CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CREATIVE DIFFERENCES - Lid kept on creative tensions as directors lose their power/A director goes to war after his commercial is reshot. Claire Cozens investigates

Forget the new Bond movie; adland has its own, far more exciting adventure story. The latest spat between McCann-Erickson and Tony Kaye over a new Bacardi commercial has all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with islands in the Caribbean, kidnappings and private detectives.

Forget the new Bond movie; adland has its own, far more exciting

adventure story. The latest spat between McCann-Erickson and Tony Kaye

over a new Bacardi commercial has all the ingredients of a Hollywood

blockbuster, complete with islands in the Caribbean, kidnappings and

private detectives.



It’s not a situation many commercials directors find themselves in, but

behind the high drama that seems to follow Kaye wherever he goes lies

the age-old problem of what happens when director, agency and client

disagree about the final cut of an ad.



The last time such a disagreement went public was last summer, when

Publicis hired Paul Arden to shoot its ’open up’ global commercial for

Nescafe.



Arden shot an ad that showed ’real’ people drinking coffee all around

the world with a recurring horizontal line in each shot linking them

together.



Nescafe asked for radical changes to be made, including a change in the

music and the shooting of extra scenes featuring happier faces and more

product. In the 30-second version of the ad, as much as 60 per cent of

the footage was shot by someone else.



Arden took the unprecedented step of asking for his name to be

disassociated from the commercial, and sent copies of his own version to

all the creative directors and heads of television in London. But his

producer, Nick Sutherland-Dodd, is philosophical about the affair. ’When

you work with a very big client like Nestle, you know the risks.

Generally, you fight for a while and then, at some point, you have to

give in. The fight - persuading clients that maybe they should take a

bit of a risk - is part of the fun. But at the end of the day, the

client owns the film.’



Perhaps surprisingly, this is the overwhelming view of directors and

producers. Clare Timms, joint managing director of Union Commercials,

compares it with getting an interior designer to decorate your house,

then deciding you want to make a few changes. ’It might ruin the whole

picture, but it’s your house after all,’ she says. ’If you get a good

agency and a good director then it shouldn’t happen; the client should

be pleased with the end result. Rows used to happen more often, but

there are a lot more directors competing for business nowadays.’



That McCann and Bacardi hired Malcolm Venville to reshoot scenes for the

ad without Kaye’s involvement is testament to the reduced power of the

director. In the face of increased competition, commercials directors

are, it seems, having to work at ditching the luvvie stereotype in

favour of a more businesslike approach.



’Disagreements do occur more often than you could possibly imagine in

small ways,’ James Studholme, managing director of Blink Productions,

says. ’When you’re involved in a shoot, emotions run high and that is,

after all, what the client is trying to harness. In the 70s and 80s the

cutting rooms were full of flying crockery, but directors are much more

pragmatic these days. They realise that this isn’t an art-house love-in;

we’re involved in making commercials.’



Another factor is the increased role of pre-production: agencies are

putting much more time into preparing the ground before the cameras even

start to roll. It is all too easy to blame the director if the finished

product is not what the client expected, but often the agency or the

client is at least as much to blame for not providing a clear enough

picture of what they expect. Problems arise when agencies have a less

than perfect script and hire a really good director in the hope that he

or she will paper over weaknesses.



Patrick Collister, executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather,

recalls a Guinness commercial that Kaye shot in 1995. ’It was a

marvellous film and Tony was really keen that people should see it, but

Guinness was just as keen that they should not,’ he says. ’Our

experience was that he was nothing but helpful. A director needs a tight

brief and a tight script. I think the problem a lot of the time is that

people are trying to capture Tony’s brilliance without giving him the

parameters within which to be brilliant.’



Agencies also tend to be more insecure nowadays and less likely to fight

for the creative option or to argue with the client who wants to water

down a commercial or add more product shots and happy faces.



Even the practice of directors putting their own, unapproved cuts on

their reels is dying out. It is not always difficult to distinguish

between the version a client has approved and the director’s own

preferred version, and a reel that is all director’s cuts makes alarm

bells ring. It could mean they are more difficult to work with.



Some believe that Kaye’s antics do no favours to an industry that is

trying to shake off a reputation for histrionics. But it is hard to

avoid a sneaking sense of admiration for Kaye. Whatever the verdict on

the commercial he shot for Bacardi, the UK’s most eccentric director

provides a refreshing dose of slightly bonkers idealism in an industry

that is, increasingly, dominated by hard-headed pragmatism.



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