CAMPAIGN CRAFT: THE CREATIVE ISSUE - Have the technical gurus got what it takes to direct spots? Jim Davies on why there’s a spate of backroom boys now making commercials

By JIM DAVIES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 August 1998 12:00AM

Imagine Tiger Woods’ caddie suddenly standing up during a press conference and announcing that he had decided to become a professional golfer. From now on, he’d be hitting the shots and hogging the spotlight rather than selecting the appropriate clubs for his celebrity employer.

Imagine Tiger Woods’ caddie suddenly standing up during a press

conference and announcing that he had decided to become a professional

golfer. From now on, he’d be hitting the shots and hogging the spotlight

rather than selecting the appropriate clubs for his celebrity

employer.



When backroom technicians step forward in this unapologetic manner,

they’re usually met with surprise and scepticism in equal parts. Sure,

they’re au fait with the finer points of the game, but its minutiae and

mechanics rather than the all-important broad picture. Then there’s the

question of temperament and character; have they got what it takes to

perform under pressure?



So eyebrows were no doubt raised when Jon Hollis, a partner in the

post-production boutique, Smoke and Mirrors, and arguably London’s top

’Flame artist’, went public on his ambition to become a commercials

director (Campaign, 24 July).



In fact, he’d been quietly at it for some time already, with three spots

on his reel for the Guardian, plus co-directing credits on a Health

Education Authority commercial with Stuart Douglas and a Soul II Soul

promo video with Patricia Murphy. Joining D-Films was no more than a

rubber-stamp on an already burgeoning career.



As he says: ’Directing is an extension of what I am already doing, which

is image making. It is the crews and production side that I need to

learn more about.’



It now transpires that Sean Broughton, another prominent Smoke and

Mirrors artist, looks set to follow Hollis into the commercials

directing arena.



Hollis, as any of his high-profile clients (everyone from Tom Carty and

Walter Campbell to Chris Palmer, Daniel Barber, Frank Budgen and Tomato)

will tell you, is far more than a geeky button-pusher - his substantial

creative input has been widely acknowledged and he has also established

something of a reputation for guiding, nurturing and humouring young,

upstart directorial talent.



The typographic designer and commercials director, Jonathan Barnbrook,

certainly appreciated the input from Hollis on his early work. ’I have

never met anybody with such all-round talent for combining a brilliant

aesthetic and storytelling eye, and for doing things so quickly,’

Barnbrook says. ’I am sure Jon will succeed because he has such a

command of the techniques at his disposal and a good creative brain

behind them.’



Though there’s no tried-and-tested route into commercials direction -

with dentists, pop stars and even trade journalists elbowing their way

into the country’s top production houses - the majority of today’s

practitioners tend to arrive via advertising agencies’ creative

departments. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, brought about by the

increasingly arcane politics of advertising which demand extremely

careful handling of client and agency as well as filmic skills.

’Post-production guys are perhaps not the most sophisticated when it

comes to dealing with the politics of advertising,’ Sam Sneade, an

editor who runs Sam Sneade Editing, confirms. ’In the 70s and early 80s

it was more common for editors in particular to become directors, but

that hasn’t been the case for ten years or so.’



However, as technology becomes more transparent and traditional barriers

blur, the tide would appear to be turning. ’There’s more than a trickle

of technical guys moving into directing at the moment, and I think it

will increase,’ Bertie Miller, managing director of the production

company, Spectre, says. ’People from the effects world spend so much

time with the best directors and they both learn from each other.



It’s not surprising that they eventually want to get out after spending

so long in a darkened room.’



Recent examples of cross-overs include Michel Gondry, who started out as

a Harry operator, Spirit’s Simon Cheek and Pink’s Simon Levene, both

editors in a previous existence. Levene, who has recently worked on

spots for Nissan, McDonald’s and Greene King IPA, believes his

background has given him a ’good overall knowledge’ of

commercials-making. ’You know the shots you need to tell a story. I made

the transition early on in my career, I’d always felt I wanted more

input than just editing.’



So what can these technical wizards bring to the world of commercials

direction? Professionalism, discipline and a knowledge of the latest

post-production techniques most certainly. But what about originality

and creativity?



Well, they’re as likely to provide it as any dentist, pop star or trade

journalist.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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