Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase

Now in its 21st year, the Saatchis showcase reveals that the work of new directors is becoming increasingly inspired by computers and the art direction found in video games, Katherine Levy writes.

John Malkovich stars in Sandro Miller's 'Butterflies'
John Malkovich stars in Sandro Miller's 'Butterflies'

Despite being an initiative that was set up to find the best up-and-coming directors with less than two years' experience in ads, increasingly commercials have become a scarce commodity in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase. This year, out of the 20 films that made the final cut, just two are television commercials.

Tom Eslinger, the Saatchis worldwide digital creative director, says this is not because there is a dearth of talent among young commercials directors. On the contrary, the reason for the showcase's evolution away from TV spots has to do with the opportunities now available for people to release their own material online.

"The waiting period for new directors to get in front of us has been obliterated by the internet," Eslinger says. "Especially if they're young, they don't have to wait to make an ad to get our attention. They can make a trailer for an imaginary film and release it on YouTube, or make a music video and release it on Vimeo (the video-sharing site). This immediacy is good for them and it's good for us."

It stands to reason, therefore, that as advertising is no longer just about the 30-second TV spot, more and more fresh directing talent is to be found through other channels. The Saatchis worldwide creative board, including Eslinger and Kate Stanners, the creative partner at Saatchis London, spent a year searching for the best films. Their resources included online platforms such as Twitter, the BFI-hosted music video event Bug, as well as the more old-fashioned route of scouting art and film schools and production companies. The showcase is also in its third year of having its own dedicated YouTube channel, which is an open invitation for the world to upload their work.

As well as giving new directors a chance to make their names before they get a break directing a commercial or a film, the democratisation of the web also means that the showcase represents the full range of emerging directing techniques and trends.

Now in its 21st year, Stanners believes the showcase has, therefore, become more valuable to the industry than ever before. "The showcase trends styles before we see ad trends - it is a more honest dial of what is going on," she explains.

Stanners and Eslinger say that, these days, it's less about which techniques the industry can poach from the directors and more about getting them involved with the industry. Directors who have historically benefited from the showcase's recognition and have gone on to great things include Spike Jonze, Daniel Kleinman and Jonathan Glazer. "It was one of the reasons I joined Saatchis," Stanners says. "I thought it was a really wonderful thing that Saatchis bothered to do and gifted us in other agencies."

This year, as Stanners, Eslinger and their fellow international creatives spent three days holed up in the Saatchis office in Buenos Aires fighting over which 20 films should be chosen from hundreds of candidates, some trends emerged. There has been an explosion of groups and co-operatives producing these films rather than lone directors. "And it's not just about people collaborating with each other, but the interweaving of skills such as music, dance and digital expertise," Stanners explains.

Also, a large proportion of the films are either created by directors as music videos or rely heavily on music to help punctuate the narrative. "Generally, it allows directors to do interesting visuals and gives them a certain freedom as opposed to crafting a dialogue," Stanners points out.

The proliferation of young directors displaying their talent in music video form led to this year's challenge for a separate competition that accompanies the showcase, initially set up to mark its 20th anniversary last year but which is being repeated.

Saatchis partnered with Vimeo and the musician Moby for a music video challenge. The brief was to create a video for one of three unreleased Moby tracks from his new album Destroyed, to the theme of this year's showcase, "Hello, Future", with the winner announced at Cannes. "It used to be a big deal when an artist would create a DVD for a whole album," Eslinger says. "Now Moby has 600 clips based on three of his songs."

Stanners and Eslinger are proud that their agency has helped generate such a buzz among young directing talent. Stanners says: "We need to help directors make great content so we can show everyone else what we're looking at in the future."

The Daniels

Dogboarding, a film by the Los Angeles-based duo The Daniels, depicts skateboarders supposedly skating on canines. The film samples the music for the LA band Foster the People. "They're an interesting talent," Stanners explains. "We just instantly cracked up. It's not smooth or polished, it is just unashamedly a joke. Once that joke's over, you think the whole thing could be over. Actually, because of the clever way it's shot, you want to keep on watching even though the punchline happened right at the beginning."

Eslinger adds: "The response this video got online was entertaining. Someone commented on the part of the film where the skateboarders jump off the dogboards and they turn back into dogs. They said: 'Oh, that's so great, they're not really hurting the dog.'"

Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan have a background in animation, graphics, comedy and theatre. They share the directing, editing and VFX on their films.

Lernert & Sander

The Dutch artists and directors Lernert & Sander have previously created films showing chocolate bunnies being melted by hairdryers. The Dutch band De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig asked the pair to create a music video for their song Elektrotechnique. Lernert & Sander came up with a series of "domestic sex machines" fashioned out of household furniture. By each vibrating construction lies a box of tissues. "Get inspired!" they say.

Stanners laughs: "It had to be Dutch. It's very retro. It's just fun, charming and nicely old-school. It references the 80s music video Rockit by Herbie Hancock. I saw this first at Bug. There were 300 people in the audience and they went nuts. Joking apart, it is a really nice aesthetic. It is like a 3D piece of graphics."

The film is one of Eslinger's favourites. He says: "It's a little bit dark but it's super funny. The art direction, the colour, the set design - everything has been beautifully composed."

Lernert & Sander have worked together on commercials, art movies, documentaries and installations. They live and work in Amsterdam.


Loom is a computer-drawn work of moving art that depicts the moment a spider kills a moth that has flown into its web. It is so well done, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a David Attenborough outtake. Stanners enthuses: "This is storytelling - finding an epic tale in that tiny moment."

Her comment echoes Polynoid's own thoughts on the film: "There is much more to explore, much more to feel if one takes the time to really experience the content of a split second." The Saatchis board was unanimous that it was "incredible". Stanners says: "It's very tense due to the design of it, the music, the angles and the shapes."

Eslinger describes it as "phenomenal", adding: "This is what National Geographic films and Animal Planet films are going to start looking like. You don't need to film the secret life of bugs any more. You can make it on a Macintosh."

Polynoid was founded by students in 2007 at Filmakademie in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Originally a trio comprising Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck and Tom Weber, Polynoid expanded to become a five-piece in 2009 with the addition of Csaba Letay and Fabian "Pit" Pross.

Loom won best animated movie at this year's Sehsuchte Festival, the largest international student film festival in Europe.

Sandro Miller

A sepia-toned series of bizarre tableaux of John Malkovich forms the disquieting short Butterflies, directed by Sandro Miller. Throughout the film, Malkovich appears to collapse, get electrocuted by the TV, grow horns on his head and shoot himself with a pistol.

Stanners praises the film's beauty: "What's interesting about this short is that Sandro has been a photographer for years and you can tell. This is really his first outing into creating something that's moving. The interesting textures in the series of beautifully framed images just draws you in."

Eslinger says: "It's so beautifully crafted that the first couple of times you watch it, you're trying to figure out what the next technique is going to be."

Miller has been shooting for 30 years. His editorial has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire and Time, and he has worked on campaigns for clients including Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Coca-Cola and Adidas.

The General Assembly

The General Assembly created a music video for the Leeds-based Scot Graeme Shepherd, aka the electro DJ Grum, for his track Through The Night. The General Assembly, who say they have a "slight obsession with moustaches, and 70s and early 80s cinema", were partly inspired by Starsky And Hutch. The result is a cop bromance. In the film, the characters hug passionately each time they take down a criminal.

Stanners says: "Even though they're obviously going through cliche after cliche to tell the story, you really get a sense of the characters. It's kitsch and camp and you want to watch more and more."

The General Assembly is a directing duo comprised of the California-based Adam Littke and Adam Willis. Currently they are working on an "unusual" TV series and a feature film script. They recently signed to the creative talent company SkinFlicks for UK representation.

Jonathan Higgs

Jonathan Higgs is the lead singer of the indie-rock band Everything Everything.

Higgs formed the band in 2007. The Manchester-based quartet say their style is inspired by Radiohead and The Beatles.

The video for their single Photoshop Handsome was created with the help of 50 crowdsourced animators that re-imagined content the band created.

Stanners says: "It wouldn't be my favourite piece of film and directing but it's there because it's a very interesting band and that's how they create their videos.

"Crowdsourcing is a trend that's emerging and it's very exciting the way they've done it. This band is very much part of that genre of doing their music and their videos together."

Daniel Wolfe

Daniel Wolfe's music video Prayin' for the British artist Plan B won four awards at the UK Music Video Awards 2010 in addition to landing him the best director trophy. Prayin' forms part of a series of videos for Plan B's album The Defamation Of Strickland Banks.

"It's Michael Jackson's Beat It meets West Side Story, in a prison," Eslinger says.

"It's the way the dance is totally woven into the narrative," Stanners adds. "It's a brilliant piece of storytelling."

Wolfe got his big break when he talked himself into a job on Anthony Minghella's production of The Quiet American. After signing to Partizan in 2006, Wolfe went on to make music promos for The Horrors, Roisin Murphy, Duffy and Take That. Wolfe's video for Duffy's single Warwick Avenue was nominated for Best UK Video at the MTV EMAs 2008.

Gary Shore

Moving to London to begin an MA in fine art at Saint Martins, Gary Shore's plans changed when he got an e-mail from the vice-president of Warner Bros, which read: "We have seen your trailer for Cup Of Tears - how would you like to come make films for Warner Bros?" This referenced an animated, motion picture film trailer Shore had been working on. The trailer, which promises all the elements of a Samurai blockbuster, had Hollywood on its knees. James Cameron was so impressed, he invited Shore to visit the set of Avatar to discuss his career. Shore chose to sign a film deal with Working Title Films.

Eslinger says: "The quality of this trailer was so good, I thought it was a video game the first time I saw it. These young directors are not just watching Alfred Hitchcock any more, they're watching video games with these big sweeping shots and amazing art direction."

Shore, who was nominated for the Young Director Award at the Cannes Lions 2006, has directed commercials for clients including Adidas, EMI and Nokia.

Mikey Please

Michael "Mikey" Please's film The Eagleman Stag is a nine-minute-long, stop-motion origami animation. The film uses Dragon Stop Motion software, which gives a smooth visual appearance to the manually constructed animation. The film is comprised of 115 separate shots, most of which have separate sets custom-built specifically for each camera angle. The entire film was shot on Please's Canon EOS 1000D.

Stanners was charmed by it, saying: "It's beautifully animated. The film is brilliant at representing a classic craft. It feels like it's following in that British tradition of great animators."

Please was born in Bath in 1984 and now lives in London as a freelance film-maker and animator. Aged 27, he has already directed animated work for clients such as Virgin and Universal Records. The Eagleman Stag made its international premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The film won the 2011 Bafta for short animation.