High Five: January

January 19, 2017 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Some gentle suggestions for how to spend your hard-earned money.

We all need a bit of positivity to kick off the New Year. Thankfully advertisers are here to suggest some resolutions for those of us too complacent to commit to any. Advertisers are nice like that. Although if you listen to all of their recommendations you’ll likely end up broke and unhappy before the spring comes. Anyway, here are the most convincing arguments being put forward – in our humble opinion, the best commercials of the month.

Brand: Bupa
Title: For Owning the Dancefloor
Production Company: Academy
Director: Martin de Thurah
Production Company Producer: Cathy Green
Executive Producer: Simon Cooper
Director of Photography: Niels Thastum
Client team: Angelique Waker (Senior Brand and Planning Manager), Cheryl Rosenthal (Brand Communications Manager), Shannon Faley-Martin (Brand Communications Executive)
Ad Agency: WCRS
Creative Director: Joe Miller
Creatives: Dan Gorlov, Richard Glendenning
Account Handling: Chris Boyton, Chris Moger, Charlie Warner
Planning: Matt Willifer, Hayley Pardoe
Agency Producer: Stefanie Forbes
Production Assistant: Camilla Hempleman-Adams
Editing Company: Little Machine
Editor: Peter Brandt
Sound Company: Wave Studios
Sound Designer: Aaron Reynolds
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Collective
Media Agency: MEC

Bupa – For Owning the Dancefloor

The power of understatement. One shot, one emotional performance, one great piece of music and one line of copy. Nothing more is needed to convey the moving story of one woman’s triumph over cancer, with a little help from private healthcare. Good for her. Anything that takes the pressure off the stretched-too-thin NHS is welcome. Hopefully it means someone who can’t afford to go private will enjoy the same feeling too.

 

Brand: Center Parcs
Title: Forest is Your Playground
Production Company: Partizan
Director: Eric Lynne
Production Company Producers: James Youngs, Jennifer Beckett
Director of Photography: Arnaud Potier
Ad Agency: Brothers and Sisters
Creative Director: Andy Fowler
Creatives: Robbie Ferrara, Andy Drugan
Agency Producer: Phoebe Rixon
Editor: Walter Mauriot
Music Company: Soundtree
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Collective

Center Parcs – Forest is Your Playground

There’s something very impressive about that “great forest whale” smashing into the leaf monster, especially if you’re watching this on a proper TV or cinema screen with a good sound system, as opposed to over your Boots meal deal at your desk. With CGI bringing their make-believe visions to life on screen, it’s easy to see how a break in the forest can stimulate kids’ imaginations.

 

Brand: Reed
Title: Commute
Production Company: Weilands
Director: Paul Weiland
Production Company Producer: Rachael Donson
Director of Photography: Magni Agustsson
Ad Agency: Contagious
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Struan Clay
Post Production Company: The Mill

Reed – Commute

The whole “you don’t hate Monday; you hate your job” line has been used a fair bit by recruitment companies, but then there is a lot of truth to it. This whole ad is pretty familiar, actually, but it’s just done really well. The script is tight, the casting and performances are great and the gags are genuinely funny. Not a Grand Prix winner, but a solid piece of work.

 

Brand: Thinkbox
Title: The Broadcast
Production Company: Blink Productions
Director: The Bobbsey Twins From Homicide
Production Company Producer: Ewen Brown
Director of Photography: Alex Barber
Ad Agency: Red Brick Road
Creative Directors: Matt Davis, Richard Megson
Creative: Dean Webb
Agency Producer: Charles Crisp
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Ed Cheesman
Music Company: Leland Music
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: Big Buoy

Thinkbox – The Broadcast

This is a really nicely made mini-blockbuster. The Bobbsey Twins From Homicide have absolutely nailed the alien invasion movie aesthetic, down to the last newspaper cutting on the conspiracy theorist’s wall. It drives home the dominance of TV advertising effectively and even throws in a bonus lesson – if your product doesn’t deliver on its promise, all your marketing is wasted.

 

Brand: Thomson
Title: Moments
Production Company: Outsider
Director: Scott Lyon
Production Company Producer: Zeno Campbell-Salmon
Director of Photography: Will Dex
Ad Agency: RKCR/Y&R
Creative Director: Mark Roalfe
Creatives: Nicola Wood, Andy Forrest
Agency Producers: Lara Parker, Fiona Renfrew, Kate Manning, Kevin May
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Julia Knight
Music Company: Native
Sound Company: Mark Hellaby
Sound Designer: 750mph
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Collective

Thomson – Moments

January is like a mini Christmas or Super Bowl for the travel industry. Every year the package holiday floggers and the comparison sites take to the ad breaks with promises of a momentary escape from our miserable lives of wage slavery in this grey, damp little country. This year the most effective offering comes from Thomson in the form of this poetic piece of filmmaking about the memories your create on holiday. With some clever camera trickery backing up a clear idea, Thomson have won the battle of the January travel ads.

Signed: Dorian & Daniel

January 19, 2017 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

The most hyped young directors in the advertising consciousness have found a home.

You’ve probably seen Dorian & Daniel’s spec ad for Johnnie Walker. Half of the internet seemed to when it went viral back in December 2015. Dear Brother, their moving story about two brothers touched enough people with its $9,000 budget to spark conversation amongst the normies, not just advertising geeks. Most proper ads can’t manage that.

Dorian Lebherz and Daniel Titz grew up on opposite ends of Germany. Daniel is from a small town in the north and Dorian from a small town in the south, but when the pair met at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg they discovered that their talents complemented one another.

Now they’ve signed to Academy and A+. We’re surprised they weren’t snapped up quicker to be honest, but they’ve done well to land themselves a spot on one of the most talent-packed rosters in London. The company has a pedigree when it comes to developing directors, so we’ll watch their development with interest.

Watch some of their work here:

Pushing AR Forward with the Obamas

December 14, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Nexus Studios’ augmented reality experience for the White House is a big step forward.

We are coming towards the end of a US presidency that’s been almost universally admired by the creative and communications industries. Barack Obama’s administration has been the techiest ever and (drone killings aside) much of that technology has been used for good. The White House quietly recruited the finest minds in tech from places like Google and Facebook and used their big brains to improve government services and solve American citizens’ problems.

The latest example of the Obama team’s technophilia comes in the form of an augmented reality experience called 1600.

Created by Nexus Studios’ innovative Interactive Arts division and featuring animation and design from Nexus Studios director Jack Cunningham, the free mobile app allows the public to explore the White House. The experience tracks a stunningly intricate AR animation off a one-dollar bill and tells the story of one year in the administration.

We spoke to Luke Ritchie, Head of Interactive arts at Nexus Studios, about why this project is such an important moment in the timeline of AR.

The Beak Street Bugle: How did the White House approach you?
Luke Ritchie:
We’ve been doing a fair number of AR and VR projects in the last few years and one that caught notable attention at the White House was The New Yorker, which was an AR experience we did with Christoph Niemann, quite a well-known illustrator who does covers for them. We got to work with him on the innovation issue in May. It’s a cute little experience that starts off in 2D, which is amazing, and then breaks into 3D.

The White House had seen that experience through gave us a phone call to see if we would be interested in working on developing an AR experience for them.


BSB: What was the brief?
LR:
To begin with it was pretty loose. They were very interested in a message about the White House’s role in democracy.

President Obama and his administration, and Michelle Obama, had been working very hard to try and dispel myths about the building itself.  They’ve done lots of interesting things, from opening up rooms that were previously closed, inviting everyone to have a festival on the lawn of the White House for South By South Lawn. You could Google Street View through all the rooms and stuff.

The key word that went around was transparency. The hope for the project was to enlighten people about what goes on there.

I guess there was always an educational angle right from the start, but it was always to be bathed in a creative experience first. It was meant to captivate you visually and then take you on a journey and if you walked away learning something from it then that would be an added benefit.


BSB: How did it develop from there?
LR:
It didn’t begin on a dollar note. We did explore doing something on the tour itself. We talked about using the building façade as a marker to scan on, so you could stand outside the building and then you could see inside it.

Then as the project grew there was a requirement for it to reach more people, and that’s when we started trying to think what everybody has that doesn’t cost them anything to buy and is fully accessible by most Americans. And we landed on a dollar bill.

It was actually a 20-dollar bill to begin with because the White House is on the 20-dollar bill. As visual storytellers we had the idea of the White House emerging out of the bill, which would have been really great, but it was fairly pointed out that a lot more people have access to a dollar bill.


BSB: How do you think it compares to other AR experiences out there?
LR:
I think in general it’s still early days in AR. We had an opportunity to experience AR a few years ago, but the problems back then were we didn’t have the tracking potential back then, or camera lenses, or software, and we definitely didn’t have the power that we have in a mobiles now. Most people didn’t even know what a game engine was five years ago. So it was a different place.

Remember QR codes and the importance of the contrast and definition? AR has a much more magical ability now. Lots of things can be markers that never could be before. That is a real opening point in terms of how advertisers may decide to use it because there’s a lot more freedom there.

There’s a lot of pressure coming into a job like this with the amount of people that are going to see it. It does need to look as good as it can within the limitations. So I’m pleased with some of the shaders we’ve built and the optimisation to get as many characters animating and moving as possible. I think we’ve made some real advances there.

People from a technical background are surprised by the quality of the render. They didn’t realise we could do things like that now. We worked extremely hard to make sure that was the case.

The other bit is, I think, still early stages but we are getting into narrative storytelling in AR. We’ll see a lot more of it if we all end up wearing headsets [like the Microsoft HoloLens]. You know that scene in Her where the character steps out of the wall? You have things like that because you can use the physical room you’re inside. And I hope that the White House is an interesting step in that direction.

Even though it’s loose enough for you to navigate around and explore, it’s a year in the White House and there are events unfolding, so it has a structure to it and we do encourage you to keep looking, keep exploring, do it again. See if you found all the presidents or not, open the Oval Office or touch the roof of the White House. There are elements in there for exploration.

Hopefully it stands as a benchmark for other AR projects that can come. And I genuinely think it can. I know that once I introduce it to a lot of people they always talk to me about how shit the last experience they saw was.

BSB: What were the biggest challenges?
LR:
The technical challenges are always there the minute you want to try and push the boundaries. If I’m building for the newest iPad it’s a lot easier, but if I’m building it for more or less everyone in America to access it without a problem, then I have to work to older devices too. It needs to look as amazing on an iPhone 7 as it does on an iPhone 5.

The pressure to create something good for that kind of a stage was extremely important. You know it needs to be good.

We have a lot of love for Obama and his administration and I think there was a pressure of making sure that it represented him well and this notion of transparency that they were working on. We obviously didn’t anticipate the future, so it ended up having a bit more relevance.

One thing we did was build a pause week into the schedule so everyone stopped and we reassessed and talked about whether we were happy with it, where it was at that point and what changes we might want to make in the remaining four weeks of the job.

That was vital because I think we’d managed to answer a lot of what the White House needed but we hadn’t managed to get the charm and sense of humour into it yet.

Another thing we did that was really important was by the end of the first week we had the app built. It was a crude, square, White-House-looking building with a few bouncy 2D characters in it. What that allowed everyone to do was to allow all the stakeholders on the job to have the app and then week-by-week we all get to review it in the app, not on 36-inch screens in the studio.

I thought that was brilliant because it allowed everyone to have a go in the evening in their kitchen, have a think and in the morning they might come back with more thoughts.


BSB: What have people’s reactions been like?
LR:
You never know, but we’d hoped it would have a relatively large release because the White House were going to talk about it. I think the hopes outside of that were to do with mainstream people trying it out and learning a bit about AR.

We’ve seen teachers in classrooms showing their kids. The majority of people don’t know where the Oval Office is. Maybe this project, if it is seen by millions, would almost guarantee that everyone knows that at least. And from the WHHA’s point of view that would be a huge thing.

It’s obviously been picked up a lot by people from Sky News in the UK to Jimmy Fallon in the US. That’s been great. I don’t think we could have hoped for a better result.


BSB: What has this project taught you about the direction interactive technology is moving in?
LR:
I recently saw an article which I’m sure there will be a few of, which is all about how 2016 was meant to be the year of VR, but it was actually the year of AR. That rang very true.

AR is much more social and it doesn’t require any expensive hardware. There are big implications there for why it can be so useful for messaging.

I’m a big fan of the next phase, which is much more about computer vision and [the technology] understanding our environment. If you look at the concept art on the Microsoft Hololens website, I think that begins to get you excited about what the potential is. I can absolutely see the storytelling possibilities for us.

That will be interesting. Right now I still think it’s much more interesting how that’s relevant to the mobile. Google Tango is an amazing bit of kit that’s now in the Lenovo phone. And that allows us to remove the marker [the dollar bill in 1600’s case], so I can look around the room and it understands what a person is because it can track the skeleton. It understands what a door, wall or table is.

We talk a lot about how it’s important that things like Pokemon Go happened because they raise everyone’s interest and investment into an area. So you can guarantee that just from that one hit there’ll be ten more coming.

When I asked the White House why AR, the answer was because they’d tried everything else but didn’t know how to access millions of people with low to no investment. I don’t think it’s gimmicky. I think good AR experiences have a place because they don’t require any investment from the user. Right now if everyone’s getting close to Christmas and thinking ‘Oh my God. Am I going to spend 1,500 quid on a VR setup?’

This is an easy way to reach a lot of people and it still has the emerging technology feel. It still is exciting. It’s not like everyone has seen AR. It’s still in its infancy and it comes with that excitement.

I’m pitching to everyone but I’d love to do a graphic novel. You could stare at the page, follow a 2D story, when you touch it it animates or comes to life and you watch it. Or maybe your character breaks out into 3D, opens the book and turns the page for you and you follow them to the next page. There are some really unique opportunities in that space for storytelling. A lot of AR has been pointing it at this thing, seeing a 3D thing appear and that’s it. Now we’re getting into the area where I can delve deeper; I can explore something or touch on something to open another window and dive into that and have another experience.

I think that gets away from it being gimmicky at that point because whatever you want to do you can do. That’s the point. Everything is interactive and you can engage with whatever you want.

High Ten: 2016’s Best Christmas Ads

December 5, 2016 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Watch this lot and feel the seasonal spirit fill you up.

Traditions are so quickly established these days. This whole Christmas commercial phenomenon wasn’t a thing ten years ago. Now it’s a rabid frenzy of consumerist propaganda. Two years ago we were just doing a regular monthly High Five in December, but last year we decided there was just too much good stuff to fit in and now that’s an annual event. Have a watch and see if you agree with our top ten. And if you want to hear more on the subject tomorrow, register for FOCUS for free and come to hear our panel of expert Christmas commercial makers talk about it. 

Brand: Aldi
Title:  Kevin the Carrot
Production Companies: Psyop, Stink
Directors: Todd Mueller, Kylie Matulick
Production Company Producer: Alicia Farren
Director of Photography: Richard Mott
Ad Agency: McCann Manchester
Creative Directors: Dave Price, Neil Lancaster, Rob Doubal
Creatives: Clive Davis, Andy Fenton, Dean Webb
Agency Producer: Lucy Moore
Editing Company:  Marshall Street Editors
Editor: John Mayes

Aldi – Kevin the Carrot

Who’d have imagined a carrot could be so adorable? Christmas is a time for all sorts of anthropomorphic heartstring tugging and sometimes it can be a bit of a stretch, but the quality of Psyop’s animation here really does the trick. We’ve all seen Night Before Christmas ideas like this before, rhyming couplets abounding, but this one is just so sweet and the little comic touches are so spot-on that it doesn’t matter.

 

Brand: Amazon
Title: Vicar and Imam
Production Company: HLA
Director: Simon Ratigan
Production Company Producer: Mike Wells
Director of Photography: Ian Murray
Ad Agency: Joint
Creatives: Steve Williams, Adrian Lim
Agency Producer: Claudio Gorini
Editing Company: The Quarry
Editor: Bruce Townsend
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Jon Clarke, Phil Bolland
Post Production Company: The Mill

Amazon – Vicar and Imam

After a year in which humanity has demonstrated itself to be more divided than we thought, it’s heartening to think that huge, transnational megacorporations like Amazon want us all to put our differences aside and focus on the things that unite us – in this case, the inevitable descent into decrepitude and pain that comes with age. Cynicism aside, it’s great to see a Muslim character depicted in such a loving way and in such a sweet story. With hate crimes on the rise, brands with marketing budgets as big as Amazon’s can make a difference in the direction of acceptance and unity.

 

Brand: Apple
Title: Frankie’s Holiday
Production Company: Park Pictures
Director: Lance Acord
Ad Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab

Apple – Frankie’s Holiday

In wake of Brexit and Trump, Apple seem to be feeling just as unsettled by the world as Amazon are. Their message of festive togetherness and acceptance is the same, but put across in a completely different way. This one’s trying its hardest to make you cry. At two minutes, the pacing is just slow enough to squeeze emotion out of each moment.The timing is powerful. It’s a heartwarming little film and the product’s role in it is just about acceptable.

 

Brand: Burberry
Title: The Tale of Thomas Burberry
Production Company: Black Label Productions
Director: Asif Kapadia
Production Company Producer: Jules Fennell
Director of Photography: Dion Beebe
Creative Director: Christopher Bailey
Editing Company: Intermission
Editor: Johnny Rayner
Music Company: Pusher
Post Production Company: The Mill

Burberry – The Tale of Thomas Burberry

There’s nothing explicitly Christmassy about this film, but it somehow fits in with the general seasonal vibe so we’ve included it here. It’s stunning. No surprises there, considering the ridiculous cast and star director Asif Kapadia. Making a film that feels like the trailer for an epic period drama is an ambitious idea and it could have ended up a naff waste of money. Obviously it didn’t. It’s amazing.

 

Brand: Heathrow
Title: Coming Home for Christmas
Production Company: Outsider
Director: Dom&Nic
Production Company Producer: John Madsen
Director of Photography: Alex Barber
Ad Agency: Havas
Creative Director: Ben Mooge
Creatives: Daniel Bolton, Barnaby Packham
Agency Producer: Kiri Carch
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Ed Cheesman
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: The Mill

Heathrow – Coming Home for Christmas

Another weepy one, anyone? Well, you’ve got to have a few otherwise it wouldn’t feel like Christmas. Anyway, it’s happy tears this time round. True to form, Dom&Nic have told a very sweet story here, full of little moments that we can all recognise. And there’s something very festive about airports, even if they’re usually just soulless corporate landing pads. It probably has something to do with Love, Actually.

 

Brand: H&M
Title: Come Together
Production Companies: The Directors Bureau, Riff Raff
Director: Wes Anderson
Production Company Producer: Julie Sawyer
Director of Photography: Bruno Delbonnel
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Till Diestel, Tim Vance, Paul Knott
Agency Producer: Lucie Georgeson
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Joe Guest
Music Supervisors: Randall Poster, Abi Leland
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: The Mill

H&M – Come Together

Practically everyone is advertising is a Wes Anderson fan. So getting to see a little festive slice of Wes-land two years since his last film is a Christmas present in itself. Props to H&M. They’ve obviously spent a lot of money on this film in order to associate themselves with the aura of cool the director has around him. There’s not much in the way of plot, but it’s just so warm and Christmassy and stylish and quirky and exactly like a scene from a Wes Anderson Christmas movie. We’re so glad it exists.

 

Brand: John Lewis
Title: Buster the Boxer
Production Company: Blink
Director: Dougal Wilson
Production Company Producer: Nick Goldsmith
Director of Photography: Joost Van Gelder
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Richard Brim, Ben Tollett
Creatives: Ben Stilitz, Colin Booth
Agency Producer: Panos Louca
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Rick Russell
Music Company: Leland Music
Music Supervisors: Abi Leland, Ed Bailie
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designer: Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: MPC

John Lewis – Buster the Boxer

Several years on from the first big John Lewis Yuletide extravaganza, the department store are still the most anticipated player in the Christmas commercial game. Expectations were high, adam&eveDDB suggested that they’d be eschewing the ‘sadvertising’ approach this year and they delivered with a film that walks the delicate line between moving and silly. It’s warm, relatable and funny and doesn’t lay any heavy moral message on us at the end, which is refreshing.

 

Brand: Marks & Spencer
Title: Christmas With Love
Production Company: Smuggler
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Company Producer: Molly Pope
Director of Photography: Justin Brown
Ad Agency: RKCR/Y&R
Creative Directors: Jon Burley, Danielle Sandler
Creatives: Alice Burton, Psembi Kinstan
Agency Producer: Danielle Sandler
Editing Company: The Quarry
Editor: Paul Watts
Music Company: Native
Sound Company: Wave
Sound Designer: Parv Thind
Post Production Company: The Mill

Marks & Spencer – Christmas With Love

The strategy here seems to be to make the most Christmassy film ever. They’ve just thrown it all in there: reindeer, snow, cosy fireplaces, Santa Claus, helicopters... It’s impossible to resist the festive spirit. Focusing on the great woman behind Father Christmas was a brilliant choice too. It’s about time she got the respect she deserves. With Tom Hooper directing the whole thing feels classy and cinematic, a real treat for those snuggled up in front of the TV this winter.

 

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: Juliette the Doll
Production Company: Independent
Director: Gary Freedman
Production Company Producer: Jason Kemp
Director of Photography: Jan Velicky
Ad Agency: Leo Burnett
Creative Directors: Pete Heyes, Matt Lee
Creatives: Phillip Meyler, Darren Keff
Agency Producer: Lou Pegg
Editing Company: The Play Room
Editor: Adam Spivey
Music Company: Woodwork Music
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Robson
Post Production Company: MPC

McDonald’s – Juliette the Doll

McDonald’s doesn’t have a big claim on Christmas tradition. Department stores and supermarkets have genuinely important roles to play in putting together a good Christmas, but burgers and fries are very much optional extras. This film cleverly makes McDonald’s feel like a naturally festive place though, by tapping up the sense of togetherness the brand has – it’s a place where people of all classes, creeds and backgrounds come together to eat in warmth and convenience. Throw in a heartwarming story about a neglected toy and you’ve got a festive joy for all the family.

 

Brand: Waitrose
Title: Coming Home
Production Company: Rogue Films
Director: Sam Brown
Production Company Producer: James Howland
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Ben Tollett, Richard Brim
Creatives: John Long, Matt Gay
Agency Producer: Jack Bayley
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Paul Hardcastle
Music Company: Leland Music
Music Supervisors: Abi Leland, Ed Bailie
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Jon Clarke, Anthony Moore
Post Production Company: The Mill

Waitrose – Coming Home

This film feels exactly like a Christmas card bought from Waitrose. Classy, wholesome and refined, it’s so incredibly on brand. On the anthropomorphic scale, birds are a hard one to get right. They aren’t the most emotional of animals, but Sam Brown’s deft storytelling touch, combined with the expert virtual animal creation skills of The Mill, has managed to make us feel something about this little robin as he makes his perilous journey home.

 

What Do Production Companies Do?

November 30, 2016 /

By Anonymous

A Director's View

They overvalue Directors.

 

I've worked in every formulation of the commercials process. Been signed to a 'big' production company, signed to a 'small' company, and signed to nobody. I've had one producer for a long string of jobs, as well as various freelance and in-house producers hired by the project, and latterly producers employed direct by the agency.

It's this last experience that I think illustrates what a production company (and only a production company) does.

In my experience, agency in-house production companies are staffed by very genial people with no real idea what they're doing, working in an environment structurally designed to fuck up the
job.

The main reason for this is that the producer's role (even in the rare cases that they have significant production company experience) is to pass on diktats from higher up the agency, and bring in the job as cheaply as possible. The result is that £10 is saved here to cost £100 there, what money is spent goes in the wrong places, and the army marches in 20 directions at once. Meanwhile the field commander (in this case me) finds he has little or no control over his troops, and all his cannons have been replaced by cheaper inflatable versions without telling him because of some budget conversation he wasn't involved in.

Predictably, the biggest of all the many casualties littering the battlefield is the film itself.

Commercial Producing has an image and status problem within the industry, perhaps because if it's done well you hardly notice it. This is linked to a major misconception about how important
directors are.

You've got more chance of making a good film with a good producer and a bad director than the reverse, but the industry attitude doesn't seem to reflect that. Perhaps over the years, companies have deliberately overvalued their directors because they thought this was the only asset they had. It made sense to present them to the market as invaluable special snowflakes whose ideas emanate from an oracular source somewhere up an imagination mountain that mere mortals can't access.

The first problem with this is that it's bullshit. Great directors are pragmatists. In the 70s, an unknown director heard that a TV show was filming out in the desert near LA, and the unit were
coming up to a long break and due to be stuck in the wilderness with nothing to do. He quickly wrote a script, persuaded them all to come with him to shoot it in their downtime, and took the entire cast and crew wholesale from a TV show he had nothing to do with to make his first movie. The director was Steven Spielberg, the movie Duel. That to me is being a great filmmaker. Not coming up with wild ideas and treating who pays for them and how as someone else's problem.

Even if it were true that directors are the ‘real’ talent here, the second problem is that this may not be a resource production companies are able to monopolise much longer. Maybe in five years, maybe ten, but it seems to me that the days of directors being tied to a single production company are numbered. Not because any individual wants this to happen, but for simple economics. This will start with the lowest profile directors who need multiple avenues of income to pay the rent (this is already happening), and work its way up to the heavy hitters who can afford to strike inequitable deals with companies.

But it isn't true, and the most compelling argument is that almost all the best directors in the commercials world seem to have a longstanding and close relationship with one single producer. It could simply be that being successful, they can afford to stick with the same person, or it could be the other way around. Perhaps they're only successful because of that relationship?

Filmmaking, more than most creative processes (e.g. writing novels or music) actually benefits from the tension between money and ideas. Financial restrictions keep the storytelling efficient. If
anyone thinks having an unlimited budget and total artistic control makes the best films, they will might want to re-watch Waterworld or Heaven's Gate.

When an agency is allowed total control over a commercial, we all know that the film usually suffers. What we rarely admit is that the same is true of a director. Every year I watch the APA show, and it's interesting to see how many of the films were better in the shorter version I saw on TV than the two-minute director's cut with another five beautifully shot scenes repeating the same point.

A producer is the only person who can calibrate this tension, and only if they work directly for neither the agency nor the director, but with both of them.

In theory that doesn't mean producers have to come with a production company attached, but the fact that they do is not an accident.

Having a producer employed directly by the agency and answerable to them for their monthly wage (or indeed repeat business) encourages the wrong behaviour - not least short termism and a reluctance to give unpopular answers up the chain.

It discourages the thing that makes producers good - the cold-blooded assessment of risk, and the courage to take the risk if the reward justifies it. This can only be done effectively by someone whose judgement isn't clouded by whether their kids will get to stay in private school.

The only way around this structural problem would be for the agency to be enlightened enough to employ someone to come in at the very end of an often multi-year process, and then trust their opinion enough to listen to it even when it calls into question the result of that process, and costs them money into the bargain. Perhaps I'm being unfair, but this doesn't seem to be how large multinational companies (which almost all agencies either are or belong to) operate.

In large organisations, people with real decision-making clout drift further and further away from the people on the ground. This happens in every walk of life from politics to medicine to education, and production will be no exception. Almost uniquely, ad production currently has a 'bottom up' structure where significant power and trust is given to people at the coalface (the producer and director) who have only a tenuous long-term stake in the process.

This is a historical accident with several benefits:

Filmmaking as a process cannot tolerate mistakes. Time on set is too expensive. The white heat of this environment is a million miles away from the comparative stability of a job in an agency, which makes outsourcing to a production company the only way to guarantee the level of craft skill necessary to do the job properly. It also makes production companies better placed to sort the wheat from the chaff, producer wise.

To be a good producer you need a high level of constantly updated experience at an amazingly diverse number of things. For an agency to keep producers 'match fit' in this way they would need to shoot as often and as diversely as a good production company. Even for the biggest agency this has to be wishful thinking - one client may shoot only one ad a year. Another may shoot two a month but they will all be the same. Neither of those will develop good producers.

They say that good government needs a good opposition. Anyone at any agency who understands filmmaking (and there are many) knows that having somebody who can afford to give you an answer you don't like is a valuable asset, providing of course they have the creative and financial interests of the project at heart (and they do - producers are very well incentivised to bring the project in on budget).

Where this will end or how production companies can address it is above my pay grade, but I don't know what production companies can offer if it's not the skill of being the only people who know how to turn all this talking and all these meetings into an actual film.

In other words, producing as a skill of its own, independent of the director. There are companies who have this reputation already. They are the best placed for what may be coming down the tracks, but this doesn't excuse the general undervaluing of producers.

In movies, if a director or actor is successful enough he becomes a producer. It seems to me that commercial production companies inverted that hierarchy to make money, and they might have to start inverting it back.

Why Ad Production Needs to Find its FOCUS

November 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Clara Le explains why commercials production companies should head to Islington next week.

You may think the industry has enough conferences and shows for all its many facets but Clara Le, Commercial Director of The Location Guide, has noticed a gap. “All the shows have their own perspectives on the industry, but nobody talks about pre-production,” she says.

That is until The Location Guide launched FOCUS last year – ‘the meeting place for international production,’ as they describe it. And this year they will be back at Islington’s Business Design Centre on 6th and 7th December to make sure pre-production gets the attention it deserves. Clara is always evangelising about how key this is. “I keep telling people the most important part of the production is definitely the pre-production,” she says. “Getting everything lined up – where to shoot, who to shoot with, which incentives you can connect with etc.” With over 150 exhibitors from over 40 countries – service companies, national film commissions, hotels and the like – production professionals will be able to find answers to all of these questions.

FOCUS’s description of itself as ‘the meeting place for international production’ is telling. It’s not specific to any particular silo of production for a reason, despite the fact that commercials, TV and film production companies tend to inhabit different circles. Clara is keen for the commercials production world to mix with the worlds of TV and film. She thinks it would do them good. “Most production companies cross over,” she points out. “They do online video for brands, commercials and sometimes TV. I’ve met people who say they’d like to get into TV and film but don’t know how to do it, how to access filming incentives and find co-production partners.”

The idea of visiting suppliers and potential partners at an exhibition centre isn’t what advertising production is used to, whereas film markets at festivals have made it second nature to their big-screen counterparts. “The film and TV industries will actively keep up to date with filming incentives, who can supply the best services and how co-production treaties work in different countries,” says Clara. “Commercials production isn’t used to that. It’s a different mindset.” That’s something FOCUS hopes to change.

It’s only the second year for the event, but The Location Guide hope for the show to become part of the ad industry’s calendar. Positioned at the beginning of December, Clara realises it has to be a fun event as well as an informative one. “It’s Christmas. Everybody likes to go out for a drink, so we’ve created free bars, there are lots of happy hours during the day, lots of countries have their own drinks receptions happening at their booths. We’re hosting a party with the APA. We’re also doing a big drinks reception on Tuesday night.”

Building on the successful content they put on last year, there will be many more seminars and panels this year, on subjects including green production, shooting on low budgets in London and how to work with China. Jason Stone of David Reviews will be hosting a special Craftworks session packed full of content and I’ll be hosting a panel called The Phenomenon of the Christmas Commercial with some of the people behind our favourite festive spots.

In response to feedback, the show is also much more UK focused this year. “In light of Brexit we wanted to sell the UK,” says Clara. “We’ve got all these people coming to London. We want to show that we’re really proud to be based here.” With all ten UK film offices attending the show, it’s a great chance to remind ourselves how world-leading British production is and will continue to be, despite the result of the EU referendum.

So why should production companies take the time to go all the way up to Islington (the horror!) to this free conference? “Production companies need to keep evolving to keep up with the market,” says Clara. “And the only way to do that is to mix with people and ideas from outside of your industry. You’ll learn a lot from other people and from the seminars. There are drinks as well. It’s a social event. You’ll learn new things, network, hang out with your peers and meet new people too.”

 


FOCUS is completely free to attend. Register here for access to the whole FOCUS programme.

Mr Gammon: Master Craftsman

November 21, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Insight into one of the many specialists it takes to make a good ad.

Photograph by Jonathan Daniel Pryce  ©JDPryce

 

One of the most striking things about filmmaking in advertising is the vast armies assembled of specialists in many different skills that each shoot musters. There are a hundred different crafts in the industry. One of the great things about the British Arrows CRAFT awards is that these craftspeople are celebrated where other awards might pass them by.

Mr Gammon is one such craftsman. One of the industry’s best costume designers, he won the award for Best Costume / Wardrobe in 2014 for his incredible work on the Guinness Sappeurs ad. With this year’s CRAFT winners being announced this Wednesday night, we chatted to Mr Gammon to work out what sort of person it takes to win such an accolade.

 

 

The Beak Street Bugle: How would you describe your craft to a member of the public?
Mr Gammon: 
There are many heads to the beast of being a costume designer in commercials. One of them is the political liaison between agency, client and director. You’re an extension of the director as well as being his or her ambassador, as well as setting a tone for the actors when they’re first cast on the job.

When people know that you’re a costume designer, often when it’s a detergent commercial and it’s a mum and dad in jeans and T-shirts, they would often think ‘what did you actually do?’ But the beauty of a good costume designer is to look like you were never there at all.

Often it’s not a case of going out and buying a bunch of stuff, but seeing who they’ve cast as an actor and thinking about who the characters are. The great thing for me is that there are so many different kinds of scripts. You could be doing science fiction, a horde of Vikings or even a horde of zombies. Often it’s about working to budget, facilitating so it goes how the agency and production company want it to go. And you’re trying to push it as much as possible. There’s a great craft to all of that.

 

BSB: What sort of person makes a good costume designer?
MG:
Someone who’s got the patience of a saint, who can wear his hat at a jaunty angle and has a wry or dry sense of humour. If you’re doing a job with a cast of thousands you need to be able to push people in the right direction.

For example I did a Bond job for Tom Kuntz in Croatia where I had to motivate my local Croatian costume department. We had about 400 in the cast. A lot of them had never done a commercial before and I was trying to make it look chic and Italian with bright colours and make sure the costumes reflected Lake Como and the locations we wanted it to look like. So I’m there on crowd days trying to motivate my team at three in the morning, trying to get everyone ready for six in the morning, trying to wrangle people whose English might not be very good. Then once you’ve done all of that you have to go off to agency and client and make sure they’re happy, do a bit of finessing if you need to, to try and get it nailed.

 

BSB: Whose craftsmanship do you most admire?
MG:
I could list an entire crew. Or I could list the craftsmen, model makers, tailors and machinists I work with who carve my drawings into the work I’m known for. But what I do admire is the craft of cinematographers like Martin Ruhe, Tim Maurice Jones, Stephen Keith-Roach. Artists all, capturing light and filming our work to look the best it possibly can.

If you look at someone like Dave Lee, production designer. He’s the master of massive sets and props, creating the worlds that I can plonk my costumes in. I love the synergy of working with a brilliant production designer.

It’s the other people that you work with that make the work so beautiful. There’s no point in my costumes looking good if the lighting’s shit.

 

BSB: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this year?
MG:
I worked on a drama for ITV called Dark Heart. The brilliant thing about that was that not only do I help fill the content that goes between the dramas, I’m now helping create the dramas themselves. It’s like working on both sides of the coin. That was a marvellous job to work on. It was great to prove to people who don’t work in commercials that the vision could extend to two hours. As much as I love science fiction and Vikings and period costume, it’s also nice to prove that I can do red carpet and look after big celebrities and deal with the politics of that as well.

I also did hordes of zombies for Tom Kuntz and eBay. That was part of a 15-year relationship I’ve had with Tom for some of the most wonderful jobs that I’ve worked on. I really enjoyed doing that.

 

BSB: What are your goals for 2017?
MG:
When I’m truly happy is when you give me a cast of thousands with a difficult agency and difficult client. I always look forward to those challenges.

I’d love to do more science fiction. It’s always been a personal passion of mine. When I was a kid the stuff I was inspired by got me into costume and fashion. The idea of something that was otherworldly but would still be wearable today. And coming up with something where you’re taking something from one era and putting it together with something else, surfing on the waves of time travel.

I love designing stuff that’s three dimensional. Give me a brief to design a fighting astronaut. More of that is what I’d love to see next year.

 

Check out Mr Gammon's work on his website or have a look at his Instagram feed.

Signed: Tobias Perse

November 20, 2016 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Once Hunter S. Thompson's editor, now a commercials director.

Growing up, Tobias Perse was always moving around America, ever the new kid at school. With a travelling newspaper journalist for a mother, he was also always wordy. His nose was constantly in a book – training that paid off when he beat his Grandma at Scrabble for the first time aged 11. Quite a feat considering she was ranked Third Place Amateur Regional Scrabble Champion in the women’s over-60 category.

After a few brushes with authorities, a few more moves and a lot more reading, sort-of grown-up Tobias landed in New York City, where he felt truly at home for the first time. A few unglamorous jobs later he ended up writing for Rolling Stone alongside some of the most notable wordsmiths in the world, including Hunter S. Thompson, who he ended up editing for – not as enviable a position as it may look on paper.

But while his career as a journalist was burgeoning, he couldn’t shake the grip of his love for movies, and always wondered what it would be like to make one. So he took a step towards that world, first going freelance and writing for TV, then dabbling in editing, corporate films, screenplays. Eventually he tried directing, first on a documentary which failed and then on one which went to Sundance and won awards.

Since then he’s been making TVCs and online films, and not badly either. Now he’s got himself onto Nice Shirt Films’ roster. We think what he does there will be worth your attention.

Watch some of his work here: