It's a measure of the quality of commercials production in the UK in 2006 that judging Production Company of the Year is becoming an ever more difficult task.
While creative departments will no doubt hog the limelight, the UK's feat in topping the Gunn Report for the first time since its curator, Donald Gunn, began counting juries' votes is in no small part down to a highly talented band of directors and producers who bring their TV commercials to life.
Academy arguably scored the biggest hit of the year with Jonathan Glazer's "paint" for Sony Bravia through Fallon London. So much bigger than just a TV commercial (stick "advert" in Google and the Bravia site is the second result - and it's not a sponsored one), it ably demonstrated that, while features are his first love now, Glazer hasn't lost his passion for a bit of advertising on the side. Partizan, another regular in these round-ups, enjoyed a strong year, although perhaps not of the vintage we've come to expect from Georges Bermann's outfit.
Independent, too, had another year worthy of mention. Although, like its cousin MJZ, it's hard not to regard the outfit as a lily pad for US-based directors. Independent's Los Angeles-based Noam Murro has by far the highest profile reel at the company.
But for sheer creative quality and consistency across a number of directors, it has to be Gorgeous. Three years ago, it was arguably a two-tier production company, its A-List director, Frank Budgen, supported by a small cast of incredibly talented, but slightly lower profile names - at least in the eyes of TV departments. Names such as Chris Palmer, Tom Carty, Peter Thwaites and Vince Squibb. Of course, none need any introduction to Campaign readers - their credentials as former creatives speak for themselves. But the fact was, the Stella Artois (and Xbox, PlayStation, Nike and Levi's) scripts tended to come in to the production company with Budgen's name in bold at the top.
Gorgeous has made advances on this front this year, with scripts and the inevitable awards that followed, shared by all the directors, not just one or two. This year's APA 50 - as good a survey of the lie of the UK production land as any - included eight Gorgeous-produced ads, from four directors.
So what of the work this year? One faintly barbed criticism that has been levelled at Gorgeous in the past is that all it knows how to do is produce big-budget, epic commercials. Not that there's anything wrong with that, clearly, but times are changing and production companies need to address emerging media if they are to avoid becoming dinosaurs.
Gorgeous's response, if it needed one, was "The Simpsons" for BSkyB, a Palmer-directed viral that recreates The Simpsons title sequence, using actors to play the infamous yellow family. To say it was a success is the understatement of the year. The ad is now the sixth most downloaded clip on YouTube, with well over ten million hits. That's three times as many as any other commercial on the site.
Palmer's reel also includes "Russian linesman" for Kit Kat, a charming take on why that goal was deemed to have crossed the line in the England-Germany 1966 World Cup final and, continuing a theme, the inspired "Old Lions" campaign for Carlsberg. The latter, in its long-form glory, is one of the best commercials of the year, with note-perfect performances from the former players and direction that steers a careful path between mawkish sentimentality and all-out humour.
This year, Squibb joined Gorgeous full time from Lowe London after testing the directorial water in 2005. His harrowing "the day I went to work" spot for Transport for London is a chillingly realistic ad, warning of the dangers for motorcyclists who don't pay attention to the roads with which they're most familiar.
Carty directed strong spots for Levi's and Asics, and enjoyed a good showing at various awards ceremonies, with recognition for Lynx "stream" at the BTAAs and a silver for last year's HSBC "tango" at the Creative Circles.
Thwaites experienced similar success, scooping an armful of gongs for 2005's "mayfly" spot for Vodafone through Bartle Bogle Hegarty. His "movement" spot for Shell will be destined for similar glory next year.
And, of course, there's Budgen, who enjoyed his customary gold success for Stella Artois "le sacrifice" and Mercedes "movement" (both from 2005). His reel this year is arguably the strongest it's been for a few years, with stunning spots for Xbox and a new Levi's ad, his first since "twist" in 2001.
Gorgeous' combined directorial force led it to a third-placed spot in this year's Gunn Report, ensuring it remains the leading production company in terms of overall points awarded since Gunn began his analysis in 1999. Its awards this year were legion: four D&AD silvers - three for Palmer's Department of Transport "camera phone" spot from Leo Burnett London and one in the animation category for Thwaites' Vodafone "mayfly" through BBH; three Creative Circle golds (supported by three silvers and two bronzes); two BTAA golds, three silvers and three bronzes; two gold Lions at Cannes (and a silver and bronze). And this is still barely half the gongs the company has won this year. It's hard to find a worthier winner.
Blink What of the closest competition? Blink Productions continues to enhance its reputation among creative departments and heads of television alike.
By far its most awarded director was Dougal Wilson, the former Leith London creative who broke into Campaign's list of Top Ten directors for the first time last year.
Wilson is fast making a name for himself as a true A List-director, and has a strong reel this year, including Orange "the ride" from Fallon, Becks "four steps" from Leo Burnett and Amnesty International "teleshop" from Mother.
Blink also deserves credit for its varied roster and innovative approach to commercials production. Like its fellow runner-up, Outsider, it's a company that has recognised the industry is going through a period of dramatic change, as digital media comes to the fore.
This year, Blink signed Claire Jones (the former head of Tomboy Virals) as part of a continued effort to face the future on a solid footing. Neither has it ignored its commercials base, though: 2006 was also the year Blink hired Vaughan Arnell, whom the company hopes will make his mark on the 2007 commercials scene after years in the music video wilderness.
Outsider Having weathered the loss of director Paul Gay two years ago, Outsider is carving a niche for itself as a production company that defies pigeonholing.
Dom & Nic's puppet-fronted "get up and go" campaign for Vauxhall Opel is winning fans in living rooms and agencies alike; Anthony Atanasio's "moonbathing" for Levi's might have been incomprehensible tosh for many, but that's the fault of the script. At least it was beautifully shot and directed tosh.
Outsider, with its moves into content creation (where it deals directly with clients) and mercurial managing director Robert Campbell and his links with The Viral Factory, is easily the most future-proofed production company trading in the UK today.
In a market where the C-word - convergence - is increasingly being banded about, being both adaptable and future-proofed will be key.
Recent winners: Stink (2005); Gorgeous (2004); Partizan (2003); Gorgeous (2002); Gorgeous (2001)
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2006
- March: Three golds, three silvers and two bronzes at the Creative Circle Awards; two golds, three silvers and three bronzes at the BTAAs.
- May: Four D&AD silver Pencils: three for Chris Palmer's "camera phone" ad for the Department of Transport, created by Leo Burnett London.
- June: Two golds, one silver and one bronze at the Cannes Lions; Gorgeous ranked fifth-best production company in the world.
- September: Eight entries in the APA 50; two gold, four silver and two bronze Sharks at Kinsale.
- October: "The Simpsons" becomes the sixth most viewed clip on YouTube with ten million hits; seven nominations, seven wins at the BTA Craft Awards.