Feature

Annual: Production Company of the Year - Rattling stick

Rattling Stick really came into its own in 2008, as its other directors, especially Ringan Ledwidge, stepped out from Danny Kleinman's shadow.

If ever there was an apt descriptor for a production company, "small but perfectly formed" is the one for Rattling Stick.

It may be just two years old, and have a roster of only seven directors, but this year it boasted the best reel in town by far, forcing Gorgeous to abdicate its frequently held position at the top of the production podium.

With two of the best UK-based directors at the helm in Danny Kleinman, and the equally talented partner Ringan Ledwidge, the company was in a good position to stealthily chart a course to success, culminating in a 2008 reel containing a number of the year's best campaigns.

This success was partly attributable to a hiring spree that took place in 2007. By adding Serious Pictures' Ivan Bird and Red Bee Media's Steve Cope (the man responsible for Radio 2's "Elvis" and last year's Guinness "music machine") as well as enticing Fallon's executive creative director, Andy McLeod, into his first directorial role, Rattling Stick laid the foundations for a dramatic ascent this year.

But it also clearly signalled its intention to remain small. The company stopped recruiting directors in 2008, adamant that a scaled-down operation - a "collective" rather than a "company" approach - was going to be the key to future success.

And luckily, with the recession looming, 2008 proved that its self-imposed recruitment freeze was the right path to take.

Rattling Stick began the year by rebuffing criticism that its approach was too "cliquey", perhaps even a turn-off for some clients, with a clear statement that it was willing to share its talent, finalising its association with Epoch Films, a production company based in the US.

This not only facilitated a cross-fertilisation of its directorial talent, it also ensured a steady flow of US scripts to hungry directors: a useful association, given that well-written UK ads were few and far between this year, especially compared with the previous year's bountiful supply.

Nevertheless, this didn't stop Rattling Stick from polishing up some weaker spots, such as Kwik Fit "amazed" and Orange "Mark Beaumont", as well as ensuring that many of the triumphs of 2008, including the humorously executed "Brains" spot for Drench, and the epic follow-up to Ridley Scott's "boy on a bike" commercial for Hovis, achieved the acclaim they deserved.

Rattling Stick also secured a presence in the German market later in the year, brokering an exclusive agreement with Marken Film, which now represents its directors permanently over in Germany.

While Kleinman and Ledwidge remain the jewels in Ratting Stick's crown, directing the majority of its award-winning output, the company's other directors are also starting to get into their stride.

None more so than McLeod, who is proving that creatives really can turn their hand to directing, and achieving the balance between the prominence of the idea and the execution.

This year, he's exhibited a keen eye for casting actors who can deliver a natural comedy performance, most notably in his efforts on Volkswagen's Independent Cinema campaign. This year's run of ads featured a number of backstage oddballs venting their opinions about films, from a seamstress who thinks ET was really just about a stag do, to an extra in a zombie film who is seen pontificating over the Wizard of Oz. A viral he directed for Goodyear, featuring a rather over-amorous walrus, was another highlight.

Meanwhile, Kleinman put in yet another year of first-rate directorial performances, on an incredibly varied selection of scripts.

As production budgets met the hatchet of the recession, Kleinman proved his talent could span both small-budget spots, such as the acrobatic "goal celebration" ad for Carlsberg and "the two best bits" Wall's campaign, as well as big-budget numbers such as the computer-generated extravaganza of Nissan Qashqai "playground", and big brand campaigns for Orange.

But it was really Ledwidge who, after hiding in the shadows of his popular partner for so long, finally had his moment in the sun, with Hovis - Campaign's Campaign of the Year - on his reel.

Following in the footsteps of Sir Ridley Scott was no mean feat, but Ledwidge managed to direct more than 600 extras on a six-day shoot in Liverpool, covering 122 years of British history in just 122 seconds.

Another top ten ad, "Brains", was also shot by Ledwidge in February. After a complex studio shoot involving dance troops and puppetry, and an extensive post-production process, the ad achieved not only critical acclaim, earning a nomination at the Campaign Big Awards, it also became a huge viral hit, and got the classic 80s track Rhythm Is A Dancer back in the music charts.

Ledwidge's talent also helped add further gongs to Rattling Stick's awards shelf, which, by March, already boasted the British Television Advertising Awards Production Company of the Year award after the company netted a bronze, six silvers and a gold at the ceremony. He also added two D&AD yellow Pencils for direction, one for his "timetheft" ad for Vodafone, and another for Levi's "Dangerous Liaisons", topping off the company's impressive haul.

Gorgeous 2007 was a bit of a poisoned chalice for Gorgeous. The year saw it secure the Campaign Production Company of the Year award for the fifth time since 2001, as well as produce a significant proportion of last year's stellar crop of ads. With directorial gems including Chris Palmer's "baking of Fabia" for Skoda and Carlsberg "old lions", and Vince Squibb's "pourable sunshine" spot for Heinz, as well as Boots Opticians "out of focus", 2007 was always going to be a hard one to beat.

Gorgeous made valiant efforts to live up to its reputation in 2008, but its reel wasn't quite so resplendent this year. What's more, its association with Park Pictures, which enabled it to take advantage of the directorial talents of Lance Acord, Joachim Back and Joaquin Baca Asay, also came to an end, after Park Pictures' aggressive expansion in the US made the deal unworkable.

Nevertheless, Gorgeous is still one of only two UK production companies in the top five of The Gunn Report, thanks to its roster of top pedigree directors who continue to produce powerful and ambitious campaigns.

After a meteoric 2007, it was another fantastic year for Squibb, whose reel includes the BBC iPlayer "penguins" April Fool's Day spoof and the hard-hitting "binge boy" and "binge girl" campaigns for COI's anti-binge-drinking. What's more, his directorial efforts on the visually enticing HSBC "lumberjack" almost succeeded in disguising the flimsy strategy behind the JWT spot.

Palmer also had a triumphant year, and one that saw the director take a starring role in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase viral, where he met a violent death. Fortunately, he lived to see another day, and 2008 saw him direct the successful "moonwalking bear" spot, and its follow-up "whodunnit?" for Transport for London through WCRS, as well as Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy's "I wanna be like you" COI anti-smoking campaign.

Recent winners: Gorgeous (2007); Gorgeous (2006); Stink (2005); Gorgeous (2004); Partizan (2003)

RATTLING STICK'S 2008

January: Confirms new association with Epoch Films. Kleinman shoots Nissan Qashqai "playground".

February: Ledwidge shoots Britvic Drench "Brains".

March: Wins Production Company of the Year at the British Television Advertising Awards.

April: Kleinman and Bird jet to Canada to film Specsavers "eerie" and Timberland "podium".

May: Ledwidge scoops two yellow Pencils for direction at D&AD Awards.

June: Rattling Stick wins four awards at Cannes.

July: Ledwidge shoots the Hovis commercial in Liverpool.

September: The company signs an exclusive agreement with Marken Film to represent its directors in Germany.

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