’I DON’T CARE WHAT DIRECTORS WARN ...’

What every production company needs is the love of a good creative director, someone who respects them, trusts them and guarantees them the odd sexy script. For many production companies, embroiled in a vicious debate with the Creative Directors Forum about film-making costs, the affair now seems to be over.

What every production company needs is the love of a good creative

director, someone who respects them, trusts them and guarantees them the

odd sexy script. For many production companies, embroiled in a vicious

debate with the Creative Directors Forum about film-making costs, the

affair now seems to be over.



The falling out is typified by a remark from a producer at a top

production company. His description of Tim Delaney - the chairman of the

Creative Directors Forum, which has pledged to press for greater

transparency from production companies - as ’a firebrand who always

kicks the shit out of everyone’ was indeed impolitic.



And clients? Well - apart from the likes of Procter and Gamble, Unilever

and Ford who have their own arrangements -- they continue to be fed

marvellous titbits about one director who always flies first class,

another who likes to have his personal chef flown to a shoot and the

agency creative director who flew his hairdresser out to a shoot in

South Africa because his 18-month-old son needed a trim. Never mind

whether the client really did park his Mondeo between the director’s

Rolls Royce and the location manager’s Range Rover.



Everyone thinks he did, which gives film-making a big disadvantage when

it comes to earning respect from clients who fear where their money’s

going and employ cost consultants accordingly.



James Studholme and John Hackney, the managing directors of Blink and

Rose Hackney Barber respectively, are members of the finance and policy

committee of the production company trade body and speak collectively

for its members. ’There’s one fundamental difference between agencies

and clients. Agencies have long-term relationships with clients while we

operate exclusively on one-offs. That makes our financial arrangements

unique,’ they report.



Helen Langridge, the managing director of Helen Langridge Associates,

agrees. Why, she asks, has Delaney spoken out so soon after a new

budgeting procedure has been agreed by the three industry trade bodies?

’Don’t agencies trust the people they employ to look at the budgets?’

she asks.



Nonetheless, the problem that has taxed the best brains in the industry

for decades - who earns what from the film-making process - is again at

the front of people’s minds. The reason is down to a Creative Directors

Forum initiative, first mooted when the body was born two years ago and

resurrected when Tim Delaney took over as chairman from Bartle Bogle

Hegarty’s chairman and creative director, John Hegarty.



The issue gathered momentum recently when BBH put forward a radical

proposal in its attempt to win financial transparency for its clients

(Campaign, 31 January). Depending who you believe, the Creative

Directors Forum and the BBH initiatives are either twins, born out of

the same meeting, or entirely unrelated. Logic, and a glance at the

timing, suggests that while BBH has pushed transparency as a policy

since 1993, it was galvanised into action on the film-making issue by

the forum’s initiative.



Our purpose here is to examine what Tim Delaney meant when he called for

production companies to match the cost control that has been forced on

agencies. ’The issue is simple,’ he says. ’Where the discounts are and

who is getting them.’



Production companies identify a sinister motive behind that terse

statement.



Some even suggest that the Creative Directors Forum has damaged and

embarrassed the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the Forum’s

parent body.



Few want to rage openly against powerful figures like Delaney and

Hegarty.



But off the record it’s a different story: ’There’s one single problem

for both of them. It’s called Paul Weiland,’ one says. ’He’s the one

person in the whole industry who’s doing better than them, they’re

envious of his wealth and it irritates them that they can’t afford to

use Weiland because he costs so much.’



Delaney denies this. ’Daily rates of pay for directors are not an issue,

I don’t care what directors earn. We don’t want to end up shooting all

commercials on video for pounds 3, but we do want to look at all the

costs.’ And he adds: ’Paul Weiland’s a friend of mine. I’ve known him

since he was 18 and I was 24. In fact, he’s working with us right now on

a BBC project which he’s shooting for peanuts. He’s sensible like

that.’



Delaney, keen to emphasise that his beef is not with star directors, is

railing against what he calls the ’structural flaws’ in the industry and

the fact that ’the business of us (creative directors) looking at them

is being resisted.



’One of the reasons that commercials budgets are high relative to TV

programmes is that facilities houses have different rates for ad

agencies and production companies. Agencies get discounts from

facilities houses when we buy post- production, but we don’t keep it, we

give it back. I’m not saying agencies are angels in structural terms,

but it concerns me that production companies quote one price to us, and

get another from the facilities houses. Is that ethical?’



Production companies agree that they can negotiate discounts on cameras,

studio hire and sometimes lighting, but in their defence they highlight

how money is allocated to commercials, and when it is paid. They are

supposed to receive the first 50 per cent of the budget before the

shoot. In practice, about 75 per cent is often spent within a week of

the shoot, with the second 50 per cent following two months later and

weather-day payment after six months. The result is that production

companies - chastened by the spectacular closure of Spots last year and

Redwing in 1995 - say they are effectively bankrolling productions. So

should agencies take more responsibility for cash flow at production

companies?



’Perhaps,’ says Delaney. ’It may be that contingencies have to go up

from the current 5 or 10 per cent, or maybe we should change the 50/50

split in some way. Perhaps we should move to a system where there’s

money down when you start talking.’



One producer has some sympathy with Delaney’s point about contingency

monies - but only up to a point. ’There is never a contingency in the

budget agreed with us,’ he says. ’Delaney must be talking about the

agency budget.’



As for putting money down when both parties start talking - again, it’s

judged unworkable. In fact, such suggestions are part of what Hackney

believes are some agencies’ unrealistic views on getting the best out of

a budget. ’Many agencies give confirmation frighteningly close to the

start of pre-production,’ he reports. ’And it’s this lack of lead time

that means we have to throw money at their projects. For example, a

four-day set build, confirmed late, means we have to pay the

construction crew at overtime rates, there’s no choice. We don’t have

the luxury of time to negotiate deals with the crew -- it turns into

’here’s the cost, take it or leave it’. And it also increases the risk

factor.’



Another creative director is convinced that there should be more

openness about what things cost. He finds it weird that production

companies, even the established money-spinners with the big-name

directors, choose to hire rather than buy equipment. With a few

exceptions - Park Village and Howard Guard, for example - most

production houses have not even invested in studios. Could buying

cameras and lights work?



’It’s a ridiculous suggestion,’ insists Hackney. ’If my company were to

invest in camera equipment, we’d have to buy every piece of equipment

ever invented - we need access to whatever the script demands. We’d be

the first to do it if it was logical, but it’s restrictive for

directors.’



So the argument veers inexorably back to bulk discounts, but if you

believe the production companies and the Advertising Film and Videotape

Producers Association, they are a figment of Delaney’s maverick

imagination.



Cecilia Garnett, the AFVPA’s chairman, explains: ’The suggestion that

something that belongs to the client is being withheld is as ridiculous

as saying there should be a prescribed director’s fee or a prescribed

amount of film stock. Delaney is suggesting that bulk discounts are real

money instead of part of a business operation. Until agencies start

buying in bulk from production companies, I see no reason why they

should get a look in at the discounts that depend on other agencies and

clients.’



It’s true, Delaney is asking for a dramatic shift in attitudes that

flies in the face of current practices in commercials production because

so many films are currently made possible on a goodwill, ’you scratch my

back, I’ll scratch yours’ basis. ’All the best commercials in this

business turn in over budget. While we prefer not to take bulk

discounts, we do use some facilities houses on a goodwill basis,’ says

one senior producer.



’And when we need a favour - say, Tim Delaney coming to us with a

Guardian script and pounds 30,000 - we call in the favours and make the

film.’



This argument finds sympathy with just about every producer and head of

TV in town. Mark Hanrahan, the head of TV at Saatchi and Saatchi,

praises the effort put in by production houses who quote on 20 jobs

before one bears fruit.



’I’m certain that production companies take on a good percentage of

their work at break even, or even a loss, so when a good budget comes in

they have to make a profit. We all privately agree it’s annoying that a

superstar director can charge what they like, but it’s a marketplace and

you don’t have to use the stars,’ Hanrahan observes. ’We’ve produced a

load of films using our in-house facility (Winkle Films) and we have

access to a number of freelance directors.’



Nor does Hanrahan share Delaney’s concern over discounts, which, he

says, usually only amount to ’a few hundred quid’ per job. ’All

businesses enjoy a discount: You can’t apportion it on a job-by-job

basis, it’s a loyalty bonus.’



It looks as if a policy change is as likely as the AFVPA inviting Tim

Delaney to be its next chairman. But if he was interviewed for the job,

he’d certainly be asked: ’Don’t you trust us any more?’



’That’s a big girl’s blouse of a question,’ he concludes. ’We are

questioning the status quo in one of the most reactionary businesses

around. I don’t care what system we arrive at in the end, but I want an

acknowledgment that the practice of bulk discounts goes on and I want to

know what things cost.’



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