A director’s loyalty has to be bought and earned. But what happens
when, after a production company has slugged its guts out for a new
director, got his or her career off the ground - and the director then
decamps to another production company?
Nothing happens. It is not unusual for a production company to invest
pounds 12,000 in a director during the first year, which goes down the
drain if the director doesn’t stick around. Cash is quickly eaten up in
the making of test films to showcase skills, the compilation and
distribution of reels and the valuable time invested in a director by
The rule is that it takes three years to break a director. The first
year is all investment, the second year you should start to get
something back and in the third year you start to make money.
When dealing with talent, an element of risk is inevitable, and younger
directors are always likely to be more fickle in their loyalties and
keener in their craving to be part of whatever is new and sexy. The
frequent movers, though, tend to be the directors who are always seeking
work and rarely finding it. They are looking for someone who will get
them a job and they want a company that attracts scripts.
The producer and other staff at a production company have invested
emotionally in a director and put their own reputations on the line. All
they can do is keep their fingers crossed and hope that loyalty will
flow both ways but, when it doesn’t, there is no recourse for the
production company that finds itself deflated and out of pocket.
Andy Morahan’s career was in the doldrums when Laura Greg-ory signed him
up at Great Guns and got him the D&AD-winning Guess ’cheat’ commercial.
But in the middle of doing a coveted Lynx spot for Bartle Bogle Hegarty,
Morahan decamped to join the Paul Weiland Film Company.
Steve Reeves was doing very well at Brave Films, but he wasn’t getting
quite the honours that his former partner, Paul Gay, was getting for his
work through Outsider, and he jumped ship to Stark Films.
When Neil Morrissey wanted to branch out from acting, he joined Smith
Jones Brown & Cassie as a commercials director. Just as he was
establishing a reputation, he quit to set up his own outfit, Quentin
Morrissey; but he gave up on the commercials side after less than a year
when he found out that it took up a lot more time and resources than
he’d bargained for.
Should these directors - and the countless others who have similar
stories to tell - have remained loyal to the people who got them
started? Bertie Miller, the managing director of Spectre, says: ’It is a
short-lived and glamorous business and if people think they can get a
leg up they will move on. But the ones who move about the most tend to
be the ones who aren’t working much and they blame the production
company. Directors can be seen as tarty but they are very vulnerable,
and they have their own reasons for moving.’
Jo Dickens, a producer at Smith Jones Campbell, suggests the idea of
football-style contracts, where a transfer fee is negotiated between
companies, although she concedes that this is unlikely ever to
Jeanna Polley founded the Producers, which has just lost Calle Astrand
to @radical.media, despite having secured the latest Lynx campaign for
Bartle Bogle Hegarty as his first UK job in addition to an Adidas spot
for Leagas Delaney. She acknowledges that there are sound reasons for
Astrand’s move - the benefits of joining an international company and a
tie-in for his Swedish colleagues - but she still regrets the loss of a
talented director as well as her considerable investment.
Calle says: ’It was not a personal decision. EPA (his Swedish production
company) wanted a UK partner that could represent us in the US, although
that is not the main goal for me. @radical. media is a new company and
it is good that we can develop together.’
The relationships between producers and directors are often intense,
personal, inter-dependent associations.
Some, like good marriages, last forever, while others are bound to burn
themselves out. And it should be remembered that the production industry
is one that thrives on friendships, good working relationships and, yes,
Miller’s company, Spectre, is on many directors’ wish-lists, and also
works with two of the least flighty directors around - John Lloyd and
Daniel Kleinman - who stuck with Limelight until its demise. Often,
though, Miller says directors express an initial interest but their
existing ties are too strong to go through with a move. Encouragingly,
he adds: ’The biggest stumbling block to people moving around is usually