Campaign Craft: The Creative Issue - Do TV directors create better ads than the original luvvies? - From actors to TV directors, adland is attracting fresh talent, Richard Cook says

Has anyone else noticed a certain catholicism creeping into the career background of some of the new breed of commercials directors? In the past you could be pretty certain that they’d worked their way up from Soho runner, hit a lean patch in Hollywood or sneaked across from the ad agency creative department.

Has anyone else noticed a certain catholicism creeping into the

career background of some of the new breed of commercials directors? In

the past you could be pretty certain that they’d worked their way up

from Soho runner, hit a lean patch in Hollywood or sneaked across from

the ad agency creative department.



No longer: now there are photographers, comedy actors and even, dare one

whisper it, TV directors all trying their hand at selling to us in 30

seconds flat.



’It used to be the case that the TV and commercials industries would

have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Commercials directors

could go off and make films but the feeling always was that TV directors

were really just churning out hack work with none of the attention to

detail of someone who knows his ad will be seen 5,000 times,’ says Sid

Roberson, a former agency creative who has been both a commercials and

TV director and now splits his output between advertising for clients

such as W. H. Smith and directing the Fast Show.



’I started off in TV, directing a couple of episodes of the Sweeney,

and, to be honest, I hated it at first, partly because you had to keep

the episodes you directed within the look of the overall series, and you

couldn’t direct a whole series because they were casting the next

episode while you were directing yours. Partly though it’s because the

two disciplines seemed then, and still seem now, so different.’



Certainly differences between these two disciplines shouldn’t be

underestimated - a half hour sit-com is, after all, still commonly shot

in two hours in front of a live studio audience. The audience might find

it hard to muscle up enthusiasm for a seventh take, and the director’s

job in part is to keep everything moving along; whereas in ads it

sometimes doesn’t seem like you’re trying unless you ask for eight or so

takes.



Peter Bennett-Jones, the managing director at the talent agency, Tiger

Aspect, says: ’I think there certainly was a rather snobbish attitude

towards TV directors taking charge of commercials. But that’s changed as

comedy has become more important to advertisers. We have seen how easily

comic skills are transferable in front of the camera. And, if you want

to move a comic character across from a TV series, it makes sense to

bring the director with them.’



But the TV director can offer much more than a proven relationship with

a sometimes temperamental comic star, at least according to Declan

Lowney, the director of Father Ted, currently preparing to direct his

first commercial through Lambie-Nairn Directors.



’Comedy is more important in ads now and I think TV directors are used

to coaxing great comic performances out of actors. One thing I’ve done

for my first UK ad is to rehearse all the actors together before the

shoot, which is what I would do on Father Ted, get them comfortable with

one another and have them improvise dialogue.



’There are huge differences - you’re not having people walking around

rooms in commercials and it’s all about jump-cuts, but commercials, like

TV comedy, are becoming more about the scripts than about great-looking

visuals.’



One thing TV directors certainly have to offer is time behind the

lens.



Martin Dennis, who is on the BFCS roster, directed Men Behaving Badly

and the new Simon Nye vehicle, Is it Legal?. He estimates that he shoots

around 13 hours of TV a year.



He spends five days rehearsing with the actors before each two-hour

recording session. It all adds up to a prodigious technical competence

and an ability to interact with comedy actors - precisely the sort of

attributes that many of the new breed of comedy-inspired ads are looking

for. You might not think of Dennis or Lowney to shoot a 90s version of

’Manhattan’ for British Airways, but if you are using Paul Merton in a

new beer commercial, then the combination looks more natural.



But that’s not to say there won’t be difficulties for TV directors who

transfer to ads; for example, it’s hard to tell a story in 30 seconds if

you are used to half an hour.



Steve Reeves, a former ad agency creative and now a commercials director

at Brave Films, says: ’I would definitely welcome people coming in from

other disciplines to direct commercials. ’But there are a couple of real

difficulties. First, there are many restrictions to be aware of - such

as swearing and using kids in ads and so on - things that people in the

industry know. But the main reason why ads are harder than TV is that

you have to be funny and sell. On TV you can shoot in video and it can

look cheap and nasty but as long as it’s funny that’s OK. In ads that’s

where the selling job starts.’



But then that’s hardly likely to discourage any TV directors. After all,

where else would they be positively encouraged to express their creative

personalities and idiosyncratic directing style, shoot on the more

rewarding medium of film rather than videotape and be positively

encouraged to take all the time they need to produce the best finished

product they are able? Oh, and be paid more for it too.



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