The directing legend Tarsem conducting a 64-piece orchestra. Saatchi & Saatchi's worldwide creative director, Bob Isherwood, taking to the stage dressed as a robot. Your typical agency network seminar at the Palais des Festivals this is not.
Now in its 14th year, the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase will be one of the best-attended events in Cannes this week. Up to 3,000 delegates are expected to brave the swelter of the Grand Auditorium for a taste of the hottest, freshest directing talent anywhere in the world.
The Saatchis creative board in New York has spent months whittling 500 directors from 84 countries down to 25 for the event, which, in years gone by, has included work from the likes of Danny Kleinman, Spike Jonze, Jonathan Glazer and Michel Gondry.
The names on this page are a select ten of the final 25 directors. Their work ranges from the charming tale of a boy who captures the shadow of a plane in his lunchbox, to a trippy pop promo for the French band Air.
So what's new for us to get excited about? Isherwood enthuses about the importance and improvement of viral advertising in this year's batch, James Rouse's sex olympics spoof "Trojan games" being one example. "This kind of media outlet is giving new directors the freedom that pop promos used to," he says, adding that, in the US in particular, the conservatism of clients, networks and rulemakers has limited the scope for creating more daring commercials.
"We have seen a lot of work from students recently and it looked very professional, which is worrying. It looked just like the work we're doing and ours goes through mind-bending research. Thankfully, viral is giving new directors more freedom to express themselves," Isherwood says.
But it works the other way too. Too much leeway and directors can easily veer off brief, a real danger when an agency is taking a gamble on a young, rough diamond. "You have to ask yourself, if I gave this person a script, would they add value or make it worse?" Isherwood muses. "The piece has to have a certain look, but often this is at the expense of the idea. Sometimes directors bring too much to the table."
While Isherwood hails the showcase's "remarkable range of fresh talent", he acknowledges how difficult it is for the next generation of directors to build their careers. "There are so many great directors out there but so few scripts," he says. "In the UK, for example, directors have to pitch for work. This is one of the big problems facing the production industry."
TEN OF SAATCHIS' PICK OF THE BUNCH
Remarkably, Rouse's viral film series for Trojan condoms was his first. Already recognised at the British Television Advertising Awards, nominated for a D&AD Pencil and a strong contender for a Lion at Cannes this week, he is a case of the kid who shot to fame from nowhere. Rouse started out as a junior creative at Euro RSCG London, so learned from an early age what agencies demand of a director: forget the art-house pretensions and make great ads that work. After Euro RSCG, he went it alone before joining the Viral Factory. "A fabulous series of pastiches," Isherwood says of the "Trojan games". "Directing humour is tricky but he's pulled it off brilliantly. Remarkable attention to detail and great casting."
Brimo's spots for the Paris World Athletics Championships scooped a silver Lion at Cannes last year. Not bad for his first outing behind the camera. One of the films depicts a series of everyday objects - swings, benches, pianos, petrol pumps - stacked to the equivalent height of the pole-vaulting world record. "I thought it was a very stylish commercial," Isherwood remarks. "Very well framed and beautifully art directed. He knew exactly where he wanted to put the viewer." Brimo has enjoyed a varied career. He started out as an artistic director, then joined the design department of Wanda Productions as the creative director, where he created the logo for MTV Asia. Before long he decided to chance his arm directing, taking on work for commercials and music videos. This is Brimo's bread and butter but he also continues to do some stills photography .
Hudson has agency experience, which is crucial for a director who wants to make a name for himself in the commercials world. He was an art director - with Victoria Fallon as his creative partner - at BMP DDB, Saatchi & Saatchi, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. Robert Campbell, the managing director of Outsider, the production company Hudson joined last year, says: "For him, the idea is king. He was there himself, but didn't have the time or money to make ads the way he wanted. So, he thought, hell, I'll do it myself." Hudson's "cubes" for Nike, a feast of freestyle trickery filmed in cube rooms, is a good example of "keeping things simple and letting the performance do it for the camera," Isherwood says.
Eck is one of those annoyingly multi-talented individuals armed with the Midas touch. The young Aussie is a stand-up comedian, a radio show host and a TV programme developer. Oh, and a pretty hot director, too. Eck's short film, The Money, which he also wrote and starred in, revolves around two debt collectors, a hostage and the host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, who are caught in an amusing stand-off over cash. "This is the kind of directing that really stands out," Isherwood says. "You're made aware of the plot and the storytelling but not the camera. Brilliant casting and acting, too." The film landed Eck the top prize at the Tropfest film awards in Sydney, an award also won by Tim Bullock, who appeared in Saatchis' New Directors Showcase last year.
The Milan-born 33-year-old is sure to make lots of friends in advertising if he creates commercials with the same hypnotic allure as his promo for the French electropop band Air. A graduate of the French cinema school ESRA, he has shot three commercials to date and spent nine months painstakingly crafting this video. A director is lucky to get nine hours to shoot a commercial these days but it is obvious why Saatchis has earmarked Bourdoiseau as one to watch. His film is the psychedelic story of a sound as it spreads through the human body. It is most impressive, Isherwood says, because the images and music work so well together. "It's a beautiful marriage," he says.
Blanco impressed the Clios jury this year, walking off with three golds. One for a Mastercard campaign and two for his "box" spot for Aerolineas Argentinas. The latter works along similar lines to the Air France campaign in that it focuses on the image of an aeroplane rather than fares, pretty air stewardesses or flat beds in business class. In the case of Blanco's film, a little boy catches the shadow of a passing plane and keeps it in a box. "This is one of my favourite ads, one I would like to have done," Isherwood says. "It's wonderful storytelling. I was totally drawn into the whimsy of it." He adds that the spot is evidence of Argentina's prominence among the world's hotbeds of directing talent.
Hicks is not the newest of Saatchis' new directors, having been around long enough to gain bags of experience and boast a stuffed trophy cabinet. He won an Emmy for the 1994 documentary Submarines: Sharks of Steel, which he co-wrote; and his "happy jack" spot for General Motors' Hummer H2 was named best spot of 2003 by The Wall Street Journal. And there is the small matter of seven Academy Award nominations for Shine, which he directed in 1996. Hicks made the Saatchis list this year with his "dog trilogy" ads for Mastercard. The series follows the journey home of Badger the dog, who is left behind by his family. At last, someone has given the "priceless" campaign new life.
Surprisingly, given his country's long history of film-making, Kohak is only the second Czech director to make Saatchis' list. The first was the world-renowned Ivan Zacharias, the man behind the camera for the likes of Land Rover's "born free" and Honda's "everyday", who was included back in 1997. Czechs are famed for their dark sense of humour and this side of Kohak comes through in "funeral", a road safety campaign for UAMK, the Czech automobile club, that has already won awards. Gobsmacked mourners watch as a funeral procession hurries past, Benny Hill-style, before the pall-bearers chuck the coffin into the open ground. "Enjoy your speed", reads the tagline. "Black humour at its best," Isherwood remarks.
The Canadian-born Blomkamp started out as a visual effects artist at Rainmaker Entertainment Group in Johannesburg. He spent three years there, working on commercials, music videos and made-for-TV feature films. In 2001, his visual effects for the pilot episode of Dark Angel were nominated for an Emmy. He soon turned to directing and, in 2003, won a Leo award (best director of a music video) for Bif Naked's Tango Shoes. But it is his remarkable "robotics" spot for Tetra Vaal that caught the eye of Saatchis. The special effects team must take a lot of credit because it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the computer-generated material and the real footage. However, as Isherwood points out: "There were so many opportunities to make a mess of this but he gets it just right. Set against an urban background and shanty-town poverty, the spot seems more real and less science fiction."
Bird is a rare find. Starting out as a stills photography assistant, he went on to become a photographer, a clapper loader, then a focus puller before moving into cinematography, where he made his name, most memorably as the director of photography for Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast. He switched to directing, debuting with "face off" for Sony in September 2002. Bird's ability to capture the essence of live music in his "live crowd" spot for BBC Radio 1 shows his obvious potential, Isherwood claims. "Live music, like a crime sequence or a car crash, never looks real in ads," he says. "The production values get in the way. But by using a slower contrasting track he has allowed the images to live."