Grown-Up Young Directors

February 28, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

Past winners of the Young Director Award evaluate the fifteen-year-old event.

We know. Becoming a successful director is hard. It’s a tough old industry to break into – you’ve to elbow your way in past the hordes of people who think they’re the next Kubrick to prove that you really are a talented director. That can be difficult, but if you have the skills, there are people on your side.

The Young Director Award, by CFP-E and Shots, celebrates talented directors at the beginning of their careers. It takes place every summer on the fringes of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and, now in its fifteenth year, the ceremony draws in the biggest crowd of any fringe event at Cannes.

Over the years the YDA has proven its worth. From the get-go it has launched directorial careers of some calibre: Peter Thwaites, Daniel Wolfe, Kim Gehrig, Martin Krejci. In its first year it awarded an aspiring director called Ringan Ledwidge, setting him on a trajectory that has led to his winning seven British Arrows, 11 Cannes Lions and a Yellow Pencil at D&AD. You might have seen some of his work.

Ringan remembers how difficult making that first splash was. Before his YDA win he was working hard to make waves in directing. “I was trying to find ways to get work by either shooting things I thought creatives would find interesting or by bugging them to meet me,” he says. “I made a real pest of myself, phoning and emailing creatives, directors and so on in a bid to get a foot in the door.” But winning a YDA was a turning point.

Even back in 1999, the YDA had the power to transform someone’s life. “Winning the award was pretty fantastic to be honest,” says Ringan. “It was like being ‘made,’ like they do in the mafia!” Understandably, this recognition was a massive confidence boost, but it also meant, importantly, that the industry knew his name. It’s not one they’ve forgotten since.

Showcasing their best work in front of so many clients, agencies and production companies, the award can bring opportunities that can become threshold moments for young directors. “Obviously, those don’t last forever,” says Ringan, “but if you take them it really gets your career going.”

Karen Cunningham, who won a YDA in 2008, experienced these opportunities directly. “I got instant work from people in the audience,” she remembers. They phoned her immediately after the ceremony and gave her a script for Electrabel, which she went on to direct.

Having moved over to directing after years of wearing a producer’s hat, Karen had a hard time proving herself in her new role at first. “I made myself a bit of a target, really,” she admits. But winning at the YDA was proof that she was up to the change. “It’s affirmation when your peer group says it’s good. What more can you want?”

Accolades like the YDA are vital to making progress as a director. “Awards are really your only currency,” says Karen. “That’s it. If you win an award, you don’t have to start at the bottom of the pile.” It worked for Karen, who has directed films for clients like Dove and The Daily Mirror and gone on to set up her own unique production company, Pop-Up Films, with executive producer Julia Fetterman. She even directed the trailer for last year's ceremony.

Product: Young Director Award
Title: The Light Is Your Friend
Production Company: Pop- Up Films
Director: Karen Cunningham
Production Company Producer: Julia Fetterman
Director of Photography: Vincent Warin
Ad Agency: BETC Paris
Creative Directors: Damien Bellon & Stephane Xiberras
Art Director: Damien Bellon
Copywriter: Damien Bellon
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor – Max Windows
Sound Company: 750mph
Post Production House: MPC

Tell No One, a directing duo who’ve known each other since they were six and seven years old, won the Video Art Europe category in last year’s awards. “We’re not sure what’s being said behind closed doors but we have been quite busy since,” they say. In the few months since their victory they’ve worked with Sienna Miller on a film for Matthew Williamson and made a striking, reality-bending commercial for bookmakers Coral. They’re currently on the Good Egg roster “mainly thinking about umbrellas” – they can’t say anymore than that. They say “it’s top secret.”

“It’s lovely to be recognised at such an important event,” they say. And they approve of its tech-savvy nature, which suits its young audience. “Unlike most awards the YDA successfully utilise the internet, YouTube and contemporary communication to broaden its scope and audience.”

Japanese director Kosai Sekine won a YDA in 2006 and notes one of its defining points is its high standards. If the entries are not up to scratch then categories have been known to go without winners. “Because of its strict regulation,” says Kosai, “it focuses to select the best fresh talent.”

As a director from outside of the Western world, Kosai sees the YDA’s international character as a great benefit. “Not so many Asian directors have chances to become known internationally,” he says. “But Cannes is where every international advertising market gathers.” After he won a few years ago the effects were clear. “I started to receive offers from international production companies immediately after the YDA,” he says. He’s currently signed to Stink, who represent him in London, Berlin, Paris and Shanghai. Some of the work this led to has been successful, like his short film for Adidas, Break-Up Service, which won him a Silver Film Lion at Cannes.

French directing duo We Are From LA won a YDA last year for their Tetris-inspired Eastpak commercial. They were already represented by Somesuch & Co. in the UK and Iconoclast in the USA and Europe, but in the months since they won they’ve been pretty busy creating commercials, web films, a music video, a photography exhibition and an interactive experience.

They point out one important point about the YDA in Cannes – that it’s a great party with all of the advertising industry. “The super cool thing,” they say, “is that you can celebrate after the awards on the Croisette with all your friends until the early hours of the morning. The hardest thing is not losing the award before dawn.”

Ringan agrees that being held on the French Riviera works well for the ceremony. “Well, it’s sunny, there’re some great parties and if you haven’t done it before you’ll be amazed at how much rosé humans can consume,” he aptly observes. “It also means that as a young director you’re exposed to a worldwide market and talent. That’s worth its weight in gold.”

The Young Director Award is calling for entries now until Friday 19 April. Submit your work at their shiny new website, re-launched to commemorate their fifteenth anniversary, See you at the beach party.


Note: This article was originally published in 2013. The 2014 deadline is 5 May.

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