The ADCAN Graduates

April 14, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The award ceremony has already launched careers in its first year.

Last year we spoke to ADCAN founders Brydon Gerus and Dan Heighes about the launch of the new industry award pairing new filmmaking talent with small charities. A free-to-enter film competition, in association with Vimeo, ADCAN encourages unsigned filmmakers and animators to submit a 30-second ad from a chosen charity brief. With support and judging from industry giants from Nexus to Framestore, it showed a lot of promise, but one big question loomed over ADCAN: would it actually work for the young filmmakers who entered?

That question has now been answered. Careers are being built on the back of ADCAN winning films. Emily Atterton, who produced the winning entry for Learning Through Landscapes, now works as a Production Manager at Rattling Stick; and Filmawi & Esrael – the directing duo behind the winning Open Cinema film – have since found representation at Partizan. We caught up with Emily and Esrael about the impact ADCAN has had on their lives.

Emily Atterton

The Beak Street Bugle: How did you hear about ADCAN?
Emily Atterton:
I worked at a corporate video company called VisualMedia for six years. I started with a photography background but I went to the production side. Because it’s a small company I’d kind of got to the top of the production side. It was a really nice company [but] I had always wanted to get into advertising since I was young. I thought this was my time to try and get in.

I saw a tweet about ADCAN. It was fortunate timing. I had no idea it was brand new. I was reading about it and it was all the production companies I wanted to try and get in front of – the big guys. I had a meeting with Madeleine Sanderson [Managing Director] at Partizan around the same time. She was going to give me some advice about how to get in front of these people so it was quite nice timing.

I read the charity briefs and I mentioned it to a really good friend of mine who was keen to help me. Abbie [Brandon], the director, worked with us as an editor before but I knew she wanted to get into directing. So they were both immediately on board.

Then I went on holiday to this desert island in Columbia. I was sunbathing and it was just ticking away in the back of my mind. I came up with the idea for the script.

I came back, put together our crew. It was really easy to get everyone on board, which was gratifying because it’s a charity thing and for crew they’re not really going to get anything out of it.

BSB: Did the fact that people were working for free guide how you wrote the script?
That was exactly it. And I chose what I think was maybe the harder brief, the Learning Through Landscapes one, because it had to be outdoors. Which, given the time and [the fact that] we live in this foul country was always going to be difficult. And it kind of needed to have a child in it, which has its own complications.

But I think once people commit to something they know what production’s like, so they know there might be challenges and issues and you’ve got to be a bit flexible. You’re always thinking ‘how can I persuade someone to give up their bank holiday weekend?’

The other difficulty was getting a location for free because we needed a park. And London’s official Parks of the Royal Boroughs charge a fortune. [One of the parks’] cheapest they could do as a student and charity combo offer was something like £500. But I managed to persuade someone to give us some land in Redbridge for £20. You have to have everything done as properly and legally as per advertising standards. So that was quite challenging from a production point of view. I don’t think ADCAN was necessarily directed at producers but I tried to make it that way.

The shoot largely went well. Then we had an illustrator for the animations and a separate VFX guy to do all the animating, so everyone’s working remotely in a narrow time so you can’t dictate when things happen. Everyone’s got to be available. It did take a while. They extended the deadline but I think we just made the original deadline.

BSB: How did things progress from there?
Then we had the workshops, which were amazing. It was generally really focused on directors. We went to Rattling Stick on the morning of the first day and met [First Lady] Katie Keith and [Chief of Stuff] Andy Orrick. I made it quite clear quickly that I was producing not directing, but everyone made sure that they spoke to me about that too. I was the only one.

Sara Dunlop came and spoke to us about an amazing campaign she’d just done and they showed us the treatment they gave to the agency. So it was interesting to be in that environment with those sorts of people.

We came to Partizan and spoke to loads of directors there as well as Nexus and The Mill. Meeting people who are in the industry and hearing what they’ve got to say on any topic was really interesting. But hearing about campaigns you’ve seen and what goes into them [was great] because it’s a hidden art, what goes into production.

For me it was useful to put faces to names, meeting people that you’ve heard about and to have conversations with them about what they’re doing. They were telling us about difficulties they were having or campaigns that have been unexpectedly successful. It was [good] getting airtime with those types of people.

BSB: What was the actual award ceremony like?
It was at Framestore’s screening room. We had drinks for an hour – really nice and informal. Everyone was keen to find the entrants so we didn’t really have to sell ourselves. They came up to us. Then we went into the screening room and Brydon gave a really good speech.

They screened all the ads by category and announced the winner of each. We won ours, which I was really surprised by and really happy about. It was kind of embarrassing.

BSB: How did ADCAN lead to you getting a new job after that?
Oddly, the next day I bumped into Andy Orrick in Shoreditch, just getting a coffee. We had a chat and he said I should email Katie and follow up. I think I had three interviews in total. And then they offered me a freelance trial as a production manager.

On the first day Andy McLeod was doing this Mulberry Christmas advert with the unicorn. The production manager was leaving so they asked me to sit with the producer and production manager and watch for two days and then see what I thought. I just started working on it rather than watching. The two days turned into two weeks and then I finished the whole production.

It was a baptism of fire. There was loads of stuff I didn’t fully understand, but everyone was really helpful. That was an amazing production to be in. I finished that and they asked if I’d come on full-time. I’ve been there six months now, I think.

BSB: What was the biggest role ADCAN played on getting you that job?
Meeting the guys. We made a nice ad which got us in front of them. The industry seems so much about relationships and personalities. It’s so important. Even agency to production – they pick the producers they want to work with. It’s not necessary to have qualifications. Once they’re in front of you and they like you and your work, I think that’s it.


Esrael Alem

BSB: What’s your background in filmmaking and how did you hear about ADCAN?
Esrael Alem:
Me and Fil [directing partner Filmawi Efrem] had been doing stuff every other week. Any time we had money we would shoot stuff. We were shooting music videos for labels when we were 16 or 17.

I did two years of uni and decided to leave. I was working on films in between everything. I was a night runner in a post house while I was at university. But university was pointless for me. I found that because I’d worked on feature films and stuff while I was in college and in secondary school I’d worked on a lot of shoots, when I went to university it was like going back to step one and having to relearn everything. It was too slow for me. I left and the first place I applied for was Partizan.

I was an in-house runner at Partizan for a good six months. I was on quite a lot of shoots. One of the producers saw one of our recent jobs for Warner and said ‘why don’t you apply?’ After that conversation we had a period of three months busy, just back-to-back on various different jobs, so we never had time.

The week before the deadline me and Fil sat in his room and said ‘oh shit. We have to actually write something.’ So we sat down for two days, wrote an idea for Open Cinema and then on the Friday we went and shot it. We stupidly shot it on film, which meant we had essentially no time to edit. If you shoot on a Friday it’ll take two days to develop and you get it on the Monday. So we got it on the Monday morning of the [deadline day], edited it that morning, had a guy do sound design on it that day and then upload it by midnight.

This was right before they extended the deadline. We were sweating. We got it done but the points that we needed to take time on we took time on, so when we shot it took us as long as it would take us. We took time finding the characters and stuff like that. That week was used very well.

BSB: Was it hard to get people together to help you for free?
I’ve got a lot of crew mates because I’ve worked as a runner since I was 14. So I knew a lot of people. The people we used were people that came up through film school with us. Then we pulled in a favour from Arri to get us some free kit. Location: the estate stuff was free. The only thing we had to pay for was this little community centre, which we gave them a donation for.

We shot all of it in a day.

BSB: So you found out you were shortlisted next and then went to the workshops. How did you find those?
It was great to meet people in production. We still keep in touch with Andy. He’s really nice. We like the idea of getting to know people in the industry. Crew-wise, I know everyone in commercials through work and everyone knows me because I’m the guy with the afro. And when we need help I can call people and they’re willing to give me free monitors, whatever we need. People always look out for the runners they’ve seen grow up in the industry, so it’s quite nice. But when you meet production it’s even nicer because you get to see a different side. We’re crew-led directors. We don’t really know producers.

It was nice also going to post houses. One of the things was we met Pat [Joseph, Co-founder] at The Mill and we still talk to him. He helped us grade the video we’d just finished when we were nominated and we’ve been doing all our projects ever since with them. You get good relationships going.

I think ADCAN is the coolest out of all the awards out there because it’s not made by an award company for industry people. It’s made by industry people for people who are not in the industry. So they know everything. It’s not like this company trying to push down new talent to agencies and stuff. People in the industry really want new talent and they’re willing to look far and wide to find that.

BSB: What happened after ADCAN?
So we won our category and the day after me and Fil were getting on with this music video. We’d just finished the edit. I’d taken a month off to pursue directing a bit more and then possibly leave. But I got this email from one of the producers saying they wanted to have a chat about my future at Partizan. I came in for a chat and they asked if I was interested in staying and working but as a junior director at Partizan [with Filmawi]. There are only a few companies that do that kind of thing. Rattling Stick do it and Partizan have a history of doing it. They keep and nurture all their directors. One of the reasons we stayed is because Madeleine takes pride in knowing who’s doing what and knowing how good they are. As soon as we got the email from the producer we got an email from Madeleine. We had a chat and we started directing here.

BSB: How much do you think that was influenced by your success in ADCAN?
Each group was judged by different production companies. And our group was judged by Rattling Stick and Daniel Kleinman, so it was another production company that gave us the kudos and the chance to win. Partizan must’ve seen that and thought there’s something in here. When Madeleine spoke to us she said she felt ‘there’s something there and I’d like to nurture it,’ which is nice, having someone say ‘I would like to see you guys grow.’

Three weeks later we got our first job here, which was branded content / a commercial for Fiat with the magician Dynamo. That was like being thrown in at the deep end. We had to figure things out.

BSB: Do you have any advice for ADCAN entrants this year?
We made a film that can well work for Open Cinema but also can just work for us. We went about making a film that told a story and sold what needed to be sold. People shouldn’t try to win the competition. People should just make the idea that they can show to people even if they don’t win. You’ve got to make it work for you.

BSB: What motivated you to enter?
We just enjoy it. We’re not even serious. It’s passion. I hope more passionate people can do it because what’s beautiful about charity adverts is there’s a lot of heart and soul put into each project. You have an emotional connection to it and it’s tangible and you can see it. Like the whole thing about getting freebies from people – the thing about charity adverts and any job that we’ve done, we’ve learnt that when the crew are into it and want to help out you see the result being ten times better than when people just do it as a job.

I think charity adverts [win awards] because a lot of heart has gone into each job. The passion that inspires people wins those awards.

ADCAN is now accepting entries for this year’s competition until 7th August 2015.

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