World: My Portfolio - James Pilkington

James Pilkington specialises in comedy. "Anyone can make people cry," he says. "Making people laugh is a lot harder." In the past three years, he has been getting plenty of practice with work through Partizan for Carling, Tango, Smirnoff and Lynx, to name a few. Now 33, Pilkington did not set out to direct ads. He spent three years at medical school, then quit to try his hand at stand-up comedy before finding a producer for his short film, Pocket.

Pocket won the 1998 BBC1 Best Short Film award and Pilkington hasn't looked back. Another two successful shorts followed, the second of which, Sweet, starred Noel Fielding, who also takes the lead in "lounge bar", an ad Pilkington directed for Carling Live.

Pilkington's ability to recognise a good comedy moment has been picked up by more than one television department. He recently directed a brace of spots for the Smirnoff Ice campaign through J. Walter Thompson, including "room swap", where a man manages to wangle an upgrade of his hotel room. "It's got a voiceover and the actor talks into the camera," he says, explaining the trick is commonly used in short films to get information across quickly "and can make ads funnier, too."

Of course, you don't always need a script to get a laugh. One of Pilkington's first ads was the low-budget Orange Tango viral spot "seal" for Clemmow Hornby Inge, which appeared on desktops worldwide.

It was based on documentary footage of a seal being thrown around by killer whales. The director's task was to make the seal-tossing more obvious and shoot a dummy seal landing on the beach and then unzipping to reveal a man packed inside with lots of crushed oranges. Apart from getting the gag right at the end, the ad involved quite a bit of technical nous. There was the problem of knitting archive footage with video shot on the beach.

The seal was filmed by setting up a green screen and volleying the dummy back and forth with tennis rackets.

Pilkington's work for the bookmaker Paddy Power was more about speed than special effects. "I love doing break bumpers" he says. "They're like one-shot jokes, you've got to get something funny in a short space of time."

Despite this enthusiasm for short work, a comedy feature is Pilkington's ultimate goal. "Advertising is like a director's gym. With films, the subject is bigger and you get to play with all the toys," he says. He has had several offers to direct features but is biding his time. "You only have one chance and I don't want to burst my bubble."

- James Pilkington was talking to Pippa Considine.

Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content


1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...


1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).