” he proclaims. “If you have found yourself with an idea and you’re talking about it without having done something you’ve got a choice: Either stop talking about it and do it and never talk about it until you’ve done it; or just ditch that idea and never talk about it again.”

He’s certainly single-minded. “I know I have to continue down these little rabbit warrens,” he says. “and while I’m going down these routes I pick up little discarded gems.” It sounds like he really has been playing too many Nintendo games.

Directions to Direction: Charles Joslain

September 14, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

From wads of cash in the former USSR to a more stable life at Animated Storyboards.

Despite his polite American accent, Charles Joslain insists he is 100 per cent French. Born in Nantes and growing up in Paris, his love for storytelling can be traced back to his upbringing by his mother. He didn’t really know his father and bluntly describes him as “a bit of douchebag” when we sit down for lunch in an unassuming Italian-run café near Hatton Gardens. Caught between the firm conservative morals of his mother and the liberal philosophies of his teachers, he decided to stop listening once he reached adolescence.

Stories were his rebellion against the moralising adults in his life. “A story presents an argument to you and you agree or disagree or fashion your own view,” he says. “As opposed to a lecture. I thought ‘that’s what I want to do.’”

This passion for narrative quickly focused itself into a love of film, which became his main method of escapism as a kid. With his job putting flyers under people’s windscreens and a bit of scrimped lunch money he could afford to buy one VHS per month and could watch one film at the cinema with a student discount per week. He’d make sure he got his money’s worth. “I would definitely sneak in and watch two or three in a row,” he admits.

Charles didn’t know anything about how films were made, but he had a general impression. “I knew there was a guy with the money called the producer and a guy in front of the camera called an actor. I knew there was a guy with a camera and a guy with a microphone of some sort. I thought the guy who organises all this probably has the coolest job.” Unlike most directors, he’d identified his dream job by the age of 12.

Having spent his teenage years learning English from American films (hence his unusual accent), his ambitions hadn’t changed. On 13th September 2001 an 18-year-old Charles boarded a very security-conscious Eurostar to England to begin his film degree at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Farnham. Due to a touch of well-intentioned plagiarism, it would take him five years to graduate.

He clashed with his tutors repeatedly, probably because some of them thought he was “an arrogant little shit, which was possibly partly true,” he says. But what he hated most were the endless restrictions defining what filmmaking should be. He rebelled against these and no more so than in his final graduation short film.

The school’s short film guidelines dictated it should be no longer than 15 minutes, with no children or animals, no special effects or make-up, no dialogue in a foreign language and no period dramas. The 20-minute film he turned in, called Edmond, takes place in Paris in the 1960s with a five-year-old girl as the lead character who becomes friends with her mysterious neighbour – a disfigured old man who needed an hour and a half of make-up every day – and has a pet rabbit. “I ticked every single one of the boxes,” he declares, still proud of himself. “And I did that on purpose to piss them off and felt really good about it.” He’s happy with the film for what it is – a student short film.

Despite his disagreements with the educational establishment, his five years studying weren’t wasted. He’d gained skills with equipment and software that would put him in good stead, started lifelong friendships and met a German girl who would have quite an impact on his life.

After graduation, life got serious. Four years into the relationship with his German girlfriend he suddenly became a father. That meant it was time for Charles to uproot himself again and move to Munich, her hometown.

He found a position as an intern at Dedo Weigart Film – the company that created the Dedolight. His German wasn’t great and it was fairly boring work, but at least he was in filmmaking.

In his first week he met someone who would become a huge figure in his life. Hearing the youngster speaking English, someone peered around a corner in curiosity. ‘Hey, you’re new here. What’s your name?’ he asked in a thick Russian accent. Charles told him and stepped into the man’s office. “I gave him my little speech,” he remembers. Abruptly, the Russian told him everything he needed to do if he wanted to make it as a director. “In 20 minutes it was more education than I’d had in five years at Farnham,” he says.

Only 23 at the time, these ideas made a huge impact. The self-assured, seemingly knowledgeable Russian had instantly earned his trust. Charles asked if he could show him some of his short films for feedback. He agreed and told him to bring a DVD at 9:30 the next morning. “At 9:29 I was knocking on his door with a DVD with menus and prints and everything. I made it as slick as I could make it.”

The Russian didn’t speak to him for a month. Charles ran into him a couple of times at work with no mention of the DVD. “Oh my God, he hated it,” the Frenchman thought. “I’m a failure. I’m never going to make it.”

One day the Russian called him back into his office. He never said if Charles’ films were good or bad, just that ‘there’s potential.’ His name was Alexej Berkovic, the Russian agent for Dedo Weigart, but his main gig was running his own production company, Mark II Productions, based in Kazakhstan. He grabbed talent from Western Europe, sent them out to the steppes to take advantage of the low production costs and made himself a nice cut in the process. He told Charles about a client and asked if he was interested in directing a commercial for them under his supervision. ‘You’re on a plane next week. So is that a yes or a no?’ It didn’t take him long to agree.

The next week he found himself in Almaty, Kazakhstan, not far from the Chinese border, directing an ad for a Russian bottled water company. It was a great chance and set him on a road towards a directing career. He picked up a few more jobs through Berkovic and soon ended up shooting his first music video in Los Angeles.

Berkovic quickly had him working for big production companies and agencies, shooting commercials for markets fro Azerbaijan to Turkey, Dubai, Russia and Kazakhstan.

There are certain stereotypes about working in the former Soviet Union. Images of suitcases full of cash and less-than-wholesome businesspeople come to mind. Fortunately Charles didn’t see any of that. “I’m sure there’s some truth to it,” he admits, “but what I got to experience were professional, extremely competent technicians. The one thing I would say wasn’t the most thrilling was the tone of the adverts. It’s a little too in your face for a western audience. But [the clients] were very happy with the work and I got to shoot a lot.”

After over a year out in the east, language barriers, cultural differences and geography were taking their toll. Charles moved back to London with some decent Russian ads on his reel and started touting his wares. This was 2009 – arguably the deepest pit of the recession for the ad industry - and so not the easiest time to be looking for work as an unknown director.

Unable to work solely as a director, he began to freelance as a motion graphics designer and video editor. He made a fair living, but had to spend a lot of his time and money flying back to Germany to see his young family. “It didn’t help the relationship,” he admits, “which was doomed anyway. I now know we were just the wrong people.”

Charles’ ties with Berkovic and the east weren’t severed though, and he occasionally spent a few weeks at a time in Asia, working with the top-quality equipment and very professional people, directing commercials millions of people there would see – just nobody in the western world.

Life was great for a while. “It was really exciting in my mid to late 20s,” he says. “When you’re away from home for three weeks and you come home with a huge wad of cash that’s great. But you do this three or four times a year for a few years and you want to settle down.”

Working out of a suitcase started to wear on him and soon the work excited him less. He specifically recalls directing three adverts for Danone for Turkey – a market of over 70 million people. “I was paid very well for this,” he appreciates, “but did I enjoy it as much as I did on that last music video that I did with really good, trustworthy people? I didn’t. It was fun. I learned from it, but the little music video was a lot more fun.”

Back in London another unexpected opportunity flew his way. The Central Film School had found his work online. They wanted someone young with a good body of work in commercials to give a one-off advertising lecture. He agreed, the feedback was good and soon it led to him overseeing an ad competition they were running. That led on to him running the advertising course for three years while keeping up his freelancing profile. He found teaching to be useful tool honing his directing skills too. “It was a really good practice to force yourself to think. Whether it’s a script or the edit that doesn’t work, you’re forced to analyse why it doesn’t work.”

Eventually the school made the position full time, so Charles had to leave to continue directing.

Last year he worked on a massive job, co-directing the documentary Between Snow and Stars, about the extraordinary lives of mushers and climbers in the Arctic and on Everest. "It was the hardest project of my life," he says, "and I owe a lot to the Producer/co-Director: Thomas Vaillant (Thomas is now a Producer at Red Bull Media in Austria). It was the first TV-length project I got involved with and I've never learned more from a single piece; in terms of production, financing & distribution."

Eventually he saw the ad for a job as a Director at Animated Storyboards – a company who work mostly in animatic and pre-visualisation. “This is interesting,” he considered. “You get a really high turnaround of work. You get to meet a lot of people in the industry because ASB has such good connections to the industry. I don’t want to do loads of those foreign jobs because they keep you away a lot. And I like London.”

This looked like his chance to settle down, but unfortunately only lasted a few months. "It was a great opportunity," Charles maintains, "they are excellent at what they do and the team is made of lovely people. Genuinely. I realised however that the work didn't seem to offer the progression I was looking for originally. Mallory [Khalifa, Managing Director] is a great boss; very open and supportive of her team members. A very fruitful experience in the end; just not quite right me."

Charles is a certified wanderer, so it'll be interesting to see where his journey leads next. For the past two years he's been developing a script with his friends at Groundwork Pictures for that feature film that burns within so many directors. His is called GiG, a thriller about a dysfuntional family's descent into anarchy in a bleak British seaside town. After a slow start, he's hoping to begin pre-production on that very soon, so the next chapter in his filmmaking career looks like it will be an eventful one.

High Five: September

September 10, 2015 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

There’s more than one way to skin an advertising client.

This month our selection of the best five pieces of advertising demonstrates the many different routes advertising can take. Whether it’s conveying a feeling about a brand through a shiny film, demonstrating the talents of a company through an engineering project or cashing in on a topical joke, each of these pieces of advertising chose the right approach for their client.

Brand: Honda
Title: Ignition
Production Company: Somesuch
Director: Aoife McArdle
Production Company Producer: James Waters
Director of Photography: John Lynch
Ad Agency: Wieden+Kennedy London
Creative Directors: Kim Papworth, Scott Dungate
Agency Producer: James Laughton
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Dan Sherwen
Music Company: Siren
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: The Mill

Honda - Ignition

Every time we see the word Honda appear in our press release mailbox, our High Five senses start to tingle. Alongside their trusted agency partners Wieden+Kennedy, they do brand advertising like no one else. This film is a celebration of the technological excellence they have demonstrated this year, in which the brand has returned to Formula 1 racing, made its first commercial flight and refreshed every model in its range of cars. The raw power of the film also proves director Aoife McArdle’s mighty talents are here to stay. We’ll take note whenever she appears in our inbox too.


Brand: Hostelworld
Title: Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank
Production Company: Motion Picture House (MPH)
Director: Kelvin Hutchins
Director of Photography: Matthew Beecroft
Ad Agency: Lucky Generals
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Jeff Smith
Post Production Company: Absolute

Hostelworld – Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank

It’s 18 years since Alan Partridge desperately cobbled together his TV pitch for ‘Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank’ and it’s finally become a reality. Well, maybe. We don’t know if it will ever become the full travelogue we’ve dreamed of for so long, but this film is gratifying enough for now. What’s amazing is the speed at which agency Lucky Generals made it all happen. On 11th August Twitter buzzed with hilarity as it realised Chris Eubank still didn’t get Coogan’s joke. Within days they agency had got Chris himself on board, as well as Hostelworld and director Kelvin Hutchins of Motion Picture House. It was on YouTube by the 19th. That’s marketing in 2015.


Brand: John Lewis
Title: Tiny Dancer
Production Company: Blink
Director: Dougal Wilson
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Ben Tollett, Richard Brim
Creatives: Jo Cresswell, Sian Coole
Agency Producer: Jack Bayley
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Joe Guest
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: MPC

John Lewis – Tiny Dancer

If this was a bad ad, everyone in advertising would have to reassess what they know. It was made by the people who win the awards these days. From Client to Colourist, everyone on the credit list is at the top of their game. It’s predictably charming, exactly as warm as we expected and full of humanity. It’s also bang on the message for insurance. This particular tiny dancer looks likely to do some damage sooner or later, but who’d want to be the killjoy to stop her?


Brand: Lexus
Title: Slide
Production Company: Smuggler
Director: Henry-Alex Rubin
Production Company Producers: Gordon Mackinnon, Ray Leakey
Director of Photography: Ken Seng
Ad Agency: CHI & Partners
Creative Director: Monty Verdi
Creatives: Brad Woolf, Dan Bailey
Agency Producers: Zoe Barlow, Nikki Cramphorn, Nicola Ridley, Matt Cresswell, Lindsay Hughes
Editing Company: Marshall Street Editors
Editor: Spencer Ferszt
Sound Company: Wave Studios
Sound Designer: Parv Thind
Post Production Company: MPC

Lexus – Slide

When Lexus revealed this, the internet’s nit-pickers came out in force, voicing their disappointment that their hoverboard needed a special skatepark to work. They barely stopped to appreciate the fact that Lexus have made an actual hoverboard that levitates (even over water!) enough for pro skater Ross McGouran to star in this brilliant skate video style ad, deftly captured by action specialist Henry-Alex Rubin. An exhilarating film that tells an impressive story of engineering.


Brand: Pot Noodle
Title: You Can Make It
Production Company: Blink
Director: Nick Ball
Production Company Producer: Toby Courlander
Director of Photography: Chris Sabogal
Ad Agency: Lucky Generals
Creative Director: Danny Brooke-Taylor
Creatives: George Allen, Lizzie Moore
Agency Producer: Sophie Jones
Editing Company: Work Post
Editor: Mark Edinoff
Sound Company: Wave Studios
Sound Designer: Jack Sedgewick
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Collective

Pot Noodle – You Can Make It

Pot Noodle’s advertising has always been brilliantly comfortable with the fact that they’re trashy but delicious and their advertising has celebrated this guilty pleasure status to varying degrees of success over the years. This time round they’ve got the tone exactly right, perfectly parodying the try-hard, aspirational voice of so many commercials we have to stomach these days. It’s a great laugh.

The APA Collection 2015 Revealed

September 3, 2015 / Features

By The Beak Street Bugle

The complete list of the best commercials of the year, as revealed at the APA Show 2015.

Tonight the great and the good of adland descended on the Guildhall in London for the APA Show 2015 - a night of revelry to celebrate the premiere of this year's APA Collection.

The definitive showcase of the best commercials of the year from UK production companies and agencies, the APA Collection is a fascinating barometer for quality in the UK advertising industry. Shown in theatres around the world and distrubuted on DVD by Shots magazine, it celebrates the best British advertising on a global scale.

We can now reveal the commercials that were selected for the APA Collection 2015.

Here they are in alphabetical order:


A DVD of the whole collection, including full credits, will be available in Shots 159, out soon.

Signed: Linda Callenholt

September 3, 2015 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Love sign a Swedish talent with a witty, naturalistic style.

Over the past 10 years Linda Callenholt has established herself as a storyteller adept at directing actors and creating visually driven and nuanced films.

Having studied at Chelsea College of Art in London where she was awarded First Class honours and worked with Peter Saville, Linda began her career directing music videos, art installations and animations. She has since earned a reputation for her blend of realistic, documentary-style films and her visual ability.

Linda has amassed a strong TV commercial portfolio, including her Cannes nominated Italian Slasher film for the Elmsta Horror Fest that showcases her subtle, witty sense of humour and strong perceptive skills. Her ad career has led to film and television, where she most recently worked as director assistant on ‘Monica Z’ (2013), a biopic about Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund.

She’s currently working on a documentary and several short films. And she’s clearly a director respected by her peers, having been a film jury member for award ceremonies such as the Swedish ‘Golden Egg’, Roygalan and the prestigious Eurobest.

She is repped by Matt Francis at The Love Commercial Production Company.

Watch some of her work here:

Keeping up-to-date at HAT

August 7, 2015 / Features

By Jane Jarvis

Today's digital archives are built on creaking old machines and arcane knowledge.

Digital archives are where two very different worlds collide. In order to provide videos that stream through your fibre optic broadband in seconds, hours and even days must be spent in a windowless, climate-controlled room full of whirring machines, some obsolete for decades which require manual loading and expertise that’s becoming more arcane by the day.

But in this fast moving digital age of mov, avi, mp4, mkv, dav and dat files (to name but a few), it is worth reminding ourselves of the work needed by all media archives to ensure access to such a valuable part of our industry and social history is secured. Viewing and transferring to digital from a wide variety of formats is no mean feat.

With online access to our archives the priority, digitisation has become the (current?) solution to the obsolescence of all analogue audio and video formats. But to ensure the archive of the last century can move forward in this digital intensive environment, archives have come to rely on what are the ‘scrap yards’ of outmoded machines.  Think ebay, Gumtree, sale yards, even car boot sales and of course, TV and production houses where large, clunky analogue machines lie unused as victims of the digital age.

The History of Advertising Trust, the ad industry’s archive and barometer of social history holds all manner of images, film and documents charting the world of advertising since the early 19th century right through to recent years. To keep this unique archive up to date HAT is constantly on the look out for a host of specialist machines considered ‘old fashioned’ and redundant in the fast moving hi-tech environment of TV and production studios as they seek to de-clutter and rework their space.  Thankfully, these machines were built to last and designed for heavy use in editing suites with tapes freeze framed, rewound and played back again and again -  many make it to HAT who, paradoxically benefit from media’s technological progress, to continue their work in ‘retirement’,

Over the last four decades, HAT have built up a working ‘museum’ of equipment of all ages, shapes and sizes in their media suite. When Anglia TV closed its production studios a few years ago, HAT were delighted to take on a host of equipment including digi beta players, monitors and a one-inch tape machine but is always on the lookout for more specialist equipment including time base correctors, Steenbecks or any other equipment – indeed, for HAT, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

But it’s not just the equipment that is required. People who have a specialist knowledge to understand, operate and maintain the equipment play a crucial role in the archive’s work. These skills are disappearing as new technology replaces the old and with the threat that the future of analogue transfers relies on highly skilled people, we have to acknowledge that these specialists are a breed which will slowly become extinct.

Archive Technician Tim Day at work with the 1” tape machine at HAT


One such specialist, Tim Day joined the HAT team in November 2012 as an enthusiastic volunteer with experience working in International Broadcast Facilities in London as a VT operator in the late ‘90s. HAT soon recognised the value of his specialist knowledge of early technology and understanding of all formats and in May 2013 Tim joined HAT as their replacement  Archive Technician to work on the digitisation of their archive. Tim’s work involves patience, dedication and attention to detail to ensure the industry’s archive is preserved and, just as importantly, accessible to the industry. It’s a fairly unique job and one that Tim, like his HAT colleagues, feels passionate about. Transferring at ‘real time’ requires patience and constant monitoring and Tim looks on it as a labour of love.

“When I first came to HAT as a volunteer I had no idea of the extent of their archive and to be able to join the team and use my skills all these years later, working with analogue formats and machinery, which I thought I would never see - let alone use again, is fantastic.”

So are we on borrowed time to digitise our analogue formats  before these wonderful machines expire and the knowledge to operate them goes with them…? As a charity, HAT is always keen to welcome volunteers to the fold who might have worked in the industry and can give even a small amount of time to assist the staff and, more importantly,  educate a new generation to support HAT’s valuable work and so avoid this dilemma.

High Five: August

August 6, 2015 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Have a giggle, paid for by these big brands.

Our pick of the best ads of this month are fun pieces of film that you might actually enjoy watching. The brands who paid for them want your money and they’re happy to pay for your amusement if it means you’re more likely to give you their custom. As consumers we’re the kings and queens that the court jester brands are desperate to please. What an ego trip that is.

Brand: Foster’s
Title: Cheerleader
Production Company: Independent
Director: Gary Freedman (The Glue Society)
Production Company Producer: Jason Kemp
Director of Photography: Ryley Brown
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Director: Ben Priest
Creatives: Colin Booth, Ben Stilitz
Agency Producer: Louise Richardson
Editing Company: Playroom
Editor: Adam Spivey
Post Production Company: The Mill

Foster’s - Cheerleader

So this is what post-blokey Foster’s advertising looks like. They may have got rid of the Aussie stereotypes a bit, but they’ve still got the right tone of humour in this mockumentary ad. Clever casting has made sure the hero looks totally out of place and the dialogue is well timed. It may not have been the most socially progressive campaign, but Brad and Dan’s bro-down of a call centre won the IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix last year. Will this new, less conventionally masculine approach deliver the same value for the client?


Brand: Harvey Nichols
Title: Shoplifters
Production Company: Blinkink
Executive Producer: Bart Yates
Director: Layzell Bros
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Ben Tollett, Richard Brim
Creatives: Colin Booth, Ben Stilitz
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Anne Perri
Sound Company: Wave
Post Production Company: Blinkink Studio

Harvey Nichols – Shoplifters

This is a neat little idea that amazingly, after 60 years of TV advertising, hasn’t been done yet. It’s compelling in the sadistic, guilty-pleasure way that shows like Road Wars and Cop Squad are. The animations the Layzell Bros have used to protect the identities of these rapscallions are a fun touch too and give the whole idea a cheeky charm. And it’s true, who hasn’t fallen in love with a £770 butterfly T-shirt while perusing Harvey Nicks and considered stuffing it into their haversack? The advertised rewards might just allow you to afford it.


Brand: Lotto
Title: Please Not Them
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Jeff Low
Production Company Producer: Kwok Yau
Ad Agency: AMV BBDO
Creative Directors: Alex Grieve, Adrian Rossi 
Creatives: Tim Riley, Charlotte Adorjan, Michael Jones
Agency Producer: Matt Towell
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Saam Hodivala
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: The Mill

Lotto – Please Not Them (Katie Price)

This series is a good laugh and its widely despised subjects (Piers Morgan and Laurence Llewelyn Bowen complete the set) are surprisingly good sports. Jeff Low has done an admirable job getting them to caricature themselves, accentuating the bits we all love to hate. The idea has some logic to it – if you don’t play the Lotto you can be sure some self-obsessed arse clown will – although it’s hard to believe any of these particular idiots are struggling for money. They’ve managed to con people into paying them for behaving like this.


Brand: MoneySuperMarket
Title: Colin
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Noam Murro
Production Company Producer: Andrew Denyer
Director of Photography: Eric Schmidt
Ad Agency: Mother
Editing Company: Work
Editor:  Neil Smith
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Robson
Post Production Company: MPC

MoneySuperMarket – Colin

Advertisers seem well into dismantling norms of masculinity at the moment. It’s cool. And understandable – it’s the sort of strategy that wins awards. It may well also reflect the metamorphosis the modern man is going through in the 21st Century. We’ve broken free of the age of Nuts and Zoo. Men can eat salads in public now. Dave’s ample booty went down very well last year, so Colin’s steamy routine, amusingly caught on camera, is probably going to be popular too.


Brand: Samsung
Title: Surf
Production Company: Stink
Director: Eliot Rausch
Production Company Producer: Jennifer Barrons
Directors of Photography: Alexis Zabe, Daren Crawford
Ad Agency: 72andSunny
Editing Company: Whitehouse Post
Editor: Russell Icke
Creative Director: Paulo Martins
Creatives: Yann Corlay, Patric Franz
Agency Producers: Peter Williams, Eline Bakker
Post Production Company: Glassworks

Samsung – Surf

It’s as bold move to make an ad about surfing. Comparisons against the official best ad ever are usually best avoided. But this is just a stunningly good-looking film about a particularly cinematic sport. The script is a little cheesy but powerfully conveys the passion surfers feel for their way of life. Working with the World Surf League, they’ve got it just right. Credit to Eliot Rausch, this sort of film lives or dies on how its directed and he’s filled it with humanity and beauty.